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NEWS | May 21, 2024

"Be All You Can Be" — How Tampa recruiting company guides recruits to Army career

By Spc. Danielle Sturgill 204th Public Affairs Detachment

In March of 2023, the U.S. Army launched a massive campaign reviving the iconic “Be All You Can Be” from the 1980s. Despite the 40-year span between the two campaigns, some things are simply timeless.

For Sgt. 1st Class Kimberly Cardona, recruiter with the Tampa Recruiting Company; she knows a thing or two because she has seen a thing or two.

Cardona says that during her 24 years in service and 11 years as a recruiter, she has seen potential recruits hesitate even though they qualify for service.

“Individuals who have an interest are shut down because of the misconceptions that you can’t go to college, you can’t visit your family, or that you’re going to be deployed and fighting all the time,” she said.

The Army has traditionally focused its recruiting efforts on people ages 18 to 24 who hold a high school diploma, according to a 2022 Rand Corp. report titled, “Identifying Opportunities to Recruit More Individuals Above the Age of 21 into the U.S. Army”.

“When someone joins the Army Reserve, they get college tuition assistance and the Montgomery GI Bill right off the bat,” Cardona said.

“It’s not an incentive, they automatically get it when they sign the dotted line.”

The National Center for Education Statistics states that in 1984, the average cost of undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board was $4,563. In 40 years, that cost jumped to $27,673 in 2024.

“The problem is that some students can’t come up with the cost for these schools, but they don’t know that the Army will cover it,” said Cardona.

Despite the misconception that you can’t go to school while you serve, the Army encourages soldiers to attend college or trade schools. The U.S. Army Reserve’s tuition assistance and GI Bill can be applied to technical schools and skills certifications.

The Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) platform assists soldiers in accessing details about certifications and licenses relevant to their military occupational specialty and civilian professions, with tuition and costs paid for by the Army.

COOL can also be used by recruiters, counselors, credentialing organizations, and employers.

“If a soldier joins the Army Reserve and goes through their job training and becomes a fully trained emergency medical technician, the Army pays for that course,” she said. “Whereas, if they didn’t join the Reserve, they would have to pay out of pocket wherever that training may be.”

In a post-pandemic era, a larger percentage of the younger generation is entering the workforce with only a high school diploma.

“If you think about how America is set up and the debt trap that has been created, a 17-year-old generally has two options: go to college or go to work. A college student with no scholarships incurs debt,” said Capt. Jared Jerrick, commander of the TRC.

“The Army helps you solve some of those problems. You get tuition assistance and the GI bill to afford college, get your VA home loan to afford a house, and health care costs are low because of TriCare.”

More common obstacles that potential recruits face is passing the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which measures potential academic and occupational success, and meeting the Army’s fitness standards.

In August of 2022, the U.S. Army launched the Future Soldier Preparatory Course in response to a shrinking pool of qualified recruits and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The course has fitness and academic programs where students travel to Fort Jackson, South Carolina or Fort Moore, Georgia, and train to meet Army enlistment requirements. Both tracks have a 95% graduate rate, with students in the academic track increasing ASVAB scores by an average of 18.5 points and students in the fitness track losing an average of 1.7% body fat per week.

After graduating the academic track, students are eligible to re-negotiate their enlistment contracts and may qualify for additional incentives or a different military occupational specialty they previously could not meet the requirements of.

“Everyone at basic training wants you to succeed; they want you to join the team,” said Jerrick. “They want to see you do well because it makes us all better.”

July 1st, 1973, the U.S. Army became an all-volunteer force. This change was brought on after a history of military drafts, with the thought that drafting into military service in a free society was deemed unethical.

The economic burden of conscription outweighed the advantages, and the frequent rotation of conscripts posed challenges in instilling the required skills and professionalism essential for a military adapting to technological advancements, according to 1976 Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.

“Back in the day, there wasn’t much of a focus on a soldier for life. Now, there are benefits for you when you join the Army, while you serve, and after you get out,” Jerrick said. “A lot of civilian corporations will take care of you, but only when you’re working for them.”

According to a 2022 Department of Defense survey, only 23% of the Army’s traditional recruiting population is qualified to serve without a waiver. Only 9% of Americans in that population are interested in serving in the U.S. military.

“The best thing about the Army is they take care of their own in perpetuity,” said Jerrick. “That’s pension, Veterans Affairs benefits, whatever you need to be taken care of.”

One way the Army does this is with the Defense Logistics Agency, which hosts the Pathways to Career Excellence (PaCE) Program, a two-year training initiative created to prepare entry-level employees, usually previous service members who have transitioned out, for progression to higher levels in professional, administrative, and technological fields.

“The Army gives Soldiers the opportunity to be all they can be by providing them with all the tools and opportunities they could ever need to set themselves up for success both now and in their future,” said Cardona.

“There's no other employer that can match the benefits and opportunities the Army offers.”

1st. Sgt. O’Neil Findlay, senior enlisted advisor for TRC, explained that he wants the Army to be the first choice for more people because of the value of military training and job experience that comes with service.

“We go after their passions and their goals and tell them how the Army can help them achieve them,” Findlay said. “You have to adjust to the Army and the values, but don’t have to change who you are.

“Once you’re in, you’re part of the team, and that’s what’s unique about it.”