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US Army pivots marketing efforts to attract younger audience after missing recruitment goals

Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper swears in new recruits at the Baltimore MEPS station at Fort George G. Meade (Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia/U.S. Army)
April 29, 2019

After failing to meet its 2018 recruiting goals, the U.S. Army is rolling out a new recruitment strategy involving events catered to children as young as 12.

To do this, the Army is concentrating on the 22 cities where enlistment numbers are down, including Baltimore, Boston, Kansas City, Orlando, Sacramento, Oklahoma City and Pittsburgh, where they will hold family-oriented events and introduce service members to children as a way to leave a good impression of the Army from a young age, NBC 5 reported.

It is common for the Army to target big events to set up enlistment stations and to offer brochures and information on the benefits of joining. At these big venues, recruiting officers are able to reach an audience of, not only 18-year-olds but also kids as young as 12.

Some of the events allow kids to compete in video game competitions while wearing Army gear.

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Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Hochenberger said, “We like to create family atmospheres in all of our events that we do. We encourage young kids to come and look at all the Army gear.”

The kids can also meet some real-life soldiers and others who serve the U.S.

“We are just people, just like everybody else, and this is a profession just the same as a doctor or lawyer would be,” Hochenberger said.

Hochenberger added, “The Army now has an esports team. That’s one of our new teams that we’ve just developed. It’s some top-ranked people in the world.”

It is very difficult to try and recruit 18-year-olds as they have usually set a path moving forward in their lives by that age.

“By the time we normally talk to kids — 17, 18 years old — they already have their paths laid out,” Hochenberger said.

Some parents, like Shauna Knight, oppose the new recruiting tactics for the younger kids.

Although Hochenberger said the Army is not recruiting kids, Knight said, “You may not be recruiting them, but what’s the purpose of showing up at a sporting event if you aren’t trying to make yourself known?”

Knight, a former Marine said, “It’s a shock to your system to go straight into the military out of high school.”

She said that her 14-year-old son David, wants to become an Army Ranger but she believes he is much too young to consider it.

Knight said, “Maybe (when they are) 14 or 15, you can start talking to these kids, but 12 is a very young age. I mean, they are not really ready.”

Some parents do support the Army’s new efforts. Courtney Hudson said, “Three of my kids went to college. I’ve always given them an option. You have two choices: You can either go to the military, or you can go to college. They chose college.”

However, her 21-year-old daughter recently left college and joined the Army. She said her daughter called her and said, “Mom, guess what? I’m leaving July 3.”

Hudson said, “Had she been exposed (to the Army) at a younger age, that would have helped her decision right after graduating high school.”