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DoD expects recruiting to slow down as economy speeds up

Jan. 16, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Recruiting Outlook MWM 20140116
Military recruiting and personnel officials testified Jan. 16 on Capitol Hill on the state of military recruiting. Maj. Gen. Mark A. Brilakis, center, head of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said overall interest in military service among young Americans is waning, complicating the recruiting mission for all service branches. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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Recruiting is all good — for now.

The past several years have seen some of the best military recruits in history, as the civilian job market was poor in many places and the services put large, well-funded recruiting teams in place at the height of the Iraq war.

But as the U.S. economy gets back on track — unemployment recently fell below 7 percent for the first time in five years — the Pentagon’s recruiting commands are bracing for potential challenges.

“We recognize this trend will be unsustainable as the economy continues to improve and competition to draw recruits from a small, qualified talent pool, who are alarmingly less inclined to choose a military service as a career, increases dramatically,” said Brig. Gen. Gina Grosso, the Air Force’s director of force management policy.

Grosso and other top Pentagon recruiting officials appeared on Capitol Hill Thursday to report on the current state of military recruiting.

For the Navy, 2012 marked a high point for quality of new sailors as defined by factors like education levels and test scores on the military entrances exams.

“Last year saw a slight decline in recruit quality which, while still well above [Defense Department] and Navy standards, we are watching for leading indicators,” Rear Adm. Annie Andrews, chief of the Navy Recruiting Command, told lawmakers.

The Army also is seeing preliminary signs of a recruiting slowdown. Last year, the Army had enough young people signed up in the Delayed Entry Program to fill about half of its annual recruiting goal. But today, the DEP pool is only about one-third full.

That’s a “canary in the coal mine in terms of warning about a tough environment ahead,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the Army’s director of military personnel management.

Recruiters’ jobs have become more difficult in recent years as more and more young people are simply ineligible to serve in the military due to health issues — mainly obesity, but also other problems such as asthma and attention deficit disorder.

And among those healthy enough to make the cut, enthusiasm is slipping. Internal military research shows that today’s young people are less likely to want to serve in the military compared to past generations.

Overall interest in the military, known as “propensity to serve” and measured constantly by the Pentagon’s personnel office, hit a historic low in 2007, at the height of the nation’s pessimism about the war in Iraq.

Those propensity indicators have ticked up in recent years, but the long-term trend is worrying some officials.

“Part of the challenge is … the number of those individuals [eligible to serve] is dropping a little bit, but more importantly, the propensity of those individuals is going down,” said Marine Maj. Gen. Mark Brilakis, commander of Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

He told lawmakers that among the 30 million young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24, fewer than 1 million are actually healthy enough to serve and eager to talk to a recruiter about a military career.

As a result, Marine recruiters are spending some of their time selling young people on the idea of a military career, targeting those who are more difficult to recruit, Brilakis said.

“How do we get in there and show them the value of service? That is one of the things that is very difficult for us right now and we continue to work that,” Brilakis said.

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