Army surpasses end-strength goal despite COVID-19 pitfalls

By Thomas Brading, Army News ServiceOctober 12, 2020

Army surpasses end-strength goal despite COVID-19 pitfalls
Maj. Gen. Steven W. Ainsworth, left, commanding general of 377th Theater Sustainment Command, administers the Oath of Enlistment to Sgt. Vianca Leverduque, 826th Ordnance Company, extending her commitment to the U.S. Army Reserve, at Camp Buhering, Kuwait, Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Thomas Crough) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON -- The Army exceeded its fiscal year 2020 end-strength goal, said the Army’s personnel chief on Friday, praising the creative problem-solving of recruiters in the face of COVID-19.

In all, 485,383 active-duty Soldiers were recruited or retained during the fiscal year, said Lt. Gen. Gary M. Brito, Army deputy chief of staff, G-1, narrowly passing the target goal by just a few hundred.

The service remains on its way to a half million-strong active-duty force by 2028. Last year, the Army finished with more than 5,000 Soldiers over its end-strength goal of 478,000, helping outpace its original timeline.

This came on the heels of another historically high retention year. In March, the Army met its original retention goal of 50,200 Soldiers, then widened it by an additional 2,000 after offering short-term contracts from three to 11 months.

More than 16,000 Soldiers received short-term contract extensions, said Sgt. Maj. Mark Clark, sergeant major for G-1’s directorate of military personnel management. Of those contract signees, nearly 140 reenlisted and another 1,000 further extended into fiscal 2021.

The retention rates helped balance recruiting setbacks caused by COVID-19. In March, the Army closed the doors on its 1,400 recruiting stations and transitioned its efforts online.

That’s when recruiters rose to the occasion, said Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, head of U.S. Army Recruiting Command. In the virtual realm, Army recruiters can still reach potential Soldiers. “We can do 90% of our recruiting operations online,” he said. “There are a few things that we have to do in person,” but the ability to go virtual has been very effective.

“2020 has been a challenging year for the nation, and it has been no different for us,” Vereen said. “I'm proud of what our team was able to accomplish. The flexibility, adaptability, and the creativity of our recruiters enabled our success, no question about it.”

Army surpasses end-strength goal despite COVID-19 pitfalls
Sgt. 1st Class Lisa Capocci, assigned to the 98th Training Division Initial Entry Training, serves as the senior drill sergeant leader for Cycle 5-20 at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo Credit: Maj. Michelle Lunato) VIEW ORIGINAL

For this fiscal year, Brito forecasts a bump of roughly 1,000 to 1,500 additional Soldiers in order to stay the course with Army modernization plans. Brito said he expects to see more women and minorities among them.

“We’re continuing to focus on assessing a diverse force that is representative of our nation -- the nation we serve,” Vereen said.

The Army also expects a rising trend in new non-white officers, said Maj. Gen. John Evans, commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command. While recent figures weren’t immediately available, he did say the fiscal 2020 total surpassed the 33% total from the previous year.

Nearly half of the 62,150 Army recruits in fiscal 2020 also represented minority populations, Vereen said, slightly up from 45% in the previous two years.

“The Army is continuing its efforts to encourage more women to serve, and we’re seeing positive results,” Evans said. Over 18% of enlisted recruits in fiscal 2020 were women, including a nearly 5% jump in Hispanic women. Both were an increase from previous years.

Looking ahead, Evans hopes the Army’s newly commissioned minority and female officers go into roles in combat arms. In many cases, officers in combat arms branches, such as infantry, armor and field artillery, make up a large part of senior general officer positions.

“Our desire is to ensure we have people 20-30 years down the road who are going to be our senior leaders” who represent great diversity, Evans said.

This seems to be a new normal for the Army moving forward, Brito said, regarding more diversity and virtual training and recruiting. The Army is growing “and we have great Soldiers, great opportunities, and great jobs to provide the sons and daughters of America.”

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