COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) For the first time since 2005, the U.S Army has missed its recruitment goal. Army leaders say they signed up about 70,000 new active duty recruits nationwide, about 6,500 short of their goal. he Army National Guard also fell short, including in Vermont. Guard officials say with fewer qualified candidates, they're offering more incentives to join, and trying to demystify what the Guard is all about.
"I just wanted to join, whatever came with it was the addition to joining and serving my country," said Vermont Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Alejandra Caballero.
She joined up six years ago and wanted to be a part of her family's history of serving in the military, but finding qualified candidates like Caballero to enlist -- is becoming more difficult.
"We're struggling, to be totally honest," said First lieutenant Anne Turner, who helps run a program for new recruits, from processing paperwork to basic training.
There is combined total of about 3,500 members in the Vermont Air and Army National Guard and about 400 open positions. To keep up with normal turnover and retirement, the guard is constantly recruiting new members. The goal this year was 350 recruits. They came up 100 people short.
Turner also tries to change the image of the Guard from what people see on TV and in movies. "We teach them everything from the rank structure, to the value system that we want to be in the Army. It's a pretty comprehensive program," she said.
She believes there's not a lack of desire to join the military, but the thought that someone else will. "I think it's the expectation that the military is a great thing for somebody else," Turner said.
Now, they're trying to show the benefits of joining. New legislation passed last session allows the guard to offer free college tuition for schools, including the University of Vermont. Other incentives include health care and obtaining your commercial drivers license or certain medical certifications with your work in the Guard.
"So many jobs within the National Guards correlate into the civilian sector," Turner said. She calls it working for something bigger than yourself.
Caballero has had a few different jobs at the guard since she joined, even moving from part-time to full time employment. She continues to be proud of her work everyday. "There's great camaraderie here and it's like a military family as well in addition to your family at home," she said.
According to data from the Department of Defense, Vermont has the lowest number of active duty military personnel in the country. As of September 2017 there were 168 members between all branches of the military. That number does exclude those stationed overseas or those in military reserve forces.
The Army says in Vermont they recruited 133 active duty and reserves last fiscal year. That number is on track with last years numbers.