Madison Avenue Joins the Army
Pat Elder | Counter-Recruit Press | December 2018
It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned - that a square is, in fact, a circle” –Joseph Goebbels
An 11th grader in a suburban Washington DC classroom is delighted to be excused from Algebra class to spend a half hour shooting a life-like 9 MM pistol and lobbing explosive ordinance from an M1A2 Abrams tank simulator. At the same time, 3,000 miles away in La Habra, California, a 15-year-old girl is released from Biology class to squeeze off rounds from a very real looking M-16 rifle. The kids enjoy the experience, especially the part about getting out of class.
The two students have experienced the Army’s Adventure Van, a 60-foot, 30-ton 18-wheeler with several interactive exhibits that bring an adrenaline rush and glorify weaponry and combat. The Army’s fleet of vans traveled 635,000 miles and made 2,000 stops in 2013. These visits included 865 high schools, according to the US Army Accessions Support Brigade. The vans drew 308,000 visitors and resulted in 57,000 leads.1
In addition to the Adventure Vans, the Army has three other 18-wheelers for recruiting purposes. The Aviation Recruiting Van contains an AH 64 Helicopter flight simulator and an interactive air warrior and weapons display. The Special Ops 18-wheeler has a parachute simulator and a dog tag machine that has proven popular with teen boys.
The Army’s STEM Van (That’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is popular among many high school teachers and administrators. According to military manuals, the Army reserves this one for the “hard to penetrate” high schools. The hands-on exhibits are “designed to showcase hi-tech capabilities and opportunities within the Army while generating quality leads for local recruiters and ROTC departments.”2
The Army and the Air Force have their own recruiting motorcycles. The American Soldier Adventure Van has an interactive air/land warrior display and a future warrior display. The Army Marksmanship Trainer has an interactive rifle range.
In addition to the fleet of 18-wheelers, the Army has four Rock-Walls, the climbing walls that are popular with youth. The Army also brings machine gun-toting humvees, tanks, and other military vehicles onto high school campuses to enhance their recruiting efforts. The interactive, theatrical weapons simulators provide a mesmerizing experience for many teens, captivated by the awesome accuracy and power of the Army’s killing machines.
The banter between adolescent and Army recruiter is empowering for the LaHabra teenager, as she holds an absolutely frightening replica of the cold, metallic 8.5 pound M-16-A-2. “This is awesome!” The recruiter explains, “The weapon is a 5.56 mm caliber, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed rifle, with a rotating bolt. It is constructed of steel, aluminum, and composite plastics.”
Firing the simulator produces a minor kick to the weapon and a small red dot is projected on a bull’s-eye target about 20 feet away. The shooter is accurate from left to right on the target, but she’s hitting it a few inches below bull’s eye. Her recruiter explains that soldiers shooting the M-16-A-2 might want to aim high in order to place shots on the desired target, especially at close range. “Cool!” is the reply.
The Air Force and the Navy also have fleets of trucks and vans that visit high schools. The Air Force has a Raptor Trailer, with a miniature replica of its newest fighter aircraft and two video game stations that put children behind the joystick, piloting an F-22 fighter that’s coming to the aid of a friendly F-4 under attack by hostile Russian MiG-29s.
Five Navy Exhibit Centers include a “Nuclear Power Van,” and an “America’s Sea Power Van.”
Recruiting is a psychological game. To be most effective, recruiters must understand the mindset of the recruit. This is evident with the 2014 unveiling of the Army Extreme Truck.3
Throughout rural and southern America there is a kind of cult around the pickup truck. Perhaps the word “cult” is too strong, but the pickup is an icon in teen culture. It is revered and idolized. It is a symbol of freedom and independence and its ownership represents a transition to adulthood. For some, it means a 1996 Ford F-150 with a badly rusted bed, a partially rebuilt engine, and an odometer showing 320,000.
