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Services prepare for scant recruiting year

May. 2, 2013 - 04:27PM   |  
A Marine Corps recruiter talks with two potential recruits. While all the active-duty services met their goals for 2013, Pentagon officials expect recruiting to get more difficult starting next year.
A Marine Corps recruiter talks with two potential recruits. While all the active-duty services met their goals for 2013, Pentagon officials expect recruiting to get more difficult starting next year. (Marine Corps)
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Finding recruits to join the military in 2014 could be increasingly challenging, even with declining recruiting goals, defense and service personnel officials are warning Congress.

At the moment, it’s hard to see the problem: The services all met their goals for quality and quantity for the active forces in the first quarter of fiscal 2013. In the reserve components, only the Army Reserve has missed its goals.

“Generally, a slow economy makes recruiting less challenging, and operates to the advantage of those who are hiring, including the U.S. military,” said Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, in an April 17 statement provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But the rosy recruiting environment could be coming to an end as the economy shows “signs of economic improvement,” she said. And if that’s not enough of a concern, other factors also are in play. Among them:

■Fifty-seven percent of parents, teacher, counselors and similar authority figures who influence decisions about enlisting in the military generally don’t recommend military service, Wright said.

■One in five youths ages 12 to 19 is overweight, according to an April 24 statement by Army personnel officials provided to the Senate committee. This compares with one in 20 in 1960. The trend is getting worse, with one in four expected to be overweight by 2015.

■“A higher number of youths [are] going to college directly from high school,” Wright said — but conversely, Army officials noted that 20 percent of high school students fail to graduate. Graduation, they said, is “a critical milestone in becoming competitive to serve in highly skilled positions” in the military.

And, the multiple deployments required over the past decade for many service members raise concerns in service-aged youths that this high operating tempo will continue, Wright said.

These concerns have received only passing attention from Congress, apparently because there is no immediate crisis.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel held two hearings recently on military personnel programs, with only one question focusing directly on recruiting. The House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel does not plan to hold a hearing on recruiting and retention issues before it begins writing its version of the 2014 defense budget in mid-May.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., wondered if the services were “having to do anything unusual or extra” to fill the ranks.

Frederick Vollrath, assistant defense secretary for readiness and force management, said, “Currently, recruiting is on track and in good shape,” but he added that the situation easily could change.

“We hope that the economy in the United States continues to improve and the unemployment rate continues to go down. That is our fondest wish, along with every other citizen,” Vollrath said. “But, as that occurs, and we believe that will occur, we know by experience that we have to be attuned to the fact that recruiting is probably going to get a little more difficult.”

Vollrath also said it’s “sometimes hard to explain” to people outside the military that the force is getting smaller “but we still would like to hire.”■

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