Correction: This article was updated to correctly reflect the official who announced Maj. Gen. Eldon Regua’s new position.

WASHINGTON — When it comes to Army recruitment, California is in a deficit.

The service is experiencing problems with bringing in new soldiers, but one way leadership aims to get more young people exposed to and involved with the Army is through ROTC and JROTC programs.

“If you want to compete, you’ve got to compete where the people are,” Mario Diaz, the Army’s deputy undersecretary, said Oct. 10 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting.

As an example, Diaz compared the percentages for Texas and California, noting there is one person in the military for every 600 eligible Texans. For California, that number is one for every 1,000.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Munera, head of Army Cadet Command, said he oversees 274 Army ROTC college programs. Minor tweaks in those types of programs and other outreach efforts could turn the numbers dial for a mostly untapped population, both Diaz and Munera said.

The Army has 1,734 JROTC high school programs across the country. Munera said his command was recently approved to add 50 more JROTC programs over the next five years.

But of the 300 high schools across the United States on the wait list for a JROTC program, only four are in California. The ROTC program provides much of the Army’s officer corps and JROTC is an avenue that often exposes high schoolers with an early exposure to the military.

Analysis shows most youth in JROTC programs are qualified to serve in the military. Cadet Command shared numbers with Army Times in 2019 that showed students who attended a high school with a JROTC program were twice as likely to serve in the military as students at schools without the programs. And that likelihood of service was whether the individual student participated in their school’s JROTC.

JROTC participation flows into ROTC participation, and that matters for Army recruiting because 70% of all Army officers come from ROTC programs. Approximately 5,000 new second lieutenants each year join the service’s ranks. That number is higher than new officers from the service academies as well as Air Force and Navy ROTCs combined, officials have said.

There are currently 64 ROTC programs in California, accessing 600,000 students across the nation’s most populous state with nearly 40 million residents. Texas follows with slightly more than 30 million, based on 2022 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Beyond adding more programs, officials are taking new approaches to how the military is viewed in communities without a large military presence.

Lorenzo Rios, a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, a resident of Central Valley, California, and an Army veteran, told the audience at the AUSA conference that he’s set up “signing days” similar to ceremonies in which college scholarship athletes and Ivy League school candidates announce the school’s they’ve selected to attend.

Rios said such celebrations also include large banquet-style, 500-plate dinners where each new recruit is seated at a table with their parents, a local veteran, a Blue Star mother and a currently serving military member.

The idea, he said, is to create a connection for the recruit and a network for their family when they leave for training.

Diaz announced at the presentation that he’d selected retired Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Regua to coordinate outreach efforts with California schools for such events.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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