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State Defense Forces: Recruitment Challenges and Opportunities


By Deano L. McNeil
Alumnus, Master of Public Administration at American Military University

State defense forces (SDF) are volunteer military forces which each state, along with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia, are authorized to maintain pursuant to Title 32, Section 109 of the US Code. SDF state defense forces

Currently, 19 states and Puerto Rico maintain SDFs, which fall under the exclusive control of their governors, through their adjutants general. SDFs can be a potentially significant support asset for a state’s National Guard during state military and disaster response operations. Unlike National Guard forces, these forces are not subject to federalization, and according to Title 32, Section 109, SDF members are not entitled to “pay, allowances, subsistence, transportation, or medical care or treatment, from funds of the United States.”

Effective recruiting and retention is a challenge for any volunteer organization and SDFs are faced with several challenges in recruiting and retaining quality personnel. The first is creating public awareness that SDFs actually exist! Often SDF leaders are overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to create organizational awareness, particularly given the financial constraints SDFs are challenged with. Overcoming such impediments can be difficult, but is certainly not impossible.

The first step toward creating public awareness is the development of a recruiting and marketing plan. In the corporate world, businesses devote substantial time and resources to create awareness of their products and to promote their “brand.” Business plans are essential tools in making this happen. SDF leaders can use the same business, or marketing plan to achieve a similar result.Having a quality public affairs officer (PAO) and personnel with a background in marketing can help in this effort. Examine your available advertising resources, public and/or private funding resources that may be available to support your efforts, and activities and events across a broad spectrum that can be used to create awareness. Establish marketing themes and recruiting goals. Most of all, involve all members in promoting the organization. The state defense PAO should also work with the National Guard PAO for that state and explore ways that each organization can provide mutual support.

Another challenge is providing the necessary financial support to SDFs. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and while funding varies across states, in many cases it is inadequate. This funding deficiency is no fault of the states. State National Guard forces have seen reduced Federal funding in recent years and as a result of this decrease, adjutants general have had to repurpose state funding to leverage those funds to compensate for the Federal reductions.

Read the FULL ARTICLE at In Military Education.