As American troops withdraw from Afghanistan and look toward a more compact military, the quality of recruits will become even more crucial to finish the mission and stand ready for the next one. The present drawdown means that the military faces less of a scramble for sheer numbers that it did in advance of the surge in Iraq, when it offered waivers to many recruits otherwise unqualified to enlist, in a bid to fill boots and billets.
That approach to recruiting worked in the short term, but left the force a disproportionate number soldiers who could not meet standards and a problematic crime rate that roughly correlated with the increasing availability of waivers. With a drawdown in progress, it becomes even more crucial to address these issues and ensure that the personnel filling the military's ranks are of the highest caliber.
Our nation's all-volunteer military force must recruit its talent and manpower like any other prospective employer, and repeated combat deployments and frequent re-locations can be a tough sell.
Those who serve are dedicated, loyal, and often altruistic, but to attract the number and caliber of personnel to maintain a resilient, mission-ready force, military service must present itself as a viable career option.
Even in the current recession, young men and women have little incentive to choose a career path which may actually negatively impact their employment chances after service. Despite the tremendous opportunities for education and experience offered by military service, employment statistics continue to indicate that veterans face higher rates of unemployment than civilians - 12.7% in May of 2012, compared to an 8.2% national average.
National security depends on the recruitment and retention of a competent, qualified, exceptional group of people. The United States military already contains many such people, but if we want to keep them there and recruit more like them, the best incentive we can offer our veterans is not an enlistment bonus or even a scholarship, but simply good employment prospects after service. Those considering military service need to know that when they eventually re-enter civilian life, they will find
- employers who understand how their military experience translates into civilian skills and qualifications,
- a culture free of stereotypes and hype-driven assumptions about mental illnesses,
- help in getting the most out of their educational benefits,
- and better and more consistent support with job searches, resume and interview skills, and networking.