Recruiting Goals and the Executive

News about recruiting is not generally interesting and usually far from exciting, usually a less exciting version of the press releases that triggered the story. Of course, there is more information behind the story and interesting aspects of what was not told. My interest is in the later part.

An AP story, Military Recruitment Hits October Targets (10 Nov 05), is an all-too easy re-write of a press release:

The Army, which missed its recruiting goal for 2005 by a wide margin, got off to a good start in the new budget year by exceeding its October targets for the active-duty Army as well as the National Guard and Reserve.

The AP Story goes on about how the Army met "105 percent of its goal.... the fifth straight month of meeting or exceeding its goal". To being, this is not reporting but regurgitating the DoD press release.

The next day, a WashingtonPost staff writer wrote a follow up, and in the lead paragraph framed the reality of the "good" news: "the Army lowered the October recruiting goal by about a third from last year's" (11 Nov 05).

While the October 2005 goal was actually exceeded, as the AP story explained, the bar was lowered to 4,925 this year compared to 6,952 last year same month. Interestingly, the goal for the entire year is the same as last: 80,000 recruits. Leaving the Army to play catch-up later in the year at rates over 1,000 per month than any other single month of recruiting.

It is very likely the expected bad news (missed Oct 06 recruiting) was reframed (lowering the bar) to make it good news. This short-term solution was better than the lowering the entire year's recruiting, especially when political questions abound about the Administration's handling of the war and about the lead up to the war. The Administration is going to address the missed yearly goal later, probably by lowering the expectation and/or goal. Much like corporations pre-announce lower earnings to cushion their stock.

The glossy "Army of One" campaign is apparently going strong with visitors to GoArmy.com downloading pictures and games and even an a little special something for the Windows PC:

Army Active Desktop adds a whole new dimension to customizable desktop wallpapers. Rotate, flip and size the vehicle you want, toggle between night vision, even add your favorite patches and medals. The theme is Army. The look is all yours.

This is grand marketing aimed at the Nintendo / Game Boy / MTV generation. This segment is a great candidate for the 15 month hitch announced in May 2005. Apparently, it wasn't successful enough. The USA Today article (13 May 05) quoted Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the head of the Army Recruiting Command: 2006 could be even worse than this year, a continuation of "the toughest recruiting climate ever faced by the all-volunteer Army."  (Incidentally, the Major General went in front of reporters one week later to discuss the stress his recruiters are feeling.) Some important highlights from the USA Today article:

  • The US Army will have only half the number of recruits ready for 2006 than it did in 2005, when an unusually low number of recruits signed up in advance. Under the Army's delayed entry program, recruits can sign up one year and report for service a year later.
  • In 2006, the Army's stockpile of recruits is projected to drop from 18%, or 14,400 soldiers, of the recruiting target of 80,000 to just under 10%, or slightly less than 8,000, Rochelle said.

Tough times for a service where  "honor and duty" have been replaced by "job" as the motivation for many of the recruits. Professor Charles Moskos has written extensively on the conversion of the military from "institution" to "occupation", including an easily accessed article from Parameters. In the aftermath of the transformation to the All-Volunteer Force, there were peaks and troughs in recruiting numbers. Like any employment, they had good times and bad. Just one week before the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, the New York Times ran an article on recruiting. The Army, crediting its brand new Army of One campaign, had hit their yearly (fiscal) recruiting goal, with nearly a month to spare. The article (by James Dao, 5 Sep 05; Section A; Column 3; National Desk; Pg. 16) went on to note the Air Force had its strongest recruiting year in 15 years. The Guard wasn't mentioned, but, no disrespect, that does not matter here.

The political views of the different services, including reserves and National Guard, vary. The Marine Corps have not transformed or transitioned into the "occupation" mode, as described by Moskos, but are still deeply an "institution" ("Semper Fi, do or die"). The Marines, with their unique raison d'etre, do not miss their goals. The special forces of SOCOM, cannot recruit quickly enough. These are both organizations of professionals. Professional soldiers dedicated to their task and not persons who happen to be in uniform punching the clock. It is not my intention to denigrate the fine men and women who serve for the cash bonuses, college education, professional training, etc. Far from it. I am interested only in looking at the deeper issues of the recruiting woes and their causes. Subtle (and not so subtle) messages in the news are likely to discourage potential recruits as questions are raised both individually and by family and friends.

The finest military machine in the world is by far the that of the United States. From the professionalism of the officer corps, to the quality of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, to the superiority of training, equipment, and tactics, there is no match. However, "going to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want" is not the right attitude. This is not simply an issue of prioritizing equipment, but a larger problem of the civilian leadership disrespecting the military leadership.

Some write about the aggregate effects of over-commitment, short-sighted planning, misunderstanding of the nature of regional politics, etc. Unlike the Vietnam war, the officer corps probably has a greater appreciation of the issue on the ground with more elite American commanders holding graduate and doctorate degrees in international relations, preparing them for Arab nationalism, Iraqi nationalism, and the general political layout of the region. What we do not see is an appreciation of the real problems by the civilian leadership and, more importantly, appreciation of what the military commanders have to say about the situation. A "guru" in modern warfare, William S. Lind, made a widely held, by the military, belief on the civilian leadership:

It is increasingly clear that under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. armed forces have also been taken over by "wreck it and run" management. When Rumsfeld leaves office, what will his successor inherit?

From the NYTimes (28 Feb 03, available here), bracket comments and emphasis mine:

Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki [Chief of Staff of the Army] of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, "wildly off the mark." Pentagon [civilian] officials have put the figure closer to 100,000 troops. Mr. Wolfowitz then dismissed articles in several newspapers this week asserting that Pentagon budget specialists [military officers] put the cost of war and reconstruction at $60 billion to $95 billion in this fiscal year. He said it was impossible to predict accurately a war's duration, its destruction and the extent of rebuilding afterward.

Today, there are 150,000 troops in Iraq.

Conflict with the civilian leadership has and continues to abound, with the example above just one of many very public confrontations. From 16 Jun 03, US News and World Report:

  • "Rumsfeld is like the football coach who is so confident of victory that he puts only 10 players on the field to prove a point," says one Army official. "Our fear is that he's going to play the whole season like this."
  • "Anyone who steps into the job [Chief of Staff, Army] is going to have to be pretty damn thick skinned."

Recruiting problems do not magically appear. They cannot be "fixed" by splashing multimedia ad campaigns targeting specific segments with tailored messages. Recruiting problems of the Armed Forces of the United States stem primarily from the poor management of civil-military relations by the Executive Branch of the United States government. If it was the war itself, the US Marine Corps should take a comparable percent hit in their recruiting. In fact, a review of year-to-date figures for Oct 04 - May 05, the Army dragged down the four services below the 100% target: Army @ 83%, Navy @ 100%, Marine Corps @ 102%, and Air Force @ 101%. it is the disjuncture between words and practice by the Administration that hurts recruiting. Military leaders are responding in less than subtle ways more and more against their civilian "masters" (as the civil-military relationship goes, whether you work from Huntington or Feaver) to the same problems that cause recruits to second guess entering the military family.