WASHINGTON -- The Army’s end-strength goal of 485,000 Soldiers by Sept. 30 is on track, the force’s top manpower official said, but to make up for setbacks caused by COVID-19, the Army hopes to ink 10,000 enlistment contracts during a three-day virtual hiring extravaganza that starts June 30.The burden of filing so many Soldiers into the Army’s ranks is a collective effort taken on by multiple resources such as retention and recruiting, E. Casey Wardinsky, the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, told reporters Wednesday.Those duties spread out over several programs, each one aimed at the end-strength goal, he said, and “these things are lining up very nicely for the Army this year. You’ll see at the end of the year when we hit our end strength of 485,000 Soldiers.”But his confidence hasn’t come without its share of challenges. In April, to help stem the spread of COVID-19, Army leaders paused shipping recruits to basic combat, then scaled training back by 50%. BCT is now up and running at 100% over the past few weeks, said Gen. Paul Funk, commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command.“Since April, we’ve moved 23,400 Soldiers throughout the training bases, and 13,000 Soldiers internally to TRADOC from basic combat training,” Funk said. “And almost 10,000 to their first unit of assignment -- and we’ve done that in a COVID environment.”The bottom line, Funk said, the Army has retailored its mission to fit in a COVID-19 world, and has molded its processes and procedures to provide “world-class troopers to our force all over the world.”Out-of-the-box thinking, caused by the pandemic, may have carried on the Army’s mission, but it isn’t limited to shipping off recruits. TRADOC has also looked at innovative ways to connect individuals who are qualified for military service to recruiters, while also maintaining safety measures.Innovative recruitingEarlier this year, to safeguard its current and future force, the Army paused processing new applicants. This significantly cut back the number of people in its training centers, but also helped ensure proper safety measures were set to stem the spread of the deadly virus, Wardynski said.Meanwhile, recruiters everywhere started to rely on virtual efforts -- like social media, text messaging, and video chatting -- in place of traditional recruiting stations which temporarily closed their doors in March. Since then, even as places inch toward opening back up, the recruiting mission has continued to modernize how it connects with Generation Z.This modern style of recruiting is nothing new for the Army, Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commander of the Army Recruiting Command, reminded reporters.“We’ve had heavy prospecting on social media -- whether it’s esports as an avenue, or Instagram, Facebook, or our virtual recruiting stations that do nothing but operate solely on the digital plane,” he said. “So, that [allowed] us to make this transition pretty quickly.”But things haven’t been perfect, Muth said. By now, the Army is usually at 90-92% of its requirements. For June, recruitment dipped to roughly 80%, which Muth optimistically said is “a lot better than I thought we would be” because of COVID-19.“Are we behind? We are,” he said. “But it’s much better than zero, [which is where we would be] if we didn’t have the ability to go viral.”To make up for lost ground, the Army National Hiring Days -- an Army-wide virtual hiring event -- is set to show off the force’s 150 full-time and part-time career options, training, benefits, and education to inspire individuals to join its ranks.Army national hiring daysWhen the nationwide virtual hiring spree kicks off, Army leaders hope to sign up 10,000 new recruits. This doesn’t mean everyone ships to basic training that weekend, Muth said, but it does mean 10,000 people will commit to an Army contract.“We’re looking for those young men and women that want to be infantry people; multiple launch rocket systems crew members; air and missile defense crew members; unmanned aircraft systems operators” and more, Funk explained. “We're looking for cryptologic linguists. We're looking for psychological operations specialists. Explosive ordnance disposal specialists, and just about anything you can think of that the Army does.”With sign-on bonuses offered up to $40,000, and possibly payment of $65,000 in student loans, the Army has upped the ante for certain high-demand career fields.To sweeten the pot even more, in addition to high-demand bonuses in select specialties, other bonuses during the event could range from $500 to $2,000 based on criteria like test scores.The event follows a similar, smaller-scaled career push dubbed Operation 2-4-5, which took place virtually Friday through Sunday to celebrate the Army’s 245th birthday. The operation provided leaders a clearer picture of how well the Army “gets the digital word out,” Muth said.“We ended up getting 2,000 appointments [from Operation 2-4-5] -- not leads, but appointments for people that wanted to come in and talk to a recruiter in one day,” he added.This is an encouraging sign for Army leaders, who are optimistic recruiting events will help the force hit its overall recruitment goal. However, Muth explained, they are unable to pinpoint an exact recruitment number because recruiting goals vary with the number of retained Soldiers.“At the end of the day, the Army can only recruit, retain, and bring in and assess what we can afford, and what we’re budgeted for,” Funk said, noting the Army’s congressionally mandated limit of 485,000 Soldiers.Retention on the riseAs recruiting efforts move forward, the Army’s retention is at 52,700 Soldiers, well above the 50,200 Soldiers previously expected to continue serving, Wardynski said. And even before the onset of COVID-19, the force was ahead of schedule by more than 900 Soldiers.And while COVID-19 continues to affect millions, it seems Soldiers at the end of their contracts are opting to stay in the Army rather than enter an uncertain civilian job market, he said.Although the force offers various types of re-enlistments varying from a handful of months to many years, Wardynski said, “the vast majority of these reenlistments are full-time reenlistments -- just as they would have been absent the disease, and the crisis that the country has gone through.“We've done about 2,000 short-term extensions to keep people on the force three to 11 months,” he added. “So that's a very small share of the overall retention.”For years, Army leaders have balanced retaining and recruiting talent to meet their end strength, along with a third component -- balancing expectations.“We are working very hard to make sure the folks we do bring in [are] a good match with our requirements,” Wardynski said. “And what we've told them about the Army matches their expectations. That helps us reduce things like attrition.”In the end, the key numbers all point in the same direction: end strength, Wardynski said, “and I’m happy to report, we’re on track to hit our end strength.”Related linksArmy News ServiceARNEWS ArchiveArmy.mil: U.S. Army Recruiting CommandGoArmy.com: Hiring Days