Bundeswehr recruiting

The Bundeswehr has a recruiting problem. It doesn't really know how to recruit.

Decade after decade, young men were forced under the threat of arrest into military service. They were underpaid and easily available. The requirement for professional soldiers (for four, eight or ten years) was easily met by recruiting the most willing young men. Many young men also became interested in becoming professional soldiers knowing well that they had to serve some time anyway.

The downsizing since the early 90's made recruitment proficiency even less a priority. The new and increasing relevancy of out-of-area missions where only volunteers (including volunteering conscripts) could be sent led to less and less conscripts in actual field units. Conscripts became more and more concentrated on the most shitty and often even outright useless jobs.

The classic image of a Cold War conscript included the main battle tank loader, the truck driver who got his driving license in the army and lots of infantrymen. Later it was more and more about gas station servants, sauna boys and depot workers doing one listing and inspection after another.

Meanwhile, soldier pay was not increased properly, so volunteer professionals experienced a rank inflation. Now if you cannot pay your enlisted volunteer properly for his AFV driver job, then you turn that job into a NCO job slot and pay someone a NCO's pay for it...

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Now the conscription is gone, and the Bundeswehr experiences a shortage of suitable volunteers. Finally, recruitment has to become competent (and just maybe military service has to become attractive again?).

The result are spin reports from military service such as this one. It's full of reassuring info that it isn't that bad, women can cope with it, trainers are nice and don't shout...

In short: The Bundeswehr is still totally incompetent in recruiting.

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The Bundeswehr isn't so unattractive because of hardships. It's so unattractive because it's a red tape bureaucracy with lots of B.S.. Young men don't become annoyed because of tough training - they become annoyed because of underemployment, visible inadequate training, lack of training ammunition, lack of equipment, too much bookkeeping and request forms, lack of seriousness, no challenges = little if any moments of success, equipment older than them and generally failures of the institution. Young men avoid the army because of horror stories about how soldiers were treated poorly by civil bureaucracy and in-service superiors. They hear stories about soldiers serving for weeks in sweat suits because there was no uniform in their size in stock at the barracks' depot.

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It's been an old and proven experience of the Bundeswehr itself that competent AND challenging training leads to very content and motivated troops.

A move towards a soft "Imagined it worse - the first week of voluntary military service" thing is counter-productive for training quality, personnel selection and motivation.

Who is being attracted by such a public relations work? 'No risk, little effort' lazy people and maybe women. The result will be a preparation for many failures such as the U.S. maintenance platoon that got ambushed and soundly defeated during the Iraq invasion because most of them believed they were technicians, not troops meant to be ready for a fight.

The Canadians had some recruiting problems a few years ago. Some observers blamed the combat in Afghanistan. Other observers pointed out that (counter-intuitively) the infantry was doing fine with its recruitment. There were many young men who were rather attracted, not deterred, by the idea of going to war. These recruits did often not enlist again because they were content with having had 'their war experience', but this kind of motivated men is nevertheless crucial for armies (not so much for air forces and navies). 

A soft basic training with no hardships and nice trainers, along with women who are allowed to wear some make-up is probably not the way to go if the Bundeswehr is still tasked with serious preparation for defence (or shitty military-political adventures).

Maybe - just maybe - the Bundeswehr should aim for a different demographic and present itself also to potential recruits as a competent organisation full of challenges and personal achievements?
It would help to get the organisation up to speed first, of course.


P.S.: This was not about women. I care about the mindset, not about the extra body parts, of recruits.


  1. DemolitionMan20 July 2011 21:33

    Maybe the old British way of "jail or army" for young people in conflict with the law would solve the problem of personnel for the Bundeswehr as well? Plus, we get fighters with beforehand MOUT experience! :D

  2. The same approach exists in Germany as well, albeit unofficially. I've personally met a conscript who had already rejected military in favour of civil service and had then only joined the BW because of a judge.

    That bugger ended up causing trouble.

  3. How does one make a stint in the armed forces attractive to todays soft and misguided youth? I for one am of the mindset that more incentives need to be offered to soldiers: Of what kind, I don't know. Maybe if the advertisements promising adventure, prestige, and novelty turned out to be true...

    'This was not about women. I care about the mindset, not about the extra body parts, of recruits.' I've actually heard worrying surveys to the contrary. Depending on who you listen to, a womans skeletal muscles and anaerobic glycolysis system is not up to the demands of combat. Just don't tell the feminists, or they'll have me 'penalised', so to speak. I'm trusting you on this, sven ಠ_ಠ

    In an unrelated matter, I've finally started reading the human face of war. I'm glad I took your advice (back in the recommendations about military theory post), its a fabulous read. I was amazed when jim came to the conclusion that war theory is actually still in its infancy! This is an activity we've been doing for millennia, and theres STILL room for fundamental improvement?!

