Future of Army, nation found in today's recruits
January 8, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Building the future Army and affecting the lives of young people -- that is the two-fold mission defining the work of the Soldiers and civilians of the 2nd Recruiting Brigade.
And Col. David Stewart is a walking commercial for that mission.
That's not surprising considering that Stewart is the brigade commander.
Yet, Stewart envisions the mission way beyond the recruiting numbers for fiscal 2014 or even fiscal 2015.
"We're looking for Soldiers into the future, well into 2020," he said. "We need to think now about the young people who will actively serve our nation in the future.
"We need to look at our legacy. The children who grow up and go on to serve in the Army often go on to civilian careers of service to the nation after the military. Our Army is inspiring young people to really change their lives for the better. They know they are part of something bigger than themselves, and they want to continue to serve after the military."
Stewart took command of the 2nd Recruiting Brigade in July. But as a Virginia native, an air defense artillery officer and a former branch chief serving with the Human Resources Command, he was familiar with the patriotism of the South and the willingness of its young people to serve before he arrived at Redstone Arsenal.
"This is a great area for recruiting," he said the Southeastern states and two Southern territories served by the brigade.
"There are factors that affect recruiting -- politics, budget constraints, the economy. Our goal regardless of those constraints that are in many ways out of our control is to recruit and build an Army to do the nation's bidding."
The fiscal 2014 recruiting goals for the Army's recruiting command are 57,000 active duty recruits and 18,300 Reserve component recruits. In support of that goal, the 2nd Recruiting Brigade is at nearly 88 percent of its active duty recruiting goal and 85 percent of its Reserve recruiting goal for the 2013-14 school year.
"We are writing roughly the same number of contracts as last year," Stewart said. "We have to maintain a delayed entry program so the Army can fill training seats well into the future. Even with the regular Army drawing down, we still have a significant mission with the Army Reserve and the delayed entry program.
"And with the Army going through the process of drawing down, we want to ensure that is done smartly so that we still recruit the very best and keep the very best in our ranks. Those best and brightest will, ultimately, give us the best return on investment."
Drawdowns and, at times, increases in annual Army recruiting numbers is a part of the business of recruiting, Stewart said, and a trend that is manageable as long as the vision stays on the future.
"No matter what, we have to maintain our readiness so that when the nation calls we are ready to execute the national strategy," he said.
Stewart and the staff of the 2nd Recruiting Brigade are well aware that decisions made by young people to join the Army also affect their families. Often, recruiting and retention involves a recruit's entire family.
"Soldiers look at how the Army has contributed to their family and to their own lives. Positive impacts on their lives give them an opportunity to pay it forward to other young people," he said.
"We tell parents that we are recruiting their young people because we want to improve their quality of life, and to jump start their life by giving them career skills and a way to go to college. We recruit young men and women who are like us, who already honor the Army values, and who are physically fit and mentally capable. And hopefully, they will like us."
Stewart said the Army allows a young person to set themselves up for life.
"Give yourself a gift of job skills, experience, money for college and benefits that can last a lifetime," he said. "But more than anything, it's a chance to serve your nation. At the end of the day, it's about serving our nation and supporting the national strategy."
While assigned to the Human Resources Command, Stewart had the opportunity to travel with mobile and fixed exhibits in support of recruiting enlisted Soldiers and new members of the Army's office corps for the Recruiting Command and Reserve Officers Training Corps. He traveled to high school and college conventions, and special events to talk to young recruits and their families.
"At schools and colleges, we would educate both administrators and teachers as well as students about the benefits and job opportunities of the Army. We wanted to take down perceptional divides, and show recruits that we were looking for high-quality individuals who want to serve and who are qualified to serve," he said.
Some 25 years ago, Stewart made his own decision to serve, joining the ROTC program and then commissioning in air defense artillery after graduating from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia in 1991.
"It was an opportunity to serve and an opportunity to pay my way through college," he said. "It was also a chance to seek a little adventure and to take advantage of wonderful professional development opportunities."
His work as a Patriot officer took him to Germany, Korea, Fort Bliss, Texas, and even Australia. He deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Falcon.
"I joke that the Army has taught me four languages -- Army air defense, Army human resources, Army budgeting and equipping, and Army recruiting and marketing. They are four distinct languages," Stewart said.
As the 2nd Recruiting Brigade commander, Stewart stays connected with the more than 2,000 Soldiers and civilians who are assigned to the brigade's eight recruiting battalions, 49 recruiting companies and more than 310 recruiting stations in six Southeastern states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The battalions are located in Atlanta, Ga., Columbia, S.C., Jacksonville, Fla., Miami, Fla., Montgomery, Ala., Raleigh, N.C., Tampa, Fla., and Baton Rouge, La.
"We must stay engaged with the centers of influence in our communities," he said. "It helps us to have a strong relationship with local communities and local leaders. One of my critical tasks as the leader in this command is to make sure we stay connected in the local communities because we are geographically disbursed and a pretty large area."
Recruiters must also stay connected with potential Soldiers and their families. They must live the Army values, recruit with integrity and represent the Army with honor, Stewart said.
"They have to be able to go out and engage with individuals and inspire them," he said. "They must be good listeners and find out what each potential recruit is interested in doing with their lives.
"Only one in four recruits actually will qualify to join the Army. It is important for them to know and for the nation to know how truly special and qualified these individuals are. Recruiting is also about the enforcement of standards and discipline and the wellness of the force and the Soldier. What we do today in recruiting will affect our Army and our nation for years and years into the future."