We're Recruiting Another Great Generation

By Barbara McGann

Today, more than 4,000 young, adaptable, energized professionals are tackling this tough mission by telling their Navy story. It's shore duty, but it's no picnic. These hard-charging Sailors are on the road every day and into the night, forging common interests with educators, parents, and the young Americans who will man the Navy of the 21st century. They are innovative, motivated, and resourceful, but they can't do the job alone. They need the help of every man and woman wearing the Navy uniform—and all other Navy boosters.

Our Sailors themselves are the best advocates for joining the Navy team. Market research confirms that America's youth wants to know the truth: What is training really like, do I wear a uniform 24 hours a day, am I alone on a ship all the time, and . . . are there people like me in the Navy? As we reach out to new markets through television, print, radio, the Internet, and nontraditional media, showcasing our Sailors will remain the heart and soul of our communication strategy. In their own words, our Sailors speak the language of youth—and truth—about Navy jobs, education and training, teamwork, travel, and life skills. We must open our own doors and become a more visible part of mainstream America.

The crew of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), who followed their recent deployment with a command-sponsored hometown area recruiting program (HARP), provides but one recent success story. The results: dozens of recruits in just over two-weeks' work by a handful of Sailors. Existing programs such as HARP, ship/squadron tours, community and school involvement—all are opportunities to highlight Navy opportunities and help select our shipmates and future leaders.

Ten years ago, few anticipated the exploding technology, global markets, supercharged economic growth, and dynamic societal evolution affecting the United States and its Navy today. The recruiting challenge clearly is multidimensional, and our award-winning marketing partners, BBDO-New York and Rapp Collins Worldwide, are helping us communicate the Navy experience: serving America and being given more responsibility faster than you ever bargained for, while acquiring the leadership, technical, and educational skills to prepare for the future. We must communicate this message to the youth of America on their terms and through their media choices, while competing with corporate America for the best and brightest of them. Simultaneously, we must connect with our fleet Sailors and meet their needs.

Americans with military experience or direct knowledge of the military are becoming increasingly rare. Youth surveys show a corresponding decline in interest for military service, from 32% in 1973 to approximately 10% today. Our target market of young Americans ages 18-24 has known only an all-volunteer force (more accurately, an all-recruited force) and many of their fathers are members of the first generation since World War II never to have faced the draft. Lucrative labor markets, a robust economy, expanding two- and four-year college opportunities, and world events involving military forces all contribute to a widespread perception that the disadvantages of military service outweigh the advantages. Effective recruiting will require long-term planning and a service commitment to proper resourcing and funding.

Today's young people are smart consumers with multiple career options. They are quite astute when it comes to evaluating a product before they buy, gathering information from friends and multiple sources. The Navy is not the only organization offering wide-ranging bonuses, medical care, advanced training programs, performance pay, family care, and benefits packages. From industry giants to small start-ups, competition is keen for young people with the aptitude for technical occupations, and who—in many cases—already have the basic computer, electronics, and engineering skills required.

We must connect with the needs of our present Sailors and prepare for the needs of our future Sailors. Our ability to recruit and retain sufficient Sailors demands that we recognize the critical value and key contributions made by those in the fleet today. They deserve the very best from Navy leaders—and we must make sure our Sailors always receive solid training, work in a satisfying job environment, are recognized for their accomplishments as individuals and, most important, are treated with the utmost respect. As our Chief of Naval Operations recently reminded us, we must treat Sailors " . . . like national treasures, because they really are."

Rear Admiral McGann commands the U.S. Navy's Recruiting Command. She also is participating in the Naval Institute's Annapolis Seminar this month as a member of the panel addressing whether it is time to bring back the draft.

 

Rear Admiral McGann commands the U.S. Navy's Recruiting Command. She also is participating in the Naval Institute's Annapolis Seminar this month as a member of the panel addressing whether it is time to bring back the draft.

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