Since the start of the new fiscal year, which began in October, the Army has recruited some 18,500 new soldiers and has roughly another 13,000 in the pipeline in various stages of the recruiting process, Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, head of the service's Recruiting Command, told Military.com on Thursday. If the Army can keep up that pace for each quarter of the year, it would hit its recruiting goal.
"This competition and war for talent is real," Davis said. "But things are getting better."
The first chunk of the fiscal year is generally seen as one of the most difficult times to recruit, as much of it falls during the holidays and brisk winter months in parts of the country. The Army's goal this year is to bring in 65,000 new soldiers, after falling 15,000 short of its 60,000 recruiting target last year. If it kept up its pace from the first quarter, the Army would bring in 74,000 recruits in 2023.
Army officials have said that much of the recruiting struggle is out of the service's direct control. Recruiters interviewed by Military.com say it isn't a lack of interest in service by young Americans, it's finding qualified candidates who can meet the service's standards, with many potential recruits either not meeting fitness standards to serve or performing poorly on the military's SAT-style entrance exam.
In addition, the service has been facing challenges from Military Health System (MHS) Genesis, a new electronic health record system that went operational last year and gives the military unprecedented access to an applicant's medical and mental health background during the recruiting process.
In the past, recruiters would sometimes skirt around scrutinizing a recruit's medical history to avoid a bumpy application process. But the new system might be an overcorrection, with recruiters saying the application process has been clogged up -- sometimes making it take months longer to get someone in uniform or disqualifying seemingly qualified applicants because of minor injuries, certain types of prescriptions or mental health diagnoses that are years old. In some cases, the applicant might lose interest in military service during the delays, a situation that has spiked in the past year, according to Davis.
"What we know is the process for contact to contract time is longer," Davis said. "What we don’t want is for that future service member to find another career. This is just a year old; we are all working hard to address this. Your broken toes from 21 years ago … something that happened 7 years ago and they have to locate those records. I think we're going to get past that."
Though there are no plans to bring in more recruiters, at the center of the Army's strategy are efforts to boost quality of life for its 8,500 recruiters and expand training, Davis said. That includes better explaining benefits and giving recruiters more options on where they get stationed.
Recruiters often face long working hours trying to hit their quota and time away from their families. Quotas vary, but generally amount to one recruit per month. Recruiters routinely sink significant time into applicants who change their mind about enlisting or otherwise turn out to not be eligible for service, leading to a morale problem that makes the job particularly difficult.
This month, the service's recruiting school was extended from six weeks to eight with much of that training focusing on briefing students on their benefits, such as the Leased Government Housing Program, which can make it easier for recruiters to find housing in high-cost areas where the housing allowance they would otherwise get from the Army isn't enough.
The Army also started a new financial incentive for recruiters this month. For every applicant who makes their way to basic training and scores in the top 50th percentile on the entrance exam, recruiters will earn $150. Recruiters are eligible for the bonus only if they've already hit their quota and the high-scoring applicant is an additional recruit. Recruiters also earn $75 for additional applicants who score between the 31st and 49th percentiles -- which is generally the lowest academic performance for automatic acceptance into the Army.
Army officials estimate only 23% of young Americans are eligible for service, mostly due to obesity and low academic ability. The service is increasingly relying on a new set of courses for applicants who are slightly too overweight or performed poorly on the ASVAB to come into compliance with military standards. The Army this month expanded that effort from a pilot program in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to Fort Benning, Georgia -- which can accommodate roughly 12,000 troops who otherwise wouldn't have been eligible to join. That figure comes close to making up the recruiting shortfall last year.
"What we're not willing to do is lower standards." Gen. James McConville, the Army's top officer, said at an Association of the United States Army conference Wednesday. "Quality is more important than quantity. But what we are willing to do is invest in young men and women."
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.