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The Army’s Moral Recruiting Problem

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The Army’s Moral Recruiting Problem

Kyle Borne

Introduction

The Army has an age old problem with recruiting persons whose value systems don’t match up with their mission. Given it costs over $15,000 to recruit just one soldier, it’s important to get it right (Buddin, 2005).The result is soldiers who drink and drive, sexually assault their team members, and create a toxic environment. This mismatch has led to an emphasis on combatting behaviors stemming from immoral attitudes with numerous programs which take valuable resources. The challenge I am proposing is to develop a recruiting and selection strategy which ensures the best possible physical, mental and moral match between a prospect and the Army.

The Army diverts a huge chunk of manpower, time, and money to train people that “sexual assault/harassment is bad and will not be tolerated” yet the problem persists. This paper explores current recruiting practices, its shortfalls, and offers solutions tied to a thorough job analysis and restructured recruiting strategy.

The paper begins with a summation of the current Army recruiting strategy. This is supported through researching official publications, published papers from the Army War College and the School of Advanced Military Studies, anecdotal testimony from recruiters, and the author’s own personal experience with the recruiting system.

The Current Situation[i]

Recruiting in a Nutshell

At the time of this writing there is no overall recruiting strategy for the Army. In the past documents such as the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) provided at least minimal guidance to recruit “quality people”. These documents didn’t go on to discuss what “quality” meant. The 2015 NSS doesn’t even mention government personnel and the 2014 QDR only makes references to a “ready” and “capable” force without a focus on people (Department of Defense, 2014). The document does highlight that “eliminating sexual assault is one of the Department of Defense’s highest priorities” (Department of Defense, 2014).

Recruiting as a whole is only referred to vaguely and in a few instances of the 64 page QDR. For example a solution to “ensure” the recruitment of personnel is to “offer competitive compensation”. The QDR further states the reserve component will “seek to recruit personnel with critical skill sets” (Department of Defense, 2014) but doesn’t elaborate on what those skillsets are. Ultimately the primary metrics used to determine what quality means to the Department of Defense (DoD) appears to be physical ability, lack of criminal history, and the level of education. There are no references to character traits or ethics on the macro level.

The Army continues to recruit with archaic instruments. As Lieutenant Colonel Jones lamented in 2000 with his critique, U.S. Army Recruiting: Problems and Fixes, the Army relies on financial incentives and benefits to attract recruits (Jones, 2000). The Army hasn’t changed this approach in the last 15 years. Traditionally the Army has struggled to meet its recruiting mission and in a numbers-driven world the metric for success is purely the quantity of personnel, not the quality. This quantity-over-quality approach could explain the lack of a moral recruitment focus.

According to the United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) its current mission is: “...recruit professional, volunteer Soldiers(sic); Soldier 2020[ii], capable of effectively executing operations in the Army’s complex operating environment.” (USAREC, 2015).  Further their vision encompasses recruiting soldiers who “exhibit… attributes, and values of a dedicated professional enabled by leading edge technologies & premier recruiting practices…” (USAREC, 2015). Lastly their values statement exclaims USAREC is “exemplifying Army values and demonstrating the Warrior Ethos” (USAREC, 2015). Taken together we can see the Army wants to bring in versatile, professional, value-oriented recruits using cutting-edge recruiting practices. But is this the case? This section will discuss the current methods used in recruiting and will be followed by a section discussing the inherent flaws in the system starting with the mission.

The Mission

The ultimate recruiting mission for the Army is determined by Congress who authorizes military strength (Jones, 2000). From there the Army breaks this total number down into subgroups: Graduate A and Graduate B and High School A and High School B. For example, if the person has graduated high school and scores above a 50 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test’s Armed Forces Qualification Test[iii] (AFQT or simply QT score) they would be a Graduate A category. If they scored below a 50 they would be Graduate B.  Recruiting stations are given a recruiting mission from their higher echelons based on these numbers and their recruitment area population size. This mission entails the number of recruits and types required to meet overall goals.