For others, it’s a 2000 Dodge Dakota, larger than the Ford Ranger and Chevy S-10, with a Dodge 318 engine powerful enough to leave the Ranger and the S-10 in the dust.
Now, if this seems odd, consider your own background and the overall recruitment rates per thousand youth from state to state. Rhode Island, for instance, with an overwhelmingly urban/suburban population, saw just 1.26 per thousand of its 18-24-year-olds enter the Army in 2010. South Carolina and Georgia, with huge rural populations, both saw recruitment rates at 3.45 per thousand.4 Where do you think high school students are more likely see the Extreme Truck? The kids in Newport or Narragansett, Rhode Island might not be impressed with the Army’s Extreme Truck, but the boys of Barnwell County, South Carolina, living along the Savannah River on the border with Georgia, are likely to appreciate it.
This truck’s got 47-inch wheels while the standard F-150 has 22-inch wheels. Weighing in at 15,700 pounds, the Army’s monster is 11,500 pounds heavier than the F-150. It’s 9’4” tall compared to the F-150 at 6’3”. You won’t find it parading the streets of Brookline, Massachusetts or Palo Alto, California! The Army’s Recruiting Journal describes it this way:
The truck is loaded with features to keep up to 12 people engaged at the same time. Its payload includes two gaming stations with 32-inch flat-screen televisions, an additional 60-inch flat screen, and pull-up and push-up platforms to challenge participants. The Extreme Truck includes a diesel engine producing 900 pound-foot of torque, 325 horsepower and a heavy-duty transmission. It is also equipped with a front mounted winch capable of pulling nine tons. It has two 107-gallon fuel tanks and retractable steps.5
According to Army Maj. William Davis. “Attracting young Americans to The Army Extreme Truck – Army Recruiting Journal become Soldiers requires ingenuity and faster interaction with our future soldiers and officers. This is where the Extreme Truck will help recruiters and ROTC departments take their interactions to another level.”
Some 250 students and their teachers at South Central High School in Winterville, North Carolina were treated to the Army Extreme Truck in April of 2015. They tried out the Army’s military tactic video game.
The U.S. Army Chopper is slso a big hit on high school campuses across the country. This 560-pound, 134-horsepower killing machine is a testament to sheer madness, a commodity held in high regard among segments of the teen population.
Consider the listless 17-year-old in the midst of a boring English literature class, pondering the words of Geoffrey Chaucer on the study sheet, “Forbid us something and that thing we desire.” The monotonic teacher is droning on about Palamon setting forth for Venus’ temple when the announcement comes over the P.A., calling on students to head down to the parking lot to see the Army’s Chopper.
The recruiter, a staff sergeant with 22 years of active duty service, is trained in the psychology of his profession. He revs up the engine to ear-shattering decibels. The Staff Sergeant explains that the chopper is equipped with a semi-automatic Colt M-4 carbine that fires the .223 caliber, or 5.56 mm NATO round. The M4, the staff sergeant says, has largely replaced the submachine gun due to increased use of body armor, because submachine guns can’t penetrate modern body armor.
There’s a discussion as to whether the thing can shoot 45 or 90 rounds per minute, how hot it gets, and how often it jams. A razor-sharp U.S. military M9 bayonet is affixed to the M4. One quick jab brings life to a sudden end.
The recruiter handles the M67 Fragmentation Grenade and explains that the grenade weighs 14 ounces and has a 2.5-inch diameter, compared to a baseball that weighs 5 ounces and has a 2.86-inch diameter. “Twice as heavy but a little smaller.”
The Army Chopper comes equipped with an M18 A1 Claymore anti-personnel mine, which is about the size of two elementary school lunch boxes sitting side by side. The military is enjoying unprecedented access to high school kids.
As we’ve seen, Section 8025 of the Every Student Succeeds Act says military recruiters are to have the same access to high school students as college and career recruiters. The presence of these military vehicles on high school campuses goes far beyond the access college and career recruiters enjoy.