    When he started recommending a way to develop a proper approach to fleshing out such a theory -a mix of pragmatism and empiricism- observe the external world, make deductions, form hypotheses... I realised, in astonishment, that this is just what you had been doing for 2 full years! Sven ortmann, what manner of man are you?!
    Everyday, you've been doing what entire generations, and vast organisations, had failed to do: Advancing military theory forward in an appreciable way. It is no exaggeration to say that you are one in a million.

  4. To be honest, I often work more along the lines of becoming interested in something, then work on it and its surroundings. A proper scientific approach would be to remain more open-ended in the quest for much longer.

    On the other hand, I do sometimes drop stuff that I got interested in if it doesn't seem to work well. There are some writers who have their fixations and keep drumming the same drum again and again.

    It's not surprising that here's much room for improvement. I once came into contact with multiple federal ministries and learned about how differently they approach scientific work. One took it seriously and the other misused it as fig leaf for its pre-conceived notions.
    The military bureaucracy has only a strong incentive to work for improvement during times of war or crisis and is thus enticed to follow fashions and marketing ideas rather than very difficult and very much critical theory. There's also a general problem with the falsification of military theory; it requires a war or even many wars.

    About the one in a million thing; I'm not average in any way, but the jury is still out about whether I produce anything useful, ever.

  5. 'A proper scientific approach would be to remain more open-ended in the quest for much longer.' I don't believe that approach is ideal. Science is too deterministic, too heavily based around causality and continuity - things which simply don't exist on the battlefield. War isn't as straightforward as input/output.

    And the british idiosyncratic 'common sense' approach to war is infeasible, because every culture has different notions of what qualifies as common sense (and objective truths running contrary to that common sense will be labeled as counter-intuitive, and rejected). Germans, apparently, have none (!) and they did just fine without it. Better than everyone else, in fact, at least until they adopted anglophone war fighting strategies. Then it was all downhill from there.

    'the jury is still out about whether I produce anything useful, ever.' Hmmm... Depends on how strictly you mean by produce. When it comes to digging up the classic, but discarded germanic war stratagems (like all men an infantryman, overqualified NCOs, small command staffs, mission type tactics, etc), and reinstating their importance and superiority to modern day practices, perhaps thats technically true.

    But when its stuff like analysis of vehicle diversity in a battalion, and the essay on ballistic missile subs, that is YOUR product, and your product alone. As for whether it will prove useful, well, I think its a foregone conclusion that they will. Your explaining phenomena which have either not been observed/pondered yet, and/or explaining facts which don't fit current theory. Either way, conclusions to subjects like those are of enormous importance, and you provide them in an abundance that I've never seen.

  6. Sadly, military theory is more about reinventing than about inventing. That's in part because of secrecy efforts. I'm quite sure that most of the stuff that I write about as if I had invented it was merely a reinvention or -worse- a re-wording of something I've read or heard a long time ago.

    The U.S. Army has a reputation to learn, forget and re-learn lessons, for example. It's similar with theory; just look at the abundance of historical examples on this blog.

  7. "A soft basic training with no hardships and nice trainers, along with women who are allowed to wear some make-up is probably not the way to go if the Bundeswehr is still tasked with serious preparation for defence (or shitty military-political adventures)."

    Good post Sven, have you had a look at the kind of thing the British Army does; Join the Army - See the World, that kind of thing?


  8. Sven, when you say "the Bundeswehr should aim for a different demographic" are you thinking about armed forces as a way of better integrating citizen of non-German origin?

  9. @Paolo: I meant they should aim at potential recruits who are psychologically inclined to like the job of a soldier.

    They should not go soft in order to attract some who would prefer to be accountants to being soldiers.

  10. Thank you Sven. Something like 'catching the fish you want with the bait it wants' should be a must in recruiting soldiers even more than in other "areas of work". Lots of sociological thoughts come to my mind about this topic, but I think you described pretty well the problem from the Bundeswehr perspective.

  11. DM
    For a very long period of time, the army was a delayed death sentance. Jail, where you required to required to purchase your own food, was a less delayed one.

    Few people invited to join by a judge became model soldiers, most died of tropical diseases, the survivors joined the rest of the seditious malcontents, firing half loads because full loads hurt and running at the first opportunity.

    The Canadian example ties very well with what I've encountered in the UK, a lot of soldiers after visiting Afghanistan "got out" as soon as they could, but that was always their intention, join up, be the best, move on.

  12. http://www.amazon.de/ARBEITGEBER-BUNDESWEHR-Personalgewinnung-%C3%B6ffentlicher-Arbeitgeber/dp/3844294740