Nashville, TN – When it comes to recruiting and retention, keeping the U.S. military as the world’s greatest fighting force is of critical importance. American military branches devote significant resources into marketing and incentives aimed at enlisting new recruits, as well as maintaining the strength of the force.
It wasn’t too long ago when the Tennessee National Guard was struggling with their recruiting and retention. Some modern ideas and marketing ingenuity have flipped the script for Tennessee, as they are now one of the top states in the country.
Lt. Col. John Rigdon, a Murfreesboro native and commander of the Recruiting and Retention Battalion, explained how Tennessee became a national powerhouse in maximizing the force for the National Guard.
“It came down to doing things differently,” said Rigdon. “We started by changing the culture. We built a family atmosphere for our recruiters and support staff while putting our personnel in the right positions to succeed.”
Every state and territory has a recruiting and retention battalion, and they are at the forefront of the National Guard’s strength management. The size of state determines how large the force is, and Tennessee’s recruiting staff consists of nearly 200 members spread throughout the state. There are members in each and every county, giving the Guard a personal connection to the community in which they serve. This is another move that made too much sense, explains Rigdon.
“In some of these rural communities you really have to be embedded with the population,” said Rigdon. “We strategically place recruiters in areas where they can relate to those potential recruits. Some of these small towns aren’t keen to outsiders, so having our team members in these communities building relationships is vitally important.”
So what’s the difference between recruiting and retention? Well, recruiting is the process of getting new members of the community to join the National Guard, and retention is the art of getting current guard members to extend their contract and continue serving in the National Guard.
Retaining the force is just as important as adding to it, so Rigdon and his team put forth a plan to encourage Soldiers to remain in the Guard, starting by educating them on their entitlements and incentives they earn while serving. After all, it is much cheaper to retain a Soldier than to train a new one. This is why so much effort is put into retention in the National Guard. And so, the “Guard for Life” program was born.
In June 2019, the first “Guard for Life” event took place. Members of the recruiting and retention battalion presented to Guard members from around the area, that were coming up on expiring contracts, explaining their incentives and entitlements that they otherwise might not have known about.
“Sometimes younger Soldiers down the ranks may not be aware of all they’re entitled to, and we want to speak to every one of these Soldiers and answer all their questions,” said Rigdon. “Every Soldier has a different story and a different situation. The “Guard for Life” program gives us the opportunity to meet with every single one of those Soldiers and listen to them and talk with them to help figure out what their best options are moving forward.”
To Rigdon’s point, the program is working. Since last year the attrition rate for the Tennessee National Guard has decreased by nearly 20%, now sitting significantly below the national average. Despite the historic challenges of 2020, the Tennessee National Guard are posting strong recruiting and retention numbers.
However, COVID-19 Coronavirus has certainly hampered the battalion’s ability to meet with recruits one-on-one. School closures and restrictions on public gatherings forced Rigdon and his team to get creative.
“You know we’ve really had to adapt,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Owens, Recruiting and Retention Battalion Command Sergeant Major. “Whether it’s focusing more on social media or finding innovative ways to connect with Soldiers, we’ve had to improvise and overcome challenges and that’s what the military does.”
Going forward, Rigdon, Owens and their team will continue to make sure the Tennessee National Guard is as close to full-strength as possible. At the same time their goal is to have their battalion continue to set a strong example in communities throughout Tennessee.
“Our job is to make sure Recruiting and Retention Battalion Soldiers display professionalism,” said Owens. “We are the face of the Tennessee Guard; the first interaction between a potential recruit and a service member. We will be the standard.”