When Maryland parents (including the author) organized a demonstration in 2006 to greet the arrival of the Army’s Cinema Van at Montgomery Blair High School, Kelly Rowe, public affairs officer for the Baltimore Recruiting Battalion, compared the Cinema Van visit to efforts by colleges to recruit students. “I don’t think it’s any different from an athlete who gets 10 letters saying, ‘Come play for us,’ “ Rowe insisted.6
The Pentagon’s marketing strategists are apparently convinced that segments of the recruiting-age youth population are enamored of great big vehicles that make a lot of noise and go very fast.
The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and the U.S. Army have been marketing partners in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series since 2000. Mello Yello is the top competition series of the NHRA. There are 24 events held annually across the country.
In 2016 the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series shifted from ESPN to FOX Sports 1 (FS1) with four events airing on the FOX national broadcast network during each season of the long-term agreement. The deal provided the world’s fastest motorsport with live coverage of a majority of its events.7
Dragsters scream down the 1,000-foot track propelled by 8,000 horsepower engines burning nitromethane/methanol fuel at speeds up to 330 miles an hour. The earsplitting sound, the trembling earth, and the odor of the noxious gas produce an overwhelming and sometimes intoxicating high.
The Army leverages its collaboration with the NHRA to offer the Youth & Education Services (Y.E.S.) program, pitching Army careers to 25,000 The students a year who attend various hot rod events. The Army’s driver, Tony Schumacher, joins soldiers and recruiters to promote enlistment.
Schumacher’s Army dragster is a crowd favorite. His race cars have been destroyed in fiery explosions in 2003, 2012, 2015, and 2016, while Schumacher has emerged unscathed.
The Army entertains youth at the racetrack with a variety of interactive exhibits, with a special emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The kids are solicited for personal information while they’re sent home with literature that promotes STEM activities, many of them sponsored by the Department of Defense at middle and high schools across the country.
The racetrack exhibits are nearly identical to those at the “Army Strong Zone,” a three-acre sea of interactive displays and exhibits adjacent to the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas during football bowl games. The Army has generated more than a millSTEM ion leads from this recruiting extravaganza, dating back to 1997.
Even so, the Army appears to be uncomfortable with public perceptions that the Army Strong Zone is about recruiting. “This is not a recruiting event,” explained Lt. Col. David Walker, the U.S. Army Accessions operations officer for the Army Strong Zone. Walker sounded a theme that permeates much of the recruiting command. The Army is not groveling for youth with few employment options; it is instead providing a public service by connecting regular Americans with their Army. In 2012, Walker explained to a reporter, “This is a demonstration of changing the perception of the Army and showing that it has moved from the kinetic to a STEM environment and it shows the ability for the Army to interact with the local community and the nation, hence connecting our people with our Army.”8
The Army has teamed up with the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Racing team and a group calling itself Ten80 Education Today to launch the Student Racing Challenge. The Student Racing Challenge uses a STEM curriculum and a racing platform to illustrate various principles.9
Events focus on STEM-related military careers while the curriculum targets middle and high school students. Students work together to develop their own racing team. Their race car is one-tenth the size of a typical stock car, powered by electricity. It is driven by remote controls. Middle and high school children meet after school and work with coaches to design and test their race cars.
Ten80 Education Student Racing Challenge Events are sponsored by the Army in various cities throughout the U.S. There’s a huge US STEMfest event held annually in a major American city that features Army race team members and well-known entertainers. Ten80 Education also teams up with the Denver Broncos to host the Ten80 STEM Expo sponsored by the U.S. Army at Sports Authority Field, Mile High Stadium.
There may be a lot less connecting people to the Army through NASCAR events going forward. From 2008 through 2012 the National Guard spent $136 million to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s #88 Car.10 According to a stunning May 2014 report in USA Today, the Army’s NASCAR sponsorship netted NO recruits.11
The Guard had always defended its sponsorship of Earnhardt and NASCAR, arguing it would help recruit soldiers, but it didn’t take long for so much pressure to build that the Guard announced in August of 2014 it was cutting its ties to NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, who drives #88, a favorite of Nazi skinheads.
