NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Senator Tim Kaine spent the day Monday talking with young service members at Fort Eustis about what motivated them to join the Army.
As 10 On Your Side reported earlier this month, the U.S. Army is struggling to meet its 2022 recruitment goals.
He says as it gets harder to recruit, military branches are starting to get creative with their approach and that involves starting discussions with younger generations sooner.
“They call it gen alpha,” said Senator Tim Kaine. “The kids that were born in about 08-09 will be the Army recruits in about 2028-2030, so how do we get that group of kids who are mostly in middle school now, how do we get them to be focused on serving our country?”
Senator Tim Kaine says military officials tell him fewer 18-year-olds are able to meet military standards than ever before. This could mean passing the educational standards, but most fail to pass the physical fitness test.
He believes cutting physical education in schools might be contributing to the lack of qualified applicants.
“Schools drop P.E. programs so they can make sure kids are great at social studies, English, science and math and guess what suffers? The ability for folks to qualify for military service,” said Kaine. “You can’t pretend that doesn’t have a consequence. It does have a consequence, so we have to rethink some of that.”
He says students are also outside less which could contribute to a lack of getting enough physical activity.
“Just as the level of activity is going down, people are in front of screens more,” Kaine said.
Kaine learned about the Future Solider Program at Fort Jackson, which is aimed to help recruits who don’t meet current standards, but really want to join.
“They have an innovative program that they’re doing at Fort Jackson that’s a little bit of a pilot of taking young people in who don’t meet current standards, but doing an intense two-week program to see, if you want to serve, how we can get you over that standard bar in two weeks,” Kaine said.
Military officials also believe it’s important to expand Junior ROTC programs to more schools across the country.
“In high schools that have Junior ROTC programs, you’re 44% more likely to get recruits coming from those schools,” said Kaine. “It turns out that a lot of existing J-ROTC programs are in states where the population is going down with what’s happening demographically populations moving south and west.”
He went on to say, “You have to look for new opportunities in the high-growth areas.”
Kaine believes the pandemic is also contributing to the low numbers because the military had to resort to virtual recruiting.
“You send someone to a high school and you have one-on-one conversations with kids and you go have conversations with their parents that for about two years was shut down,” said Kaine. “I do think we may not be where we want to be because this was shut down.”
Because retention is strong, Kaine says he’s remaining optimistic, but it’s important to think about the future before it’s too late.
“We can talk about the diagnosis, but what’s the prescription?” asked Kaine.
Kaine says they also want to encourage schools to recognize students who choose to serve our country.
He says students should be applauded for going into the military, not looked down on for not going to college, and he hopes schools start to jump on board with some of these new recruiting efforts.