Air Force to Start Tracking Why Some Recruits Back Out Before Joining Up

Starting in January, the Air Force Recruiting Service will track why applicants leave the accessions process before signing the dotted line. The goal is to understand what makes people who are interested in serving decide to leave, and if there is something the Air Force can do to improve its processes.

“We currently have only anecdotal data that says why someone leaves the process,” an AFRS spokesperson told Air & Space Forces Magazine. “This will require the recruiter to go in and annotate a specific reason why someone is stopping the process.”

One person keen to see the resulting data is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on personnel. Warren grilled the heads of the services’ recruiting commands, including AFRS boss Brig. Gen. Christopher Amrhein, at a Dec. 6 hearing, saying that many healthy candidates are held up in a lengthy medical accessions review process due to conditions as minor as a childhood wrist sprain. 

The senator cited military data showing that one out of every six recruits needed a medical waiver in fiscal 2022. Getting through a review could add 70 or more days to the applications process for Army recruits, she said. 

“Now obviously we want a screening process that catches disqualifying medical conditions, but do each of you agree that it is a problem if our process is creating unnecessary barriers to enrollment?” she asked. “It is an even bigger problem if all of that red tape is causing some healthy applicants to drop out of the recruitment process altogether.”

air force recruiting
U.S. Air Force recruits tour a KC-135 Stratotanker at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, June 14, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lauren Cobin)

The Department of Defense Inspector General reached a similar conclusion in a May 17 report, when the watchdog office wrote that the length of time it takes military entrance processing command and the services to review medical information and other process requirements “affect whether an applicant remains in the accession pipeline. Understanding these barriers to entering military service is integral to inclusion.”

Part of the problem is Military Health System Genesis, a new electronic health record system that provides a single health record for service members. The system connects to most civilian health information exchange networks, giving the services and U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM) access to an applicant’s medical history. But that history “is often incomplete or contains insufficient information to make a waiver determination,” DODIG noted, which slows the process down because the services then have to request extra documentation. Genesis is often difficult to use, further slowing down the process.

Time is of the essence of the services, all but two of which, the Space Force and the Marine Corps, failed to meet recruiting goals in fiscal 2023. The DODIG recommended that each of the services establish tracking mechanisms to capture data on applicants medically disqualified by USMEPCOM, make sure each potentially eligible applicant is provided a choice of whether to proceed with a waiver request, and document the reason a waiver was not requested to inform change in each service’s recruiting process. 

Each of the services agreed, and at the Dec. 6 hearing, Warren demanded to know when such mechanisms would be in place. Amrhein said a system will be in place in January that will record “why a member specifically disengaged from the recruiting process.”

It may take time to capture long-term trends in the data, since the new system will track data from January onwards and not from past years.

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

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

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