Major Gen. Jeffrey Snow is first to admit he has a lot to learn about recruiting. But the new chief of Army Recruiting Command, who took over June 23, has been moving fast.
"I'm only 45 days into it, and I will continue to circulate and spend as much time (with recruiters)," Snow said during an Aug 6 sit-down with Army Times. "I want them to continue to communicate their needs and desires. That part I've been grateful for. I think there's a good dialogue. They've been open and candid with me."
Before arriving at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the infantry officer served as director of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
Snow steps into a job overseeing a crucial mission: Finding roughly 60,000 new soldiers each year, along with about 17,000 reservists. The challenge has only risen of late: Snow faces an improving economy, and a populace where only 29 percent of young people meet physical, academic and behavioral requirements to join. And while the command sees itself as on-track to complete this year's active-duty mission, it projects it will fall short for the Reserve by about 2,000. The command also estimates it will deplete its delayed-entry pool, with 7,000 fewer soldiers than "where we want to be," according to recruiting spokeswoman Kelli Bland.
Highlights from our interview:
Q. There's a number of challenges facing any command. What's the biggest challenge yours is facing now?
A. Probably the biggest challenge right now is unemployment is on the decline. That's good for the economy, but there's two things we track very closely: unemployment and propensity to serve. Propensity has held fairly consistent over time. There has been a decrease in the proportion of youth who think that the military can help them earn money for college and provide an attractive lifestyle. And the other thing, the societal changes, and the fact that we have 71 percent that will not be able to meet the educational, medical and physical limitations to actually join the military. That is obviously a concern. We're going after a relatively small group in the grand scheme of life to get them to consider the military as a viable option.
Q. Given the challenges, what is recruiting going to have to do to continue to meet goals?
A. I think it's going to remain a tough environment. I think we have to do a better job making sure they truly understand the opportunities that are resident. I get a little concerned – we've put a lot of emphasis on taking care of our wounded soldiers in the last decade, for all the right reasons. But the images that are out there, unfortunately comes in the form of pictures or ads, that are well intentioned, we've got a responsibility not only as an Army but as a nation to take care of those who have gone into harm's way and been injured. But the Army is such a great organization, there are so many opportunities. There's a perception that your quality of life is not going to be good in the Army. I absolutely disagree with that. We are afforded a very good salary commensurate with our skills. I think it's a great organization to raise a family; we care about families. There's quality housing. There are these perceptions that these are inconsistent with being in the Army, and that has just not been my experience. We have got to do a better job of finding a way to articulate that in a way that resonates. It causes some to think that if you come into the army you're going to leave broken, suffer TBI and experience PTSD. That possibility exists, but there are many for whom that is not their experience.
Q. In the wake of the Chattanooga shootings, what is your initial take on the issues raised about force protection?
A. This has caused us to step back and review all of our policies and procedures. I will answer the question, but the Army is part of the larger Department of Defense effort. I will just say things we have done in the short term is go back to our crews and make sure we do everything in our power, review policies and procedures, make sure that if this situation were to happen make sure that everyone understands the immediate action drills that we do. The second thing is it has caused us to take a look at our facilities. We have a lot of facilities. Most of the distinction is based on crime, not a threat per se. I've asked a team to provide information on that. The primary concern is the drive-by threat. That's what happened in 2009, and what happened most recently. I do think we can enhance force protection. We're in the data collection mode. I do anticipate we will move forward to improving force protection.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow said improved employment opportunity in the civilian sector has a negative impact on Army recruiting efforts.
Photo Credit: Natela Cutter/Army
Q. And in terms of arming recruiters?
A. I want to be clear, ultimately this will be a decision made well above me. But I have reservations about arming recruiters. Certainly the possibility exists in those rare cases that maybe we might do that, but I would prefer that if we had a threat that would warrant that, I would prefer we actually remove recruiters from that situation. Turn it over to local authorities and let them address that particular threat. We have a procedure in place that does just that. In the case of arming recruiters, I am concerned it would impact our relationship with the community. We've had a little bit of that with citizens standing outside.
Within days we had an individual who had a negligent discharge. Well-meaning citizens, but a negligent discharge puts our recruiters at risk. Not only that, but the vast majority may be well-intentioned, but it's difficult to assess the true meaning behind someone who has a weapon, whether it be concealed or in the open. I was grateful for the Department of Defense kind of weighed in and encouraged citizens not to do that and explained why.
Q. What can working as a recruiting offer a soldier, particularly in the modern battlefield?
A. I don't know that folks perceive that this is a true broadening opportunity. Even if you only do one tour, you are going to be a better leader. I don't want to take anything away from drill sergeants. Drill sergeants are important, too. But for our recruiters, every day is different. Particularly, to the extent that we continue to do security cooperation or counter insurgency operations (recruiting will be beneficial). In my heart of hearts, I believe noncommissioned officers who have been afforded this opportunity and perform well, they will have been broadened. They will be better leaders coming out of this command. They may not realize it coming in. But it's going to help them in so many ways: from a leadership development perspective, their ability to engage in the local populace, the interpersonal skills. What they're doing is going to pay dividends down the road. And I don't know that it is truly recognized in the Army or in the nation.
Q. Do you see the drawdown as a source to address the expected shortfall in Army Reserve recruits?
A. It absolutely is. I think the Army has done some really smart things as part of the drawdown to make sure the individuals coming out of the active component understand the opportunities that are available in the Army Reserve, particular at the mid-grade: E5s, E6s, Captains, Majors. The chief of the Army Reserve has done a great job putting folks at our transition centers to make sure they understand the opportunities that are available for them.
Q. Reforms have addressed concerns about the job of recruiter; have they gone far enough and what are your priorities in that area as commander?
A. It used to be that recruiting is very much an individual endeavor. You were a recruiter, and your job was to recruit X number of folks. The decision was made some years ago, and I think it was probably the right decision, to move to some type of a team approach. That was coupled with a decision to look at the amount of time recruiters work. That's not to say they're not working hard. I have made it a point to say 'listen, we have a mission, it's a really important mission and I want to accomplish that mission. And I want to accomplish that mission with the people and not at the expense of the people.' I'm very sensitive about that. I want folks within this organization – even though it's a very unique commission – I want them to have some type of balance. I'm not going to accept leaders that are focused on the mission to the point where they're not taking care of their people. I tell them all the time, trust is a big thing for me, when you violate that trust I'm just going to take you off the team. I'll find something else for you to do.
Q. How were you recruited?
A. I was recruited, but I was recruited to play hockey at West Point. I was a goaltender in the state of New Hampshire. I was the oldest of four, and concerned about my parents having to put four kids through school. I had a very good season as a senior. I was actually recruited by the Air Force Academy and West Point, and I visited West Point first, and had a very good experience. The opportunity to go to school, the understanding that you were going to serve for a period of time, I thought, 'what a neat opportunity, and I can ease the burden on my parents.' (Then) I simply fell in love with the Army.