‘It’s an American problem’: Army officer says branch hopes program will help tackle lagging recruiting

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Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson presents the oath of enlistment to 18 high school military recruits during a ceremony at Saint Martin’s University, Lacey, Washington, May 3, 2022. (Richard Carlisi/US Army)

(Tribune News Service) – The “American problem” of diminished interest in military service or aptitude to enlist is lagging Army recruiting. But a senior military official in Washington state is optimistic that the country’s young people still see the value in serving.

“Only 23% of people of service age are actually qualified,” Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Army’s First Corps, said during a recent trip to Spokane. “It is now a condition. It’s not a military issue, so nationally what we need to look at is what’s going on with our young people.

The Army was expected to fall short of its recruitment target of 485,000 troops by nearly 20,000 for fiscal year 2022, according to a memo written by Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville in July . A general lack of interest, ignorance and mistrust of the military are contributing to the drop in recruits, not to mention COVID-related restrictions on schools, McConville said in the memo.

The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force would also struggle to meet post-COVID recruiting quotas, according to a New York Times report.

Among those who want to serve, Brunson said recruiters across the country face a number of hurdles in getting them enlisted.

“Some of the challenges we have are obesity, we have pre-existing medical conditions, we have behavioral health issues, we have crime, people with crimes and we have drug use,” Brunson said. “It’s not an Army problem, it’s an American problem.”

The military needs to enlist the help of key community influencers who can educate young people about military service and “lower the doors” of the military by meeting those who want to serve halfway, Brunson said.

The Army plans to focus on three principles in its increased recruiting efforts: maintaining its existing standards, focusing on quality over quantity, and investing in America’s youth.

Meet them halfway

During his trip to Spokane, Brunson met with area educators and superintendents from a Gonzaga college to discuss the types of opportunities the military offers. These are the types of “influencers” who can have these discussions and are a crucial part of Army strategy, he said.

There is a lack of information that prevents young people from enlisting, he said.

Nearly three-quarters of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 said they knew about the military, but did not understand many details about benefits and career paths, according to a 2022 Army survey.

Brunson said the Future Soldier program acts as a kind of pre-basic training course to help prospective soldiers meet the military’s physical and academic standards.

The program was highlighted by McConville in a July memo that would groom new hires “without reducing quality.”

The Future Soldier program is based in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, but could expand depending on its results.

“There are people who can be led from the front, but there are a number of people willing to serve who can be led from behind a bit,” Brunson said.

The Army intends to apply several other tactics to increase recruiting efforts, according to McConville’s July memo, such as increasing enlistment bonuses (up to $50,000) for certain areas of career, as well as “fast sailing” bonuses ($35,000) for recruits who ship out within 45 days.

Spokane Area Recruiter 1st Sgt. Adam McCamant said he hasn’t seen much change in his job since he started 11 years ago.

“Norms are changing,” he said. “They are getting stricter. Sometimes they will go the other way.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s easier or harder to join the military. This is exactly what the country needs at this time.

Army recruiters in the North Spokane office may speak to 35 people in any given week, but “there are ebbs and flows,” McCamant said.

On average, recruiters will work with candidates for about 60 days before meeting Army standards, he said. As long as a candidate continues to show a desire to enlist, they will work with them, McCamant said.

“I think we just want to show people that the military is a viable option,” said Master Sgt. Jesse Wallace, another recruiter from the North Spokane office. “We don’t want this to be seen as a last resort.”

Service should be viewed as an opportunity, Brunson said.

“I get confused when people talk about the military as if it’s the end of something. The army is the start of something,” he said. “It’s the opening of an opening to the rest of your life.”

When Brunson thinks of what service means, he thinks of the first African Americans to enlist during the Civil War. The opportunity to serve helped solidify their status as American citizens, he said.

“I think there’s a disconnect in the nation between nation stewardship and nation ownership,” said Brunson, who served in the military for 32 years. “People own the title, ‘I am an American,’ but stewardship says, ‘I have served the nation,’ and that’s what makes the republic sound.”

Try the challenge

Brunson also addressed other Army challenges and priorities.

As the US military has moved away from conflicts in the Middle East since the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, Brunson said the US military is largely focused on its “pace challenge” with China .

But this challenge isn’t purely combat-focused, Brunson said.

The goal is to provide engagement with U.S. allies and partners in the region to prevent potential crises from escalating into conflict, Brunson said.

These crises are often humanitarian and diplomatic in nature, he said.

“I think these opportunities that we have to be in the region demonstrate not only the national will, but the will of our forces to stand alongside those in the region, and that the reassurance we offer is important on many levels. This shows that there is a commitment across (diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic activities).

I Corps primarily focuses on the Indo-Pacific region and regularly deploys to different countries each year for a multitude of military exercises in partnership with other nations, including Guam, Korea, Japan, Brunei, Mongolia and India.

“It’s more about building relationships,” the general said.

Brunson assumed command of Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Oct. 6 after his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Randy George, was selected for a post as senior military aide to the Secretary of Defense in June.

(c) 2022 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington)

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