Air Force recruiters want anyone, civilian or service member, who has a smartphone in their pocket to to recruit people to become an airman by submitting their info to the service's main recruiting office.
A new feature on the Air Force's Aim High smartphone application announced Thursday will allow anyone to submit information on a person's behalf, and the service will forward it to a local recruiter in hopes of getting them to join the ranks.
But there's a problem: It doesn't appear that the new feature offers any way to screen or verify that the person whose information is being submitted wants to be contacted by a recruiter and is truly interested, which could lead to people spamming or bothering those who don't want to become an airman.
"Basically, any potential lead is funneled to our Lead Refinement and Call Center who then reach out to see if the person is interested in joining," Chrissy Cuttita, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Recruiting Service, told Military.com when asked whether there was a way to prevent unwanted calls or contact. "If they are not, then it is closed out."
The new update to the Air Force's Aim High app allows anyone who has downloaded the software to "refer a friend;" the app asks for name, email, phone number and ZIP code. All of those pieces of information are available for most Americans in public internet directories.
But users can also submit optional information on their friends that is more private, such as date of birth, height, weight and education level if they know it.
In June 2020, several months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Air Force launched the app to provide information on the Air Force and Space Force. The app was intended to compensate for the fact that recruiters couldn't get in front of as many people during the pandemic, and the software now has 270,000 users, the Air Force Recruiting Service said.
The new recruiting software update comes as the Air Force, as well as all the service branches, try to bounce back with innovative ideas to grow the ranks following a brutal recruitment year in 2022 that was exacerbated by the pandemic and having fewer people to pull from overall as more young Americans become ineligible to join the military.
The military branches have increasingly said they need those already part of the military and veterans community to reach out and try to bring in new recruits, a goal that appears to have been the motivation for the update.
"The new feature allows anyone who has the app to play an important role in filling the uniformed vacancies in our force," Capt. Michael Bambarger, the Aim High app functional manager, said in a press release. "No longer does a military member approached in public have to refer someone to the local recruiting office, or a friend or family member have to convince someone they know who's interested in joining the military to seek out a recruiter."
Last year, the Air Force began offering hefty bonuses to help fill the ranks, including $50,000 for some of the service's most dangerous jobs and substantial bonuses for cyber professionals.
The service managed to meet its active-duty recruiting goals, but was behind between 1,500 to 2,000 airmen for each component of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service, said last year.
Thomas said the Air Force Recruiting Service typically has around 25% of its recruits ready to begin training by the start of the year -- in part due to the delayed-entry program -- but that number had dwindled to 10% for the start of fiscal 2023.
"I would say that we're doing a dead stick landing as we come into the end of fiscal year 2022," Thomas told reporters in September, describing an emergency aircraft landing in which a pilot must maneuver an airplane to the ground without its engines. "We have the 30th of September, and we're going to need to turn around on the first of October and do an afterburner takeoff."
The Space Force, which falls under the Department of the Air Force, is not faced with the same woes as its sister service, but that hasn't stopped it from also trying new recruiting methods.
The Space Force redesigned its recruiting website last month, offering an interactive video game-like experience in which visitors can initiate launch and deploy a satellite.
Space Force is by far the smallest service, with an end strength set at 8,600 Guardians under the newly passed 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
Since the Space Force was formed in 2019, recruiters have brought in approximately 1,000 Guardians. In 2023, the service aims to recruit 532 enlisted Guardians and 42 officers.
The smartphone app does not have Space Force career content yet, but it "will be integrated into the Aim High app soon," according to the Air Force Recruiting Service.
Military.com reported last week that the Army is putting the finishing touches on a new ribbon to be awarded to soldiers who help convince someone to join the service. Last year, the service came up 15,000 active-duty soldiers short of its goal of bringing in 60,000 new recruits.
The Navy, according to the latest recruitment figures released in October, made its annual active-duty enlistment goal by just 42 sailors, recruiting a total of 33,442. It missed all of the other active-duty and reserve targets, including active-duty officers -- coming up just over 200 short, Military.com previously reported.
The service also launched a new program in late December called "Every Sailor is a Recruiter", an initiative that encourages sailors to submit contact information for friends and family who they believe would be an asset to the Navy.
Sailors are promised a "Flag Letter of Commendation" -- a letter from an admiral -- for every successful contract. The letters are still worth points toward advancement, and sailors are capped at a maximum of two.
Additionally, the Marine Corps -- which made its 2022 goals by just eight Marines -- is rolling out new, larger bonuses, Military.com reported, to entice recruiters to remain at their duty stations for longer as the service looks at another dire recruiting year.
All the services are finding it more difficult to find eligible candidates to join their ranks.
A Pentagon study first reported by Military.com last year shows that 77% of young Americans would not qualify for military service without a waiver due to being overweight, using drugs, or having mental and physical health problems.
-- Steve Beynon and Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.