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How to reshape the future of recruiting from America’s former top enlisted Navy official

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The following recruiting piece was penned by retired Master Chief Petty Officer Russ Smith, 15th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.

The backbone of our nation’s defense is in jeopardy. Our ability to recruit the next generation of service members is being threatened not by foreign adversaries, but by our own inability to effectively communicate the merits and value of military service.

In order to overcome today’s recruiting shortfalls, the U.S. military has to adopt new digital methods of not only engaging with potential recruits themselves, but with their families and supporters as well.

Fifty years ago, our nation returned to its roots, abandoning the practice of a military draft and opting to employ an all-volunteer force. This decision, although initially challenging, strengthened our military by making service a conscious choice – a commitment to the nation and its values.

Today’s landscape, however, paints a concerning picture. With declining national confidence in the military and significant recruitment shortfalls, we are witnessing a threat to our national security not from external forces, but from within.

The challenges don’t end with numbers. As we confront the challenges of identifying, training, and retaining a highly capable U.S. military force, it is essential that we adapt our strategies to address the changing landscape of today’s society.

There are some who might argue that traditional face-to-face methods of recruitment should remain our primary approach. While personal interaction will always play a crucial role, we must recognize that the world has changed. Our target demographic has grown up in a digital age, and to reach them, we must speak their language.

To address this issue today – not tomorrow – we must explore innovative approaches and technologies that attract new recruits. We need to move faster on these solutions, and not follow the slow pace of change that can often plague progress. In recent months, I’ve collaborated with Sandboxx, a platform that the Army rolled out through its recruiting Prep for Success program relatively quickly. We’ve found that digital platforms can be extremely valuable tools for empowering a support network for our young service members and their families, friends, and centers of influence. 

We need to make military service more accessible and relatable. This involves not only presenting clear information about the physical and mental requirements but also demystifying the tangible and intangible benefits of service.

While applications like the U.S. Army ASVAB Challenge and Army PRT apps address practical concerns, fostering a sense of belonging and preparedness has to become a primary focus across branches. Another integral component still missing is the inclusion of families and friends in this journey, particularly given the growing civilian-military divide

Family isn’t just an external support system: they’re the emotional backbone of every service member. By including families in the recruitment journey, we’re not just adding numbers to our ranks: we’re fortifying the internal support systems of our servicemen and women.

But it’s not just about bringing families into the fold; it’s about providing them with relevant and tailored information. By understanding the unique motivations and aspirations of each recruit and their loved ones, we can better convey the value of military service.

We stand at a pivotal moment in our nation’s military history. Let us rise to this challenge with innovation, inclusivity, and urgency. I urge all stakeholders – from the highest echelons of the Pentagon to our grassroots community leaders – to embrace this digital evolution for the sake of our nation’s future.

About Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Russ Smith, 15th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy

Russell Smith retired as the 15th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy in 2021 after more than three decades in uniform. Smith served on ship in several notable positions ashore, including as the Fleet Master Chief for Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education. Smith now serves as Military Recruiting Advisor at Sandboxx, a technology platform increasing engagement and readiness of new service members and their families.

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