When the allegations were made public by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), at that time Chairwoman of the Senate Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, there were few congressional defenders of the program to be found.
One exception was Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), who referred to the cutoff of funds to NASCAR and the end of the Guard’s partnership as “an irresponsible decision.” Despite facts to the contrary, Hudson released a statement to the press saying, “The success of the National Guard using professional motorsports to recruit young men and women has been proven and well-documented.”12
Hudson represents North Carolina’s 8th district, which includes Concord, home of Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt is a driver for Hendrick. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Hendrick Motorsports has contributed $27,150 over the years to Rep. Hudson.
Hendrick Motorsports itself did not donate; rather the money came from the organization’s PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families.13
Since 2004, when Congress passed a law allowing the DOD to profit from retail sales by issuing licenses and trademarks, the military has also been attempting to connect with the public through a stepped up retail campaign. Go online, visit the Army Strong Zone, or attend a Blue Angels Airshow to see the explosion of retail items.
The DoD Branding and Trademark Licensing Program was established to regulate the sale of military merchandise through third-party vendors. Not surprisingly, the objectives of the program are to enhance the name, reputation, and public goodwill of the military services while “supporting the recruiting and retention efforts of the military departments.”
There’s a rich irony here. The Pentagon profits on selling overpriced, cheaply made merchandise from China, while pitching enlistment to eager consumers. At least one vendor advertised merchandise as having been “Made in America” when it actually originated from China.
WCPO TV in Cincinnati reported in 2014 that a local retired Army officer purchased an Army baseball cap from shopmyexchange.com, one of a multitude of online vendors peddling Pentagon gear. The vet paid $29.95 for the Army cap. The website description says “Made in the USA,” but when he received his cap, he was stunned to find a label that said, “Made in China.”14
No laws were broken. Although the Berry Amendment, passed by Congress in 2006, forbids the DOD from purchasing uniforms from foreign suppliers, this law pertains to soldier uniforms and gear purchased by the government, not merchandise sold at military exchanges.
It’s overwhelming to consider the list of “military” merchandise the DOD is aggressively peddling to the public. It seems everything these days carries military insignia, including:
Banks - Credit Card Companies - Hats - Sportswear - Toys - Models - Games - Clocks - Watches - Jewelry - Coins - Pins - Hats - Clothing - Office Accessories - Software Accessories - Sunglasses - Sporting Goods - Novelty Goods - Furniture - Clocks - Bikes - Autos - Motorcycles - Books - Magazines - Posters - Special Events15
Christian Davenport of the Washington Post captured the absurdity of the Pentagon’s retail market campaign in his brilliant 2011 piece, “The Marine cologne: Strong, with a hint of military spirit.”
Nothing smells quite like a Marine. Pungent with hints of the Parris Island swamp. The unmistakable notes of sweat-soaked combat boots and the earthy musk of a well-dug trench. Isn’t that the smell of a Marine? Perhaps. But it’s not what the officially licensed Marine Corps cologne smells like. At $45 a bottle, “Devil Dog” is far from eau de grunt. Instead, it boasts a “finely crafted fusion of sandalwood, cedar and citric spices” that “stands as a proud reminder of honor and tradition.16
Davenport reported that the Army alone expected to sell $50 million worth of merchandise, generating more than $1.2 million in fees and royalties.
