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Military Recruiters Have to March on New Fronts to Fill Ranks

Brandon Ross/WAER News

Last year marked the first time since 2005 that the US Army missed its recruiting goal. A lot of attention has been paid to the problems with getting soldiers to enlist. However, it’s also getting tough to attract officers, people with bachelor’s degrees who serve in leadership roles. 

For Minchailou Kanoute, service has always been big in his family. His grandfather was a Marine, his mother an army veteran. Growing up in New York city, he also got the chance to regularly see military role models up close.

“Every May, we have this thing called fleet week, which the navy, the fleet comes into New York Harbor and you see sailors just walking around everywhere. One time when I was younger we went aboard one of the aircraft carriers, a very cool experience right there.”

Kanoute is now an Army ROTC cadet at Syracuse University. He is training to be an officer before earning a law degree to become a military lawyer. When he looks at his peers though, he notices there aren’t many very eager to serve.

“Out of a high school of like 900-something kids, I’d say about four had enlisted in the military, and I’m counting myself doing ROTC as being one of those kids. So, it’s not a popular career path.”

The job of combating that trend falls on people such as Sergeant First Class Justin Storie, a recruiter in the Army’s North Syracuse office. He took the job three years ago and has since fine-tuned his pitch.

“The level of training that you’re going to receive and leadership skills that you’re going to apply If you get back into the civilian world, it’s going to set you apart from your peers”

However, this pitch to potential officers has often fallen on deaf ears lately. The number of army officers on active duty has dropped by almost 8 % since 2013. Dr. Beth Asch is a senior economist at the RAND Corporation who has extensively researched military recruiting. She says a flourishing job market might be cutting into the talent pool.

“There’s been research on this for decades that consistently shows that when the economy improves, unless the army takes proactive steps, recruiting goes down.”

These factors have forced the Army to innovate its approach.

“It’s using and adapting in social media,” Asch said.

Credit Brandon Ross/WAER News
Sergeant First Class Justin Storie uses this Facebook account, using what he calls a “stage name”, to connect with potential recruits online.

“I make all my money on social media,” added Storie.

Storie has even created a Facebook account with the stage name “Jason” specifically for recruiting.

“That’s where all the kids are at today: Instagram, Facebook, some of the guys use Snapchat.”

The Army is also starting to ramp up efforts in 22 of the country’s largest cities, places Dr. Asch says it doesn’t typically target.

“I think the Army’s logic is: Let’s try recruiting places where we’ve typically focused less effort because the reason it might have been less productive is simply because we haven’t put the effort in, not that there’s not a willingness.”

That may cure what Kanoute says is a general lack of understanding of the military amongst his peers.

“They think that if you go to the military, you’re automatically gonna die and stuff like that. They don’t understand that you know, the military is more than just what you see in Call of Duty or in movies and stuff like that. There’s a lot of things behind it.”

It looks like the old Army table set up at high schools and colleges isn’t working the way it used to. These ventures into social media and new areas seem to be the way forward. So if you’re a college graduate, don’t be surprised if Uncle Sam comes calling from somewhere you may not expect it … by getting hit up on social media. 

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.