The desire to serve seems to outweigh the fear of the coronavirus, but recruiters can’t get to recruits.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Derick Faulkenberry said he has seen a decline in new airmen from Franklin County since the virus has complicated contact.
Faulkenberry, who has recruited in Franklin County for about three years, said his recruiting is down about 50 percent from last year.
On the flip side, the economic uncertainty due to the virus has prompted some to seek out the military for the assurance of a stable job and possibly a career.
“We normally average two recruits a month, but it’s down to one per month now,” Faulkenberry said. “I don’t think there’s any fear of the virus, we just can’t get out and talk to them, and we don’t have the foot traffic.”
Faulkenberry said his recruiting office was ordered by the Air Force to lockdown in March at the start of the pandemic, and the nine high schools in his coverage area, where he does most of his recruiting, have been closed or prohibited visitors since then.
“We have developed some new recruiting practices with Zoom, and we are able to send all of the forms and applications electronically,” Faulkenberry said. “None of that compares to face-to-face meetings to really get a feel for the people and their concerns.”
Faulkenberry said newly enlisted airmen must self-quarantine before going to basic training and are housed in separate dormitories from other recruits for the first two weeks once they arrive for training.
On March 18, the U.S. Army closed public access to its 1,400 recruiting stations and recruiters were ordered to telework when possible and target potential recruits online and by phone.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Greer said the Washington recruiting office is seeing the same numbers as it did this time last year and is averaging four or five recruits each month.
“Most of our recruits are in their last year of high school or recent graduates,” Greer said. “It’s different in different parts of the country, but it’s been pretty steady here.”
As fall approaches, Greer said recruiting will slow somewhat.
“Our busiest time is June, July and August, right after graduations,” Greer said. “It generally slows down in the winter, but we still get a few each month.”
Greer said he was a recruiter in Columbia before becoming station commander in Washington two years ago.
“Most of our recruiting was from the outskirts in the smaller towns,” Greer said.
Greer said the Army is taking extra precautions with new recruits as they are screened when they enlist and if and when they ship out to basic training, they remain in quarantine for 14 days before being placed in smaller training groups.
Both Faulkenberry and Greer said the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs at St. Clair, Washington/St. Francis Borgia and Pacific High School offer recruiters a ripe audience, but that too has been limited with school closures and limited visitors.
Military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported while the Army does not yet have a specific recruiting goal for fiscal year 2020, officials expect the number to fall just shy of the 68,000 mark, which is a bit lower than all of 2019. The other military services reported similar shortfalls in March as the pandemic spread.
The Navy saw a 45 percent dip in qualified individuals expressing interest this spring, but still estimates a year-end total of 40,800 new recruits.
The Marine Corps lowered its goal for fiscal year 2020 by 2,000 amid the pandemic, aiming to ship 33,290 to basic training.
Despite drops early on, Air Force recruiters have outpaced their performance in 2019, producing 50,000 more qualified leads between January and April 2020 than in the first four months combined in 2019. The overall goal remains to ship 29,068 recruits to basic training by year’s end.