Defense chief looks to improve military recruiting

Defense chief looks to improve military recruiting
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter is putting in place new efforts to improve military recruiting and strengthen the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) as part of his initiative to modernize the Pentagon’s personnel policies.

“We would be missing an opportunity if we kept fishing only in the same geographic ponds we always have," Carter said during a speech Tuesday announcing the measures at City College of New York. "Instead, we need to seize that opportunity by fishing in more ponds, new ponds and ponds we haven’t been to in a long time.”


It's the latest part of Carter's “Force of the Future” initiative, which aims to attract and retain recruits by updating policies to better compete with the private sector. Previous changes have included expanding paid maternity leave and updating the military promotion system.

Military recruiting is shrinking, Carter said, with 40 percent of recruits coming from just six states. Further, people from rural areas are twice as likely to serve as those from urban areas, and less than 1 percent of Americans have served in the military.

Part of the issue are misconceptions people get about military service from popular culture, Carter said.

“Unless someone has a friend or family member who’s serving, they’re most likely to see our military in movies like American Sniper, video games like Call of Duty or TV commercials featuring wounded warriors or troops coming home,” Carter said. “While all those images are somewhat true, they’re only a slice of our military’s jobs, lives and stories.”

To address that, the military will update its advertising to focus more on the value of military life and public service, Carter said. Advertising will aim to reach audiences in all media, including online, he added.

The Pentagon will also launch a Speakers Bureau of senior leaders and experts to talk to key audiences such as schools, youth groups, civic groups, cultural groups, coaches and career counselors.

Carter also pledged to update benchmarks recruits need to meet before they join, such as policies on tattoos, to better reflect modern times.

“Some of these things we’ll never be able to compromise on, and we will always have to maintain high standards, but at the same time, these benchmarks must be kept relevant for both today’s force and tomorrow’s, meaning we have to ensure they’re not unnecessarily restrictive,” he said.

On the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), Carter said the program will offer cadets more graduate school scholarships, particularly for law school and medical school. There will also be more scholarships available to students in their second and third year of college who want to join ROTC, he said.

The Pentagon will also develop more data-driven ways to assess what ROTC units are the most effective and make sure the program is getting the best instructors by having promotions better value officers who choose to take those jobs, Carter said.

Despite his tenure likely ending with the Obama administration, Carter said he’s confident his Force of the Future initiatives will be upheld by the next administration.

“I’m confident they will because they make so much sense,” he said. “There’s a logic here to what we’re doing.”