As Army Cuts Recruiters, Service Deploys 2-Man Mobile Recruiting Stations

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A recruiter shows a high school student how to call for fire.
Oregon Army National Guard Spc. Megan Moreau, a forward observer with 2nd Battalion, 218th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, shows a high school student how to call for fire during a recruiting event. (National Guard/Michael Germundson)

U.S. Army Recruiting Command is reducing its force by roughly 1,700 recruiters over the next year. In an effort to be more efficient, it has launched a pilot program that equips select recruiters with mobile recruiting station gear to connect with young people in untapped areas of the country.

The Autonomous Recruiting Operations (ARO) pilot recently equipped 15 of the Army's top recruiters with a kit ranging from laptops to fingerprinting machines to run background checks on potential recruits -- everything they will need to process potential applicants without a recruiting station.

The ARO pilot recruiters will operate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Prattville, Alabama; Detroit, Michigan; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and El Centro, California.

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"We are going to take really high-producing recruiters, that both have the competence and the character we are looking for, selecting two out of each brigade and putting them in a high youth market area/low presence area and give them the tools and make it rain -- let's see what you can do," Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, deputy commanding general of USAREC, told Military.com.

The Army has recovered from a recruiting crisis, when it missed its fiscal 2018 goal by 6,500 recruits; it met its goals in both fiscal 2019 and 2020. Part of that recovery was due to a robust, new recruiting strategy, which included Army Forces Command sending extra personnel to serve as temporary recruiters.

"Because of what happened in recruiting year 2018, the Army threw a lot of resources at us; they threw about 2,000 extra recruiters at USAREC," Michaelis said. "And we are at the point right now that a portion of that -- Forces Command wants back, and it's the right thing to do. … We need to make sure that we've got squad leaders in squad leader positions and tank commanders in tank commander positions."

Army Recruiting Command reached a high of nearly 11,000 recruiters in October 2019. By September 2021, the command expects to be back to its normal authorized strength of about 9,300 recruiters, USAREC officials say.

The series of planned reductions started within the last eight months as the Army reduced the number of people sent to replace the additional recruiters as they finished their assignments, Michaelis said.

"The way it is going to happen is we just won't get assigned replacements," he said. "We think by the beginning of fiscal year 2022, we will be complete with them."

The challenge facing Recruiting Command is how to become more productive in the COVID-19 environment, which has hampered recruiters from meeting with young people as school events and community activities have been canceled to limit the spread of the virus.

"The added complication to this is that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our ability to connect to the target market, so we've got to find a more effective way in a COVID-19 environment to be able to do it," Michaelis said.

Shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic in the U.S., the command was forced to temporarily close its recruiting stations and expand its virtual recruiting operation. But now, leaders are looking for new ways to untether recruiters from its 1,405 recruiting stations, Michaelis said.

The ARO pilot will study changing the current policy dictating that recruiters must live within 50 miles of a recruiting station.

"We think we can put those guys 200 miles away from a station, give them all the capabilities of the station itself, and we think we will be able to be in places that quite frankly we haven't been ever or a long, long time," Michaelis said. "We are asking them to build that ambassadorship to those communities -- to the schools, to the colleges and universities, to the businesses and industry. ... We want them to be the face of the Army in places where we think from a market-share perspective we are leaving almost 10,000 potential recruits on the table."

What's still unclear, he said, is whether this effort will lead to the command deciding to downsize its footprint of recruiting stations across the country.

"We don't know the answer to that right now; it's one of the things we are looking at is if we need less recruiters and we are spread out more, what does that do to our facilities? ... Are there things we need to shut down? Do we want to change locations? Can they be smaller? Do they become hubs?" Michaelis said. "Instead of being processing centers, do they become kind of hub and spoke activities, where every three to four weeks or months we come into the recruiting stations? We are not ready to make a statement that says, 'We can close down X number.' We are not ready to do that right now."

The ARO pilot is scheduled to last about 90 to 120 days, and Recruiting Command will take the lessons learned from it and run a second pilot next spring.

"The output is going to drive whether we continue down this route," Michaelis said. "If we see increases in productivity, which is month over month contracts coming out of these particular areas where we didn't have contracts coming out before ... The theory is that is going to unlock an incredible amount of potential in our recruiting force to continue to want to do this in places where we've got the population that's right for us to be able to engage."

Recruiting Command will also have to ensure that this untethered style of recruiting doesn't have a negative effect on the quality of life for its recruiters, he said.

"That is important to us," Michaelis said. "We want to set every condition available for those recruiters to be successful, starting with who we select and the equipment that we give them and the support we give them.

"And if the pilots work out, then we start looking at ourselves internally and go, 'How do we change the [way] we educate and train, what are the tools that we give them and the social media space and the processing and how does this fundamentally change how USAREC connects to America's youth in a way that is more efficient and more effective?'"

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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