WASHINGTON — A generation gap hasn’t stopped the Army’s retired community from using its circles of influence to help the service gain new recruits. As Army Recruiting Command continues its push toward its 2018 recruitment goals, it has increasingly turned toward retired Soldiers for help.
Late last year, the Army announced that it will attempt to recruit 80,000 new Soldiers, a 14 percent increase over its 2017 goal. While there is a vast age difference between retired Soldiers and potential recruits, retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said retired Soldiers have access to resources that can impact recruiting differently than recruiters.
Chandler, who serves as a co-chairman of the Army Chief of Staff’s retired Soldier’s Council, said members of the Army’s retirement community can also help alleviate some of the burden Army recruiters face when competing with colleges and other military branches for talent.
“There are not enough recruiters to go to every single town across the entire nation,” Chandler said. “A lot of America doesn’t know the Army anymore; the Army is much smaller and hasn’t had a draft for decades. So what they see of the Army is what’s on TV or something they’ve seen in a movie or read in a newspaper and it’s not always the best representation of what the Army actually is.”
A retired Soldier may have connections to academic institutions and potential venues where recruiters can meet potential candidates, Chandler said.
A high school may restrict recruiters’ access to students, for example. But a retired Soldier may have a connection to the school that allows them to help change that policy, Chandler said.
Near his residence in the Orlando, Florida, area, Chandler has spoken to high school and college-age students about the potential benefits of joining the Army. He has also shared with those students some of the realities and benefits of joining the Army, which can contrast with public misconceptions.
“So if you’ve got a person that has credibility inside of the town that can dispel those myths and help the Army with trying to get to the amount of people it’s trying to get to, you make a difference,” Chandler said.
A MIX OF MEMBERS
Every Army installation has a retired Soldiers’ Council. However, the Council is comprised of seven retired officers and seven enlisted members from different installations. A retired lieutenant general and sergeant major of the Army co-chair the Council, while one service connected disabled, one Reserve, one National Guard, two females, two permanently residing outside of the U.S. (one must be in Europe), and one warrant officer. To represent each demographic, the Council is comprised of one retired National Guard member, one retired reservist, two women and a warrant officer. Two members must be permanent residents outside the U.S.
Retired Lt. Gen. James Lovelace, who serves as a co-chairman for consistency of the Council alongside Chandler, said the Army has prioritized fostering a mutually-beneficial relationship with more than 900,000 retired Soldiers and 250,000 surviving Army spouses.
“There’s energy out there,” said Lovelace. “There’s people who can and want to help the Army hire and inspire.”
Since its inception, the chief’s Council also acts as a liaison between the Army retirement community and the Army chief of staff.
Each year, Lovelace and Chandler meet with Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley to discuss the most pressing issues concerning the retired community, and brief him on some of the work retired Soldiers have been doing in their communities. Lovelace noted while the discussions with Milley are private, the chief has made listening to retired Soldiers’ concerns a priority.
“(Working on the chief’s Council) is an opportunity to give back and serve,” retired Command Sgt. Maj. Saundra Matlock-Williams said. “It’s really a humbling experience to be able to come in and be an advocate for retirees and to be able to talk retired Soldier issues, because they’re important, and to be able to represent Soldiers across the world. I really think that is an opportunity to be a voice and to be heard.”
Recently, an increased Army emphasis on telling Soldier stories has prompted retirees who serve on those councils to tell their stories more often in their representative communities.
“Our role is important,” said Matlock-Williams. “Everybody has a circle of influence. We all do. And then we represent so many people. When we talk more and more about our career or just tell folks about the Army, our story is told. And those folks that we know and interact with can learn more and more.”
Matlock-Williams retired as the garrison command sergeant major at Fort Meade, Maryland, in 2002 after 26 years of service. She said she applied for a place on the Council so she could continue serving the Army as a civilian. Today, she works at the Warrior Family Center at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. As part of her work now, she said she has had the opportunity to advise Soldiers when she has the opportunity. She said one such Soldier, who volunteers at the center, recently approached her for advice on promotions and later achieved a successful promotion.
Chandler, now a senior business consultant for a defense contracting company, said he briefs military veterans at his company and also listens to their concerns. He also meets regularly with a veterans’ employee resource group.