NPR

A Weak Economy Is Good For Military Recruiting

Justin Bock holds his daughter, Lina, at his graduation from basic training earlier this year. Bock decided to enlist in the Navy after both he and his wife, Ashley, were laid off. (Courtesy of the Bocks)

Third in a three-part series

The unemployment rate is high, greater than 9 percent. The military is in the midst of a record streak of recruiting success.

It's not a coincidence. A weak economy is good for the military.

'Sorry, We're Not Hiring'

About a year ago, Justin Bock was about to join the Navy. He just didn't know it.

A recession really does make recruiting less challenging than it otherwise would be.
Dr. Curtis Gilroy, Department of Defense

Justin and his wife, Ashley, both had solid jobs. So they bought a house in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Then everything changed. Before they could even move in, Ashley was laid off. Three months later, it was Justin's turn.

"I was called in and more or less given the pink slip," Justin recalls. "So I go home, and I looked at my wife, and I said, 'Well, what do you want to do?' "

She cried.

The Bocks suddenly found themselves unemployed, with a mortgage to pay and a young daughter with a heart condition. Like so many people searching for work in this tough job market, Justin sent out dozens of applications and tried to call in favors.

"And everybody kept sending back the same thing. 'Sorry, we're not hiring,' " Justin says. "Or [they said], you're either overqualified or underqualified."

Ashley adds, "Yeah, he couldn't even get a job as a cashier at Best Buy."

A Backup Plan

But Justin had a backup plan: the Navy. When he was in high school he had planned to enlist, but life got in the way. Now he was 30 years old, and that thing he had wanted to do so long ago started to make sense.

"I guess you could say it was divine intervention," Justin says. "The good lord saw fit that I not find another job, and the opportunity presented itself. And I stopped by the recruiting office and talked to the recruiter. I already knew what I wanted to do."

On a busy afternoon at a recruiting office in Hagerstown, Md., Petty Officer Cory Flament answers a call from a potential recruit. This is the same office where Justin filled out that paperwork just a few months ago.

"Once [Justin] lost that job, you know, he's like, 'Wow, well, maybe I should go check the Navy out again,' " Flament says.

Recruiting Gets A Boost

Flament started as a recruiter late in 2008, just as the full force of the recession was hitting. It turns out a bad job market in the civilian world is good news for recruiters like Flement.

"I think people are more open to the idea of serving their country," he says.

Flament's not the only one noticing the trend. Whenever there's a recession, recruiting gets a boost.

"A recession really does make recruiting less challenging than it otherwise would be," says Dr. Curtis Gilroy, who oversees active duty military recruiting nationwide. "We're in our third year in which all active duty services have achieved their numerical recruiting goals and either met or exceeded their recruit quality benchmarks as well."

So the military gains not just more recruits, but better ones. Test scores are up along with the number of recruits who graduated high school. Today the military is letting in fewer recruits with waivers for minor criminal histories or past drug use.

For all services, the quality of recruits is the highest it's been in nearly two decades. This, even as the nation is at war — and the risks of military service are as clear as ever.

That means all of the services are able to be more selective.

"That causes us to be able to choose the best of the best ... to come into the Navy, which then creates a stronger, stable, qualified, mature force," says Master Chief Jimmy Holt, the national chief recruiter for the Navy.

Now, Considering A Career

Justin is one of those high-quality recruits. He's currently training with the Navy in San Antonio.

Ashley says when she met her husband he was working two jobs, and not always the most fun guy to be around. Joining the Navy has changed all that.

"Through the last several weeks that he's been here in San Antonio, he has just regained a lot of confidence and it's just glowing from him," says Ashley, with pride in her voice.

Justin is training to become a hospital corpsman, a medical job. It's something he never imagined himself doing, and yet now makes all the sense in the world, especially in light of his daughter's heart condition.

He thinks it could lead to a good career in the military, even after the civilian job market improves.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

More Photos
Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And today, we conclude our series about military families in the wake of the great recession. And let's start with a few basic facts. First, the unemployment rate is high, more than 9 percent. Second, the military is in the middle of a record streak of recruiting success. It's not a coincidence. In this economy, the military offers a lot: job security, health care benefits for the whole family and retirement after 20 years. NPR's Tamara Keith explains why a weak economy is good for the military.

