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​Air Force Recruiting Service Commander Maj. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, shown above at AFA's 2017 Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., thinks education can ignite a greater interest in USAF service among America's youth. Air Force photo by SSgt. Chad Trujillo.

​Less than a quarter of American youth in the Air Force’s “target market” actually qualify to serve, USAF Recruiting Service Commander Maj. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt told reporters Sept. 16.

“What we found is that if you take a look at the typical folks who will join—whether enlist or enter one of our commissioning programs—it’s typically the 17-21 year olds,” she explained during a media roundtable held as part of AFA’s 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md. This equates to a recruiting pool of approximately 20 million Americans, she said.

But once you winnow down that population based on “some of the requirements, like academic requirements, as well as the moral requirements, whether it’s drug use, whether it’s physical fitness,” Leavitt continued, “less than 25 percent of America’s youth” remain.

Of the 4.4 million potential recruits who make this cut, she said, only “a small subset” is actually interested in joining the US Armed Forces—a demographic the service refers to as being “propensed.” But she said she believes education is the key to attracting a larger portion of the 4.4 million, blaming “a lack of knowledge or...awareness” for their disinterest.

“You know, they know of the military, but they don’t necessarily know us,” she said.

To illustrate this point, she discussed a survey that asked individuals between the ages of 17 and 35 to name the four US military services; less than half of respondents could complete the task. If 51 percent of that population was unfamiliar with the services, she said “the odds that they’re gonna know the difference between Active, Guard, Reserve, Academy, [and] ROTC” are “very slim.”

Leavitt also noted that most youth don’t know a service member and are subsequently forced to rely on Hollywood or the media to get their information.

She said this knowledge gap is a big motivator of the Air Force’s move towards Total Force Recruiting, an approach in which the service’s different components will collaborate on efforts to attract the airmen of tomorrow.