Process of Recruiting[iv]

The Army used to recruit on an individual basis where one recruiter was held responsible for “making mission” or not. This model has changed to the “small unit recruiting” where a station is jointly responsible for the mission. There are contact teams who find interested persons, processing teams who handle the paperwork, and a “Future Soldier Leader” who is then responsible for training and keeping the prospects committed until the time they ship out 8 months later.

After a recruiter makes first contact they gather pertinent information about the prospect. Additionally prospects are required to fill out a moral and medical pre-screening form. The medical form looks for immediate disqualifiers such as heart issues, diabetes, etc. The moral questionnaire is purely dedicated to arrest or criminal history information. Following this process a potential soldier is taken to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) where a majority of the testing occurs.

MEPS stations are where recruits get their initial medical, vocational, and now psychological screening. They have to perform certain physical activities, have their hearing and vision screened, and take the ASVAB. During their screening if a potential recruit shows outward signs of psychological distress (such as cutting scars) they receive a psychological screening. If a recruit scores below a 50 on their QT composite they undergo an ethical screening. The effectiveness of this screening is suspect though, as the questions are not well worded. Since people think strategically, it is easy discern the correct answer. This is disturbing as it shows an absolute lack in moral decision making screening. The best way to determine moral characteristics is to perform a job analysis.

Job Analysis

According to Pynes, before any “informed decisions can be made about recruitment and developmental needs… data must be collected analyzed” and the technique to do it is the job analysis. (Pynes, 2013, p. 143).  The process of conducting a job analysis is somewhat lengthy but can be accomplished with various methods. The goal is the same, to gather information such as job activities, educational requirements, types of equipment or tools used, working conditions, supervisory or management responsibilities, interpersonal or communication skills, and the Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Other Characteristics (KSAOCs) (Pynes, 2013, p. 145) required for a particular job.

The analysis collects data several different ways. Sometimes incumbents are interviewed since they are viewed as the subject matter experts (SMEs) for their particular job. Other ways of collecting information include but are not limited are questionnaires, observation, internet-based data collection or a combination of techniques (Pynes, 2013, p. 146). At the end of the analysis, depending on the purpose for doing it, there should be a coherent description of the job which includes what KSAOCs a person should possess to be successful at the particular job.

The Problem with the Status Quo

The Symptoms of Value Misalignment

Antisocial and destructive behaviors such as drinking and driving, criminal behavior, and sexual assault are detrimental to the good order and discipline of the armed forces. Sexual assault was reported to happen to 6.1% of active duty women and 1.2% of men in fiscal year (FY) 2012 (Department of Defense, 2012). These high numbers drove the Army in 2005 to establish a cohesive sexual assault response program. Currently this training takes the form of quarterly (approximately four hours) and annual refresher training. The Army has also created the Sexual Harassment Assault Response Program (SHARP) College, dedicated to training the response coordinators, victim advocates and program managers.

In 2013 the Army discharged 11,000 soldiers for misconduct (Baldor, 2014). There is some concern with the numbers reflecting untreated mental illness (Tan, 2015), but that notwithstanding the numbers are still unreasonably high. This encapsulates behaviors such as criminal activities, disobedience, alcohol or drug related infractions, and SHARP violations. Each of those discharges has administrative overhead as well as cost of recruiting and training a replacement soldier.

The bottom-line is a vast majority of soldiers are of upstanding moral character; however the few bad apples ruin it for everyone. T.E. Moffit has demonstrated “life-course persistent (LCP) offenders” are individuals who from childhood have exhibited antisocial and increasingly violent behaviors (Boutwell, Barnes, & Beaver, 2013). Further those only account for between 5-10% of the population, but commit approximately 50% of violent crimes (Boutwell, Barnes, & Beaver, 2013). Boutwell-et.-al’s study indicates LCPs are disproportionately more likely to commit acts of rape and sexual assault (Boutwell, Barnes, & Beaver, 2013).

