The Army National Guard closed its books for 2009 with 358,391 soldiers, or 100.1 percent of its fiscal year end-strength goal of 358,200 soldiers. It also met its retention goal by retaining 36,672 soldiers, or 106 percent of its goal of 34,593.
The Air National Guard surpassed its 2009 end-strength goal with 109,196 airmen, or 102.3 percent of its goal of 106,756 airmen. The Air Guard also retained 17,904 airmen, or 120.1 percent of its goal of 14,904.
Success for the Army Guard, officials noted, meant reducing its end strength rather than gaining servicemembers. The Army Guard had 368,727 soldiers in March, and it needed to reduce that to a congressionally mandated end strength of 358,200 soldiers by September.
“Never before has the Army Guard been challenged to reduce its end strength by more than 11,000 soldiers within six months,” said Army Lt. Col. Ron Walls, chief of the strength and maintenance division at the National Guard Bureau. The Army Guard reduced end strength while meeting accession and retention goals. Its 56,000-soldier accession mission was met with 56,071 soldiers, and 36,672 soldiers were retained to meet the 34,593-soldier retention mission.
“We had to do a ‘full-court press’ with the 54 states and territories in order to ensure we were successful,” Walls said. “We ensured each state could reach their end strength while maintaining retention.”
Success came down to “driven, focused leadership and a committed recruiting and retention force,” he said.
Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, made it clear that the Army Guard’s end strength of 358,200 soldiers would be met and that it would align with the states’ force structure, Walls said. A series of restrictions was placed on the recruiting and retention force before the summer, increasing the Army Guard’s quality marks to “unprecedented levels,” he added.
The Army Guard also suspended many recruiting waivers or options, and it restricted incentive programs.
State leaders focused on end strength by placing some soldiers into duty statuses that better described them, including those enlisted soldiers with expired terms of service, nonvalidated pay or no training seat reservations.
“To me, that’s the best success story,” Walls said. “Never before has the Army Guard had such pure, ready formations prepared to meet combatant commanders’ needs.”
For fiscal 2010, Walls said, the big challenge is constrained resources. Providing the ability to tailor the force to meet mission requirements will help the state adjutants general and their recruiting and retention commanders stay competitive for recruits, he noted. “They will successfully reach non-prior-service and prior-service soldiers,” he said.
In the states, some 3,700 Army Guard recruiters will face 2010’s recruiting challenges with fewer resources to draw applicants in the door. Though direct mail, radio and television, local advertising and sales brochures, giveaway items, and posters will continue, Walls said, few, if any, new recruiting programs will be offered.
Case-by-case funding will take into account operation tempos, requirements for certain specialties and parts of the country facing extraordinary challenges, he said.
The Army Guard will enhance its social media programs and integrate them with other marketing, Walls said. Depending on actual budgets, tentative plans are to expand marketing to outdoor enthusiasts, because research shows outdoor activities rate high among recruits.
Walls said recruiters must accomplish the same mission with significantly fewer leads, which in the past were generated through campaigns, but he expressed confidence that they’ll succeed. “The recruiting force is highly trained and motivated,” he said. “They will continue to meet challenges this country places on them.
“The greatest take-away from our success is not the numbers or the mission, but it’s the commitment,” he continued. “We continue to have a long line of individuals who are willing to serve their country.”
Air Force Col. Mary Salcido, director of recruiting and retention for the Air National Guard, said her recruiters made “target recruiting” for specific jobs their top goal in 2009. The result was that the Air Guard surpassed its end-strength goal, while adjusting manpower and reducing shortfalls in specific skills.
Fiscal 2008 was the first time in several years that the Air Guard had met its end-strength goal. Salcido said in 2009 the Air Guard adjusted its synergy and efforts to put manpower exactly where it was needed. She said the recruiting teams quickly created goals and programs to “precision recruit.”
“Recruiting the right people in the right place at the right time: That’s our theme, and that’s what we did all year long,” she said.
Salcido said advertising, operations, bonuses and incentives were focused on critical Air Force specialties such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, health professions, civil engineer specialties, security forces, special tactics and the newest total-force-initiative missions.
“When you have missions that require a lot of physical as well as tactical skills — such as the tactical air control party members — those are more difficult to recruit,” she said. “Your cyber missions now require higher test scores with a lot of technology and longer schools; those are tougher to recruit. The bonuses and the incentives are going that way.”
Planning ahead for new missions, Salcido said, Air Guard officials have reached out to help prepare the states for the future. “We are trying a little different mindset; we are in full coordination with the [Air National Guard] functional organizations,” she said.
The Air Guard Readiness Center recruiters reached out to the states to evaluate recruiting programs. She said they “wanted to increase their return on those investments.”
“We put the focus where it should be: that’s recruiters and accountability,” she said. “They are doing a phenomenal job. We also involved wing-level and headquarters-level management.”
Like the Army Guard, the Air Guard’s budget for advertising and recruiting programs was cut, so the Air Guard asked state recruiters what programs should be kept. “We have found it very successful, and I think the field is very happy,” she said about the outcome.
The Guard Recruiting Assistant Program was extremely successful, she said, bringing in at least 30 percent of Air Guard’s new recruits. And recruiting programs in general initiated considerable interest in the Air Guard, she said, especially through social networking.
On the advertising side, Salcido said, a “more bang for the buck” approach helps to ensure that the Air Guard remains known.
Coordination with the Army Guard at events and at recruiting centers also helps, the colonel noted. “It’s a hometown team, and that’s what we are doing,” she said.
The Air Guard has about 650 recruiters and retainers across the nation and at the National Guard Bureau. She called those recruiters a “furious force” who operate in a high-burnout career field.