KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. military is turning a page on a tough year for recruitment. In April, 10News spoke to recruiters with the Air Force, who said they were having their lowest enlistment numbers since 1999.
Eight months ago, MSgt. Curtis Lee Jones, An Air Force recruiter in Knoxville, said positions were hard to fill because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers were finding higher-paying jobs. The military was trying to recruit as people found remote work and some companies even experimented with 4-day workweeks.
"The data right now shows that it's going to be pretty difficult to make our typical target, our goal for the year," Jones previously said. "That's one of the reasons that we do have the bonus.”
Since that last interview, things certainly took a turn for the better.
The U.S. Air Force reached their nationwide recruitment goals. But, the Knoxville branch went above and beyond — exceeding their goal by 105%, according to Jones.
One recruiter at the Knoxville Air Force recruiting center, Technical Sergeant Michael Sandoval, said a big part of their success is from the benefits they are able to market to new recruits.
"As a whole, we offer a lot of good benefits when it comes to joining — college education, travel," said Tsgt. Sandoval.
Despite the Air Force's success, across the country, interest in military careers is dwindling.
"About 56% of people aren't interested in the military, which is very, very high when we're looking at surveys done by the Department of Defense," Tsgt. Sandoval said.
In order to join the Air Force, there are extra hoops to jump through, too.
"Of the 56% that are interested ... only 23% are qualified without requiring a waiver," Tsgt. Sandoval said.
So, what made this branch so successful?
"What separates us a lot from the other branches is quality of life. Deployments are, can be scary. But they're a lot different than they were a few years ago," Tsgt. Sandoval said.
Quality of life can be a factor in why recruit numbers shattered goals. However, he also said he economic benefits during turbulent financial times brought people in too.
"There's definitely job security. Our contracts are anywhere from four to six years ... I've been in 19 years, and I haven't missed one paycheck," said Tsgt. Sandoval.
The Air Force also offered a $3,000 bonus for four-year contracts, a $6,000 bonus for six-year contracts, and a “Quick Ship” option where a fully qualified applicant got $8,000 to fill a short-notice Basic Military Training.
Their average pay is more than $65,000 per year. However, Jones said those bonus numbers are just the tip of the iceberg and some positions could get a lot more.
Nationwide, the Air Force reached their goals, and so did the Navy and Marine Corps by just eight service members. The only branch that did not reach its goals was the Army. They fell short nationally by around 25%. They are also the largest branch of the U.S. military and require the most recruits.