TAMARA KEITH: Justin Bock was about to join the Navy. He just didn't know it. It was about a year ago. Justin and his wife, Ashley Bock, both had solid jobs. So they bought a house in Martinsburg, West Virginia. And then, everything changed. Before they could even move in, Ashley was laid off. Three months later, it was Justin's turn.

JUSTIN BOCK: I was called in and more or less given the pink slip. So I go home, and I looked at my wife. And I said: Well, what do you want to do? And...

ASHLEY BOCK: And I cried.

KEITH: So here they were both unemployed, with a mortgage to pay and a young daughter with a heart condition. Like so many people searching for work in this tough job market, Justin Bock sent out dozens of applications and tried to call in favors.

BOCK: And everybody just kept sending back the same thing: Sorry, we're not hiring, or you're either overqualified or underqualified.

BOCK: Yeah, he couldn't even get a job as a cashier at Best Buy.

KEITH: But Justin Bock had a backup plan: the Navy. When he was in high school, he had planned to enlist. But life got in the way. Now he was 30, and the thing that he had wanted to do so long ago started to make sense.

BOCK: I guess you could say it was divine intervention. The good Lord saw fit that I not find another job. And the opportunity presented itself. And I stopped by the recruiting office and talked with the recruiter. I already knew what I wanted to do. And just - it was a matter of filling out paperwork at that point.

(SOUNDBITE OF RINGING PHONE)

KEITH: It's busy mid-afternoon at a recruiting office in Hagerstown, Maryland. It's the same office where Justin Bock filled out that paperwork just a few months ago.

CORY FLAMENT: Navy Petty Officer Flament...

KEITH: Petty Officer Cory Flament is the recruiter who worked with Bock, and he remembers him.

FLAMENT: Once he lost that job, you know, he's like, wow, well, maybe I should go check the Navy out again. You know, and that's how he came to that point of actually putting him back in the Navy.

KEITH: Flament started as a recruiter late in 2008, just as the full force of the recession was hitting. Turns out, a bad job market in the civilian world is good news for recruiters like Flament.

FLAMENT: Like, we don't have a line waiting outside the door. You know, people just like, oh, I want to join now. I lost my job. But I think it's - people are more open to the idea of serving their country.

Dr. CURTIS GILROY: So a recession really does make recruiting less challenging than it otherwise would be.

KEITH: That's Dr. Curtis Gilroy. He works at the Pentagon, where he oversees active duty military recruiting nationwide. He says whenever there's a recession, recruiting gets a boost.

GILROY: We're in our third year in which all active duty services have achieved their numerical recruiting goals, and either met or exceeded their recruit quality benchmarks as well.

KEITH: So not just more recruits but better ones. Test scores are up, along with the number of recruits who graduated high school. Today, the military is letting in fewer people with waivers for minor criminal histories or past drug use. Now, for the military as a whole, the quality of recruits is the highest it's been in nearly two decades. This, even as the nation is at war and the risks of military service are as clear as ever. And that means all of the services are able to be more selective. Master Chief Jimmy Holt is the national chief recruiter for the Navy.

JIMMY HOLT: That causes us to be able to choose the best of the best in order to come into the Navy, which then creates a stronger, stable, qualified mature force.

KEITH: Justin Bock is one of them. He's training with the Navy in San Antonio. Ashley Bock says when she met her husband, he was working two jobs and not always the most fun guy to be around. Joining the Navy has changed all that.

BOCK: Through the last several weeks that he's been here in San Antonio, he has just regained a lot of confidence, and it's just glowing from him.

KEITH: He's training to become a hospital corpsman. It's something he never imagined himself doing, and yet now makes all the sense in the world. He thinks it could lead to a good career in the military, even after the civilian job market improves. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

NORRIS: To hear other stories in our series on military families and the great recession, go to npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Most Popular