From fast food restaurants to the IT industry, the military is up against all kinds of what is being called the “most challenging” environment the Department of Defense has ever faced.
Command Sgt. Maj. Marco Irenze, from the Nevada National Guard, pointed to any job that appeals to the younger generation as competition.
“It’s Wendy’s. It’s Carl’s Jr. It’s every single job that a young person can go up against because now they are offering the same incentives that we are offering,” Irenze said during a media roundtable hosted by the National Guard Bureau. “So that’s our competition right now.”
The fast-food industry employs roughly 5.2 million people nationwide, according to an IBIS World report. Meanwhile, the Council on Foreign Relations reports that there are only about 450,000 guardsmen across the U.S. states and territories as of January 2023.
Senior Master Sgt. Chris Perez, of the Washington Air National Guard, said that in Washington state, the Guard faces “stiff competition” with companies like Microsoft, Amazon and T-Mobile.
“But we do offer great incentives, great benefits. And that training that, you know, can help an individual land, or connect with, a civilian company,” Perez said.
1st Lt. Nathaniel Allen, who serves with the Maine National Guard’s 146th Cyber Warfare Company, said during a separate media roundtable earlier this year that he “fell in love” with working with computers through the Guard. He originally went to school studying political science with a minor in German.
“I built my first computer and from then on there, they kind of stuck with the cyber guys and that’s where things took off,” said Allen, an information security analyst for Camden National Bank. “The Army paid for my certifications, which then gave me experience and then when I started getting into the IT realm, I was able to use my Army experience to then propel myself into that cyber field at the bank.”
Illinois Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Stephen Graves, a recruiter for the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Illinois, said competition is “any civilian market” or career field, particularly where IT is concerned.
“We compete with individuals. But the way that we can incentivize them, especially in the Air Guard, is giving them something that’s local, right?” Graves said. “A lot of these individuals still want to be close to home. They want to go to school to get their education benefits. So that’s something that’s always been a drive.”
Leveraging education benefits
Col. Steve Rowe, chief of staff of the New York Army National Guard, said New York is looking to leverage state incentives to help “move the ball forward” with recruiting.
“In New York, we do have a college incentive,” Rowe said. “It pays tuition for students of our soldiers to go to school. And that has provided a nice dividend for our soldiers or our applicants to enlist into the New York Army National Guard.”
All states, territories and the District of Columbia have specific education benefits except for Guam, according to the National Guard Bureau.
At the federal level, all 54 Army National Guard states, territories and D.C. are eligible for tuition assistance up to $4,000 per fiscal year, along with the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve Chapter 1606. The Montgomery GI Bill pays $439 per month while during full-time enrollment, according to information the NGB provided.
“It is possible to qualify for higher amounts of GI Bill benefits through the ‘Kicker’ program based upon ASVAB score and MOS/unit enlisted into,” the NGB stated in an email.
Meeting end strength
Air Force Col. Anthony Pasquale, chief of the Air National Guard recruiting and retention division, said the Air National Guard’s authorized end strength was 108,400, and as of June it was at 96.7% – 3.3% short of its goal.
“July, August and September tend to be very good recruiting months for us, and we should see that number increase and the majority of our retention through the fiscal year has kind of finished itself off,” Pasquale said.
The Army National Guard’s authorized end strength is 325,000, and as of data provided in late June its assigned strength was 325,699, or 100.22%. Meanwhile, the fiscal year-to-date accession mission is 25,913 and the ARNG has achieved 24,615, or 94.99%.
“Predictable and adequate resources as well as consistent focus on the recruiter as the center of gravity, plus the inception of the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, enables the increase of enlistments,” Col. Andrew Bishop, chief of the Army National Guard’s Strength Maintenance Division, said in a statement provided by the National Guard Bureau.
The FY 23 retention goal is 37,497, but as of late June had reached only 25,352, or 63.61%.
Pasquale said there are four “primary lines of effort” being used to meet recruiting goals: Marketing; Recruiting network; Policy and programmatic barriers; Recruiting and retention operations.
Success in a tough recruiting environment
In Illinois, Graves’ team has been maneuvering the recruiting landscape as best they can with the resources they have. Retention efforts, however, have been “outstanding,” at about 97%.
“We have a lot of support from the state of Illinois and from our leadership here at the 182nd Airlift Wing to be visible and to enable all of our unit members to be what we call, recruiters as well, because they can reach spaces that we can’t,” Graves said.
Perez said his team of roughly 12 recruiters and four managers in Washington state has acquired 128 enlistments, reaching the 60-percentile range of its required goal alongside a 95% retention rate.
“One of the things that we’ve done here in Washington state was employ the use of our guardsmen in a way that we’ve never done before,” Perez said. “We leveraged our unit members to be our force multipliers, to expand our reach in different communities where we would not have been able to do with 12 recruiters.”
Meanwhile, Nevada, which had met its recruitment goal as of the June media roundtable, sees its biggest challenge as its size, according to Irenze. That requires figuring out how to get more out of the state’s NCOs as recruiters focus on high schools, where Irenze said most recruits come from.
“We’re right on the cusp,” Irenze said. “So I have resources for a small state, but I’m trying to maintain medium state numbers.”
National Guard Bureau data from FY 2001 to FY 2023 shows the average age of new recruits is between 19 and 20 years old.
Connecting with potential recruits
Illinois National Guard Staff Sgt. Yoon Kim said that Illinois’ “biggest success” has been its holistic approach to recruiting. As of June, Illinois was 129 enlistments ahead of the previous year.
“We think about the people that we enlist and the care for our recruiters,” Kim said. “I’m honestly super blessed to be in Illinois because they take care of me like no other. And I think that helps me bring back a lot of great energy into my recruiting style as well.”
She said she finds it helpful to have an honest discussion with potential recruits on how they feel about service.
“We deeply have a conversation about what they perceive in the real world and what service truly means for them,” Kim said. “I think now it’s such an intangible concept and it’s really hard for people to wrap their heads around when there’s so many real-life problems that are right in front of them.”
From Kim’s experience, she said that a lot of young personnel “don’t actually know what we truly do as guardsmen,” but once they hear what recruiters have to say, they realize it can work in tandem with a civilian life.Read comments