By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 13, 2022) -- In fiscal year 2022, only the Marine Corps met its recruiting goals, said Stephanie Miller, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy. She said she expects it to be equally tough to convince young people to serve in FY 2023.
Miller participated in a panel discussion Wednesday at the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting and exposition. She and others discussed the challenges of recruiting.
"[The] Army is not the only service that's facing this challenge -- it's all the services," she said. "For those of us that really work these problems every day, we'll say that fiscal year '23 is looking just as challenging, if not more, than '22. All the services are headed into this recruiting year with probably some of the most shallow [delayed entry program] pools that they've ever had. And the market dynamics have not significantly changed. And one of the biggest challenges we have is just that propensity to serve."
Young Americans, Miller said, are driven by a passion for purpose, relationships and a clear path to success. Military service provides all of those things, she said, but the department and services might not be clearly communicating that. In many cases, she said, the potential recruits simply don't know that the military can give them what they are looking for.
"It's not that they're necessarily saying no ... it's just that they don't know ... about what those opportunities are and how we can ... meet their drive for passion, for purpose, for relationships and a clear path to success," she said.
The Defense Department, Miller said, is working with Congress on the authorities it has for marketing and advertising. She said existing authorities are antiquated.
"We do a lot, both internally and with our strategic marketing and advertising partners, to work creatively within those authorities," she said. "But really, what we're able to do on a day-to-day basis is nowhere near what you see coming out of the more sophisticated marketing and advertising that you see particularly from ... Silicon Valley, or Chicago, or Boston, or New York. We're really a blunt force instrument in many respects."
What the department looks to do and to help the services do, Miller said, is to more precisely deliver messaging to target audiences.
"If you work with the generation that we're trying to recruit from or you have them in your family, you know that they are very market savvy, they're very attuned to filtering out the messages that they're not really interested in," Miller said.
The department and the services, Miller said, must work harder to ensure recruitment marketing and strategies are getting in front of people. One effort underway, she said, is that the department is working with Congress to look at how existing authorities and how they might be adjusted to provide the department and services with better ways to reach target audiences.
"The other thing that we're trying to do is work with [Congress] to take a look at our existing authorities for money and whether it's appropriate to still try to approach some of our appropriations as one-year appropriations or would it be better to do two-year appropriations for certain program lines aligned to the accession and recruiting side of the house," Miller said. "Because, with that, then we can actually do earlier market buys, we can get better advertising placement. It just might be better for us all around."
The department is also looking for support to regain access to potential recruits within high schools and local communities, Miller said. Data have shown that there's less connection now between the military and high schools, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic because high schools were operating remotely. But another reason is that students, parents and school personnel have put a greater emphasis on going to college.
"Sometimes going into an enlistment path in the military is looked upon as not having achieved the level of success that ... may have had been ... kind of drummed into them," she said.
In line with that, Miler said, is that many potential recruits also have parents who are the first to graduate from college, and military service might not be seen as a viable path to success.
"For them, particularly in some minority or diverse populations, they see not going on to a secondary education opportunity as not being successful," she said. "We certainly believe that going into the military, whether it's an officer path or an enlistment path, is going to drive you along the path to success that includes a lot of different education opportunities. We need to do a better job of making sure that we are explaining that -- not only to youth [but to] influencers."