Instagram Live dance parties. Esports tournaments. Facebook posts. These are some of the tools that Army recruiters have relied on to connect with potential future soldiers as they adapt to recruiting in the middle of a pandemic.
The U.S. Army Recruiting Command shifted to all-virtual recruiting between March and May, later resuming in-person meetings at recruiting stations that were deemed safe and necessary, including those under the Tampa Recruiting Battalion. As a result of the shifting work environment brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the national command was 4,000 enlistments behind its annual goal by the end of June, said Lisa Ferguson, spokeswoman for the command.
However, summer tends to be the busiest time for recruiters, she said, and the national command is optimistic about bringing in new applicants. Social media will be key.
“Our command has been on a steady push into the digital space, because that’s where our audience resides,” Ferguson wrote in an email.
Facebook is how Carleck Martin, 25, of St. Cloud, Fla., finally committed to the Army after previously considering it as a means to start a career and become a leader.
“It was something in the back of my mind that I was thinking of. And then when the pandemic happened, it was like, alright, there’s not really much else I can do out here,” Martin said. “Everything is basically closed down, and I need a source of income.”
Martin had been working at Chipotle, but he wasn’t feeling comfortable working in a kitchen anymore. So he put in his two weeks notice, stumbled upon an Army recruiting post on Facebook and gave the recruiters a call.
Martin was sworn in on June 8 in Tampa, wearing a mask and standing 6 feet away from the others.
Even as recruiters have returned to in-person meetings with applicants, virtual outreach hasn’t gone away, said Cpt. Taylor Viotto of the central Florida company that is part of the Tampa Recruiting Battalion.
Recruiters make posts on their professional social media pages, and once an applicant shows interest, they continue the conversation over the phone or by text, Viotto said, adding, “That increased focus we have on social media is still where it’s at.”
Over the past two years, Ferguson said, Army recruiting leaders have “worked to ensure recruiters have access to popular social media apps and communication tools on their government devices to ensure they could remain relevant while communicating with today’s youth.”
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Digital tools even came in handy for high school outreach, Viotto said. Recruiters typically would give in-person presentations at high schools. This year, they worked with schools to give the same presentations online.
People have been asking if the recruiting stations are open, Viotto said. They are, with safety protocols in place, he added, including disposable masks and hand sanitizer for those visiting. And the work space is sanitized after each meeting with an applicant.
Physical training for those who have enlisted and are waiting to ship out to boot camp is being held outside and across multiple sessions to limit the number of future soldiers who come in at one time, he said.
Viotto expects the Army to continue relying on social media and other digital tools, probably combined with in-person communications.
For Martin, the one downside to enlisting during the pandemic was being unable to bring his mother and stepfather to his swearing in. But he understands why it was necessary, and he remains committed to his enlistment.
“The Army is great at making leaders, so I thought it was beneficial for me,” he said.
He ships out to boot camp on July 27.
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