By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 16, 2014) -- Military budgets have declined, the U.S. military is preparing to pull out of Afghanistan, and the Army is drawing down its force.
But the Army must still recruit new Soldiers every year, and less money means it may be harder to put young Americans into uniform.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the Army's director of Military Personnel Management, discussed those challenges with members of the House Armed Services Committee, subcommittee on Military Personnel, Jan. 16.
"Our Army is now made up of the highest quality, best trained, most experienced, and highest skilled Soldiers ever," Seamands said. "Our ability to meet the challenges of the current and future operational environment depends on our ability to recruit great citizens and retain great Soldiers."
The general told lawmakers that despite challenges of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, drawdown plans and budgetary constraints, both the active-duty Army and the Army Reserve exceeded their enlistment and retention missions for Fiscal Year 2013. The National Guard achieved 86 percent of its goals.
"The total Army percentage of newly enlisted Soldiers with a high school diploma was 98 percent," he said. "Well above historic rates. Additionally, the Army achieved 99 percent for each of its military occupational specialties."
Seamands told lawmakers that the recruiting mission for the Army is shrinking, but that it has decided to maintain its pool of recruiters because their presence in communities builds and maintains trust between civilians and the military.
"What the Army is doing is taking a long-term view of the issue," he said. "If you look at our accessions mission for 2014, there is a reduction from 2013. What we opted to do is leave the recruiting force in the communities. We feel that what recruiters do ... is built on trust. You need to keep the recruiters in the high schools, in the communities, in the cities, to have that relationship and that trust. So we maintain roughly the same level of support, despite a reduced mission out in the recruiting force."
Vee Penrod, deputy asistant secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, also addressed lawmakers. She said that health and fitness issues prevent many youth from joining the military. Additionally, she said, the opinions of young Americans are changing away from considering the military as an "attractive" lifestyle.
Seamands said that while the Army met recruiting goals, other indicators may be a harbinger of tough recruiting times ahead. One of those indicators is the number of young people enrolled in the Army's Delayed Entry Program.
"As we look at our delayed entry pool, we see that decreasing," Seamands said. "We see that as kind of a canary in the coal mine in terms of warning about a tough environment ahead. If you were to go back in time about a year ago, we would have had about half our mission in the Delayed Entry Program. If you look at it now, it's about a third. It's going down."
With declining budgets, and the money military services receive for recruiting also decreasing, it becomes more important that the services be able to manage their own funds and use them where they think the funds can best be used.
"We believe the services are really in the best position to determine how to spend recruiting dollars," Pinrod said. "They understand their force, they know the requirements, they understand the culture. When the services are directed, or not directed to spend recruiting dollars, it is, we believe, a misdirection of funds. So we absolutely believe the decision should be left to the services. And we provide oversight to ensure they follow policy and law."
The Army does not just recruit, it also works to retain Soldiers. When Soldiers choose to leave the active force, the service hopes they transition to the Army National Guard or Army Reserve. To facilitate that, Seamands said the Army has bolstered its relationships with the two reserve components.
"We have developed a great partnership with the Reserve and the Guard, and work hand-in-hand with them as we identify and downsize the active component," Seamands said. "If you were to look at the active-component to reserve-component transition, the last couple of years we've exceeded 157 percent two years ago. We've raised the standard, or the goal for that across the board. My counterparts in the Guard and Reserve understand what our process is."
The general said one of the things the Army has done with the Reserve recruiters is ensure that Reserve recruiters get to meet earlier with departing active Soldiers.
"It becomes part of their thought process about getting out, going into the Reserve and Guard," Seamands said. "We talk about Soldier for Life, where you continue to be a Soldier after you leave the service. We don't like using the words separation of service. It's really a transition, whether you go to be a civilian, or you go into the reserve component."
Seamands also told lawmakers that the Army is working to increase recruiting of Soldiers who are equipped to go into the Army's cyber career fields. To that end, he said, recruiters are looking to recruit more among those who have educations and backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
He also told legislators that continued support from Congress for funding of recruiting efforts is what will help the Army continue to meet its recruiting goals in a difficult recruiting environment.
"Recruiting is expected to become increasingly more difficult due to the tough recruiting environment and the impacts of the budget," Seamands said. "These will likely cause a decline in the entry pool. The continued support of Congress for competitive military benefits and compensation, incentives, bonuses for our Soldiers, and marketing to help us tell our story will remain critical to the all-volunteer Army's effort to recruit, retain, and support the highest caliber Soldier. While we transfer to a smaller Army, we will remain dedicated to improving readiness, and building resilience in our Soldiers, civilians and families."