As veterans, I am sure you receive regular thanks for your service and often reflect, with pride, on your time and experience in the military, regardless of the service to which you are connected.
You fully understand the personal sacrifices service entails, the importance of our military to the protection of our nation, its values and vital interests, too. I’m willing to wager most of you wouldn’t trade your time in service for any other experience.
Currently our military is getting smaller. As the number of service members decreases, so does the number of citizens who have an understanding and history of service. This is an important point because young people rely on those with experience to inform their decision-making about the paths they consider for their own futures.
As we reshape our military to meet the requirements of today and tomorrow, even though smaller, our Army must continue to recruit our country’s best qualified citizens to defend our nation.
Over the last few years, military recruiting efforts have been successful in attracting the best and the brightest of America's youth from every corner of the country. Competition for high-quality recruits is increasing as the economy improves and the value proposition of military service erodes when compared with other career paths. Moreover, the improvement in youth unemployment indicates we are entering a more competitive environment for talent acquisition; said differently, we face growing challenges in our fight recruit the very best.
Complicating our fight for talent, seven out of 10 individuals are not eligible to serve based on educational, medical or physical limitations, mental health challenges or criminal history. Of those three in 10 who are eligible, fewer than one in four desires to serve.
Although willingness to serve has remained stable over the past few years, youth have grown less positive about the associations they make with military service. For instance, over the past decade, there has been more than a 20-percentage-point drop in the proportion of youth who believe the military could help them earn money for college and provide them with an attractive lifestyle.
There are fewer Americans with military experience who are able or willing to encourage youth to explore military service as an option for their future. Their stories are needed to help young people and influencers alike understand the importance of and need for volunteers.
Parents in particular play an important role in the career decision-making process. Recent surveys show that 66 percent of dads and 53 percent of moms would support their son or daughter's decision to join the military. However, only 37 percent of dads and 35 percent of moms would recommend military service if their son or daughter asked for advice on post-high school options.
As you know well, military service empowers our nation’s youth to grow as individuals, citizens and leaders. Serving as a protector of our nation provides them with more than a steady paycheck, health care and adventure; it develops pride, discipline and an opportunity to be part of one of the country’s most respected organizations and gain an understanding of the importance of lifetime commitment to civic obligations.
Our all-volunteer force has served the nation well for more than 40 years, but without renewed interest, the future readiness, quality and effectiveness of the all-volunteer force is at risk.
How can you help? Share your story – whether it was as a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine – with the youth in your community. Encourage them to be part of something greater than themselves, to protect and defend the freedoms and values upon which we built our great nation.
Gen. Creighton Abrams said, “People are not in the Army. People are the Army,” and it’s never been more true. We need our Army, along with the other branches of service, who stand watch with us, to be ready to heed our nation’s call on a moment’s notice. Heeding that call successfully depends on competing for and winning a fight for talent, to convince young people today to join the ranks of these currently serving and build on the proud legacy of those who have already stood their watch!