The Army Could Not Effectively Address Gen Z's Misconceptions About Army Life in 2022

A Soldier from Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment showcases to newly arrived trainees will look like and the kind of warfighter they can be 22 weeks later during a rifle squad demonstration. (U.S. Army/Capt. Stephanie Snyder)

In generations past, there were a few things we were sure we knew about joining the Army: You got money for college, free health care, access to VA home loans and you could retire after 20 years. Generation Z, the generation of Americans born after 1997, doesn't know any of that, according to a survey released last year -- but they also think they do.

A March 2022 "Know Your Army" national consumer survey of 3,000 people ages 18-76 found that lack of awareness about Army benefits could be a culprit. The survey found that 73% of Gen Zers surveyed believe they know what Army life is like, the highest number recorded from any generation, but their perceptions don't match the reality of Army benefits and careers.

In response, the Army created the "Know Your Army" media campaign, which covered these basic tenets of Army life, from 30 days' paid vacation and parental leave to early retirement and VA home loans.

The survey found 30% of Gen Z respondents believe working in the Army will put them in a combat role. The reality of military life is much different, as only 29% of veterans from all branches reported seeing combat in a 2019 Pew Research study. As the largest branch of the military, the Army offers careers that might deploy, but are unlikely to see actual combat.

Gen Zers also don't know how time in the Army is actually spent. Forty-nine percent of those Gen Zers surveyed believe soldiers have no work-life balance and soldiers get no personal time or vacation days. In reality, military members tend to have more vacation days than the average American worker. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, civilians working for private companies get 10-20 days off per year, depending on how long they've worked at a company.

Then there are those things previous generations were sure they knew about joining the military, like health care, education and retirement. Yet only 53% of Gen Z respondents to the survey reported accurate knowledge about Army tuition assistance programs and GI Bill education benefits. Only 36% knew that training for their Army occupational specialty could lead to advanced training certificates.

Despite the fact that most members of their generation want to own a home but say they can't afford it, only 34% in the Gen Z age group knew about the VA home loan benefits. This includes provisions like not needing a down payment, lower interest rates and not needing private mortgage insurance when buying.

Read: 4 Outright Lies Veterans Believe About VA Home Loans

Only 44% knew about the military's health-care benefits for military members, and 42% knew that coverage could extend to their families at little to no cost. Even fewer (21%) knew about the Army's paid parental leave after having a baby, which extends to both parents. Finally, only 31% of those surveyed in the Generation Z age group knew that soldiers are eligible for retirement after 20 years of service.

The "Know Your Army" campaign was the Army's effort to spread awareness about the benefits of service. It also instituted a handful of other initiatives; the Army instituted "quick ship” bonuses of up to $35,000, revised its tattoo policies and extended the markets of its top recruiters nationwide, among others.

Still, despite its best efforts, the Army missed its recruiting goals by 25% in 2022, forcing it to cut its total force projection by 10,000 soldiers. Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth also cited tight labor market competition, Army fitness standards and misperceptions among parents for the shortfall.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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