The approach of one-size-fits-all mandatory training is a drain on money, time, and personnel. Not to say some training isn’t warranted, but there are more efficient ways to apply organizational training. With few persons creating many of the problems the Army needs to identify a way to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. With the current situation the Army is clearly not doing this well. The Army must shift from a take-all-comer’s approach to placing a higher level of importance to moral character.

Job/Skill Mismatch

Germaine to the argument is the Other Characteristics part of KSAOCs.  These include the attitudes, personality factors, and/or the physical or mental traits required for the job (Pynes, 2013).  All soldiers in the Army are soldiers first, which means they have an expectation to adhere to the Army Values of Leadership, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. Each has their own specific definition, however many are self-explanatory. Each MOS has its own additional characteristics based upon its function.

What does this have to do with recruiting? Simply speaking without an accurate job analysis recruiting isn’t going to be as efficient at evaluating moral character. If we don’t know those, we can’t screen them for possessing them. This is a bad hiring practice as it creates the opportunity to recruit soldiers whose moral compass varies from the Army’s ideal and misbehave. These manifest themselves and grate on the morale and overall discipline of the all-volunteer force.

With the expansion of the Army post September 11th, 2001 it needed more personnel. Even before this the Army has traditionally struggled to meet mission, necessitating the inclusion of all able-bodied persons regardless of moral hazard. The trend which began in the 1990s of high quality potential recruits going on to college and lucrative careers continues to this day. This leaves either the service-motivated recruit or the one who didn’t go to college for any number of reasons. With more quality young people eschewing military service this leaves the rest to recruit from which has implications such as higher rates of first-term attrition, discipline problems, and bring down unit morale (Koucheravy, 2001). There are diamonds in the proverbial rough however, the trick is to identify and set forth the ethical potential recruits. The job analysis of being a soldier is what drives the “other characteristics” needed for moral and ethical performance, which is why this step is so important.

How Does the Army Do Job Analysis?[v]

Short Answer: It doesn’t. There is no formal method for conducting job analysis in the Army readily available. There have been individual unit efforts to conduct some occupational analysis on certain MOS’ (O*NET, 2015). However there appears to be no formal method from big Army on how to conduct job analysis. This leaves it up to the various sub commands to figure it out.

Each branch of the Army (infantry, armor, artillery and so on) has what is called a “Proponent Office”.  These proponents are charged with running the affairs of the branch across the domains of Doctrine, Organization, Training, Material, Leadership & Education, Personnel, and Facilities (DOTMLPF). This office works together to determine what tasks are necessary for their associated MOS’ found within their branch. Each branch has their own method, but a rudimentary job analysis is typically conducted. This could include using surveys for the personnel serving in, for example artillery, to answer questions pertaining to their job KSAOCs. The proponent office would then distill this down to a task analysis to see if their description in Department of the Army Pamphlet (DA PAM) 600-3 Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management is accurate and to verify if what they are training their soldiers is relevant to their real life experiences. DA PAM 600-3 describes what (using our example) artillery is and the unique knowledge and skills personnel must possess and their core competencies. This forms the foundation for a “job description” for a particular branch.     

While this method of job analysis might be (barely) adequate to give the Army an idea of what other characteristics are needed for a particular job, it isn’t operationalized well. Ironically the Army has a lot of values programs, such as the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic (CAPE) which is entirely dedicated to this endeavor. Yet it appears the left hand isn’t talking to the right as the primary method of lining up a new enlisted recruit with a job is still the ASVAB. Each MOS has a requisite score each recruit needs to obtain in order to be eligible. While DA PAM 600-3 and other similar publications may include OCs which is job specific, they speak to professional rather than personal characteristics.

