ALBANY, N.Y. –
Leading Soldiers to victory over adversaries is something commanders have done since the inception of the Army. Coronavirus is one enemy, however, that Lt. Col. Martin DeBock, leader of the Albany Army Recruiting Battalion, acknowledges is formidable in a new way.
“COVID-19 is an invisible threat to our nation and one we can only fight by not directly engaging,” he said.
New York State is not only home to the Albany Eagles, but also the epicenter of the coronavirus in the U.S. The very first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on March 1, in the Empire State, which prompted the U.S. Army Recruiting Command’s New York City and Albany Battalions -both part of USAREC’s 1st Recruiting Brigade- to immediately go on the defensive. On March 13, under authorization from USAREC headquarters and the Department of the Army, DeBock took action.
“Our Health Protection Condition Levels, or HPCON, went from Routine to Charlie very quickly,” he said. “Pretty much overnight, things changed drastically from where we were days prior.”
HPCON is part of the Department of Defense Public Health Emergency Management policy which assigns health protection condition levels to disease outbreak. On paper the HPCON hierarchy is color-coded. Routine and Green means there is no community transmission. From there, the levels ramp up to Alpha and Blue, a status of limited community transmission; Bravo and Yellow, designated as moderate or increased transmission; followed by Charlie and Amber with a substantial risk for community transmission. The final tier is Delta and Red: severe and widespread community transmission.
“When the battalion went to Charlie,” DeBock said, “it meant my entire staff and all my Soldiers would shelter in their homes to keep them safe. I brought them together to tell them we’d be leaving our building on the Watervliet Arsenal and teleworking from that moment forward.”
DeBock’s staff made a huge shift in their usual operations, given recruiters were no longer permitted to engage potential enlistees face-to-face. Even phone calls, a necessary element to connect recruiters to potential recruits, were ceased.
“USAREC understood most Americans were primarily concerned about being with their families during these uncertain times, and the Army wanted to respect their privacy and discontinue those calls,” said DeBock. “Nonetheless, the Army still had to continue prospecting to ensure strength in numbers of the force.”
Army recruiters have traditionally used a number of ways to connect with those interested in serving their country. Local events, such as Chamber of Commerce employment fairs, college career fairs, rodeos, festivals, athletic competitions and even high school football games, have always served USAREC well when recruiting for America’s Army. COVID-19 put a stop to all those events, though, and DeBock’s staff responsible for securing community events was suddenly faced with a multitude of cancellations, school closings and inevitable refunds.
“The impact this virus has had on traditional ways we’ve always recruited had to be rethought,” said DeBock.
USAREC is comprised of seven brigades in total. Five of those are non-prior service recruiting brigades, one Marketing and Engagement brigade, and one brigade recruits exclusively for medical jobs. Albany Battalion is part of 1st Brigade, and its recruiting footprint spans several states to include parts of western New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont, in addition to four recruiting stations in Germany.
“We have a huge audience to reach, and given most young people these days use some kind of social media platform, it just made perfect sense to ramp-up our use of those platforms and find unique and innovative ways to reach them,” said DeBock. “I am amazed at the ways our Soldiers and civilians have adapted to all of this. My team has done things to reach our demographic that just blow me away every day.”
The battalion’s social media pages are not only creative, but sensitive to the current situation. Concern for health and safety are foremost, but there are also inspirational posts by individual recruiters within the battalion that emphasize the importance of being physically fit, encourage team-building via live streaming sessions, and showcase important career fields the Army is looking to fill.
“Sometimes I see social media posts created by my Soldiers that make me laugh, and that’s always a good thing, because these are difficult times,” said DeBock. “We are setting benchmarks for virtual recruiting content that I hope will become the norm.”
In addition to reaching the 17 to 24-year-old demographic via social media, DeBock said parents are also home, and it’s equally important they’re aware the Army is not only still hiring, but that our recruiters are available to answer any questions they may have about their son or daughter potentially serving.
“Engaging Mom and Dad is often key when it comes to recruiting, and it’s not uncommon for parents to accompany their kids to our recruiting stations,” DeBock said. “The only difference now is that we’re reaching them via social media messaging and even teleconferences to inform, educate and answer questions. We highly encourage parents to get involved and learn that service to our country is not only honorable, but may even resolve their fears about paying for their child’s education.”
DeBock knows his entire team is committed to the mission and everyone, both Soldiers and civilians, fully understand the importance of fighting this invisible adversary with every available weapon in USAREC’s arsenal.
“We are engaging in some new and unique ways and making forward progress every day,” said DeBock. “Even if we’re doing it in historically unconventional ways, we will still continue to recruit to keep our Army strong.”