Wisconsin National Guard is significantly behind recruiting goals for 2023

Enlistment was down 40% in 2022, and they are running 17% behind this year's goal
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 6:32 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Wisconsin is struggling to carry its own weight when it comes to the Army National Guard. The state should be about 8,000 soldiers strong. Yet recruiting challenges are making it hard to keep it that way, with current strength closer to 6,500.

The National Guard in Wisconsin answers first, but what happens when there just aren’t enough soldiers? “When we don’t have the service members that we need in our ranks, it really makes it harder on each individual,” said Lt. Col. Shannon Hellenbrand, Wisconsin Army National Guard

In 2022 the goal was 950 new soldiers. They fell short by enlisting 577, which is 40% lower. “We’ve not experienced recruitment challenges in this way as long as any of us can remember since even before the draft we’re told,” said Hellenbrand.

Already into their second quarter in 2023, they are only at 17% of this year’s target: at this rate, they will end the year at a full 49% behind on recruitment. Hellenbrand said rigorous mental, physical, and intellectual requirements weed out candidates. “We have some nuanced challenges these days that we’re really trying to wrap our heads around,” said Hellenbrand.

Challenges such as how the National Guard had been utilized for pandemic and protest response. Hellenbrand said they’re controversial topics.

“Some of those opinions are not popular and some of the opinions are not popular even within our own ranks, you know, what are we doing here? could we be utilized in a different way? is this the best utilization of our resources?” said Hellenbrand.

It can also be hard for parents and grandparents of potential recruits to grapple with, according to Hellenbrand.

”It’s really given people pause whereas we have service members who have activated in the most meaningful ways in their careers over the past three years,” said Hellenbrand.

“It still has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me and my family. just like anything in life, it’s definitely had its ups and downs but for the most part, it’s been the most rewarding thing that I know for a fact that I can do every day,” said SFC Benjamin Bock, Wisconsin Army National Guard.

Beyond mixed opinions, she believes the lack of visibility is the largest contributor to the decline in enrollment. During ramp-up for the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, Hellenbrand said the guard was very visible. It also caused the guard to evaluate their security.

With those wars officially over, some of the guard’s duties are no longer front and center to the general population and Hellenbrand hopes to now get back that visibility. “At some point based upon the need for force protection and perceivable threats to the military, we really retracted out of the community,” said Hellenbrand. “We’re really hoping to gain our foothold back among the community as the communities first call.”

Hellenbrand urges anyone thinking about applying to talk with a recruiter. She said it can be an open conversation with no commitments. She also urges families of young people to go in with an open mind to learn about what the experience could be.

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