The best recruiter for the U.S. military is the U.S. family.
“I came from a military family,” said 10-year veteran of the Air Force Corrie Waarum. “My father was retired after 22 years in the navy; my brother is also in the military. There was always an influence of service before self in my family.”
But that influence, as valuable as it is, is also a source of concern for military leadership.
“We want to see more of America participate in military service,” said Vice Admiral of the Navy Bill Moran. “We are supported and funded by the American people and the less they understand who we are, the less connected they are to us [and] the greater the risk that we aren’t supported in the future.”
The number of recruits with parents in the armed services is declining. But there’s a larger reason for the Vice Admiral’s concern: the improving economy.
“That is always our biggest competitor in recruitment,” Moran said. Since the recession, the quality and aptitude of navy recruits has reached record levels, the Vice Admiral said. But as the economy improves, maintaining such recruitment will become more of a challenge.
Moran said the Navy has doubled maternity leave, and is sending service members on year-long tours in industry to pick up skills, and "so industry will begin to understand the makeup and the character and talent that’s resident within our military services.” The navy is sending more of its service members to graduate programs in civilian institutions instead of war colleges for similar reasons.
“The military, in order to continue to meet its recruiting goals, has to enlarge its potential base. We saw a small increase in recruiting after 9/11 due to patriotic reasons, but that abated after a couple of years, and it wasn’t as large as people think,” said Matt Brogdon, a veteran from a military family who's with Pathfinder Consulting. “The change I’ve seen has been the marketing that the military does — the branding, if you will.”
Navy and Air Force commercials focus on academic and technical skills to be gained, niche marketing targets NFL fans, video gamers and mission-driven millennials. The armed forces may need recruits to fight, but it has to first fight for recruits.