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CT National Guard doing well with recruiting as other military branches experience shortfalls

About 200 members of the Connecticut Army National Guard prepare to deploy. (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant/TNS)

While the nation’s military struggles amid a recruiting shortfall, the Connecticut National Guard has been replenishing its ranks relatively well, Guard recruiting leaders said this week.

“We’re getting back on pace. We’re moving in the right direction,” Army National Guard Lt. Col. Giancarlo D’Angelo said.

The Army Guard’s total force is about 3,700 soldiers, D’Angelo said, adding that the Guard seeks to sign up about 450 enlisted soldiers and about 50 officers annually. Also, about 50 more enlisted soldiers and officers typically transfer in to the Connecticut Guard from other states each year, often when members move to take a new civilian job, D’Angelo said.

The Guard did well with recruiting at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were looking for jobs, he said. But 2022, when employment around the nation ramped up, was the worst recruiting year since 1973.

In 2023 and so far this year, however, the Army Guard is rebounding, D’Angelo said. For the first quarter of fiscal year 2023-24 (the federal fiscal year, so the first quarter is October through December), the Guard signed up 110 recruits, while the regular Army and Army Reserves attracted a combined 100 recruits in Connecticut, D’Angelo said.

“We are out-recruiting them, which is rare,” he said.

Both D’Angelo and the Connecticut Air National Guard’s recruiting and retention supervisor, Master Sgt. Marc Mojica, said medical screening for potential recruits is complex and time consuming, a big hurdle to cross compared with previous practice. The Connecticut Air Guard aims for a force of 1,100 to 1,200 service members and is currently at about 1,090, Mojica, a New Britain native who joined the Guard in 2002, said.

Nationally, the all-volunteer force, created in 1973 after the draft ended, “faces one of its greatest challenges since inception,” Ashish Vazirani, the Department of Defense’s acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said in December.

In the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2023, military services collectively missed goals by about 41,000 recruits, the DOD reported.

Recruiting challenges include:

— A strong economy, which has given young people many more career options.

— Generation Z, born from 1997 to 2012, “generally has a low trust in institutions,” Vazirani said.

— Young people have fewer family members who served, which decreases the propensity to serve. In 1995, 40 percent of young people had a parent who served in the military, Vazirani said. By 2022, just 12 percent had a parent who had served, leading to “a disconnect between the military and a large share of society,” he said.

“While the picture of the current recruiting environment is acutely difficult, the Defense Department and the military services are working together to resolve issues, improve processes, and expand awareness of the many opportunities military service offers,” Vazirani said.

The military needs the help of leaders across the nation, including members of Congress, to make a “national call to service,” especially for military service, but also for other public service, he said.

The Marine Corps and Space Force made their recruiting goals in the past fiscal year, the DOD reported, but recruiting patterns have increasingly come to reflect the nation’s red state-blue state political divide, with sign-ups strong in the South and Midwest, but lagging on the coasts, retired Army Brig. Gen. Michael Meese said at a Rand Corp. event in January, according to, a military news site.

“When you look at it regionally, the North and the West tend to be less positive” on military service “than the South and the Midwest,” said Meese, the former head of West Point’s Department of Social Sciences, according to the report.

The pattern has been in place for decades and, should it continue, Meese said, he could envision a time 50 years from now when recruits from New York and Oregon would number in the single digits, “and everybody else is gonna be from Georgia and North Carolina” despite the ongoing efforts of the services to attract recruits nationwide.

A Rand Corp. report in December, “What Americans Think About Veterans and Military Service,” found the U.S. public’s overall confidence in the military is declining in line with lower recruitment.

“Although the public still holds the military generally in high esteem compared with other major institutions,” Rand reported, “that esteem is wavering, influenced by such factors as the end of the war in Afghanistan, the increased polarization of the public and heightened politicization of the military.”

The report found that a majority of Americans (54.4 percent) would discourage a young person close to them from enlisting in the military, but a majority (61.2 percent) would encourage a young person to join the military via Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) or a service academy (for example, as an officer), according to the report.

The U.S. Army recently announced a “transformation” to meet its mission with a smaller force. The branch finished fiscal year 2022-23 with 452,000 active-duty soldiers, its smallest force since 1940, the Army Times reported.

The healthy jobs market has affected Connecticut Guard recruiting, D’Angelo said, but he pointed to the benefits of military service. The Guard offers health insurance to single members for $50 a month, free tuition to public higher education in Connecticut, up to $50,000 for student loan repayment, sign-up bonuses as high as $20,000, and retirement benefits for those who serve 20 years.

The typical enlistment is six years, D’Angelo, an East Lyme native who has been with the service since 1999, said. Guard members serve one weekend each month and two weeks each year. Starting annual pay for a private is about $4,700, he said. The Army Guard jobs include infantry, engineers, medics, cyber warfare specialists, truck drivers, cooks, and band members.

Representatives of other Guard and Reserve branches did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


(c) 2024 the New Haven Register 

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