The goal was 1,360 officers, yet the Navy missed fiscal year (FY) 2022 reserve component (RC) officer recruiting targets by 378 officers—a shortfall of more than 28 percent. During the same time, nearly 12,000 officers in grades O-4 and below separated from the active component (AC) for reasons other than retirement. If just 12 percent of those separating officers—1 out of 8—chose to affiliate with the RC in a drilling status, the Navy Reserve would have achieved its recruiting goals for FY22. The actual yield was closer to 1 in 12.
This represents a critical loss to the Navy. Skills, talents, and leadership cultivated through years of training and experience walked away. While not necessarily a failed investment, it is certainly an incomplete one. More critically, these losses compound: today’s missing lieutenant never evolves into tomorrow’s commander. Each year of shortfalls echoes through future years, creating a reserve force that is vitally short of human capital. Failures in RC officer recruiting reflect a weakness in overall Navy retention efforts and diminish the Navy’s capacity.
Challenges and Improvements
To be sure, there have been positive changes. The establishment of the Navy Recruiting Reserve Command in FY22 to focus on prior-service recruiting (AC to RC) should improve the recruiting outcomes by having reservists recruit reservists. Similarly, creation of the permanent recruiting designator within the Navy Training and Administration of Reserves (TAR) community should enhance continuity of effort by institutionalizing knowledge regarding the differences between AC and RC recruiting efforts. However, the most important change is cultural. Starting in FY22 (and amplified again in FY23), active-duty commands’ retention excellence awards now treat prior-service recruiting conversion as a successful retention outcome, rather than as a loss. All these efforts matter and reflect an expanded commitment to ensuring the Navy retains skilled individuals even if officers opt to leave active duty.
Despite this, there is room for improvement. Bad information translates to bad choices. Ensuring officers have the most up-to-date RC information before they resign their commissions can improve both retention decisions for the AC and potential recruiting outcomes for the RC. Unfortunately, references about RC career paths remain scarce and incomplete. For example, the surface warfare officer reserve information brief on the Navy Personnel Command website references promotion rates from the FY13 lieutenant commander board! Ensuring community management resources have up-to-date RC information can facilitate more fully informed decisions about both separation and potential RC affiliation, to the benefit of both the AC and RC. Similarly, RC officers assigned to AC commands in career development discussions are an all-too-often underutilized resource. Integrating them can significantly enhance mentoring.
Overcoming the Navy Reserve’s geographic challenges also matters. Reserve centers are distributed nation-wide, so finding and connecting with a local reserve center can be a challenge for new personnel. Indeed, failed or incomplete onboarding processes posed such a challenge to affiliating direct commission officers into the RC Supply Corps that the community developed specific programs both to guide potential officers through the recruiting process and, on commissioning, through accession and training programs at their assigned Reserve centers. Creating and—more critically—using mentoring and sponsorship networks of RC officers pays dividends to newly gained RC personnel. The respective RC officer communities should mirror the Supply Corps’ DCO model and create sponsorship programs to support officers in the prior-service recruiting pipeline.
Navy Reserve recruiting should focus on a simple task: convincing sailors to keep choosing the Navy. Unfortunately, too few officers were willing to make that choice over the last year. Committing dedicated resources to RC recruiting, ensuring information is complete, and developing mentoring networks to shepherd officers into the RC are all ways to ease that decision.