Despite grim predictions early in the pandemic, the Army is finishing its fiscal year ahead of its 485,000-soldier end strength target, leaving officials optimistic about recruiting in the new normal.
"We met our congressionally mandated fiscal year 2020 endstrength goal of 485,000; it was actually 485,383," Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, deputy chief of staff for personnel, told reporters at a virtual round table Friday.
The novel coronavirus outbreak in March drastically altered the Army's approach to recruiting and retention. The highly contagious virus forced the service to shutter its recruiting stations temporarily and shift to a virtual approach. The virus also encouraged many soldiers facing an uncertain future in the civilian world to take special short-term extensions of service.
The Army met its original retention goal of 50,200 in March and then expanded it by another 2,000, offering short-term extensions from three to 11 months.
The Army saw 1,644 soldiers take short-term reenlistments, Sgt. Maj. Mark Clark, senior enlisted leader for the Directorate of Personnel Management, said. Of that number, 1,002 of them extended into fiscal year 2021 and 139 of them reenlisted, he said.
U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) accepted 62,150 new soldiers into the active ranks, which was a slightly lower amount than it had intended, Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, commander of USAREC, said.
"Our first goal at the start of the year was a little bit higher, but it was adjusted because the Army did extremely well in retention," Vereen said.
Fiscal year 2020 "of course has been a challenging year for the nation and it was no different for USAREC," Vereen said, describing how the Army was forced to restructure its recruiting model from a face-to-face approach to a virtual strategy.
"While COVID-19 certainly represented significant challenges for us, we overcame them with new ideas that we are now paving the way on how we will continue to do business in the future."
Vereen credited the Army's recruiters for being extremely adaptive after the service announced in March that it would transition to virtual recruiting to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
"We normally do everything we can possibly do in a face-to-face sort of environment because really that is more effective," Vereen said. "Nothing is more effective than face-to-face communication."
But recruiters soon realized that operating in the virtual world during a pandemic was really the only way to reach young people who were mostly isolated in their homes, Vereen said.
"If they are not in schools and not out in the communities ... they are on line; they are in the virtual space," Vereen said.
"We can do 90% of our recruiting operations online. There are a few things that we have to do in person, but we have learned that ... the ability to go into the virtual realm was really effective."
Fiscal year 2020 also showed increases in the diversity of the force, Vereen said, adding that 47% of regular Army recruits "represented minority populations."
"We are continuing our efforts to encourage more women to serve, and we are seeing positive results, Vereen said. "In FY 2020, 18.1% of our regular Army recruits were women ... also Hispanic women in particular enlisted at a higher rate than we have seen in recent years at 4.2%."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.