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Army’s top leaders optimistic about service’s future even as it struggles to recruit

Then-Secretary of the Army, Dr. Mark Esper, talks to 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command Soldiers at the Landstuhl Satellite Facility, Germany, on Sept. 24, 2018. (Pfc. Charles Thorman/U.S. Army)

The Army’s failure in 2018 to meet its recruiting goal of enlisting 76,500 soldiers was not a major setback for the service, which is considering major changes to how it attracts, trains and outfits its troops, top leaders said Monday.

Army Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the service’s chief of staff, downplayed concerns about the Army falling 6,500 recruits short of its fiscal year 2018 goal, missing its mark for the first time since 2015. The shortfall meant the Army was unable to grow its active duty force from 476,000 soldiers to 483,500.

Milley described the failure as “a warning light” that has encouraged the service’s top leaders to consider large scale changes to its recruiting process as it attempts to draw from a shrinking pool of qualified applicants in an improved economy with more employment opportunities than at any point in recent history.

“There’s a lot of opportunity out there [for potential recruits] and we’re in a highly competitive environment out there to recruit good talent,” Milley told reporters on the opening day of the Association of United States Army’s annual convention in Washington.

Despite the shortfall, Milley said the Army could have met its goals if it accepted lower-quality recruits, which it did during the 2007 surge in Iraq. That policy has been much maligned in the years since, as the Army saw spikes in behavioral and other problems in its force. Milley said the service would not return to that policy.

“We have committed ourselves … to not sacrifice quality for quantity,” the general said. “We very easily could have met the numbers if we were just after the number. But we want to make sure we have the highest quality recruits to man our Army.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command has launched a wide-scale review of its recruiting and marketing practices. The service has already added several hundred recruiters, spent money improving recruiting facilities and focused its marketing on social media and other platforms popular with young adults.

The recruiting challenges come as the Army works to change much of how it operates. Esper on Monday billed the wide-scale reform efforts as an “Army renaissance,” asking soldiers to buy into the reform process in his speech opening the three-day conference.

“Change is underway and change will remain underway during my tenure,” Esper said. “Continuing these reforms will be critical to sustaining this momentum.”

Those changes include the Army’s launch this year of the four-star led Army Forces Command in Austin, Texas, which is designed to speed up innovation to more quickly outfit soldiers for the potential of war with a near-peer enemy such as Russia or China. It also includes the development of a new, combat-driven physical fitness test and the extension of the time soldiers in certain jobs spend in initial entry training.

The Army this year extended infantry training from 14 to 22 weeks. It will soon do the same with training for incoming armor and engineering recruits, Esper said.

Those changes are designed to boost the Army’s upward trend in increasing its brigades’s combat readiness, Milley said.

When Milley took the reins as the Army’s top officer in 2015, the service was in the midst of downsizing due to budget constraints. But following a sustained effort by Milley and other top military officials, the Pentagon has seen a boost in defense spending that has directly contributed to battlefield preparedness, he said.

“We’ve stopped the bleeding and we are on an upward swing,” the general said. “We’ve, I think, turned the corner. We are not out of the woods yet. We have a ways to go.”

“I am very, very comfortable and very, very pleased with what the Army has done to reset.”


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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