U.S. Army leaders declared victory Tuesday over the service's recruiting crisis, announcing that it had exceeded its fiscal 2019 goals for recruiting and retention and increased the number of women in its active-duty ranks.
The announcement comes after a year-long struggle to recover from a recruiting shortfall in fiscal 2018 when the service missed its goal for the active force by 6,500 soldiers. As a result, the Army launched sweeping changes to its recruiting strategy that included adding about 700 recruiters and targeting 22 major cities the service had not focused on in the past.
The recruitment total for 2019 is still lower than last year’s recruitment total, however. The Army started fiscal 2018 with a goal of recruiting 80,000 soldiers, then adjusted the goal mid-year to 76,500. It ultimately recruited 70,000 in 2018, compared with 68,000 so far this year.
In 2016, the Army was in the process of reducing its end-strength to 460,000 when the service reversed course to increase to 476,000, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told defense reporters.
McConville, who was then the Army’s G1, or head of personnel, said the service had to quickly change directions and grow by 16,000 soldiers. To meet that goal, “we pretty much used up our deferred-entry pool and, in 2018, we tried to continue to grow the Army. And, quite frankly, we just didn’t make it," he said.
This left the service short on contracts at the beginning of fiscal 2018, so Recruiting Command spent the months from October to December on the goal before catching up in January, Army recruiting officials said.
"We made 68,000, that is going to happen and ... we have retained a lot more than we thought and our attrition has gone down," McConville said. "The intent of this year was to come in with an end-strength of 478,000; we are going to be well over that. We are going to come in somewhere between 481,000 to 483,000."
“Some have asked the question, ‘Well wait a minute, you are 68,000. You were 70,000 last year. What’s the big deal?”’ he said. “Well, we actually have signed contracts, so as we start next year we have more soldiers ready to go.”
Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said that having senior leaders travel to major cities and meet with mayors, school superintendents and other school officials made a difference in how recruiters were able to connect with youth in those cities.
"We did better in cities like Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles than we had done in years," he said. "By readdressing the 22 cities in America, we had a double-digit lift with females and minorities. We are getting a much more comprehensive cohort of men and women to join the force that are a reflection of the country."
Army officials didn't provide specific breakdown of the numbers, but the service went from women making up 17.1% of the ranks to 18%, said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command.
"We haven't been that high since 2004," he said.
McConville credited the Pentagon decision to open all occupations to women, including jobs in close-combat units such as infantry and special operations forces.
"Every single job has opened up. ... The women who went through Ranger School really set the stage for the future of women in the Army," he said, referring to the female soldiers who have volunteered for Ranger School after the first two women earned the coveted Ranger Tab in 2015.
"Women are excelling in the military, and they are a significant portion of the military," McConville added.
In addition to recruiting more soldiers, the Army retained 51,000 soldiers, surpassing its retention goal of 50,000, said Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston.
"So we are seeing that once soldiers join the Army, they want to stay in, even in a very healthy economy," he said.
Army officials stressed that recruiters did not sacrifice quality to meet this year's recruiting goal, pointing to a 3.4% drop in waivers for prior offenses such as marijuana possession or driving while intoxicated, Muth said.
"We increased our contracts by 10%, so we are going to end up having 4,500 more contracts," he said. "But we weren't going to sacrifice the quality and so the waivers -- that didn't change."
The Army will use that 4,500 surplus in contracts to start out strong for the fiscal 2020 recruiting year, Muth said.
"We have to have money in the bank to be able to write a check the first of October because we have to ship 3,000 soldiers that first month," he said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.