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Recruiting on track, but officials worry about future

WASHINGTON (AFNS) --

Military recruiting is going well today, but economic and demographic changes will make the environment more difficult in the future, said Vee Penrod, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy.

 

Penrod and the armed services’ personnel chiefs testified today before the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee.

 

The U.S. all-volunteer force continues to be the strongest and most well-respected military in the world, Penrod said. It has been stressed through more than 12 years of war, but it has proven to be resilient.

 

New recruit quality is at an all-time high, “and in almost every category, we continue to achieve the numbers of volunteers required to sustain this professional force,” she said.

 

“A weak economy in recent years coupled with talented and adequately resourced recruiting force produced the highest quality recruits in Air Force history,” said Brig. Gen. Gina Grosso, director of Force Management Policy for the Air Force. “However, we recognize this trend will be unsustainable as the economy continues to improve and competition to draw recruits from a small, qualified talent pool who are alarmingly less inclined to choose military service as a career increases dramatically.”

 

As economic and demographic changes continue to have an effect on the military’s ability to recruit the best young Americans, the Air Force requires a level of continued investment in three main areas, Grosso explained. An appropriately trained recruiting service, robust marketing and advertising campaign strategies and adequate initial enlistment bonus programs are considered necessities to induce volunteers for certain hard-to-fill specialties.

 

Despite recent recruiting successes, Penrod said the process does have inherent challenges.

 

For the Air Force, the main challenge is promoting Airmen that typically work with the Army in the special operations forces, known as Battlefield Airmen, Grosso said. In turn, those Battlefield Airmen are the target audience for initial enlistment bonuses.

 

A department-wide challenge relates to the limited number of youth eligible to enlist, Penrod said. Roughly 75 percent of American youth are not qualified for military service. “There are a number of reasons for this, but the main reasons among them are health and fitness issues,” Penrod said.

 

The propensity to enlist is also down. “Since 2004, the percent of youths who associate military service with an attractive lifestyle is down approximately 20 percent,” she said.

 

The average age of an Air Force recruit is about 20 and one-half years old, which is slightly up from the 10-year average of 20.

 

The overall health of the economy also plays a role in attracting eligible youth. The last couple of years of relatively high youth unemployment have served as a driver for more people to consider military service. “As the economy improves, however, we expect youth interest in military service as an employment option to decline,” Penrod said.

 

“To expand the recruiting market, the department has long supported the enlistment of non-citizens, to the extent permitted by law, subject to these individuals to being otherwise qualified for service in the United States armed forces,” she said.

 

DOD is conducting a comprehensive review of immigration issues as they relate to serve in the armed forces. Penrod promised to share the conclusions of that review with Congress.

 

Fiscal realities also impact recruiting, requiring the services to continuously adjust recruiting programs. “To overcome potential challenges that may lie ahead, we must ensure our recruiters are trained and the appropriate recruiting resources are available to meet these challenges,” she said.

 

The Air Force recruiting force continues to be sized by the number of accessions and has come down slightly as the force has gotten smaller ensuring a right-sized and appropriately-trained recruiting service for the future, Grosso said.

 

Rose Richeson, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, contributed to this article.

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