The corona virus crisis has been a double-edged sword for military recruitment in the United States. On the one hand, the tightening of the labor market contributed to higher rates of retention than the Army brass expected, meaning that many soldiers decided to reenlist this spring rather than pursue civilian employment when their terms of service expired. On the other hand, recruiting stations across the country have had to shut down to comply with social distancing guidelines, limiting recruiters’ access to young people and inhibiting the “kneecap-to-kneecap” conversations recruiters widely acknowledge to be essential to their work.
Less than one percent of the Armed Forces’ target demographic — seventeen- to twenty-four-year-olds — is actively interested in a military career. After a “kneecap-to-kneecap” encounter with a recruiter, whether at a recruiting station or a school event, probability of enlistment climbs to more than 50 percent, according to the Army.
The reasons for this have been well-documented by anti-recruitment activists for decades. Recruiters, who are expected to meet regular enlistment quotas, aggressively pursue young people who express interest, generally attempting to separate them from parents, teachers, counselors, and others who might advocate for civilian careers.
Tough Times for Military Recruiting
How COVID-19 is impacting the Delayed Entry Program and threatening the health of recruits.
By Pat Elder / National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, NNOMY - June 8, 2020
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COVID-19 has profoundly impacted the way the military finds new soldiers. The recruiting command was caught unprepared to face the pandemic and is facing a challenging new reality.
Military recruiting is an intense, psychological pursuit that has traditionally relied on the ability of recruiters to develop close relationships with teenage prospects. These relationships were cultivated in the nation’s high schools where recruiters enjoyed access to children. Recruiters served as coaches and tutors. They brought donuts to the faculty. They ate lunch with prospects, sometimes a hundred times in a single school year. Military recruiters played one-on-one basketball after school with potential recruits and became best of friends with some kids. So friendly, hundreds of male recruiters have been implicated in inappropriate sexual relationships with underaged girls.
High schools were the center of the recruiting universe, but that ended abruptly in March when the enlistment pipeline was ruptured. Recruiters enlisted seniors and placed them into the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) in which a student’s entry into active duty is postponed for up to 365 days. (The Army now calls it the Future Soldier Program.) The thrust of the DEP program is to maintain future soldier motivation while minimizing attrition. When DEP members report to basic training, they are accessed (enlisted) into active duty.