Recruitment ads and Syria

The average Sailor’s age onboard an aircraft carrier is around 22 years old. To say that the military is a young person’s game is an understatement. This means that the armed forces around the world spend millions on ads to recruit young people, most of whom they know will only stay 3-5 years in the military on one enlistment.

I remember when the Navy began running ads about being “The Global Force for Good.” I thought they were dumb. Maybe it’s because every day I do exciting things inside a 30 minute montage while rocking out to Godsmack. I complained about this “Global Force” ad to a recruiter friend, who simply laughed at me.

“They aren’t trying to recruit you…you’re already signed up.”

That’s when his logic hit me, and he was right. No recruitment ad is designed to appeal to old people, or people already in the military. They are all aimed squarely at a younger populace.

So when the UK Army released ads that focused on resilience, or that being the class clown was OK, it made sense. Russia Times took pleasure in making fun of it, but those ads actually resonate with young people.

So what about the ads of olden days, showing off military might, emphasizing duty to country and headbanging music?

What has great military done for us lately? We have military personnel in multiple countries, giving their lives…for what? In World War 2, we fought against an obviously evil axis of power. In Korea, we defended an ally. In Vietnam we stopped the spread of communism, but it felt a bit like stepping in for a previously French problem. In most minor conflicts after, we didn’t always have a clear end state. And now in Syria and Afghanistan, we wrote a blank check on the backs of young soldiers, keeping them in fights we should have long ago left.

When all your military might seems to only result in dead soldiers, little change, and expensive military acquisition programs, it’s not a hard stretch to demonize those involved. The media is already inclined to demand military action, then condemn it right after. Jumping into a conflict and then not winning it quickly simply escalates this notion. Any military hardware ad would be easily picked apart for exactly these reasons. So instead, ads focus on the things that matter more to whom they are trying to recruit.

If we want better ads, then perhaps we need the right military involvement first.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.