Update: We’re thrilled to announce that the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has joined the Modern War Institute in organizing this essay contest and evaluating submissions. In addition to the top essays being published by the Modern War Institute, authors of the best submissions will have an opportunity to discuss their ideas with TRADOC senior leaders. TRADOC will also review all essays to evaluate their contributions to resolving the military recruiting crisis.

Essay requirements and the submission deadline remain the same, and authors who have already submitted their entries should not resubmit.

“Credible defense begins with our ability to steadily attract and retain the men and women who would assume the initial burden of a fast breaking war.” More than forty years ago, Vice Admiral Robert B. Pirie, Jr. eloquently described why recruiting was a national security issue.

This year, the Army will again fail to meet recruiting goals after falling fifteen thousand short last year. Likewise, the Navy anticipates falling six thousand sailors short of its target. The Air Force has issues too, with Secretary Frank Kendall acknowledging in March that his service would fall 10 percent short this year. Except for the two smallest services—the Marine Corps and Space Force—the United States’ armed forces continue to face recruiting woes.

With this serious issue as a backdrop, the Modern War Institute and the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) are launching an essay contest that seeks to explore the problem and identify solutions that could help the services address it.

Essay Prompt

Essays must answer the following prompt: What novel approaches can the United States military employ to solve the recruiting crisis?

This topic is broad. Essays might address new incentives, lessons from other countries or uniformed services, the impact of telework, messaging and marketing, how to resolve tensions created by years of recruiting shortfalls, ideas from labor economics or other academic fields, historical perspectives on recruiting challenges and solutions, or other ideas related to recruiting. Essays can take any form, to include speculative fiction. However, because of length limits, we strongly encourage authors to clearly articulate one idea or concept in their responses to the prompt.

Your ideas will inform internal conversations and workshops in support of the Modern War Institute’s human resources research theme. Based on the ideas presented in their essays, authors may be invited to contribute to future MWI publications or events on this topic.


  • Essays will be accepted from any person in any field, and submissions from non-US participants are welcomed.
  • Up to two people may coauthor an essay entry.
  • Participants may submit only one entry to the competition.
  • Essays must be original, unpublished, and not subject to publication elsewhere.

Submission Guidelines

  • Essays will not exceed 1,500 words.
  • Use the standard submission guidelines for the Modern War Institute.
  • Email your entry to recruitingessaycontest@gmail.com with “Recruiting Essay Competition” in the subject line. Once submitted, no edits, corrections, or changes are allowed.
  • Submission deadline: essays will be accepted until 11:59 PM EDT on September 3, 2023.

Selection Process

Submissions will be reviewed and evaluated by a team from the Modern War Institute and TRADOC. Submissions will be assessed based on how well and creatively they address the topic of the contest and provoke further thought and conversation, as well as their suitability for publication by the Modern War Institute (e.g., style, sources, accessibility, etc.). Evaluation criteria include:

  • Does the essay clearly define a problem and present a solution?
  • Does the essay show thoughtful analysis?
  • Does the essay inject new provocative thinking or address areas where there needs to be more discussion?
  • Does the essay demonstrate a unique approach or improve current initiatives?
  • Does the essay take lessons from history and apply them to today’s challenges?
  • Is the essay logically organized, well written, and persuasive?

Winning Submissions

The top three essays will be announced publicly and will be published by the Modern War Institute. Depending on the evaluation of the Modern War Institute editorial team, revisions may be required before publication.

Additionally, the authors of the top submissions with senior leaders from TRADOC and the US Army’s Recruiting Command. Furthermore, TRADOC will review all essays to support the Army’s recruiting efforts.

Image credit: Spc. Kelsea Cook, Indiana National Guard