The Army is ready and willing to break out from its traditional, “industrial” approach to recruiting.
No longer is it relying mainly on local high school outreach to bring in potential recruits. Instead, the Army is going to two places where research has shown adolescents are spending a lot of time: Online and in the gym.
The service is standing up two new teams, one for functional fitness enthusiasts and another for hardcore gamers, as recruiting tools aimed at American youth who either spend a lot of time in front of screens or perfecting their deadlifts.
“Looking at modern times, where do young men and women go when they’re not in school?” 1st Sgt. Glenn Grabbs, who is heading up the functional fitness team, told Army Times in a Thursday interview. “It’s a big section of the population that goes into some sort of e-gaming interest, and there’s some segment of the market who are into fitness.”
At the same time, the Army is moving headlong into a revamp of its fitness philosophy and training program. A native Army team that promotes fitness both to serving soldiers and to prospective recruits crosses off two priorities.
“Fitness is obviously something that’s very important to soldiers in service, but also there’s a large growing market in the civilian sector for elite performance and physical fitness,” Grabbs said.
The Army Functional Fitness Team is looking for 10 soldiers to make a permanent change-of-station move to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where they’ll serve in an organized unit that spends its days working out, creating social media content and traveling to competitions.
They might record and upload video of their workouts and eating plans, or give viewers a look into what it’s like to live on an Army installation. They’ll also make appearances at recruiting events to talk about Army fitness and what it’s like to be both an athlete and a soldier.
Interested soldiers can submit an application by Dec. 14, and if they’re selected, they’ll travel to Fort Knox in February for a fitness test and interview.
The goal, Grabbs said, is to be competing as early as March.
So, why functional fitness? In laymen’s terms, that translates to what’s essentially an Army CrossFit team.
While flipping tires and box jumps aren’t events on the new Army Combat Fitness Test, that idea of training soldiers for strength, agility and explosive power falls in line with the CrossFit trend.
“I think this team isn’t necessarily an endorsement of, say, CrossFit,” Grabbs said. "But I think what it does do is [it] makes the Army, and us as soldiers and leaders, step back and say, ‘Hey, are we training our soldiers in a full body concept?’ where we’re not necessarily training for, ‘Hey, can they run fast?’ "
Enlisted soldiers E-8 and below are eligible to join, as are officers O-4 and below. Team members will serve a three-year assignment, and though it’s a full-time job, they’ll still have to maintain MOS proficiency and stay competitive for promotion.
There will be opportunities to go to noncommissioned officer and officer professional development schools, or schools like Master Resiliency Training or Equal Opportunity.
“Any of those opportunities that they would have in a traditional unit, they will have as part of the team,” much the way the Golden Knights parachute demonstration team and Army Marksmanship Unit tours are treated as a broadening opportunity.
Army leaders have been remarking all year that the recruiting force needs to get online and reach out to young people where they are, from messaging apps like TikTok to the vast world of online streaming through Twitch.
“I think we are well aware of how quickly this industry is growing, and we are starting to learn about some of the things that other brands are doing in the industry, and watching and seeing what is successful," Maj. Kevin Howell, who’s heading up the Army Esports team, told Army Times.
But on top of running commercials that kids will see while they’re gaming, leaders thought, what if there were soldiers playing alongside them?
“We think that taking it to the next level, and not just buying advertisements — have actual soldiers compete, giving soldiers the opportunity to pursue their passions and tell their story to other American youth, will be successful,” Howell added.
Rather than a full-time position, this will be a Fort Knox-based group that travels on temporary duty orders, similar to other Army sports teams.
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, Howell, said, but they’re shooting for about 20 members to start, from any rank or MOS.
Similarly to the functional fitness team, their time will be taken up not only by gaming itself, but with travel to tournaments and social media content, like streaming Q&As where viewers can ask them not only about gaming but what they do in their operational jobs.
There are hundreds of games to choose from, but Howell said the top suggestions right now are a lot of first-person shooters, like Call of Duty or League of Legends.
While your traditional recruiting station is still the first line for youth thinking about joining up, Army Recruiting Command is putting time, money and people behind branching out, particularly to people who might not have considered serving before.
“I think that it’s important to be able to reach out to a cross-section of society, because that helps us to represent the Army,” USAREC spokeswoman Kelli Bland said. “We do face misperceptions that the Army is all about the infantry and all about armor, when, really, we have over 150 careers that people can serve in.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.