Video games, drag racing, monster pick-up trucks, killer motorcycles, military sportswear; how else can the military get into a potential recruit’s head? Comic books, of course! Comichron, a resource for comics research, estimates that the North American comics market, including both print and digital formats, totaled $935 million in 2014.17
It’s safe to say that several million men and women between 17 and 24, the prime recruiting age, regularly consume digital comic books. With more than 14 million registered users playing the America’s Army video game, the Army probably realized the potential for mass consumption.18
The America’s Army video game features a conflict between the “bad guys” of Czervenia and the “good guys” of the peaceful nation of Ostregal. The U.N. failed to avert a crisis and failed to provide humanitarian relief, so the government of the good guys has requested help from the United States. The Army has been sent in to “resolve the situation.” There’s not much else to understand, in terms of the geopolitical complexities of the situation.
The storyline continues in the America’s Army Comics digital comic book app, available for free on iTunes:
The App features our first two issues. The first issue, Knowledge is Power, immerses readers in the Ostregal Islands where a humanitarian mission soon turns mysterious and deadly when a Long Range Reconnaissance Team witnesses an ominous scientific discovery deep in an enemy forest - an impending threat that could jeopardize the mission and endanger the entire world.
In the second issue, Rise to the Challenge, Sergeant Roy Lacroix examines his life as he goes from his humble beginnings as a high school student to a Special Forces medic deployed in Czervenia while realizing the value his hard work and determination has meant to the people he’s encountered along his journey.
Learn more about the U.S. Army by browsing through the interactive Intel Section that showcases state-of-the-art gear, weapons, aircraft and more! Experience the official comic book of the United States Army. Download this innovative jump into digital comic technology and stay tuned for more free exciting issues and updates. HOOAH!19
There are significant omissions in this brief iTunes introduction to the comics developed by the Army Game Studio at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. There’s no mention of dozens of illegal U.S. military actions in the recent past; no mention of war crimes committed by American soldiers. The reason for the introduction of U.S. military force is that internationally sanctioned multilateral peacekeeping efforts have failed miserably. The comic book leaves out an examination of the American track record in undermining U.N. protocols, particularly those that might challenge the unilateral and aggressive military actions of the U.S. government.
It is the comic book’s spy team that uncovers the abominable plans of terrorists deep in the jungle who are hatching a secret plan of nuclear terrorism. There’s no discussion of the United States as the nation possessing the largest clandestine apparatus on the earth or the U.S. as the greatest purveyor of nuclear weaponry in the world.
This iTunes summary on behalf of the U.S. Army is outrageously patronizing. Our hero, Sergeant Lacroix, with “his humble beginnings as a high school student,” is now an Army medic deployed in Czervenia. He’s not an Infantryman or a Cannon Fire Direction Specialist. It’s his job to heal, not to kill.
The comic book app has a five-star rating in the Apple App store. Industry critics generally give the Army comic book high ratings, especially for the artwork and the portrayal of Army jargon, acronyms, and combat scenarios. But this is a sterilized glimpse of Army life produced for recruiting purposes.
Apparently, the Pentagon has plenty to spend on half-baked schemes designed to sell the notion of military service to the recruiting-age population.
According to a report released by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, the DOD spent millions for patriotic tributes at various professional sports events from 2012 to 2015.20
From the report, “Tracking Paid Patriotism”:
Altogether, the military services reported $53 million in spending on marketing and advertising contracts with sports teams between 2012 and 2015. More than $10 million of that total was paid to teams in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer. The DOD paid for patriotic tributes at professional football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer games. These paid tributes included on-field color guard, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, full-field flag details, ceremonial first pitches and puck drops. The National Guard paid teams for the “opportunity” to sponsor military appreciation nights and to recognize its birthday.
Eighteen teams in the NFL received a total of $5.6 million over the four-year period. For a price, NFL teams provided the military opportunities to perform surprise welcome home promotions for troops returning from deployments and to recognize wounded warriors.
The NFL, which spent $1.2 million on Capitol Hill lobbying expenses in 2014 alone, seemed somewhat embarrassed by the findings.21 Although the football league initially said the McCain-Flake report “paints a completely distorted picture of the relationship between NFL teams and our military,” it promised to audit its teams’ government contracts and refund any money paid out inappropriately. This contrasts sharply to the reaction of the Pentagon.
