Air Force Must ‘Reintroduce’ Itself to America, Recruiting Service Commander Says
Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas says “declining familiarity with who we are” is partly to blame for recruiting problems.
Air Force leaders are urging airmen to “reconnect” with Americans, as the service faces a 10 percent recruiting shortfall for its active-duty forces.
"Please reach out to your communities and help us cut our negative perceptions of our military service and share our positive and accurate messages," Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Tuesday at an Air Force Association conference, adding that the recruiting deficit is even larger in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
Declining numbers of eligible recruits and “declining familiarity with who we are as U.S. service members” are mostly to blame for the current recruiting challenges, said Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service.
After 25 years of operating in the Middle East, as well as multiple base closures and fewer community outreach resources, Thomas said the service must now “reintroduce” itself to America.
“We continue to have a very strong brand [and] we're building the Space Force brand, so our challenge right now is the level of understanding of that brand is declining,” Thomas told reporters on Wednesday.
The service changed its tattoo policy on March 1 to help with the eligibility issue. It now permits airmen to have a single tattoo on each hand and one on their neck, if each tattoo isn’t larger than an inch.
“We were literally turning away highly qualified applicants because of a small tattoo that was between your fingers and we were saying, ‘We wish we could make you an American airman but why don't you walk next door to the U.S. Navy and they'll be happy to enlist you,’” Thomas said.
At the same time, the Air Force changed its body composition standards to be in line with DOD standards, Thomas said. He expects the service to be able to add an additional 3,000 airmen a year between that and the expanded tattoo policy.
And while drug usage is “completely incompatible with military service,” Thomas said the Air Force is considering altering its policy to be more lenient toward previous marijuana use.
“This was targeted at not permanently preventing someone from service in many cases because of unintended exposure, or simply the environment that we were in, with 38 of our 50 states [having] legalized marijuana, including Colorado,” he said.
Though some Republicans have blamed falling recruiting numbers on “wokeness” in the military, Thomas said the main concern potential recruits have is fear of death or physical injury.
And while many of the other services have struggled with recruiting in recent years—the Army in July said it was facing the most challenging recruiting environment since 1973—the Space Force has said it hasn’t had trouble finding new recruits. “There's been news that there's a recruiting challenge. We haven't seen that in the Space Force,” Jay Raymond, the former chief of space operations, said in December.