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News | Nov. 9, 2020

Autonomous recruiting pilot scheduled for November test flight

By Jason Schaap USAREC Public Affairs

The face of Army recruiting is set for a major lift, and instruments for the operation are already in place.

“Autonomous Recruiting Operations” kits are now in the hands of 15 top Army recruiting NCOs, giving them the ability to process applicants without ever entering a physical recruiting station.

These NCOs are slated to begin using the new equipment for the first time this coming week. Hopes are high for this ARO pilot, according to Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command. The launch represents a step into a more lean and efficient future for the command.

“This will substantially change how we recruit,” Michaelis said about the prospect of a successful pilot.  “You’re looking at the bleeding edge of what we can do tomorrow.”

Aaron Ingmire is also among those leading the USAREC charge into a more tech-savvy recruiting force. ARO was one of his first projects when he became a program manager here in May after nine years in the recruiting field. Ingmire, a former recruiting NCO and station commander, has been the face of ARO to the recruiting NCOs chosen for the first pilot, and his team assembled the first ARO kits for distribution.

“These kits will let you be completely autonomous,” he said proudly about equipment he wished he had during his recruiting days in Pittsburgh, one of the sites chosen for the ARO pilot.

There are 14 main parts to an ARO kit, including support equipment like tripods and power banks. Training with equipment can be completed virtually in less than a day. The kit is designed to be user friendly and mimic processes recruiters already know, so they should be familiar with a “good portion” of the technology, Ingmire said.

Using the kit’s iPad, for example, shouldn’t be difficult for a recruiting NCO accustomed to the operating system of an assigned iPhone.

“Nothing in here should scream ‘What the heck do I do with this stuff?’,” Ingmire said.

ARO kit contents were based almost solely on feedback from surveys sent to recruiting NCOs during the planning process, Ingmire said. Effectiveness of the equipment, and ARO in general, will be closely monitored by his team and leadership assessments are planned for every 90 days.

The ARO pilot will not look the same for everyone. Planners intentionally built a level of discretion for station commanders into the ARO framework so leadership could see which practices work better than others. Continuing feedback from the commanders and pilot recruiting NCOs “will ultimately shape what this program looks like,” Ingmire said.

Command leaders hope to expand ARO to more recruiting NCOs and stations throughout the next year following each 90-day assessment. The ARO pilot is about much more than testing new technology, Michaelis said, it’s a way for leadership to further test the common belief that more autonomy will lead to more production.

Master Sgt. Leland Harford firmly believes it does. Harford, a former recruiting NCO now assigned as a division chief to the Recruiting and Retention College here, has been with USAREC for 16 years. He has represented his recruiting school during ARO planning from its beginning stages.

“Yes, I need my hand in this,” Harford remembered thinking when he first heard of ARO. “This is huge. This is something that needs to be managed.”

Harford was excited to be part of ARO, but not because it was based on a new concept. “Unofficially, it happens already,” he said, referring to the many recruiting who thrive when given as much autonomy possible while still bound to recruiting station equipment and processes.

ARO combines technology with proven practices and puts it into policy and doctrine, Harford said. It also creates an incentive for recruiting NCOs to get better faster. Harford noted that Soldiers are often sent to recruiting from platoon sergeant and other NCO roles with autonomous environments. ARO offers the opportunity to untether from continuous trips to recruiting stations and a return to the autonomy Soldiers enjoyed prior to recruiting.

Harford and other leaders hope this part of ARO serves like a carrot on a stick for recruiting NCOs to achieve the skills required before they are granted ARO status. A typical recruiter takes 12 to 14 months to master those skills, according to Harford.

“If we create this incentive,” he said, “we can, hypothetically, move that needle down.”

USAREC leadership has discussed the possibility of ARO causing recruiting NCOs to reach peak performance in eight months, but it’s well known that “the jury is out” on that and the other many moving ARO parts, Michaelis said.

Another key component that makes ARO different is its reach. USAREC asked recruiting brigades to identify zip codes proven difficult based on limited physical presence. An ARO focus will be on tapping into those markets and increasing the Army’s recruiting presence there in the near future, Michaelis said.

Greater market penetration via ARO isn’t just good for USAREC, Michaelis pointed out early in its planning: ultimately, it’s good for the Army as a whole. Getting to a leaner recruiting force that can do more with less enables returning some billets to the operational needs of today’s Army. It also lets USAREC adjust facility needs for smaller command numbers.

An ARO win for USAREC, Michaelis believes, is also a win for the Army mission and a win for the American taxpayer.

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