U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Annie Andrews has a daunting task. As commander of the Navy Recruiting Command, Andrews oversees the work of some 6,200 recruitment staffers. Their job is to help fully staff the Navy, with some 324,000 enlisted and civilian personnel, with a steady stream of recruits.
The assignment is huge. This year, the Navy will add some 40,000 recruits to maintain the status quo, Andrews said.
Andrews, who is based in Tennessee, was in Vancouver on Wednesday to offer encouragement to local front-line staffers who work in recruitment offices in the Portland-Vancouver area. Two weeks into a road trip, Andrews spoke with about 15 recruitment staff members from six local recruitment offices at the Armed Forces Career Center near Westfield Vancouver mall. She met with The Columbian following that meeting.
“You all are doing a fantastic job,” said Andrews to the staff members in a late-morning session. “We will continue to get the best, brightest and most qualified in the Navy.”
Andrews, who timed her visit with the weekend arrival of two Navy ships for the Portland Rose Festival, acknowledged challenges ranging from obesity among potential recruits to an improved economy that provides more choices for young people. But she said the Navy offers a multitude of opportunities for training in specialized fields, from nuclear engineering to health care, that will prepare those who serve with skills for solid post-military careers.
All told, she said, only about one-quarter of young adults in the Navy’s target recruitment range meet the Navy’s eligibility requirements, Andrews said. Obesity has overtaken drugs as a disqualifier of potential recruits, Andrews said. But illegal drug use and felony crime convictions also keep people from entering military service. And, in response to a question, Andrews defended the Navy’s policy of not accepting those who have only a General Educational Development, or GED diploma, rather than a high school diploma.
“It’s not that people with GEDs are not qualified. They’re just not what we’re looking for at this time,” she said.
In fiscal year 2013, the Navy recruited 105 Clark County residents to boot camp, according to Navy Recruitment District Portland, which encompasses Southwest Washington. That compares to 155 for the Army, 55 for the Air Force, and 74 for the Marines.
Some 17 percent of Navy personnel are women, including 18 percent of enlisted personnel and 18 percent of officers.
Petty Officer Jeremy Slifka, a Navy recruiter in Vancouver, said he and his colleagues actively recruit in high schools and the general community to supplement those who drop in to the recruitment offices. The Navy’s biggest competition comes from colleges, he said, but he tells potential recruits that they can earn many college credits while in the Navy and take advantage of the GI Bill to pay tuition for their remaining education. “The Navy has the best training to set you up for a career on the outside,” he said.
Andrews said members of the so-called millennial generation are willing to “question everything,” humanitarian, and committed to teamwork. While adventure and long-term career opportunities are motivators for many, she said, others are primarily motivated by “the opportunity to serve their country.”