Recommendations

Recurring and Accurate Job Analysis

The Army needs to develop a coherent standard for conducting job analysis. This standard needs to reflect current Strategic Human Resource Management (SHRM) standards of practice to ensure methods remain up to date. Human Resources Command (HRC), USAREC, and other relevant stakeholders need to be incorporated into the job analysis to ensure each entity is aware of the standards. This process needs to be iterative to ensure prevailing Army values are incorporated into the moral criteria for recruitment.

Recruitment

Clearly the current and thorough job analysis is the most important driver to determine who the Army needs to recruit. With this in mind, the Army needs to fundamentally change the way it thinks about recruitment. A paradigm shift moving from a numbers-based approach to a holistic quality approach is necessary. In addition to the knowledge, skills, and abilities, a serious method and metric to assess other characteristics needs to happen.

The Army knows what its ethics are and they clearly expect their soldiers to adhere to them. Therefore it is imperative to screen for and consider potential applicants ethical values prior to spending the resources on recruiting, training, and potentially retraining and discharging them. The process must be carefully thought out to avoid violating equal opportunity requirements and not screen out particular protected groups (Pynes, 2013, p. 183). This process must identify the values and ethics to been screened and a method in which to gauge them. Using this process, the Army will be able to screen prospects for an appropriate moral fit.

A second significant shift needs to occur in the Army’s view of recruiting. The Army needs to view itself as an employer of choice and as such should subject prospects to the same type of hiring procedures as private firms. In almost any other job an applicant has to prove they are worthy to work where they apply. This typically involves completing an application, providing references, and going through several interviews. Employing modern hiring practices, the Army can use references supplied by prospects to vet them for ethical and moral behavior. Some police departments as well as the Office of Personnel Management’s security clearance investigators employ this method by asking references provided by the prospect for other references, then following up with those as well. This negates the bias inherent in references provided by a person who is trying to get hired (since they more than likely list people who will speak favorably of the applicant) and helps uncover more of the truth regarding a person’s ethical behavior. I propose using the Army recruiter as the instrument to do this vetting.

Recruiters are the first line of scrutiny. They are the ones who make the first contacts and vet potential entrants before any significant investments of resources go into a person. The Army needs to develop specific training for recruiters during their schooling which equips them with the ability to discern if a prospect is a good moral fit for the Army. This approach is consistent with the doctrine of Mission Command which “enable[s] disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders” (Department of the Army, 2014).

Recruiters need to also be aware of and apply other aspects of candidates. This includes finding prospects who demonstrate public-service motivation. The lament of one recruiting company commander I spoke with was the volume of people who were infatuated with killing – obviously not commensurate with public service motivation.  Additional screening will enable trained recruiters to screen for what Moffit calls “life-course persistent offenders” – those who since childhood have exhibited antisocial and escalating violent behavior (Boutwell, Barnes, & Beaver, 2013). Ascertaining why a prospect wants to join the Army will help ensure it isn’t for nefarious reasons.

Conclusion

The overall product of recruiting individuals with a broken moral compass is the breakdown of unit and professional discipline. With a thoughtful and thorough job analysis, the Army can determine what moral and ethical “other characteristics” it wants in its new recruits. The Army must then make a paradigm shift in its recruiting efforts to actively screen applicants for moral attitudes and behaviors. Taken together, conducting a recurring job analysis will inform what recruiters look for in prospects to screen out those who aren’t naturally predisposition to moral reasoning on par with the Army’s.

The views expressed are my own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Bibliography

Baldor, L. C. (2014, February 16). Soldiers Leaving Army Due to Misconduct On The Rise. Retrieved from Talking Points Memo: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/army-misconduct-discharge

Boutwell, B. B., Barnes, J., & Beaver, K. M. (2013). Life-Course Persistent Offenders and the Propensity to Commit Sexual Assault. Sex Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 69-81.

Buddin, R. J. (2005). Success of First-Term Soldiers. Arlington: RAND Corporation.

Cone, R. W. (2013). Soldier 2020. Army Magazine, 29-32.

Department of Defense. (2012). Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. Washington, D.C.: The Department of Defense.

