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Defense Secretary Ash Carter announces the next steps in his Force of the Future initiative during a speech at The City College of New York, New York City, Nov. 1, 2016. DOD photo​.

​Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday outlined the fifth and sixth “links” to his Force of the Future initiative, which is focused on ensuring the best and brightest continue to volunteer for military service. The fifth link focuses on expanding the Defense Department’s geographic, demographic, and generational reach. DOD’s “recruiting pool is shrinking,” said Carter, who noted that “40 percent of those who join the military come from just six states.” To change this, DOD will refocus its ad campaigns on the value of public service. “Ultimately, what we’re selling is service: the chance to be part of something bigger than yourself, that will not only do something good for you, but let you serve others...,” said Carter. DOD also will stand up a Speakers Bureau, which will be made up of a variety of senior leaders and national security experts tasked with educating “key audiences,” such as educators, coaches, and youth groups, across the country on the value of military service. Carter also echoed other military leaders who have recently acknowledged the need to re-evaluate some military policies, such as tattoo​s and physical fitness, which he said sometimes serve as a barrier for potential recruits. “We will always have to maintain high standards, but … these benchmarks must be relevant for both today’s force and tomorrow’s, meaning we have to ensure they’re not unnecessarily restrictive,” he said.

The sixth “link” is focused on improving the Reserve Officer Training Corps, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Carter said DOD will offer more graduate-level scholarships, “especially for law school and medical school. It also will offer more two- and three-year scholarships for students who may not have known about ROTC when they first started college. And, DOD will “reward students who challenge themselves academically,” offering them more job choices after they receive their commission, said Carter. DOD also wants to make the job of instructing ROTC cadets more appealing, by making sure officer promotion and selection boards “more appropriately value those who serve as ROTC instructors, and not penalize them for it,” said Carter. DOD also will create a “pipeline,” ensuring ROTC cadets eventually find their ways back as instructors. Carter also announced the creation of the Secretary of Defense ROTC Futures Award, which will recognize excellence for “ROTC units that stand out the most each year.” (To read more about the Force of the Future links, read: Effort Aimed at Career Advancement, Providing for New Families, The Biggest Change to Offer Promotion in Decades, and Civilians Deserve Better.)