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Military Needs to 'Educate America About How Great It Is to Serve' to Boost Recruitment, Says Deputy Secretary

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan speaks to members of the Military Reporters and Editors Association during their annual convention at the Navy League Building in Arlington, Va., Oct. 26, 2018. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said today that the military services need to think out of the box when it comes to shrinking recruitment, trying to lure “great people that should be serving today, that probably don’t understand what we have to offer.”

The Army fell short of its recruiting goal this year for the first time since 2005. While the Army missed its goal by about 6,500 recruits, the Army National Guard fell short by more than 12,000 recruits and the Army Reserves missed the goal by about 5,000. This comes as the Army is hoping to swell its ranks to half a million solders by 2024.

The Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps met their recruitment goals for the year.

A month ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis called it “a sad state of affairs when 71 percent of the 18- to 24-year-old males in this country cannot qualify to enter the United States Army as a private” because of not meeting physical fitness targets or having a history of drug use.

Subtract from the qualified pool those who choose not to serve in the military, and the service branches are fighting for the rest.

Speaking today at the Military Reporters & Editors Conference, Shanahan said he thinks “quite a bit about” expanding the pool of potential recruits.

“The time I’ve spent in the Department of Defense has been awesome. Most of America doesn’t understand what the Department of Defense does, or the careers or opportunities that the services provide,” he said. “You know, when you think about — I don’t know what the number is, but the average student coming out of college is carrying $30,000 worth of debt. The training, the experience.”

“I mean, set aside some of these requirements on physical performance; those are all solvable. I think we need to take some, you know, different tactics,” Shanahan added, noting that service leaders are actively rethinking how to approach recruitment.

“But we need to educate America about how great it is to serve, and the opportunities that are afforded by our military. And I don’t think we’ve done that to the best of our ability,” he said. “But, you know, when you look at what’s happening… these are the same conversations that are occurring in industry. There’s a global competition for talent. And these are good problems to have, but the tactics and techniques that we’ve used in the past won’t work.”

Mattis said in September that the problem “reminds us even when we get people in the military, in an increasingly overweight country, an increasingly drug-prone country, we need some of you who are going to be the Spartans of the gate, because we’re not going to hang onto these freedoms because our grandfathers fought on the beaches of Normandy or because our fathers fought in Vietnam.”

“There’s parts of the country, by the way, that are much more physically fit than other parts of the country, and our recruiters know it and they hone in on those areas,” he noted. “But they’re not going to be enough, in the long run, if we don’t turn this around.”