Department of Defense. (2014). Quadrennial Defense Review - 2014. Washington D.C.: Department of Defense.

Department of the Army. (2014, March 28). Unified Land Operations and Mission Command. Army Doctrine Publication 6-0 Mission Command. Washington D.C.

Jones, R. D. (2000). U.S. Army Recruiting: Problems and Fixes. Carlisle Barracks: US Army War College.

Koucheravy, R. J. (2001). Whence The Soldier of the Future? Recruiting and Training for the Objective Force. Fort Leavenworth: School of Advanced Military Studies, US Army Command and General Staff College.

O*NET. (2015, November 25). O*NET Products at Work. Retrieved from onetcenter.org: http://www.onetcenter.org/paw.html?ot=7&fmt=print

Pynes, J. E. (2013). Human Resources Management For Public and Nonprofit Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tan, M. (2015, November 4). Senators call on Army to investigate 22,000 misconduct discharges. Retrieved from Army Times: http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/capitol-hill/2015/11/04/senators-call-army-investigate-22000-misconduct-discharges/75148446/

USAREC. (2015, November 25). About Us: United States Army Recruiting Command. Retrieved from United States Army Recruiting Command: http://www.usarec.army.mil/aboutus.html

End Notes

[i] Some information provided in this section was obtained through personal interviews of persons formerly working in USAREC who wished to remain anonymous.

[ii] Soldier 2020 is the Army’s current campaign to open up all military occupational specialties (MOS) to women (Cone, 2013).

[iii] The AFQT is a composite of the 4 sections of the ASVAB (arithmetic reasoning, mathematics knowledge, paragraph comprehension, and word knowledge) to give an overall score.

[iv] Evidence for this section was gathered through personal communications with a former recruiting company commander and battalion staffer who wished to remain anonymous.

[v] Much of the uncited material in this section is contributed through first-hand experience.

 

About the Author(s)

Kyle Borne is a master’s student in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas. He is also a Captain in the United States Army. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.​

Comments

Wolverine57

Sun, 10/16/2016 - 8:22pm

I agree with this author that there is "lack of moral recruitment focus". In addition to emphasis on Army values and the warrior ethos, the Army does need a way to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

Wow, the author just went biblical with separating wheat from chaff. Let me point this to recruiting. There are only 29% of Americans of recruiting age qualified to serve because of drugs, education, health, or felonies. Now, put with that figure about 70% of the population who profess a Christian religion. Current policies with respect to gays, gay marriage, and transgender issues potentially "screen out" a majority of the population possessing Christian values. While you say you want to avoid violating equal opportunity requirements and not screen out particular protected groups, you have just alienated 70% of the population of this country who would serve or encourage their children to serve. That does not make any business sense at all. With the added ethical scandals of senior military and public officials, no wonder there is a recruiting, morals, and values problem. George Washington said: "religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society."

Wolverine57

Sun, 10/16/2016 - 8:21pm

I agree with this author that there is "lack of moral recruitment focus". In addition to emphasis on Army values and the warrior ethos, the Army does need a way to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

Wow, the author just went biblical with separating wheat from chaff. Let me point this to recruiting. There are only 29% of Americans of recruiting age qualified to serve because of drugs, education, health, or felonies. Now, put with that figure about 70% of the population who profess a Christian religion. Current policies with respect to gays, gay marriage, and transgender issues potentially "screen out" a majority of the population possessing Christian values. While you say you want to avoid violating equal opportunity requirements and not screen out particular protected groups, you have just alienated 70% of the population of this country who would serve or encourage their children to serve. That does not make any business sense at all. With the added ethical scandals of senior military and public officials, no wonder there is a recruiting, morals, and values problem. George Washington said: "religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society."

J Harlan

Tue, 09/20/2016 - 1:19pm

Does the author understand the task of the army is to inflict or threaten to inflict violence?

"...volume of people who were infatuated with killing – obviously not commensurate with public service motivation."

Public service motivation? It's laughable.