The Army expects to meet its end-strength goal this year, but leaders of the effort concede that the recruiting environment for new soldiers is challenging because of the global pandemic and political environment across the country.

Army officials involved in accessions policy spoke with reporters Wednesday ahead of a virtual recruiting push called Army National Hiring Days, which runs from May 10 until June 14. The effort began last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Recruits who begin the application process during the event for 11 priority jobs, including infantryman, missile defense crewman and signals intelligence interceptor, will be offered $2,000 on top of their normal career-field enlistment bonuses.

The virtual effort is part of the Army’s push to meet its recruiting needs in a world where brick-and-mortar recruiting stations are less frequented and the military as a whole is working to be apolitical.

“We’re in a pretty challenging recruiting environment right now,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command. “It is because of the effects of COVID, [and] because of the effects of the political discourse and the discussions going on in our country today.”

Michaelis did not elaborate when pressed, except to say that it’s up to Army leaders to “remain apolitical” so military service continues to be “an option for today’s youth.”

National Guard soldiers were mobilized throughout 2020 in response to domestic unrest across the United States triggered by the police killing of a Black man in Minnesota.

A contentious presidential election and the presence of four part-time troops during the Capitol riot Jan. 6 also put the military in an uncomfortable position as it grapples with extremism in its ranks. Policy issues involving race, gender and diversity have also played out in the Pentagon this past year.

Updated Army messaging can be seen in a new animated advertising campaign that attempts to appeal to a younger and more diverse demographic by spotlighting, among others, a first-generation immigrant from Haiti, a second-generation immigrant from the Dominican Republic and a girl who was raised by two mothers.

How exactly the political climate will impact Army recruiting in the long-term is unclear. But service leaders are confident they can continue to meet their modest end-strength proposals that grow the force by only about 1,000 troops per year. Doing so requires more than just new recruits, but also retention of experienced soldiers.

“Our annual accessions mission is always based on the Army’s end-strength, so it fluctuates based on how the Army is doing with retention and attrition throughout the year,” said Col. Rich McNorton, an Army spokesman assisting with the press briefing Wednesday.

The final accessions number for the regular Army is expected to be in the mid-60,000 range, as it has been for the past few years, McNorton added.

Currently, the Army believes it is meeting those numbers largely because of innovative virtual options like the Army National Hiring Days.

“We are in a similar position where we were at last year,” Michaelis said. “Right now, we’re sitting pretty good.”

Last year, the Army recruiters developed 30,000 leads that could turn into new contracts during the National Hiring Days event. This year, they hope to double that.

The event was only three days long last year. This year, it will last more than a month, which will give corps- and division-level commanders across the country more time to plan.

“What it allows, is for the rest of the Army to get involved in a much deeper level,” said Gen. Paul Funk, who leads U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

“It also allows us to bring in more physical events at the local levels,” Funk added. “By giving those subordinate commands … more time to plan, we’re going to get a deeper, richer penetration into the [recruiting] market.”

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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