Soldiers try out for first recruiting warrant officer spots at Fort Knox

The new warrant officer position: 420T Talent Acquisition Technician was announced in October.
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Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth poses for a selfie with a warrant officer candidate going through the selection process at Fort Knox. Wormuth visited Fort Knox, Kentucky March 12 to meet candidates for the 420T Talent Acquisition Technicians MOS. Photo by Sgt. David Resnick.

As the Army launches a new career field aimed at solving its recruiting crisis, one new warrant officer said his experience looking for recruits was a tough lesson. Fresh from the Army’s recruiting school, he was assigned to Muskogee, Oklahoma, in the heart of Cherokee Nation, without any understanding of the local community. 

“Making phone calls and doing cold knocks, and doing interviews weren’t going to be the things that got us to make mission and weren’t going to get the young people that I was in with to join the Army,” said the soldier, now a warrant officer. “When I got to these high schools and I got to these communities, [the Army] was not part of anyone’s repertoire of things that they wanted to do.”

The soldier joined the local Chamber of Commerce, introduced himself to school board members and attended all community events where thought he could find younger people. He spent a year and a half in Oklahoma, and finally felt like he finally made some headway by the end of his rotation.

Though he planned on leaving the recruiting world, he jumped at the announcement that the Army was looking for candidates for a new warrant officer position in recruiting. With the new job, the Army is looking to professionalize its recruitment workforce with warrant officers who specialize in marketing, data and analytics who can help expand the applicant pool and market Army service better to local communities.

“If I had a warrant officer do this for me when I was a recruiter, I could have just recruited,” he said. “Somebody needs to be out there, influencing communities in a positive way … so when people do think what do I want to do when I grow up? They don’t think about anything else but the Army first because it’s right there in front of them.”

The soldier is now applying to be part of the Army’s first cohort of warrant officers training for a new Army MOS — 420T Talent Acquisitions Technician — at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He shared his background with Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth this week, on a trip to Fort Knox which Task & Purpose joined.

Wormuth’s presence with the first cohort of 420T candidates was a symbol of the Army’s focus on fixing its recruiting woes.

Task & Purpose heard from soldiers with a variety of backgrounds including a property book officer from the Marshall Islands, a Spanish-speaking data operations Warrant Officer from Texas and a UAS technician – all who willingly opted into the “experimental” 420T process with unclear career projections just so they could have a hand in recreating the Army’s recruiting vision. The soldiers did not share their names because they were not yet qualified in the 420T positions.

The new position was announced in October with the Army’s overhaul of its recruiting enterprise as the all-volunteer force faces its toughest recruiting environment since its inception. A combination of low unemployment rates, the younger generations aversion to military service and problems with the Army and larger military’s image on how it handles sexual assault and suicide – have all factored into the service’s crisis. 

During fiscal year 2023, the military services collectively missed their recruiting goals by about 41,000 recruits. The Army’s latest budget request for fiscal year 2025 includes an end strength of 442,300 active duty – around 10,000 less than the service planned for the previous year. And last year, the service’s request was 21,000 soldiers less than the year before.

“Despite what you might hear from some pundits and things who are saying a lot of gloom and doom things about ‘maybe we reached the end of the all volunteer force model.’ I don’t believe that. I think there are still a lot of young people in our country who want to serve,” Secretary Christine Wormuth told a classroom of at least 75 soldiers who were in the middle of a recruiting course. “I really appreciate the fact that many of you held up your hands and said I want to do this.”

Selecting the first cohort

Typically Army recruiters have come from all different military occupational specialties as DA-Selected Recruiters which are NCOs who are nominated or chose recruiter duty over becoming a drill sergeant. With the recruitment problem growing over the last few years, the Army also put out a call to soldiers to volunteer as recruiters and had thousands respond. Of course the $5,000 incentive and faster promotions to Staff Sergeant and First Class Sergeant helped the cause. 

