Recruits visit the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, as part of Army National Hiring Days, June 30, 2020.

Recruits visit the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, as part of Army National Hiring Days, June 30, 2020. (Sarah Sangster/U.S. Army)

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The coronavirus pandemic took a bite from its recruiting goals this year, but the Army expects to retake that ground with a three-day campaign that ended Thursday, according to the service’s deputy chief of recruiting.

The Army has offered an additional $2,000 bonus on top of career incentives to recruits who joined during Army Hiring Days, a drive that relied heavily on social media, Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, deputy commanding general of Army Recruiting Command, told Stars and Stripes by phone on Wednesday. The goal is 10,000 new soldiers, which meets strength requirements for the year.

This type of recruiting drive is a first for the Army.

“We wanted this to be like dropping a brick into a puddle,” he said.

The service was on track to meet its recruiting and retention goals before a three-month lockdown due to the coronavirus forced its 10,000 recruiters to work from home, Michaelis said.

During that same period, U.S. unemployment skyrocketed as businesses closed and people stayed home to curtail the virus’ spread.

Army re-enlistments reached record highs, but without face-to-face interactions, recruiting numbers fell, he said.

The service devised a strategy to put potential recruits in touch with recruiters without violating social distance guidelines. It turned to civilian corporations to learn how they met hiring goals and discovered a campaign run by McDonald’s several years ago. The fast-food giant hired nearly 50,000 people in one day, Michaelis said.

Army Hiring Days, with one day remaining, appeared to be meeting or exceeding its goals, Michaelis said. Any recruits who sign up after the Army meets its congressionally mandated goals for this fiscal year will be credited toward fiscal year 2021.

The campaign relied on virtual messaging and marketing that flooded social media with simple themes about the benefits of service, including signing bonuses for specialized career fields, student loan repayment plans, medical benefits and housing, he said. The $2,000 bonus for recruits who joined during three-day push applies only to active-duty enlistments, not the Army Reserve or National Guard.

The Army campaign turned to successful social media influencers in its own ranks, like Staff Sgt. Jorge Ortiz, a recruiter in San Antonio.

Ortiz has a prolific Instagram account, @ssg_ortiz_jorge, with thousands of followers from across the country, he said via telephone Wednesday.

He shares stories about his life as a member of the San Antonio community to humanize the idea of being a soldier, he said, adding that stories about his wife, son and their dog provide a real-life perspective on the Army.

Michaelis said the Army focused its effort on Facebook and Instagram but encouraged soldiers to use the platform they were most comfortable with.

“The only environment we are not playing in is TikTok, and that is based on where their servers are located,” he said.

The Army banned soldiers from using the popular Chinese social media app in December because of potential security issues. Twitter: @bolingerj2004

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