In 2022, the Army missed its recruiting goal by roughly 25 percent. That’s 15,000 shiny new soldiers shy of what the nation’s oldest service branch set out to recruit. And, according to the Senate Armed Services committee, this might be the worst year for military recruiting since 1973, when the draft officially ended. As we move into fiscal year 2023, what’s a forlorn recruiter to do?
Competing with private sector pay, work from home convenience and perceived lack of wokeness in the civilian world has made it all the more challenging to enlist new troops and hit end-strength numbers.
Perhaps some fun recruiting methods might just tip the scales in Uncle Sam’s favor. Here are a few to consider.
1. Launch a robust referral program
The Pentagon might consider bringing back the motto that “every soldier is a recruiter.” There’s nothing better than paying active duty troops to peer pressure friends, neighbors and family members into signing their lives away for moldy barracks and tinnitus. Run it like a credit card incentive program. “Get five friends to join by Dec. 31 and you get $5,000.” Works every time.
2. Hire a celebrity spokesperson
Celebrities endorse products and services all the time. Why should the military be any different? Samuel L. Jackson does Capital One commercials, but imagine him shilling on behalf of the military. It’ll be just like Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” with Jackson lighting up TV screens in every depot on the first day of boot camp as he sternly introduces gear. “The M-4, when you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherf***er in the room. Accept no substitutes.”
3. Film a fun recruitment video
Forget these technologically advanced “Building a leader for the tomorrow war” videos splashed across branch YouTube channels. The key to recruitment, as any sorority sister or fraternity brother will tell you, is to film a light, pop-culturally relevant video that showcases just how much fun your organization is — even if the reality is the complete opposite.
Enlist music by Katy Perry, Cardi B, or Taylor Swift to serve as the background. Show people the glamorous stuff: Jumping out of planes, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, launching rockets into the night sky like fireworks. Heard of looking at the world through rose colored glasses? Recruiters need to be the rose colored glasses through which prospective troops gaze.
4. Host a recruitment happy hour
There is nothing troops like to do more than cut loose with a little booze. Make it free and watch troop hopefuls line up around the block. The only issue here is that it eliminates those under 21, which is indeed how old most people are when they enlist in the military. Perhaps the real solution to the military’s recruitment woes is lowering the drinking age back to 18. And when you enlist, you get a free 6-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. ‘RAH!
5. Deploy memes
“How do you do, fellow kids?” says every desperate recruiter to a high school assembly. Memes, on the other hand, are infinitely relatable to the hermitic teens scrolling TikTok and Instagram for hours on end. Slap an ACU on “Success Baby” with some joke about free college after the military, however, and you’ve got yourself an ad campaign worthy of a zillion Reddit upvotes.
Bonus: Get a “Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man”
If all else fails, the service branches can try putting a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man outside every recruiting station. It works for used car salesmen and sketchy money lenders, right? Why not the U.S. military too?
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.