The commander in charge of the Air Force’s recruiting efforts says the branch of service is “not nearly relatable enough to most of Generation Z,” which he describes as “not patriotic.”
Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas made the admission in an interview with Military.com after the Air Force recently projected a 10% recruiting shortfall this year.
The Air Force Recruiting Service barely met its fiscal year 2022 goal for active-duty Air Force members and missed its Reserve and Guard targets by about 1,500 to 2,000 recruits each, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine.
“This is a very unique generation,” Thomas told Military.com. “Generation Z is not patriotic, in the traditional sense; they’re also less trusting of government… However, Generation Z, these young Americans, still want to have a purpose, they want to be able to make a difference, they want to do something that they feel is really important and meaningful. But we have to become part of that relevant conversation.”
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Thomas added, “We’ve got to do a better job of connecting and being relatable because, right now, we are not nearly relatable enough to most of Generation Z,” defined as those born in the mid 1990s to early 2010s.
Studies from the Pentagon show only 23% of America’s youth are currently eligible to serve, while the Air Force Recruiting Service says less than 10% are interested in doing so and half cannot name all six military service branches, according to Military.com.
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As a result, the Air Force is implementing progressive reforms in hopes of bolstering its ranks, such as allowing neck and hand tattoos and giving certain highly qualified candidates who test positive for THC – a component found in marijuana – the opportunity to retest and join their ranks.
“This was targeted at not permanently preventing someone from service, in many cases, because of unintended exposure, or simply the environment that we’re in where 38 of our 50 states have legalized marijuana,” Thomas said.
“Are we lowering our standards? Absolutely not. I can tell you with confidence that we are maintaining a very high quality of airmen and Guardians coming into the department,” Thomas also told Military.com. “But we’re making smart changes where we were unnecessarily preventing otherwise highly qualified people from coming into the service.”