Army switches to ‘virtual recruiting’ amid coronavirus concerns
The U.S. Army has shifted focus toward virtual recruiting to limit exposure to the coronavirus.
On Friday, the United States Army announced sweeping changes to their recruiting practices, prompted by America's ongoing efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus known as Covid-19. As of the end of last week, the Army has chosen to close all of its physical recruiting stations and transition the effort to the online realm, leaning heavily on social media to continue recruiting.
The shutdown began on Friday and continued through the weekend, with recruiters being told to emphasize "virtual recruiting" through the active use of social media and other sites young Americans like to congregate on.
"We are going to basically virtual recruiting. Much of that is done in social media, and that allows us to protect our soldiers and also protect the new recruits," Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told defense reporters.
"It's happening right now, as we speak. I can't attest to every recruiting station, but that is what we are doing over this week and over the next couple of days," he added.
Recruiters are among the service members with the most direct contact with the civilian population.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Carl N. Hudson/Released)
Prior to the decision to make changes to the recruiting effort, the Army was forced to postpone shipping for as many as 1,200 recruits as they developed a process that would allow the Army to test for symptoms of Covid-19 infection at various points throughout the on-boarding phase of a new recruits traveling to basic training. Now, the Army has begun shipping once again thanks to these new safety procedures.
"They are screened in the state, and then they move to the military entrance processing stations [MEPS] and they are screened there again to make sure there are no issues. And then they move to the sites where we execute initial military training," McConville said.
These extra safety screenings may have already paid off, with six recruits being separated from the group after showing symptoms that may be indicative of Covid-19 infection. The Army separated those recruits and took additional steps to ensure they receive any care they need.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Moving forward, the Army has reduced its numbers shipping to basic training by about fifty percent; allowing for screening and minimizing the number of new recruits that are exposed to one another throughout the screening process.
The Army says they're unsure of when they'll get back to traditional recruiting methods, citing the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus as the reason they're playing the situation by ear.
"It's all going to depend on duration; we are looking at this really hard over the next 15 days," Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said. "Right now, it's almost a tactical pause. … We have had a margin in our recruiting numbers this year, so we are doing very well."
"It's all going to depend on duration, where will we be in a month," he said.
The Marine Corps has not transitioned to all-digital recruiting, but also said they've made changes to their procedures in an effort to keep recruiters and the public safe. Navy and Marine recruiting stations expect to stay open, but have made it clear that they will follow local and state guidelines as they're issued.
"Marine recruiters are taking all preventative measures to protect themselves as they interact with the public, and are currently screening applicants scheduled to ship to recruit training to identify individuals who may have heightened risk factors for exposure to the novel coronavirus," said GySgt Justin Kronenberg, spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command.