McCain said the Pentagon “was unusually and especially aggressive when trying to withhold this information.” The report said the DOD “has no measurement on whether the activities paid for are in fact contributing to recruiting” and that the DOD’s “lack of internal controls put them at excessive risk for waste, fraud, and abuse.”
How else might the Pentagon penetrate the minds of military-aged youth? Maj. Gen. Mark Brilakis, Commanding General of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, says the Corps will be concentrating on service to nation, a message he said “seems to resound with the current generation of millennials.”22
The previous recruiting pitch, “Towards the Sounds of Chaos,” emphasized service, but it also highlighted combat and crisis response. Perhaps youngsters in their early 20’s, still living at home with dreadful employment prospects, are more averse these days to putting their lives on the line to protect their country. Evidently the Marine Corps thinks it makes more sense to sell the Marines as an honorable profession to serve those in need than it does to pitch the thrilling prospect of seeing combat. We can see that very theme in the Army’s comic book.
The Army Marketing and Research Group (AMRG), established in 2012, teamed with New York-based marketing firm McCann Worldgroup to create advertising that presents the Army as an elite team seeking new members because “there is important work to be done.”23
In 2015, McCann World Group, which has managed the Army account since 2005, was awarded a new one-year $200-million contract to provide the Army with advertising and marketing services for recruitment and retention. McCann is an agency of Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG)24 That same year the Army changed its recruiting pitch, replacing “Army Strong” with an emphasis on service and sacrifice, and extolling the virtues of joining “the Army team.”
The contract is the US government’s largest single ad account.25 The deal is renewable for four years, making it a possible five-year working relationship.26
Occasionally, we get a glimpse of what the nation’s top advertising minds actually think of their clients and their products. Defense Industry Daily reported in July of 2013 that Mike Hughes, President of Interpublic’s subsidiary The Martin Agency, had shared his thoughts about McCann’s client, the US Army:
Are U.S. soldiers heroic in taking on dangerous tasks to help protect us? Are many of the soldiers fine and great men? Yes. Is the Army a prejudiced, misogynistic, self-destructive organization of deeply flawed, violent men and women of low average esteem, suicidal tendencies, and intelligence? Yes, again.
Defense Industry Daily commented:
The statement in question doesn’t come from some random staffer. It comes from a top-level executive of one of IPG’s largest subsidiaries – with several direct clients, like Wal-Mart, that are very supportive of the US Army. That an ad agency President, of all people, should see fit to publicly utter such a thing about his group’s client, is more than passing strange. That it should come in the form of an evidence-free smear is indefensible.27
Of course Defense Industry Daily was quick to malign Hughes. Like millions at the Pentagon’s teat, they’re quick to fall in line. The wellknown defense publication failed to mention that Mr. Hughes, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer years before, was in hospice at home when he made the comment. Hughes remained lucid and kept two blogs close to the day of his death. He died on December 15, 2013.
Hughes was one of the country’s greatest advertising men, starting at the agency he eventually ran for 20 years as a copywriter in 1978. He was behind Geico’s Caveman, the “over the hump” camel, and the brilliant FreeCreditReport.com ads.28
The guy was sharp as a tack. He wrote his own obit. He was a word man, like Don Draper of the Mad Men series. He knew the value of carefully chosen words. Again, consider the words he used to describe the Army, and keep in mind he knew the Army from a marketing perspective.
