Virtual recruiting teams, outreach to civic leaders and 770 more recruiters on the ground are helping the Army sign up more new soldiers this year in some of America's largest cities.
Recruiting is up 27 percent in Minneapolis over this time last year. New York City has improved 19 percent and Baltimore is up 17 percent, according to Army Recruiting Command figures for April 2019.
Cities are where the people live, so the Army needs to recruit there, said Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy. Until this year, however, recruiting success typically seen in the rural South was not shared by the big cities.
"We're trying to bring a lot of balance to our recruiting effort and focus in on the largest metropolitan areas in the country," McCarthy said.
A recruiter hands out a water bottle from a table of Army items near the Eutaw Street gate during an Orioles game May 3, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
Last year, Army senior leaders selected 22 cities to apply those efforts. These were areas with large populations that had little exposure to soldiers because most were located far from active Army training centers.
Senior leaders began meeting with mayors of those cities. McCarthy, for instance, first met with the mayor of Chicago, his hometown. He has since met city leaders in Baltimore, Houston and Orlando.
"We've got to get out there and forge relationships," he said.
At the Baltimore meeting, city officials decided that Army interests aligned with one of theirs: keeping youth out of trouble. As a result, the city opened up all 43 of its recreation centers to recruiters.
"It was a great meeting because it opened doors," said Col. Amanda Iden, commander of the Baltimore Recruiting Battalion, who sat with McCarthy at the meeting table.
"They've given us carte blanche access" to the rec centers, she said, adding her recruiters "don't just play basketball and do sports with these kids," they actually provide educational aids to help students study.
A young fan slaps five to the Orioles mascot as Staff Sgt. Antwon Yourse (left) and Staff Sgt. Bryan Lenis of the Baltimore Recruiting Company watch May 3, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
Recruiters uploaded the Army's "March2Success" software on computers at the centers so students could study there for college boards and other entrance exams.
"You want to take the LSAT, LCAT, MCAT, all those other different tests, the GMAT, SAT, AECT, it's a tool to teach you how to take tests," Iden said, "and it focuses on your weaknesses."
Meetings with city officials also help open up schools to recruiters.
"It's a relationship," Iden said. "It's about getting to know leaders, principals and guidance counselors."
Recruiters are there to help students and influencers — such as parents and teachers — make "informed decisions," she said. It's not just about "trying to pull you into the Army," it's about helping students be successful and explaining options, she said.
Many students and influencers don't know the Army has more than 150 career paths, said Col. James Jensen, director of the USAREC Commander's Initiatives Group.
They don't know Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, has the world's only school that certifies students in handling hazardous material for serious nuclear-biological-chemical threats, he said, adding graduates can get a job at dozens of agencies once they leave the Army.
They don't know that military police officers are automatically certified in 32 different states and can become state police officers without attending that state's police academy, he said.
"We're trying to expand the audience and touch not only the potential applicants, but the influencers, too," Jensen said. "Especially within the latest generation, influencers hold a huge amount of weight with the decisions to go into the military."
Influencers are among the target audience for "Meet Your Army" events in many of the cities. These events often include senior Army leaders returning to their hometowns for speaking engagements mixed with editorial boards, meetings with civic leaders and other public forums.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville, for instance, returned to Boston April 14, 2019, to throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game. The next day he ran the Boston Marathon — all part of the first-ever "Boston Army Week" proclaimed by the mayor.
Nearly 30 different events took place during the week, including an expo on the Boston Common that had the Army Special Operations Command "Black Daggers" parachute team jump in. Over 30 Army units and 10 senior Army leaders also took part.
Sgt. Chobie Van Rossum, a Baltimore area native assigned back to the city as a recruiter, stands on Eutaw Street during an Orioles Game May 3, 2019, to discuss Army opportunities with potential prospects and influencers.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
These events maximize resources, Jensen said.
Beginning later this year, new mobile Army recruiting platforms will participate at events such as the one in Boston, Jensen said. These semitrailers will include video-game terminals where visitors will be able to play against members of the Army's new esports team, consisting of soldiers who will compete at gaming events across the country.
