WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Tuesday new efforts to expand military recruiting and reinvigorate the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC, program on college campuses to attract a broader segment of young people into military and public service.
Carter spoke to an audience at The City College of New York, the first stop during a trip this week through New York, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio to highlight steps the Defense Department is taking to ensure the future strength, readiness and technological edge of the nation’s men and women in uniform.
The new personnel and policy changes the secretary announced build on four “Force of the Future” initiatives that he announced last November, January and June.
The changes include building and increasing on and off-ramps for technical talent to flow in both directions, increasing retention among the ranks through increased support to military families, and improving talent management for the military officer corps and for the Department of Defense civilian force.
EXPANDING MILITARY RECRUITING
To draw talent for the all-volunteer force from the entire population pool calls for helping an entire generation better understand who the military is and what it’s about, Carter said.
“It requires a comprehensive effort across the Department of Defense, expanding geographic, demographic and generational access in our military recruiting,” he added.
The department will start by improving how it communicates the value of military life, telling its story in more places, in more ways and to a broader range of audiences. Carter said that will be accomplished, among other ways, by changing how the department highlights its mission through advertising.
The ads will speak to Americans wherever they are, the secretary said, through television and online, and they will speak everyone: potential recruits, parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers, guidance counselors and many others.
“What we’re selling is service and mission,” Carter added, “a chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself that will not only do something good for you but [will] let you serve others and then, after you’ve served, to go on to do something great with the rest of your life, like so many of our veterans do.”
HELPING THE SERVICES RECRUIT
In another effort, the department will create a DOD speakers’ bureau of senior leaders and experts from across the military and the department who will be dedicated to educating key audiences on the value and benefits of military and public service in support of the mission of national defense.
“I’m the first speaker to sign up,” Carter told the audience, “and I’m kicking that off right here today.”
The department also will help the services improve their own recruiting efforts, the secretary said, and the services will experiment with helping their recruiters be more mobile and leverage technology to recruit across wider geographic areas.
Carter said recruiters also will review some of the standards and requirements that young men and women currently must meet to join the military, including those having to do with physical fitness, tattoos, single parenthood and others.
“Some of these things we’ll never be able to compromise on — we’ll always have to maintain high standards — but at the same time, these benchmarks must be kept relevant for both today’s force and tomorrow’s, meaning we have to ensure they’re not unnecessarily restrictive. So we’re going to review and update these standards as appropriate,” he said.
Carter also described an effort to strengthen ROTC, which is active on college campuses around the country.
“Forty percent of our officers come from ROTC, and it’s also a key part of helping those who may not have been exposed to us before getting to know us. This year is ROTC’s 100th anniversary, and because DOD is a learning organization and always trying to improve, it stands to reason that we should use this anniversary” to determine how to make ROTC even better, Carter said.
To ensure ROTC continues to attract great participants, the department will offer more graduate school scholarships — especially for law and medical school — for cadets who are college seniors, the secretary added.
More two-year and three-year ROTC scholarships will be offered, he said, and the department will sponsor more high school students who are interested in science, technology, engineering or math to shadow ROTC cadets at schools that specialize in those fields.
To make being a ROTC instructor more attractive to service members, the secretary is directing the military services to ensure their officer promotion and selection boards more appropriately value those who serve as ROTC instructors and not penalize them for it.
“We’re also going to set up a pipeline for officers who did ROTC themselves to give back to the program and be instructors later in their careers,” Carter said, noting that his senior military assistant, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Eric Smith, instructed future Marine officers in the Naval ROTC program at Texas A&M, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, was a Marine officer instructor at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts for three years — the first chairman to have done so.
THE CALL TO SERVICE
For the ROTC program as a whole, Carter said, the department will develop data-driven ways to accurately measure and assess which ROTC units perform their missions most effectively.
“ROTC units that stand out the most each year will be eligible for a new award recognizing their excellence, the Secretary of Defense ROTC Futures Award — and I challenge CCNY to be among the first to get it,” the secretary said.
“I don’t expect all of you to join us [but] I do ask you to give it some thought,” Carter told the audience.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a future secretary of defense sitting among you today, or a future chairman of the Joint Chiefs sitting among the ROTC cadets here,” he added. “But I’m also confident that you all have something to contribute: the drive to be part of something bigger than yourself. And that’s where the call to service begins.”