JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – In the face of the most challenging recruiting period since transitioning to an all-volunteer force in 1973, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville is making a stand.
“One of the things we’re not going to do is lower standards,” said McConville.
In meetings with leaders at all echelons on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, this week, McConville laid out the roadmap for stewarding the Army profession over the coming years.
On the recruiting front, the biggest hurdle is not the search for Americans who are willing to serve, it’s finding ones who are qualified.
“Only 23% of Americans qualify for our job,” said McConville. “We have people who want to go in the Army, but they can’t pass the tests. They’re either not physically fit, or they can’t pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery).”
There are still patriots willing to serve, the challenge is making them ready. To address this, the Army has created the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, which becomes operational this August at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, with its inaugural class starting shortly thereafter.
“Ninety days,” said McConville. “People who are out there right now that can’t pass the ASVAB, they’re going to get a get prep course for the ASVAB. They’re going to get the instruction and physical training while they’re doing it.”
To McConville, quality is more important than quantity. The challenge he presents to leaders of I Corps on JBLM is supporting the Army's number one priority – People First. Identify the best Soldiers and give them a reason to stay.
This directive is particularly important for I Corps, which stands as the Army’s operational headquarters in the Indo-Pacific region, maintaining relationships with regional allies and partners through its Soldiers stationed in Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska.
During his visit, McConville spoke with Soldiers and leaders in 7th Infantry Division and I Corps, conducted on-the-spot "battlefield" promotions and administered the Oath of Reenlistment to Soldiers in the 1st Multi-Domain Task Force.
“I need you to help me retain every qualified Soldier that we can,” McConville told leaders throughout his visit. “That’s one less recruit.”
The Army has steadily begun implementing new policies and reexamining old ones to guide more Soldiers toward considering the Army as a long-term career choice, with many changes being driven from the bottom up.
“We are transforming the Army right now at a pace we haven’t seen in years,” McConville said.
On Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Soldiers who reenlist may opt to sign up for a semester at one of the local colleges, with the classroom becoming their place of duty.
In July, the Army revised its policy regarding pregnancy and the postpartum process based on a research paper crowd-sourced by junior Soldiers on the Army Mom Life Facebook group, granting them a one-year reprieve from normal duties during recovery.
In a policy enacted May 2022, Soldiers who reenlist while in their first term of service are entitled to receive $5,000 in addition to all other bonuses.
“You’re competing for talent, everyone’s competing for talent,” McConville said. “You want to keep high-quality people in the Army, you’ve got to invest in them.”
Retention efforts have proven effective, with the Army already achieving 103 percent of its goal for fiscal year 2022, ending in October. Still, the force is facing challenges reaching new potential recruits who are not already members of military families, all during a critical junction in world affairs.
“This is a very dangerous time in the world,” said McConville. “More dangerous than quite frankly I’ve seen in a long time. You have great powers like China and Russia getting involved in conflict.”
“We’ve spent the last 20 years doing counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, irregular warfare,” McConville said. “The next fight is not necessarily going to be that.”
To meet these evolving challenges, I Corps is on the leading edge of a paradigm shift in military operations as the U.S. Army’s operational headquarters in the Indo-Pacific. Its headquarters is designing and implementing a new, decentralized nodal construct for command and control.
The goal is to create smaller agile command centers leveraging advances in communications, each with their own focused fight as opposed to the larger overarching command and control hubs traditionally used at the division and corps level.
“That’s one thing that this corps can provide for the Army, a platform for testing,” said Lt. Gen. Xavier T. Brunson, commanding general of I Corps.
This current challenge that I Corps is undertaking is “right-sizing these corps for the Army in the future,” said Brunson.
“You are on the cutting edge of a lot of what we’re trying to do,” said McConville in a meeting with Lt. Gen. Brunson. “Whatever we’re doing, if it’s not agile we’re going to have problems.”
I Corps conducts its next exercise in September, stressing the nodal command and control concept to its limits. Should the need arise to activate the Corps in an operational capacity, Brunson wants to be as close to expert-level proficiency as possible.
“It’s important to be set, you don’t have time once it kicks off,” said Brunson.