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NEWS | June 26, 2023

Guard Recruiters Optimistic Amid Private Sector Competition

By Air Force Master Sgt. Amber Monio, National Guard Bureau Public Affairs

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Defense Department faces one of the most challenging recruiting environments in history, Col. Anthony Pasquale, chief of the Air National Guard recruiting and retention division, told reporters June 21.

Pasquale expressed optimism but expects the Air National Guard to fall 3,000 to 4,000 recruits short of this year’s goal. He noted the Air National Guard is at 97% of its target strength of 108,000 Airmen, including new and existing members.

Pasquale and eight other Guard recruiting and retention professionals discussed recruiting issues with reporters connected remotely.

Pasquale acknowledged that all branches and components except the Marine Corps are experiencing shortfalls. Guard leaders point to stiff competition from the private sector as a key driver of current struggles.

“Competition is any civilian market, any career field, especially when it comes to IT (information technology),” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stephen Graves, a recruiter for the Illinois Air National Guard’s 182nd Airlift Wing.

Graves noted that retail and service industry jobs can also be attractive alternatives for people who prefer to avoid basic training or meet strict physical and medical requirements. He said incentivizing potential recruits, especially in the Air Guard, involves offering localized opportunities that allow individuals to remain close to home and pursue education benefits in their states. 

“However, we still have faced challenges in the IT world,” said Graves. “Individuals are coming in and able to make six figures just by getting the training we would give them in each branch of service. Then they can go get a job making thousands of dollars.”

Senior Master Sgt. Chris Perez, senior enlisted adviser of recruiting and retention for the Washington Air National Guard, said people are also actively seeking remote positions, which poses a challenge for the National Guard since it cannot always offer the same level of workplace flexibility as the private sector. 

Staff Sgt. Yoon Kim, a recruiter with the Illinois National Guard, is instead emphasizing the need to raise awareness and education about the Guard’s unique function and how it can complement civilian careers.

“A lot of applicants in the job market want to settle immediately when they hear something good. I think everyone needs to do a little bit more research and see that there’s a lot of these great part-time opportunities, [and we] can work together to build something holistic and fulfilling for you,” said Kim.

Residual impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic also continue to present unique logistical challenges. The closure of schools and the limited face-to-face contact between recruiters and potential recruits has made it challenging to build relationships. However, the National Guard’s visibility and relevance throughout the pandemic have raised its profile nationwide.

“We have seen, as of the last five or six years, the relevancy of the National Guard mission is the highest it’s been in recent memory,” said Col. Steve Rowe, chief of staff for the New York Army National Guard.

“We’re grassroots,” said Sgt. Maj. Anthony Abbate, command sergeant major for the New York Army Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Command. “We’re from the same communities we’re recruiting out of. We live here and serve here.”

Asked how the Guard planned to bridge the gap of Americans who don’t have a service connection, Abbate said, “Through the COVID pandemic, which was very rough on the nation, New York did not have to reintroduce ourselves to the community because we were in it every day, running food pantries and drive-thru test sites.”

Abbate said he couldn’t say enough about the National Guard members who stepped up to assist their communities through the pandemic.  

“So, in terms of reintroducing ourselves, we’ve always been there,” he said.

With only a few months before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, Pasquale said July, August and September are crucial recruiting months for the Air National Guard. 

While recruiting remains a struggle, he noted that the number of troops opting to stay in the military is exceptionally high, with a retention rate of 95.8%, about 2 percentage points higher than usual for this time of year.

The Guard panelists agreed they are acutely aware of the need to adapt to the evolving needs and expectations of potential recruits, particularly in light of the changing dynamics of the job market. They said they are exploring additional incentives, such as increased bonuses, educational loan repayments and flexible service options to attract and retain talent.

Pasquale said Congress approved an additional $50 million for National Guard marketing efforts this fiscal year in addition to the usual $36 million. The National Guard is also easing rules on everything from tattoos to body mass index requirements to broaden the field of potential recruits.

“Obviously, in a post-COVID environment, a lot of things have changed, so there’s a lot of training that we work alongside our active component to advance our recruiting skills in marketing and advertising, along with processing new candidates and better ways to do business to lead the digital space,” he said.



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