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The Air Force Needs a Few Older Folks to Hit Recruiting Goals

Youth and exuberance, meet wisdom and experience!

By:  |  December 5, 2023  |    586 Words
GettyImages-1405842140 (2) Recruiting

(Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Wisdom and experience meet youth and exuberance, or that’s what the US Air Force hopes as it attempts to meet recruiting goals by raising the maximum age limit for entrance. To a greater extent than the other services, the Air Force has a range of required skills, technical and nontechnical, that is broad and deep – and allowing older people with a bit more life experience to join does make sense. A 41-year-old former police officer, for example, would bring a valuable background of experience to an Air Force security forces squadron. The new accession age of 42 years will apply to both officer and enlisted recruits.

Recruiting Seasoned Americans for the Military Makes Sense

Older candidates belong to a demographic that remembers the 9/11 Islamic terrorist attacks, and they are probably unlikely to embrace a readiness-defeating woke agenda. Currently, expectations for the number of older recruits are modest. As Air & Space Forces (AFA) Magazine explained, “The Department of the Air Force expects to add about 50 more recruits per year after lifting its maximum age limit for initial accession from 39 years old to 42 on Oct. 24, the latest in a long series of efforts to expand the talent pool in the midst of an ongoing recruiting shortage.”

GettyImages-1408900621 recruiting

(Photo By Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

According to a Department of Defense (DOD) press release on recruiting and retention numbers through August 2023, “This fiscal year has proven to be the toughest recruitment year for the Military Services since the inception of the All-volunteer Force.” The numbers show the US Air Force active-duty recruiting missed its goal of 25,138 by 2,957, attracting only 24,910, or 88.2% of the objective. The Air Force Reserve Components did worse. The Air National Guard set the bar at 10,486 but recruited only 60.7%, or 6,366. Statistics for the Air Force Reserve were only slightly better – achieving 67.8% of the goal of 7,167, or 4,860 accessions.

The value of honed skills that come with experience is, first and foremost, that older enlisted service members and officers, when facing challenges and problematic situations, are not seeing them for the very first time. There is the risk, of course, that they will make the same mistakes again, but maybe not.

Societal Challenges Need to Be Overcome

news and current events bannerWhether the target number for enticing older recruiting candidates is 50 or 500, there are challenges facing recruiting for military service in general. Brigadier General Christopher Amrhein, addressing the press in September, explained the societal hurdles Air and Space Force recruiters encounter. He told reporters: “Still, officials say the most pressing challenge to recruitment is a lack of familiarity with military service among Americans. Propensity to join the US military is at just 10 percent, while 52 percent of young Americans have never considered military service – a historic high,” according to the AFA publication. Yet, it’s more than simply “familiarity” with military service. It’s more a matter of familiarity with a positive impression of military service. That last part is where the armed forces are in trouble.

To that end, raising the recruiting eligibility age while keeping high standards may have an added benefit to addressing Amrhein’s observation. Older recruits have had exposure to valuable life-learning experiences with potentially a favorable impression of military service. Despite being a new entry, older service members are in a position to mentor peers. With an expectation of bringing on board only 50 recruits per year, the recruiting needle will not be moved much. But it’s a start.

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