Like schools and workplaces across the state, the Seattle U.S. Army recruiting battalion is going virtual, turning to filmed presentations, social media giveaways and virtual video game tournaments to pull in potential recruits.

The coronavirus pandemic has halted traditional methods of military recruitment.

In April, Maj. Gen. Lenny Richoux, director for personnel for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it’s too early to predict the effect of COVID-19 on military manpower, but he believes it could take “a very long time” to rebuild.

The Seattle U.S. Army recruiting battalion’s social media manager, Sierra Starks, told The News Tribune she thinks recruiters are “making it work” while they’re unable to use traditional recruiting methods. Starks said usually recruiters would go into schools, organize field trips to Joint-Base Lewis McChord and in-person gaming tournaments.

Staff Sgt. Kevin Hughes is a recruiter from the Puyallup station. Recently, he filmed a virtual version of a presentation he’s given to students in-person dozens of times. He said there’s no way to replace in-person interaction with students.

“We usually get more of an interaction with students, get to know them and can see what their interests are,” Hughes said. “We’re better able to help them since we know more about them.”

Hughes said with the virtual presentation, he and other recruiters have to rely on students reaching out on their own.

Starks said she sees virtual-only recruitment as an inevitability.

“Recruiting online is what we should have been doing in the first place because that is where young people are,” Starks said. “We have to get our recruiting officers — who are used to going into schools — adapted to a virtual environment.”

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Later this month, the Seattle U.S. Army recruiting battalion will host its second virtual gaming tournament with the Seattle-based production company N3rd Fusion. Only players ages 17 to 34 will be allowed to participate in the tournament, according to Starks.

The age rule comes after the Army was forced to suspend activities of its esports team after critics said the Army was using Twitch and other streaming platforms to target children, and the team banned hundreds of users who posted negative comments from its Twitch channel — which some said could be a violation of the users First Amendment rights.

Starks said U.S. Army Esports is not involved with their tournament, although one member of the team did play in a tournament hosted by the battalion earlier this year.

“While we fall under the same parent organization — the U.S. Army — the goal of our efforts is to create opportunities for individuals to engage with our soldiers in the digital realm,” Starks said. She added that the battalion encourages “open and genuine discussion” during their tournament.

Sgt. Andrew Sveen, the virtual recruiting station commander for the Seattle recruiting battalion, said the gaming tournaments are a good way to “humanize” Army recruiters. He said there is a disconnect between the Army’s career counselors and potential recruits that events like the gaming tournaments help dissolve.

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©2020 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Visit The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) at www.TheNewsTribune.com

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