U.S. Military Seeks Influential Adult Recruits
New Military Recruiting Drive Seeks Help of Influential Adults
(Goal is to show long-term benefits for youngsters in their lives)
By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Special Correspondent
Washington -- Thirty years after the historic shift from a military draft to an all-volunteer force, U.S. officials are launching a major new effort to assure that the system continues to attract the quality personnel required for current missions.
Hoping to spur recruitment efforts, Department of Defense officials have undertaken a multi-million dollar research and advertising campaign aimed, they say, at "reconnecting Americans to the military."
The effort has an unusual twist: rather than being directed mainly at the potential recruits themselves, it is aimed at influential adults who, the planners hope, can be convinced to recommend military service to their own children and other young people in their lives.
And a central theme of the advertising campaign is not the old "join up and see the world" approach, but rather a demonstration of how military service can instill the qualities that will help the recruits to achieve success later in life.
The new campaign is being carried out under the overall lead of David Chu, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Chu says the problem he is trying to address is that "beyond headline news and Hollywood, many adults today -- including those who influence young people -- have no personnel connection to our military."
For the long-term future security of the country, he says, "it is important that we educate American adults about the values and competencies that can be gained through service, thereby increasing their propensity to recommend the military as a career path to the youth they influence."
Recruitment, always an important effort, has become all the more central for the military since the draft system -- the primary means of obtaining sufficient military personnel to meet the nation's needs during World Wars I and II and the Korean conflict -- was ended on June 30, 1973.
Indeed, that action marked a return to the historic pattern, which had seen a military composed of volunteers through much of the nation's history.
Defense Department planners firmly believe that this is the way to go for the future as well. A report prepared in January by the office of the deputy under secretary for military personnel policy concluded that the all-volunteer force now in effect "has provided a military that is experienced, smart, disciplined and representative of America" and more cost-effective than a conscripted force.
The new campaign is intended to make their elders aware of the advantages to individual recruits -- in the face of some negative trends turned up in a survey of adult Americans conducted last September by the Wirthlin Worldwide polling firm under a Defense Department contract.
The Wirthlin study found that favorable views of the military had decreased significantly in recent times, as had self-reported knowledge about the military. Confidence in the military -- though still high in comparison to other institutions -- had also declined.
More to the point, the study found that only about one adult American in 10 considers the military as an option for youth after high school. Even when that option was brought to respondents' attention in another question, the choice of the military remained toward the bottom of the list. And respondents exhibited what the survey report described as a "not for my child" syndrome: Far more said they were likely to recommend consideration of military service to "a youth I know" than to "my child."
Wirthlin had this advice for Defense Department planners: "To get the military into the consideration set, the DOD must strengthen its communications effort to inform adults about military service and all of its benefits to youth."
Air Force Major Joe Allegretti, chief of advertising operations for the Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies Program, indicates that the design of the advertising program has taken these findings and recommendations to heart.
"We've got influencers out there who generally have a positive view of the military, but that doesn't necessarily translate into recommending service to the young people in their lives," Allegretti says. "Often they view it as for other people -- Johnny down the block with fewer options."
Allegretti says he is convinced that adults with military experience have both the most favorable views of that experience and the greatest ability to convey those views to youngsters exploring their options. "From a marketing perspective...they do a better job at that than any movie or news article," he says.
Asked whether reinstituting the draft would not automatically produce the "reconnection" that the strategists seek, Allegretti responds that it would do so, but "in an unsavory way, probably."
"If you're forced into a career move that you'd rather not go into, I think you're going to be less happy with your situation and whoever got you into that," he explains.
Allegretti says the new advertising campaign addresses the hopes and aspirations of significant adults -- parents, coaches and others -- for the young people in their lives. "What our ads try to do is show the ‘one day' out there, the future day when, with that military experience, here's a person who in one way or another is living a successful, fulfilling life," he says.
The $1.7 million print campaign under Allegretti's supervision was produced by Mullen Advertising, a Massachusetts-based firm.
It features images of five former service members, each shown in their later career and each paying tribute to the military for bringing out the character traits that they consider central to their success.
For Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Chad Hennings, a 15-year member of the U.S. Air Force and Reserve, it is "total unwavering commitment;" for hat fitter James Romero, a former Marine, it is "sense of self, sense of others." Valerie Vigoda, leader of the touring band, GrooveLily, and a former National Guard member, cites "perseverance;" security firm founder Mark Jones, an ex-Airborne Ranger who became senior aide to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks of "sense of mission; dentist Jay Grossman, a Navy veteran, refers to "sense of community."
The ads began running in late June in three magazines -- People, Time and Sports Illustrated -- and Newsweek will be added to the mix before the current campaign ends in August.
During that time, Allegretti says, some 73 million Americans are expected to see the ads on an average of 2.5 times per person. "That's just not quite enough to really move the needle, unfortunately," he says, but he feels it will make a good initial impact.
In addition, the agency has produced one television public service announcement, in both 30- and 60-second versions, that features Vigoda telling her story. And, Allegretti says, his group is working on a direct mail piece "that we plan on sending out to the educator market: guidance counselors and probably to high school coaches as well."
The recruiting effort includes an interactive Web site, www.todaysmilitary.com, which features links to video clips in which four of the five veterans featured in the print ads recount their stories. Allegretti is candid about the limitations on the campaign when he is asked why the fifth, Grossman, was not given the video treatment: "We ran out of money," he explains. But Allegretti says his group hopes to continue the campaign in the new fiscal year that begins in October.
The ads to date represent a broad array of groups in the society -- the White football player, the African-American executive, the Jewish dentist, the Hispanic businessman, the woman musician -- and Allegretti says this contributes to the point being made. "Any joint effort that we do, we're going to try and do something that's representative of American society. We don't want to weight it one way or another, so that it's exclusive in any way," he says.
Plans are under way to evaluate the results of the campaign, Allegretti says. Attitudinal surveys will be undertaken to determine whether it has achieved "any sort of change in the likelihood (of significant adults) to recommend military service."