Virtual recruiting teams
Last year USAREC tested the concept of virtual recruiting teams at some of its battalions. Now each of the Army's 44 recruiting battalions have VRTs that focus on social media.
The teams consist of three to six soldiers proficient in all types of social media. These VRTs are currently manned at about 80 percent, Jensen said, but he added they will be going up to 100 percent by this summer.
The Baltimore Recruiting Battalion's VRT stood up in September with three members at its headquarters on Fort Meade. Each of the battalion's six recruiting companies across Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia also have liaisons who work directly with the VRT, Iden said.
These VRTs are "force multipliers" for recruiters, Jensen said. When a potential candidate responds to a social media post and asks a question, the virtual recruiters will initially respond, then pass the prospect off to a neighborhood recruiter, Jensen said.
"This helps the recruiter on the ground with less prospecting and more processing," he said, "putting [prospects] in boots."
The VRTs have access to "segmentation" data from the command's G-2. The Recruiting Command has identified 65 different types of neighborhoods or "segmentations" based on demographic data from the last U.S. census.
Sgt. Chobie Van Rossum (left) and Staff Sgt. Antwon Yourse of the Baltimore Recruiting Company hand out water bottles as they discuss opportunities in the Army with young fans attending an Orioles game May 3, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
"There's a plan for every zip code," Jensen said.
One of the main segmentations in downtown Baltimore is the "Urban Modern Mix," Iden said. Characteristics for people in this segmentation include listening to urban adult contemporary music and having an interest in boxing. Virtual recruiting teams use such data to help target their social media posts, she said.
In a Chicago test that began in October, the Army is "micro-targeting" different neighborhoods and changing Internet ads weekly if they don't resonate with particular segmentations. The pilot program is about to expand to Boston, officials said, and perhaps to more cities in the future.
In another pilot program, the recruiting company in Baltimore is partnering with the Maryland National Guard. In most areas, the National Guard has its own recruiters, but the five recruiting stations in the Baltimore area sign applicants up for the Guard. In return, the Guard provides assets to help recruit at different events, Iden said.
Recruiters also partner with the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks to plan participation in events such as the African American Festival in August.
"It's inherent when you are amongst the public that you will integrate" and form partnerships, Jensen said.
During the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the mayor signed the city up for the Army's Partnership for Youth Success program.
Under the PaYS program, recruits are guaranteed two job interviews at the end of their enlistment. For instance, if recruits pick the city of Houston, they might interview for a job with the Department of Public Works and Engineering.
Recruits are 15 percent more likely to sign up with the Army if they are offered the PaYS program, McCarthy said.
Staff Sgt. Bryan Lenis of the Baltimore Recruiting Company hands an Army water bottle to a young fan at the Eutaw Street concessions of Camden Yards during an Orioles game May 3, 2019.
(Photo by Gary Sheftick)
About 900 different companies and agencies across the country are now part of the PaYS program. The Baltimore Police Department is a partner and Iden said the Maryland State Police are about to sign up.
With these initiatives, recruiting is now up in 18 of the 22 focus cities, according to USAREC. But still, "there are cities all over the country where we know we have to do better," McCarthy said.
Jensen cautions that it will take time. "While these initiatives go on, this is a plane in flight," he said of the Army's recruiting force. "We have to deliver every day. So you've got to be very cognizant of what you're doing and how many ripples in the water you do to the recruiting force."
Since the Army Training and Doctrine Command gained oversight of all accessions in September, he said focus and unity of command has improved.
"Having the TRADOC commander has been absolutely phenomenal," he said. "Now it really helps us get after our mission and stay focused on our mission, and they [at TRADOC] handle a lot of the things that we used to have to handle."
The TRADOC focus has brought more total Army assets to help with recruiting, he said, and more senior leader involvement to help educate influential audiences about the Army.
"I think it's a requirement for every leader of this institution to get out there and talk about the U.S. Army as an organization, to educate our fellow countrymen, to encourage young men and women to take a hard look at this profession," McCarthy said.
This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.