July 27, 2023

For 50 Years, Recruiting a Volunteer Military Was Salesmanship. Now, Few Are Buying.

Source: The War Horse

Journalist: Sonner Kehrt

In 1981, the Army introduced a new recruiting slogan, one it would keep for two decades: “Be all you can be.”

“It was so well-executed, because it truly did get into how service in the military is fundamentally different from anything else you can experience in life,” says Katherine Kuzminski, the director of the military, veterans, and society program at the Center for a New American Security. “I think that’s an important message, whether we’re in a good economy or a bad economy.”


“[T]his is a generation of kids who’s been marketed to their entire lives, tied to the fact that they’ve been on screens, so they can kind of smell B.S. a lot better than previous generations,” Kuzminski says. That means fully rethinking the sales pitches that have worked for the last half century.

Rumsfeld’s comments during the union debate also haven’t stood the test of time: Today, the military relies as much on computer programmers as it does combat infantrymen. Recruiters must explain to a new generation why they should code for the military, rather than a tech company.

An Air Force second lieutenant watches the parade on Inauguration Day 1981 with his wife and child. Photo by Gary Kieffer, courtesy of the National Archives.

Kuzminski sees that as an opportunity.

“You could get a job in Silicon Valley, but you won’t be cracking the country’s hardest problems like you will in the military,” she says. “The shift to the all-volunteer force gave us … the ability to have a professional military. And so I think where the services can really benefit is by showing how this is different from anything else you could possibly do.

Read the full story and more from The War Horse.


  • Katherine L. Kuzminski

    Deputy Director of Studies, Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Katherine L. Kuzminski (formerly Kidder) is the Deputy Director of Studies, and the Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society (MVS) Program at CNAS. Her research special...