Air Force

Air Force Needs to Be More ‘Relatable’ to Attract a Gen Z That’s ‘Not Patriotic,’ Head of Recruiting Says

Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas will be finishing out his three-year stint as the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service this summer.

But the next few months will be some of the toughest in his time leading the Air Force’s recruiting efforts.

The service, after barely meeting its active-duty recruiting goals last year, announced this week it was projecting a 10% shortfall in the ranks and even more for the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.

That’s the equivalent of around 5,000 people, nearly the total of all the airmen at the 366th Fighter Wing stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

“It is a direct correlation to combat readiness,” Thomas told in an interview at the Air and Space Force Association’s Warfare Symposium on Wednesday. “So, it is absolutely critical that we close that gap.”

But when pressed on how the service will solve a lot of these issues, Thomas told reporters during a media roundtable that there isn’t one “silver bullet or game-changing strategy” that could reverse a wave of trends dissuading America’s youth from serving.

Americans are seeing some of the lowest unemployment rates in more than 50 years. The Pentagon has released studies showing that only 23% of American youth are eligible to serve right now.

The Air Force Recruiting Service said, overall, that less than 10% of the young population is interested in serving in the first place, and 50% can’t name all the military service branches.

Many of those statistics are defining the Air Force’s recruiting strategy for Generation Z, Americans born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s. Appealing to this group is both a challenge and a necessity, Thomas said.

“This is a very unique generation,” Thomas told “Generation Z is not patriotic, in the traditional sense; they’re also less trusting of government. … However, Generation Z, these young Americans, still want to have a purpose, they want to be able to make a difference, they want to do something that they feel is really important and meaningful. But we have to become part of that relevant conversation.”

In response to the alarming recruiting statistics, the Air Force is tackling some of its most progressive policy reforms in years. . . .

. . . .Many Republican critics point to progressive policy changes such as this as examples of the military loosening its requirements and becoming “woke,” a term that has become an ill-defined buzzword for many GOP commentators.

Thomas Spoehr, a former Army lieutenant general who is the director of the conservative-leaning Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation, wrote in a September opinion piece that these progressive changes harm the military as a whole.

“The largest threat they see by far to our current military is the weakening of its fabric by radical progressive (or “woke”) policies being imposed, not by a rising generation of slackers, but by the very leaders charged with ensuring their readiness,” Spoehr wrote. . .  (read more on

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