- Deeply flawed
- Violent men and women of low average esteem & intelligence
- Suicidal tendencies
It doesn’t matter what the ad men think. All that matters are the public’s perception of the Army, and that’s the job of the Army’s propaganda arm, Army Marketing and Research Group (AMRG). The AMRG looked to the advertising gurus at McCann World Group to come up with market-tested strategies to further improve its stellar image. The solution was to use interactive social media to stress the value of Army service. The AMRG describes it this way:
Historically, the Army’s method of marketing and recruiting informs people what benefits a recruit may receive in exchange for his or her service, but not why they should be interested in the first place. The Enterprise Army Brand introduces a fundamental shift from promoting the personal benefits of Army service to promoting the value of the Army as an institution. As a cornerstone of the Enterprise Army Brand, AMRG will highlight the stories of soldiers who make significant contributions to their communities and provide a tangible demonstration of the value of the Army to American society.29
We can see the strategy at work in high schools across the country. For years, high school students have been routinely indoctrinated by an unconscionable barrage of corporate marketing, state propaganda, and deceptive military recruitment through conventional TV programming in classrooms.
Channel One News loans a school TV equipment in exchange for the school’s contractual pledge to show students a daily, 12-minute, highly commercialized TV program. The company claims to reach 5 million students with programming aligned to Common Core State Standards. Students lose one hour a week of school time, which equates to one lost week of instructional time (32 hours) per year. Not one educational organization endorses the use of Channel One News.30 The U.S. Army has paid Channel One News to run its recruitment ads and to embed their recruitment pitches into “news” stories.31
It’s effective, but it doesn’t accomplish AMRG’s goal of saturating interactive media with enticing stories about Army values. Enter SkoolLive.
For years, DOD recruiting commanders have attempted to circumvent student privacy protections designed to shield minors from the wholesale transfer of student information from the nation’s high schools to the Pentagon’s Military Entrance Processing Command.
The DOD markets “career opportunities” through the schools, relying on a variety of methods, from Channel One to posters and announcements touting military service or schemes like STEM Programs and March 2 Success, the free Army test prep software. For the most part, however, these outreach efforts rely on the schools as a third party from which to extract student data. Until now, the DOD’s quest for greater access to children has been stymied by pesky state and federal laws that regulate the flow of student information from the schools.
Imagine then, the Pentagon’s keen interest in a plan by upstart Skool-Live LLC of Fallbrook, CA to install giant, 6-foot, I-phone-like devices with flashing, screaming, streaming interactive screens in thousands of high school hallways across the country. These life-size digital kiosks allow kids to directly upload their personal information without having to deal with school policies or state and federal laws.
The company says it has agreements with more than 2,000 schools in 27 states and intends to triple that number.32
According to SkoolLive, school officials allow the free installation of these devices because they are convinced the gadgets “enrich a student’s school experience by replacing mundane printed posters with high-quality digital ads that require less space, reduce visual clutter, move schools into the digital age, and save tons of time, money and trees.”33
But these officials may not be seeing the entire picture. From the SkoolLive website directed toward potential advertisers:
The SkoolLive Kiosk screens are touch sensitive. The feature allows us to offer “interactive” ads. With this interactive feature, advertisers are able to conduct student surveys, determine product preferences, enter contests, send text messages containing promo codes, discount coupons, etc. Our proprietary software captures and analyzes this valuable data, providing advertisers the analytics and feedback necessary to effectively measure audience acceptance as well as the effectiveness of their ad.
The placement of these SkoolLive kiosks, however, may circumvent The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Generally, the law states that schools may disclose information such as a student’s name, address, and telephone number, but are required to allow parents to request that the school not disclose information about children.
Many state laws go even further in protecting student rights. By allowing the placement of these giant interactive kiosks, schools may be allowing the transfer of student information without providing for parental consent.
Additionally, SkoolLive’s interactive hallway contraptions may be violating the newly enacted Section 8025 of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The law says schools shall provide, upon a request made by a military recruiter, access to the name, address, and telephone listing of a high school student, unless the parent submits a written request to the school that the child’s information not be released. Schools must notify parents of their right to opt out.34
SkoolLive’s kiosks remove the role of the school and allow the military to extract information directly from unassuming minors.
