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National Guard shifts messaging for new generation



Greentown Indiana – At a recent home basketball game, Greentown was awash in Army green. The outfits for the boys’ and girls’ teams at Eastern High School included camouflage designs and the name of the Indiana National Guard. Many kids were dressed in military-inspired attire, including full Army Combat Uniform ensembles. At a booth outside the gym, a group of National Guard recruiters spoke with students about possible military professions before joining them in the stands to support the home team.

Staff Sgt. Gabby Dunlap visited with the girls’ team during a break in play to discuss the advantages of the Guard. Dunlap, a resident of the surrounding Cass County, claimed that she was previously an athlete as a student.

“I used to be those girls and didn’t really know too much about the National Guard,” she said. “I wanted them to know that they can keep these plans that they have going on in life but also incorporate the National Guard into those plans.”

Hometown jersey nights at high school football and basketball games have long been a tradition for the Indiana National Guard, but the recruiting landscape is shifting. A decline in enlistments has occurred at the same time as the end of the Afghan War and the emergence of Generation Z. The Army fell short by 15,000 soldiers, or 25%, of its recruiting target this year. The other service branches narrowly missed their targets, while the Air Force recruited the precise number of new members it needed. Additionally, more soldiers have left the National Guard than have joined it.

According to Dunlap, who joined the army’s regular duty seven years ago before transferring to the Guard, Gen Z thinks differently than earlier generations. She claimed that today’s high school students are far more focused on their goals and frequently already have a strategy for how to get there. She claimed that as a result, recruiters are now required to engage with potential soldiers to find methods to integrate the Guard into their current plans.

“Before, especially in wartime, people were coming to us ready to serve, ready to fight for their country,” she said. “Now, we have a lot of the members of our community just wanting to get educated, wanting to make it through life and we need them to know that the National Guard is a tool that they can use to get to life.”

The difference has been noticed by Sgt. Stephen Strebinger as well. He has spent 14 years in the Guard serving in a number of capacities before taking on the post of recruiter three months ago. According to Strebinger, today’s potential recruits are more knowledgeable than ever about their potential roles in the armed forces thanks to the internet. That, he claimed, makes it simpler for recruiters to assist prospective soldiers in finding the best fit.

“Once we’re able to hone in on what they want, one, they’ll want to stay with the organization, two, they’ll be happier in the organization,” he said.

One student from Eastern High School was immediately touched by The Guard’s personalized messaging. Obadiah Greene, 15, said he had been interested in a career in aviation for a long time and approached Guard recruiters about how to do this through the armed forces even though he is beyond the recruiters’ desired age range. When he gets old enough, Greene, who comes from a military family, said he now intends to join the Guard and begin training to fly a helicopter.

“I’ve always been interested in flying and this was a great opportunity,” he said.

Making the decision to enlist, according to Dunlap, is the most difficult element of joining the military. She compared it to diving into the pool’s deep end.

“You never know what to expect,” she said. “I would tell those people, jump.”


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