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Army sees moderate increase in early 2019 recruiting as it launches reforms

As part of a mass enlistment ceremony, Army recruits from the Phoenix Recruiting Battalion recite the oath of enlistment, Aug. 26, Chase Field, Phoenix. The Army's top leaders on Monday said the service's failure in 2018 to meet its recruiting goal of enlisting 76,500 soldiers was not a major setback.

MIKE SCHECK/U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPE Published: January 31, 2019

WASHINGTON – Army recruiting numbers increased 3 percent in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, a marginal gain for a massive recruiting initiative started after the service failed to reach its year-end goal for the first time in 13 years.

Largely driven by successful recruiting pushes in several large cities, which the Army has mostly ignored for decades, the small increase is a positive sign that widespread changes will attract more young men and women into the largest branch of the U.S. military, said Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the chief of Training and Doctrine Command. Those new initiatives have the Army’s 10,000 recruiting soldiers spending less time making calls and more time on social media, he said Thursday at the Pentagon.

“Generally, the quarter went pretty well,” Townsend said, moments after leading a high-level meeting of Army officials at the Pentagon focused on overhauling its recruiting enterprise for the first time in decades. “We’re making the reforms … but some of them haven’t had time to get traction yet. They’re kind of like a drag racer with the wheels spinning, we’re just about to go shooting down the track, I think.”

Last year, the Army fell about 6,500 recruits shy of its goal of bringing in 76,500 new soldiers, a benchmark that it lowered twice after senior leaders realized they would not achieve the loftier goals. Townsend blamed a strong economy for much of that misstep, but he chastised the Army’s failure to adapt to a changing social landscape in recent years.

The signs of future recruiting troubles were there in 2017, Townsend said.

“We barely made mission in 2017, and we probably should have put the energy into figuring out why – but since we did [make recruiting goals] it didn’t cause us to go all hands on deck,” he said. “We should have done the … after action review and the reform efforts we are doing now – we should have done those a year ago, and I think we’d be in a much better place than we are right now.”

In 2019, the Army aims to bring in 66,000 new soldiers – a goal leaders believe they will successfully surpass.

In recent months Townsend and Army Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, the chief of Army Recruiting Command, have loosened restrictions on recruiters use of social media, allowing them leeway to find new ways to recruit young men and women from a generation who grew up on the internet.

For some of those recruiters that is as simple as posting witty memes on Instagram. For others, it is reaching out directly to potential future soldiers via the platforms they use to communicate, including pitching Army service to users while participating in interactive gaming events.

The generals and other senior Army officials have also worked to fill 400 empty recruiting slots, unveiled four new Army commercials, revamped the service’s online presence and spent significant time meeting with local leaders in 22 cities where the Army has long struggled to recruit successfully.

Recruiters reported improved numbers in 16 of those 22 cities, which include major urban centers such as Chicago, New York, Denver and Miami. Overall, Los Angeles, Boston and Minneapolis showed the most promise, each improving by more than 20 percent, according to Army statistics. Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon recruiters achieved their quarterly goal for the first time in years.

“Those are very difficult markets,” Muth said. “So we feel confident that things are going [up], and it’s all these factors coming together … and we feel very confident in the path forward.”

In all, 33 or the Army’s 38 recruiting battalions showed improvement in the quarter over their performance in fiscal year 2018, Muth said.

He said he expects even larger bumps as the next phase of recruiting changes is introduced, which includes the launch of an Army E-sports team, a 20-person unit of soldiers assigned full time to compete in interactive online gaming and pitching the Army to its users.

The Army has already seen 7,000 soldiers sign up to compete for a slot on the team. Soldiers chosen will be assigned to the unit at Fort Knox for three years. They’ll spend much of their time traveling to cities to compete in regional and national video game competitions, with the hopes that young competitors’ interest in the Army will be piqued by their participation.

The service estimates it can reach more than 1 million viewers during those competitions.

“We’ve got to take recruiting to where our potential recruits are, and they are online, on social media … and we have to find ways to let them know what the Army is about where they are,” Muth said. “We’ve empowered our recruiters to what works for them. They know what is working, and they are telling us, and we’re getting better.”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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