The US Air Force will investigate why some recruits quit before enlisting.
US Air Force recruits tour a KC-135 Stratotanker at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida

Starting in January, the Air Force Recruiting Service will track the reasons why applicants drop out of the membership process before signing the dotted line. The goal is to understand what makes people interested in serving decide to leave and if there is anything the Army can do to improve its processes.

“Currently, we only have anecdotal data to indicate why someone abandons the process,” an AFRS spokesperson told Air & Space Forces Magazine. “This will require the recruiter to go in and write down a specific reason why someone is leaving the process.”

One of the people interested in knowing the resulting data is Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, chair of the personnel subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. At a hearing on December 7, Warren questioned the heads of the services’ recruiting commands, including AFRS chief Brigadier General Christopher Amrhein, stating that many healthy candidates are held up in a lengthy recruiting process. Medical review of adhesions due to conditions as minor as a childhood sprained wrist.

The senator cited military data showing that one in six recruits needed a medical exemption in fiscal year 2022. He said that going through a check could add 70 or more days to the Army recruit application process.

“Now, obviously, we want a screening process that detects disqualifying medical conditions, but do you agree that it’s a problem if our process is creating unnecessary barriers to enrollment?” I have asked. “It’s an even bigger problem if all that bureaucracy is causing some healthy applicants to drop out of the recruiting process altogether.”

The Department of Defense Inspector General reached a similar conclusion in a May 17 report, when the oversight office wrote that the time it takes for military intake and services processing commanders to review medical information and other process requirements “affects the permanence of an applicant in the admission process. Understanding these barriers to entry into military service is integral to inclusion.”

The US Air Force will investigate why some recruits quit before enlisting.
A recruit tries on a helmet during a tour at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida,

Part of the problem is Military Health System Genesis, a new electronic health record system providing service members a single medical record. The system connects to most civilian health information exchange networks, allowing the services and the Army Entry Processing Command (USMEPCOM) to access applicants’ medical histories. But that history “is often incomplete or contains insufficient information to make a waiver decision,” DODIG said, slowing the process because the services have to request additional documentation. Genesis is often difficult to use, which further slows down the process.

Time is of the essence for the services, all but two of which, the Space Force and the Marine Corps, failed to meet recruiting goals in fiscal year 2023. DODIG recommended that each of the services establish tracking mechanisms to capture data on applicants medically disqualified by USMEPCOM, ensure that each potentially eligible applicant has the option to proceed with a waiver request, and document the reason a waiver was not requested to report the change in the recruiting process of each service.

All services agreed, and at the December 7 hearing, Warren demanded to know when those mechanisms would be put in place. Amrhein said a system will be launched in January that will record “why a member specifically opts out of the recruiting process.”

It may take time to capture long-term trends in the data, as the new system will record data starting in January and not from previous years.

“We have no way of collecting past data from this, as the applicant would have to tell us,” the AFRS spokesperson said.

The hope is that better information will help AFRS get more uniform applicants and alleviate its long-term recruiting challenges.

“We cannot afford to lose people who have already demonstrated their willingness to serve,” Warren said. “These are the people who say, ‘I want to do this.’ Especially if the only barrier is something that a medical review would quickly rule out.”

David Roza