Not only that, but schools stand to make thousands off each kiosk per month, the company claims, depending on the marketing dollars each generates. SkoolLive officials apparently told Chris Marczak, assistant superintendent of Oak Ridge High School in Tennessee, that each kiosk could generate between $2,000 and $5,000 monthly for each of its schools.
Even so, the Tennessee school district stopped the “free” kiosks from being installed. More than 110 students and parents took an online survey about the kiosks and 60% of the respondents were against the proposal. 35
The giant i-pads are sold as a way for students to access information about a particular notice or event. Need to know more about purchasing high school rings or yearbooks? Click here. Want to leave your contact info for an advertiser to get in touch? It’s simple!
Want to learn about jobs in the Army, or more specifically, how to take the military’s enlistment test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery? That information is readily available in a slick, colorful, interactive format in high schools across the country, and it may be coming to a school near you. SkoolLive describes the Army’s use of its interactive kiosks this way:
The Army wanted students to be aware of Army career options while learning student preferences. As a part of their Career Exploration Program, the Army ran a full-screen video interactive career survey. Students entered their grade, selected their career preference and registered to win one of three prizes given away monthly. Winners were showcased in a follow-up ad.36
It seems nothing is sacred, nothing off limits in the overzealous world of military marketing. A case in point is a 2013 posting from the Air Force’s Global Strike Team that tries to convince the public that Dr. Martin Luther King would be proud of America’s nuclear arsenal.
Dr. King would be proud to see our Global Strike team - comprised of Airmen, civilians, and contractors from every race, creed, background, and religion - standing side-by-side ensuring the most powerful weapons in the US arsenal remain the credible bedrock of our national defense. Our team must overlook our differences to ensure perfection as we maintain and operate our weapon systems. Maintaining our commitment to our Global Strike team, our families, and our nation is a fitting tribute to Dr. King as we celebrate his legacy.37
The recruiting commands of the various services frequently equate military service with defending freedom and democracy. That ought to net some recruits. Both the St. Louis and San Antonio Army Recruiting Battalions carry this message on their websites: “Our mission is to recruit qualified men and women in order to provide the strength needed to uphold and defend Freedom and Democracy.”
In the dominant, secular media marketplace, in our town squares, city streets, and shopping malls, we are immersed in an adoring reverence toward all things military. Nothing else comes close. Less than 1 in 5 Americans actually attend weekly religious worship services, while somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year. If there is near-universal mass worship in America it is a worship of killing institutions and machines.38
The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. is a great shrine of American military worship. An immensely popular exhibit, “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” reinforces the pervasive panoply of American military adoration. It is treated as the Gospel truth. The exhibit opens with these words, “Americans have gone to war to win their independence, expand their national boundaries, define their freedoms, and defend their interests around the globe.”39
This is horrendous propaganda, yet we are so thoroughly seduced that most of us can’t see it, not unlike the Israelites of old who worshiped the golden calf. The prolific antiwar author David Swanson reacted to the exhibit this way:
The exhibit is an extravaganza of lies and deceptions. The U.S. Civil War is presented as “America’s bloodiest conflict.” Really? Because Filipinos don’t bleed? Vietnamese don’t bleed? Iraqis don’t bleed? We should not imagine that our children don’t learn exactly that lesson. The Spanish American War is presented as an effort to “free Cuba,” and so forth. But overwhelmingly the lying is done in this exhibit by omission. Bad past excuses for wars are ignored, the death and destruction is ignored or falsely reduced. Wars that are too recent for many of us to swallow too much B.S. about are quickly passed over.40
The Smithsonian’s pro-war propaganda probably wasn’t produced with Army recruitment specifically in mind. Rather, it is state-sanctioned pap that accomplishes the same task. The next chapter expands on the notion of interactive ways to entice the recruitment age population.
Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that works to prohibit the automatic release of student information to military recruiting services from the nation's high schools. He is also creator of the website Counter-Recruit.org, which documents the deceptive practices used by the US military to recruit students into the armed forces.