WASHINGTON -- After changing the way it interests young people, the Army is on course to exceed its recruiting goals for another year in a row, said the force's top recruiting officer.
The first quarter of 2020 has outpaced last year's by nearly 2,300 new enlistments, said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commander of Army Recruiting Command, who credited the recent success to how the Army has zeroed in on younger cohorts -- through virtual recruiting, digital advertising, and the force's esports initiatives.
"This year we are on track to exceed anything we did last year," Muth told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon. "We're way above trend."
The Army has also made strides in major cities -- many in the northeast -- with traditionally lower recruitment numbers in the past, he said. "From Richmond north" the Army is on track with new recruits.
The Army's end-strength goal for 2020 is roughly 485,000 active-duty troops by Sept. 30, said Dr. E. Casey Wardynski, assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
Once the goal is met, any surplus of recruits will go into a delayed entry pool and enlist the following fiscal year.
The number of recruits needed is changeable based on the end strength, Muth said, as the final number rests on how retention and attrition rates are assessed later in the year.
In 2018, the Army was 6,500 troops shy of its lofty, 76,500 recruitment goal. This setback sparked the question: With the pool of qualified applicants shrinking, how will the Army recruit its next generation of Soldiers?
To do this, the Army established the Army Enterprise Marketing Office in Chicago, near its advertising partner DDB. Also, USAREC invested in multiple initiatives aimed toward Generation Z -- individuals born between the mid-90s and mid-2000s, and prime for initial military service.
Since that shift in business, the formula has been successful.
What's Your Warrior?
The Army's marketing and advertising team -- officially up and running in Chicago -- is operating on a $157 million spending budget. Armed with data analytics, the group has focused its attention on potential Soldiers, already interested in service, based on their location and interests, officials said.
Launched in the fall, a new marketing strategy titled "What's Your Warrior?" was designed to introduce young adults -- who may know nothing about the military -- to the 150 different opportunities available through Army service, said Brig. Gen. Alex Fink, Army Enterprise Marketing chief.
In the process, the Army Enterprise Marketing Office also helped revamp goarmy.com, the Army's official recruiting website. Everything down to the colors and music used in the digital ads is intended to captivate the audience, as well as educate them, Muth said.
Since December, the new campaign has brought in 4.6 million unique visits to goarmy.com, and resulted in more than 44,000 leads for recruiters to follow up on, Fink said.
Potential recruits are visiting the website and giving their contact information, Fink said. Right now, the site has a 72% increase from where it was a year ago.
"That's a real indicator of the strength of the campaign, but also the efficiency of the content we have on the website," he added.
Along with "What's Your Warrior?" another innovative recruiting approach is found at the U.S. Army eSports Team, Muth said, which has led to some of the highest numbers of recruiting leads in the all-volunteer force.
Last year, the Army's eSports racked up more than 182 million unique impressions, calculated from both in-person and online viewers. The team plays competitively online, and millions of people watch the games.
The team has garnered 8,500 leads in the first four months of fiscal year 2020, more than doubling the 3,500 leads they got in all of fiscal year 2019.
At the video game convention PAX East in Boston -- scheduled to kick off next week -- more than 264,000 people in foot traffic are anticipated to attend, Muth said. Each day of the convention, more than 50 people at any given time are expected to be in line at the Army's eSports booth, Muth said.
Each person who walks up fills out an electronic card for local recruiters to use. At the booths, people take on Soldiers on popular games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Apex Legend.
Virtual Recruiting Stations
Another relatively new method of recruiting is through virtual recruiting stations. Last year, the U.S. Army Recruiting Command developed 43 virtual recruiting stations that focus on reaching eligible individuals using social media and texting -- which is where youth are typically most comfortable communicating, officials said.
"Every battalion has a three-person station that does nothing but recruits on different job sites -- which believe it or not -- is one of our biggest heavy hitters we go to," Muth said. "We'll post stuff there, or on social media."
This year, the virtual recruiting stations have seen a 40 percent increase in contract assists over last year, Muth said.
"The three-person teams do nothing but talk to prospects online," he added. "So far this year they're attributed to 1,366 contracts. It's not brick and mortar recruiting. It's an element that operates strictly on the digital plane."
Last year, the virtual recruiting stations were a pilot program, but "was made into a full-blown program" this year, Muth said.
However, digital methods are not the only ways for the Army to target potential Soldiers. While studying to be a recruiter, Soldiers go into various cities to complete a four-day "on-the-job-training" course, Muth said. "This truly gives them an idea of what recruiting is like."
The training, Muth added, has new recruiters on the ground and able to meet with potential troops around the country. The personable interaction results in better training for new recruiters, and more names on the signature line for the total force.
Given its desire for annual growth of about 1,500 Soldiers, leaders are confident they are on the right track to harness the best talent for tomorrow's Army.