National Guard shifts messaging for new generation
GREENTOWN, Ind. (WISH) — There was plenty of Army green in Greentown at a recent home basketball game.
Both the girls’ and boys’ teams at Eastern High School wore uniforms featuring camouflage patterns and the Indiana National Guard’s name. Several students wore military-style clothing or even entire Army Combat Uniform ensembles. A trio of National Guard recruiters talked with students about potential military careers at a booth outside the gym and later joined them in the stands to cheer on the home team.
Between games, Staff Sgt. Gabby Dunlap met with members of the girls’ team to talk about the Guard’s benefits. A native of nearby Cass County, Dunlap said she, too, was once a student athlete.
“I used to be those girls and didn’t really know too much about the National Guard,” she said. “I wanted them to know that they can keep these plans that they have going on in life but also incorporate the National Guard into those plans.”
The Indiana National Guard has held hometown jersey nights at high school football and basketball games for years but the recruiting environment is changing. The end of the war in Afghanistan and the rise of Generation Z have coincided with a drop in enlistments. The Army missed its recruiting goal this year by 15,000 soldiers, 25 percent of what it had hoped for. The other service branches met their goals but only barely, with the Air Force landing exactly the minimum number of recruits it wanted. Moreover, the National Guard in particular has had more soldiers leave its ranks than join it.
Dunlap, who joined the active duty army seven years ago and later switched to the Guard , said Gen Z has a different mentality than previous generations. She said today’s high schoolers are much more goal-oriented and often already have a plan for how they want to achieve those goals. As a result, she said recruiters now have to work with prospective soldiers on ways to incorporate the Guard into their existing plans.
“Before, especially in wartime, people were coming to us ready to serve, ready to fight for their country,” she said. “Now, we have a lot of the members of our community just wanting to get educated, wanting to make it through life and we need them to know that the National Guard is a tool that they can use to get to life.”
Sgt. Stephen Strebinger said he notices a difference as well. He has served in the Guard in a variety of roles for 14 years, becoming a recruiter three months ago. Strebinger said thanks to the internet, today’s prospective recruits are far better informed about potential roles in the armed forces than ever before. He said that makes it easier for recruiters to help potential soldiers find the right fit.
“Once we’re able to hone in on what they want, one, they’ll want to stay with the organization, two, they’ll be happier in the organization,” he said.
The Guard’s tailored messaging already hit home for one Eastern High School student. Although 15-year-old Obadiah Greene isn’t in recruiters’ target age bracket, he said he has been interested in a career in aviation for a long time and approached Guard recruiters about how to accomplish this through the armed forces. Greene, who comes from a military family, said he now plans to join the Guard and train as a helicopter pilot when he is old enough.
“I’ve always been interested in flying and this was a great opportunity,” he said.
Dunlap said the hardest part about joining the military is making the decision to join. She likened it to jumping into the deep end of the pool.
“You never know what to expect,” she said. “I would tell those people, jump.”