“Unexpectedly,” military recruiting slumps during pandemic

Here’s one aspect of the coronavirus pandemic that I didn’t see coming. As it turns out, the United States military is on track to miss its recruiting goals in all branches of the service this year unless things turn around rapidly and significantly. Recruiting numbers are down across the board over the past couple of months for a variety of reasons. It’s hitting the Marines especially hard, but the other branches are similarly having trouble meeting their goals. (Associated Press)

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Meyer does his best recruiting face-to-face. He can look people in the eye, read their body language and get insight into whether they would make a good Marine.

But coronavirus quarantines have shut down most recruiting stations. So Meyer and other recruiters have turned increasingly to social media. And that has its drawbacks.

“They usually won’t run away if you’re talking to them in person,” said Meyer, noting that if they are online or on the phone, they can just hang up. “They just stop responding, and the conversation just ends without a conclusion.”

Military recruiting is a tough enough job when the economy is booming like it was up until the novel coronavirus came to town. People are more likely to consider signing up if there aren’t many decent paying jobs available. But now, with so much of the country out of work, I would have thought that enlistments would be increasing rather than decreasing. You don’t get laid off from the military even when times are tough and you’re always guaranteed three square meals a day and a place to sleep.

But with nearly all of the recruiting offices closed, that makes the job significantly more difficult. I still remember where the recruiting office was located in my home town and I had to pass by it on my way to and from high school every day. That placement was not accidental and I wound up spending a lot of my free time there up until graduation and my departure for boot camp. I’m not sure why the recruiting offices weren’t deemed “essential” services, though. It’s not as if they’re usually very crowded and keeping six feet of distance shouldn’t be that difficult.

The other, potentially bigger factor is that so many of the schools are closed, probably for the rest of the school year. That means the recruiters can’t show up on campus and strike up conversations with promising potential recruits. That’s got to be adding a lot of drag on the system.

As the linked article goes on to point out, our military is shifting its sales pitch during this epidemic. They’re stressing ideas such as the honorable nature of service to the nation in a time of crisis. “Your country needs you now more than ever” is a pretty compelling thought.

If there’s any sort of bright side to the grim story of the COVID-19 outbreak, it might be that military recruiting could rebound over the summer months. If it takes too long for us to attempt to restart the economy and high joblessness numbers stretch out well past graduation day, more young people might begin seeing the military as a viable alternative. As I said, it’s not really much of a bright side, but we’ll have to settle for good news where we can find it these days.

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