skip to main content
Article Podcast Report Summary Quick Look Video Newsfeed triangle plus sign dropdown arrow Case Study All Search Facebook LinkedIn YouTube
Curtis GilroyElizabeth ClelanJosh HorvathChristopher Gonzales
Download full report

Enlisted recruiting is the heart of the All‑Volunteer Force (AVF). The young men and women the Services recruit will define what the military force will look like in numbers and characteristics. Because the military is a hierarchical organization—that is, people enlist in the military as youth and advance through the ranks as they age—the Services must find recruits with the attributes that will make them successful Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines today and in the future.

To sustain the volunteer military, the Services need to attract a sufficient number and quality of recruits to maintain their desired force profiles, by years of service and paygrade. For a constant enlisted force endstrength, annual military enlistments must equal annual separations. If there is an increase in the number of people who leave the Service or if endstrength increases, recruiters must work harder to achieve higher recruiting goals to make up the difference [1]. In short, a successful volunteer military begins with recruiting—the engine of the AVF. If the Services do not recruit what they need, the AVF’s viability is questioned, the force is degraded, military readiness is threatened, and national defense is compromised. 

But recruiting can be challenging. Senior leaders should recognize the following:

  • The recruiting environment is fluid, and some elements, such as the economy and the size and composition of the youth population, are beyond their control. As most of these factors are externally dependent they should not get distracted trying to fix them.
  • Consistent recruiting resources must be properly allocated in both good times and bad. Factors over which they have control, such as the number of recruiters, advertising expenditures, and bonuses, should be the focus of their efforts.
  • Recruiters are the military’s sales force and a valuable asset. Senior leaders must ensure that recruiters know how to recruit. Recruiters’ ability to “sell” the Service is key, and how they tailor the “sale” changes over time.
  • They must stay engaged with other policy initiatives, such as military pay and benefits and policies related to changing social norms, because these can have a long-term effect on recruiting.
  • Being innovative in changing times is good, but they must avoid investing substantial time, energy, and resources in previously tried and failed efforts at reorganizing the command and/or the recruiting force. History has demonstrated that the return on such investments has been limited, and the long‑term effects often have required refocusing scarce resources to return to their prior state.
  • A primary focus of recruiting leadership should be on how to expand the quality youth market by enticing youth who are currently not inclined to join the military.

Much has changed since the AVF’s inception 46 years ago: dramatic economic fluctuations, long-term conflicts overseas, changing youth demographics, more young people pursuing college, a large percentage of youth ineligible for military service, the absence of or minimal use of military advertising and marketing campaigns, and fewer veterans encouraging youth to join the military. What has not changed is the periodic fluctuation in recruiting resources—cutting recruiting budgets in good recruiting times and struggling to increase them when the recruiting climate deteriorates. While some fluctuation is understandable, its magnitude can be problematic
and is not always a sound management strategy; adequate and relatively stable recruiting budgets are needed to maintain recruiting success and the viability of the AVF. This is the overarching theme of this report.

Download full report

DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A. Approved for public release: distribution unlimited


  • Pages: 56
  • Document Number: DRM-2019-U-022349-1REV
  • Publication Date: 4/30/2020