The Army is now offering promotions to privates -- along with a new medal -- for those who refer new recruits as it looks to boost its ranks after an abysmal recruiting year, officials announced Monday.
Soldiers in paygrades E-1 through E-3 who participate in a new referral program would be promoted if they bring in recruits, though they can receive only one promotion through the program.
The service has also introduced the Army Recruiting Ribbon, as Military.com was first to report earlier this month. The ribbon can be awarded a maximum of four times to any soldier who gets an applicant in the door who ultimately makes their way to basic training. Each ribbon is worth 10 promotion points.
Last year, the Army fell 15,000 soldiers short of its 60,000 recruiting goal, spurring service planners to move quickly to boost numbers in the new fiscal year, which started in October. This year, the Army is aiming for 65,000 new soldiers.
The majority of possible recruits in the U.S. are, however, ineligible for service, due to an obesity crisis and low academic performance on the military's SAT-style entrance exam. Service leaders estimate only about 23% of young Americans are even qualified for service.
The Army also faces a series of perception issues, with many recruits and their families believing that most of its jobs are combat-related; in reality, combat jobs make up a minority of roles in the service. Right-wing pundits and Republican lawmakers have also blasted the services, particularly the Army, as "woke," or so fixated on diversity and inclusion that they have abandoned their responsibility to be ready to fight.
Those accusations have largely been a partisan cudgel, given that those critiques rarely point to specific Pentagon rules or efforts that are new to the Biden administration. Army officials have told Military.com they are concerned about that message making its way to parents and others who have influence over young people who might elect to serve, but there is no evidence so-called "woke" accusations have had any impact on recruiting.
"We ask all Soldiers to share their personal Army story in new ways to ensure we remain the first choice for Americans who want to serve their country," Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston and Gen. James McConville, the service's top officer, wrote in a joint letter for the force. "Your experience can help us address the misconceptions about our great Army in your communities and among your peers."
The Army might be on track for its aggressive recruiting goal this year, having brought in 18,500 new recruits since October, Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, head of the service's Recruiting Command, told Military.com, though he expressed cautious optimism about the early numbers. If the service can keep up that pace, it would bring in 74,000 recruits in fiscal 2023.
The Army is also expanding its pre-basic training courses for applicants who fail academic or body fat standards, an effort which service planners hope will make up a significant chunk of the recruiting shortfall seen last year. The program, the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, is set to bring in 12,000 applicants per year who otherwise might not have been eligible to enlist. The program has two tracks, one for weight loss and the other to tutor applicants to retake the service's entrance exam to bring them into compliance with most military occupations. Army planners are eyeing expanding that effort even further.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.