Kansas or Missouri? No, thanks. Hundreds of active-duty Army recruits said they’d rather head for the mountains of Alaska and Colorado for their first duty stations, taking advantage of one of the service’s latest efforts to attract new soldiers and voting with their feet for the best and worst army bases for junior troops.
The Army has been allowing active-duty recruits to choose their first duty stations since Dec. 6, 2021, an Army official told Coffee or Die Magazine. About 6,000 recruits have participated in the Army’s duty-station-of-choice enlistment program, called Option 19, said Cpt. Memory Strickland, a spokesperson for United States Army Recruiting Command, or USAREC.
The top five most-requested duty stations were:
- Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright in Alaska.
- Fort Carson, Colorado.
- Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
- Fort Hood, Texas.
- Europe: Vincenza, Italy, and posts in Germany.
Close to 900 recruits — about 15% of those who made a choice — asked to be assigned to Alaska. Recruits chose Alaska and Europe by region rather than by a specific base, Strickland said.
The least-requested duty stations were:
1. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, tied.
2. Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Lee, Virginia; and Fort Sam Houston, Texas, tied.
3. Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
4. Fort Detrick, Maryland.
5. Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Both Leavenworth and Leonard Wood were shut out by recruits, receiving no requests, according to the Army. Knox, Lee, and Sam Houston in San Antonio did only slightly better, getting just one duty station request each (though five recruits asked to go to Lackland Air Force Base, which is also in San Antonio).
With just 6,500 soldiers, the small intelligence- and technology-focused Fort Huachuca, Arizona, near the border with Mexico was chosen by just two future soldiers, while three recruits asked to be assigned to Fort Detrick just outside Washington, DC. Fort Rucker in Alabama got five requests.
A low number of requests for a base doesn’t necessarily mean a post should be considered among the worst army bases. Rather, smaller bases have a relatively small number of jobs available. A recruit can only pick a base if soldiers in their military occupational specialty are assigned there, which may not be the case at small installations.
“These bases have limited numbers of entry-level soldiers combined with fewer MOS,” Strickland said.
Major bases that offer most Army military occupational specialties but drew few takers were:
- Fort Polk, Louisiana (83 requests).
- Fort Benning, on the Alabama-Georgia border (76 requests).
- Fort Sill, Oklahoma (42 requests).
- Fort Bragg, North Carolina (eight requests).
For Alaska, 852 recruits said they wanted to travel north toward either Fort Richardson near Anchorage or Fort Wainwright just outside Fairbanks, which is only a 198-mile road trip to the Arctic Circle.
And the Army is hiring in Alaska. The 11th Airborne Division reactivated at Fort Wainwright on June 6, with a focus on cold-weather and high-altitude operations, after it had been deactivated at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, almost 57 years earlier.
There are now about 11,600 active-duty soldiers in Alaska, according to the Association of the United States Army.
Fort Carson, Colorado, home to the 4th Infantry Division and 10th Special Forces Group, tallied 679 recruits.
Option 19 started with 5,600 vacancies across 17 career fields, ranging from infantry to Special Forces. But 15 locations were added to the program in August, increasing the number of guaranteed first duty stations to 32, increasing the number of vacancies for the program to fill.
The two bases that got no votes, Fort Leavenworth and Fort Leonard Wood, were both added to the program in August. Both bases are major Army training hubs.
Fort Leavenworth is home to the Combined Arms Center, an intellectual training hub that educates and develops soldiers. Fort Leonard Wood is home to the Army’s engineer, military police, and CBRN — chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear — schools, training more than 80,000 service members and civilians per year.
Fort Leavenworth is also home to the United States Disciplinary Barracks, the military’s only maximum-security correctional facility.
Option 19 is only one strategy that the Army has implemented to try to up its lagging recruit numbers. According to USAREC’s website, the labor market is the most challenging it’s been since the US military transitioned to an all-volunteer force in the 1970s.
“71% of youth do not qualify for military service because of obesity, drugs, physical and mental health problems, misconduct, and aptitude,” the USAREC website states.
Earlier in 2022, the Army announced it would offer enlistment incentives up to $50,000 for certain recruits who sign on for six years. Previously, these incentives could not exceed $40,000, according to USAREC.