Nick Turse / San Francisco Chronicle / TomDispatch.com – 2005-08-15 00:44:33
Pentagon Puts Big Pitch on Internet :
Other Approaches Are TV, Bonuses
Nick Turse / San Francisco Chronicle / TomDispatch.com
(August 14, 2005) — It’s been a tough year for the US military. But you wouldn’t know it from the Internet, now increasingly packed with slick, nonmilitary-looking Web sites of every sort that are laying in wait for curious teens (or their exasperated parents) who might be cruising by.
On the ground, the military may be bogged down in a seemingly interminable mission that was supposedly “accomplished” on May 1, 2003, but on the Web it’s still a be-all-that-you-can-be world of advanced career choices, peaceful pursuits and risk-free excitement.
It’s no surprise that, strapped for bodies, the Pentagon has enlisted the services of private marketing firms targeting teens and is putting on a full court press to fill its ranks. That means spending at least $16,000 in promotional costs for each soldier signed up.
Among its outreach methods: big signing bonuses; sponsorship of NASCAR, professional bull-riding and arena football events; video games that double as recruiting tools; TV commercials with seductive scenes of military glory or featuring “The Apprentice” host Donald Trump.
But because the military truly values green teens, Web sites can be particularly effective.
Take, for example, the unmilitary-sounding MyFuture.com, a partnership between the Pentagon and Mullen Advertising. It’s a slick site with information on such topics as living on your own, writing a cover letter, or finding a job, and includes tips on dressing for success. (“Take extra time to look great.”)
Without the usual tell-tale “.mil” domain name, MyFuture offers what seems like civilian career advice, albeit with some military images sprinkled throughout. You can, for instance, take its Work Interest Quiz in order to discover if you should “go to college or look for a job.” However, the more you explore, the more you see that the site is really about steering youngsters toward the armed forces.
Take the Quiz
For example, when you take that quiz, you are prompted to ask your school guidance counselor “about taking the ASVAB Career Exploration Program if you’d like to know more about your aptitudes, values and interests. …” Not mentioned is that the ASVAB is actually the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery — a test developed during the Vietnam War as “the admissions and placement test for the US military.”
When I took the quiz, I was told: “Based on your responses to the activities listed, here are the work styles that may be appropriate for you: investigative (and) artistic.” To follow up on my investigative aptitude, MyFuture.com offered eight civilian career suggestions, ranging from veterinarian to meteorologist. It also recommended eight military counterparts including law enforcement and security specialist. For my artistic aptitude, MyFuture suggested that I “may like activities that: ‘Allow (me) to be creative (and) Let (me) work according to (my) own rules.’ ” Apparently, there are eight military jobs that will allow me to stretch my imagination and do just what I want, artistically speaking.
Who knew, for example, that the perfect move for an artistic, freethinker would be joining an organization based on authority and conformity — and then becoming a “food service specialist?”
What’s It Like to Enlist?
Today’sMilitary’s Rose-colored View
Another Mullen Advertising-created site is aimed at a different population. Like MyFuture, Today’sMilitary.com is a polished-looking site that lacks a “.mil” in its Web address, but instead of targeting teens, the site announces that it “seeks to educate parents and other adults about the opportunities and benefits available to young people in the military today.”
Today’sMilitary.com is filled with information on financial incentives available to those who join the military and Web pages devoted to “what it’s like” to be in the armed forces and how the military can “turn young diamonds in the rough into the finest force on the face of the Earth.” We learn that Army basic training is “more than just push-ups and mess halls.” In fact, quite the opposite of a torture test, it’s actually a “nine-week journey of self-discovery.”
The Marines’ boot camp comes across as an even more routine, though less introspective, affair with nary a mention of its rigors aside from “a final endurance test of teamwork.” We even learn that life in the military is not just “exciting, challenging and hugely rewarding,” but that in their off-time, military folk “go for walks … and they even shop for antiques” (which may account for some of the antiquities that seem to go missing from Iraq).
Unpleasantries — such as, for example, combat and death — go largely unmentioned on sites such as Today’sMilitary.com. In fact, the only such allusion is on a Web page that coaches parents on ways to push their children to consider the military. It instructs parents to “encourage them with subtle hints” to foster conversation on the subject and offers talking points to refute the possible trepidations of your own little potential enlistee about the armed forces. Among the “tough questions” a child might raise is a simple fact, driven home nightly on the news: “It’s dangerous.” Today’sMilitary offers the following answer:
“There’s no doubt that a military career isn’t for everyone. But you and your young person may be surprised to learn that over 80 percent of military jobs are in noncombat operations. … A military career is often what you make of it.”
Tell that to noncombat troops like Jessica Lynch, the late Lance Cpl. Holly Charette and her fellow 14 casualties from a suicide car-bomb attack on a Marine Corps Civil Affairs team in Fallujah, or the hundreds of other troops in support roles who have found themselves directly in harm’s way. As a Voice of America article recently put it, “Increasingly, there is a fine line between combat and noncombat jobs, especially in a place like Iraq, where there is no front line, and any unit can find itself in a firefight at any moment.”
Having Access to Kids Is “Very Key to Us”
Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, head of the Army Recruiting Command, recently stated, “Having access to 17- to 24-year-olds is very key to us. We would hope that every high school administrator would provide those lists (of student phone numbers and addresses) to us. They’re terribly important for what we’re trying to do.” In the aftermath of the revelation of the Pentagon’s huge new database of America’s youth, chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita claimed, “We are trying to use appropriate methods to make ourselves competitive in the marketplace for these kids who have a lot of choices.”
One of the military’s new lows brings us back to the subject of ASVAB and the methods of the Vietnam era. Faced then with the need for expendable troops, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara instituted an unholy coupling of the war on poverty and the war in Vietnam — Project 100,000, which called for the military, each year, to admit into service 100,000 men who had failed its qualifying exam.
The program claimed it would outfit those who failed to meet mental standards, men McNamara called the “subterranean poor,” with an education and training that would be useful upon their return to civilian life. Instead of acquiring skills useful for the civilian job market, however, “McNamara’s moron corps,” as they came to be known within the military, were trained for combat at markedly elevated numbers, were disproportionately sent to Vietnam, and had double the death rate of American forces as a whole.
Today, a desperate Pentagon seems to be following a strikingly similar path. The Army is increasingly turning to high school dropouts and has already almost doubled last year’s number of recruits scoring in the lowest level on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
A year ago, the Pentagon probably would have rejected those recruits. A year ago, it wasn’t so desperate to fill its ranks.
Nick Turse works in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University. A longer version of this piece appeared on www.tomdispatch.com.
©2005 San Francisco Chronicle
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