After last year’s recruiting shortfall, the Army’s acting secretary is hopeful that the service will meet its goals for 2019.

The Army has been having trouble meeting its recruiting requirements as it strives to grow to a 500,000-strong active-duty force by the end of the next decade.

Last year, the service planned to grow the active force to 487,500, but it ended 2019 with 478,000 troops due to recruiting and retention issues.

“It’s a difficult market because it’s a very healthy job market,” said Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy during a roundtable with reporters Tuesday. “This environment is as challenging as we’ve faced — 3.6 percent unemployment. We have no benchmark historically for the all-volunteer force.”

The old plan was to grow the force by 4,000 troops per year to make the 500,000 goal. Now, senior leaders are looking at 2,000 additional troops per year as the target.

“We are on target, but it’s close,” McCarthy said. “We, statistically, can make it, but we’re going to have to run through the finish line — undoubtedly a full sprint.”

McCarthy said various Army officials have been visiting cities all over the country to meet with local civic leaders and help build the relationships necessary to expose the service to potential recruits.

A booming job market and historically low unemployment remain key issues for recruiting efforts.

“That’s coupled with all the other factors we talk about all the time: obesity, mental health, challenges with law enforcement,” McCarthy said. “Things of that nature that would require waivers.”

Unlike past recruiting boons, such as the surge years during the Iraq War, the Army has not been offering more waivers to meet demands.

McCarthy said that the Army was “staying flat” on the number of waivers its issuing.

“We are not going near quality,” he said.

McCarthy will be traveling next week and spending most of his time at Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

While there, he plans to talk to the trainers and NCOs going through the recruiting schoolhouse about the mentality that recruiters need to have.

“You got to engage kids,” McCarthy said. “It’s the mentality that a recruiter needs to have to get someone to understand their story — why an opportunity to serve in the U.S. Army would be a great thing.”

“It’s the lifeblood of our business and it’s something, in particular in the last six months, I’ve tried to invest more of my time because the first 18 [months] has been predominately modernization and the budget,” he added.

Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.

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