For both groups, soldiers go to an eight-week course and then head to a recruiting station where they serve three years and are supposed to sign at least 11 contracts a year.

The Army also has professional recruiters, 79R. After doing that for a few years, soldiers can become station commanders or guidance counselors at Military Entrance Processing Stations. 

With the overhaul however, the Army plans for the DA-select and 79R recruiters to “transform into the newly trained 42T talent acquisition specialists over time.”

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The 420T warrant officer positions will handle more of the marketing analysis to generate better leads and understand the market or city for local recruiters. They will also oversee and create marketing strategies to build the Army’s competitive advantage in the local labor market.

Army officials in charge of developing the new warrant officer position began with a group of 75 candidates from 13 branches across the Army who were chosen out of over 120 applicants based on their previous knowledge and skill sets. After the initial selection process, the 420T candidates underwent an “attribute based selection” with personality tests focused on problem solving, communication, leadership and cognitive skills. Then they went on to a panel interview.

Soldiers also had to test their creativity on a consequences test with open-ended what-if questions where they had to show how original they could be. A previous test example posed the question: “What would be the consequences if everyone suddenly lost the ability to read and write?”

The Army plans for the first cohort of 420T warrant officers to join its recruiting enterprise late this summer. They will begin their training in May at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Candidates will train for two weeks there, learning data management and HR systems and then head to Fort Knox for two months of training at the Army’s Recruiting College with lessons on analytics, marketing and public relations.

When they’re done with training and have their assignments, the Army will place them into a professional academic certification “so that they will enter that program when they hit their first assignment and they will be able to learn throughout that first year from the academic institutions,” said Col. Christine Rice who is directing the 420T assessment and selection.

The Army is still determining which academic institution to use for the professional certification. For the “top performers” they will also train with private companies so they can bring lessons learned back to the schoolhouse and help build the position’s internal knowledge, Rice said. 

Once the soldiers become 420T, they will join one of the 44 recruiting battalions or eight brigades across the U.S. The plan is to eventually incorporate 420Ts and their expertise into other commands like Security Force Assistance Brigades, the 75th Innovation Command, the Regional Marketing Office and the Army Enterprise Marketing Office.

Modernizing recruiters

The new positions are part of the Army’s effort to modernize recruitment efforts which officials said were outdated for the 21st century.

“The way we do it now is probably not the way we’re doing in the future. We’ve got to be better,” said Col. Rick Frank, Commandant at the Army Recruiting & Retention College. “We’ve got to be efficient and so we’re trying to figure out what that looks like.”

The college is updating a number of training aspects for its recruiters like working on social media skills and communications through text messaging, Frank said. 

One of the instructors at the college also explained its new role playing scenarios for recruiters. Their training now includes “concern questions” that recruiters may face out in the world on topics ranging from the Vanessa Guillen case and how the military handles sexual assault or from a parent who says, “I don’t want my son to die.”

The changes to Army recruiting has come in waves, including incentives for recruiters and potential soldiers to sign on to serve. Secretary Wormuth laid out a majority of planned changes to the Army’s strategy in the fall, where officials announced that the service would be broadening its applicant pool to include more college graduates – a pivot from the service’s previous focus on young people right out of High School.

That month she also announced the new 42T NCO talent acquisition specialist position. Officials are currently developing a plan for selecting 42T candidates but the goal is to have a running pilot for 42T by the end of 2025.

“Given the complexity of selecting, training and fielding the size 42T workforce the Army needs, it may be spring of 2025 before the first cohort is actively recruiting in communities around the country,” Wormuth told Task & Purpose.

During her visit to Fort Knox, Wormuth also said that the Army should look to hire more female recruiters. 

“I think when we build the 42T, we should try to have a higher proportion of soldiers in that MOS be females so that we can actually have female recruiters out in way more recruiting stations than we do now,” she said. “Because 50% of our population are women. I don’t think the Army’s ever going to be 50-50, but we could surely do better than what we’re doing now.”

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