Category Archives: From the Field

Army marketing strategies and the future of word-of-mouth marketing

New Jersey Army National Guard

The U.S. Army predates the nation it serves. Since its inception, policymakers have worked to define the relationship between America’s Army and the civilian populace that supports its mission.

The Army has had to sell itself since the 18th century. First, it had to convince Congress that it was a match for the battle-hardened British Army. It then had to convince the American people that it could win the Revolution with enough time, resources and support. Since the end of the Vietnam War, the Army has been composed entirely of volunteers. It has had to market itself directly to military-aged men and women while at the same time appealing to applicants’ friends, family, and influencers — teachers, civic leaders and role models.

The Army has previously adopted successful marketing campaigns. In decades past, the slogan “Be All That You Can Be” resonated with the public. As the Army transitioned to an all-volunteer force, this theme was appropriate. It was as much a call to individual achievement as it was a higher calling to service. In recent years, the Army’s marketing efforts have struggled. The intent of the “Army of One” campaign was confusing and never caught on with its target audience. Instead of serving as an invitation to serve as a part of a team, the message seemed to focus solely on individual achievement, which runs counter to Army values and ethics. The “Army Strong” message was better, but the campaign did not resonate, either. It was replaced after it was found that civilians didn’t embrace the idea. The Army’s current marketing theme, focusing on “the Army Team,” is in keeping with the values, ethics and culture that are integral parts of the Army brand.

The first Army marketing campaign that comes to mind is from the World War I and II era — the “I want you!” poster. This iconic image was a direct appeal to the individual observing the poster. It featured Uncle Sam, the physical embodiment of the spirit of the United States, pointing at the observer. His eyes were intently fixed on the potential applicant, conveying the seriousness of the country’s need for Soldiers. The image of Uncle Sam, stern and unwavering despite threats to the American way of life from overseas, demanding that a service-age male stand up and do his part, was a successful marketing strategy. It was not just for those who would become Soldiers, but for those who would invest in the war effort in other ways – by purchasing war bonds or by working to manufacture wares used by Soldiers in the field.

Immediately after the Vietnam War, the Army had to address benefits the service offered to potential applicants, including job training and civilian education, in order to become competitive with potential civilian employers. It also had to present the esprit de corps, the camaraderie and the feeling of job satisfaction that could potentially result from military service. Finally, the Army needed an idea that could convey a connection to great leaders of the past, and to their achievements in founding and preserving the nation they served. The resultant slogan, “Be All That You Can Be,” and the advertising campaign that surrounded it for almost two decades, introduced many potential applicants to the idea that the Army could be a stepping stone to higher education (using the Montgomery GI Bill and the Army College Fund), to marketable job skills (electronics repair, aviation, logistics), or to a military career. Many of the applicants during this period also had a relative who had served in World War I or II, in Korea or in Vietnam, so the Army was also able to market to an individual’s sense of family. While appealing to the applicant from all of these positions, “Be All That You Can Be” also appealed to an applicant’s sense of pride and personal achievement.

Another successful campaign involved the Army National Guard. The marketing surrounding the simple slogan “You Can” inspired interest in the Guard’s dual mission for decades. The elegance and simplicity of the slogan conveyed a slew of possibilities: Would you like to have career training applicable to the civilian sector? You can. Would you like to complete your civilian education while serving your country? You can. Would you like to serve your local community in times of emergency? You can. Many individual states supplement the benefits offered by the GI Bill and Federal Tuition Assistance, making it even easier to attract applicants with an interest in continuing education. When the National Guard presents itself as an organization that can empower an applicant, it becomes attractive not only to the applicant but to influencers as well. Guidance counselors, principals, faith leaders and legislators can support students who seek to improve themselves by learning a trade or developing themselves through continuing education — at a minimum burden to the public coffers — while at the same time returning the investment by serving the community.

U.S. Army Sgt. Nayib A. Covar, an infantryman with the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, takes a photo after sharing his reasons for serving in the U.S. Army during an interview Nov. 22, 2016, at Fort Stewart, Ga. Soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division are highlighted on Facebook and Twitter every Wednesday for the Why We Serve Wednesday social media campaign. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Nikki Felton)
U.S. Army Sgt. Nayib A. Covar, an infantryman with the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, takes a photo after sharing his reasons for serving in the U.S. Army during an interview Nov. 22, 2016, at Fort Stewart, Ga. Soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division are highlighted on Facebook and Twitter every Wednesday for the Why We Serve Wednesday social media campaign. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Nikki Felton)

Recruitment issues were recently addressed in an Army Press online journal article, “Improving Army Recruitment by Word-of-Mouth Marketing.” The article addressed some handicaps the Army has as an organization. The author, Cpt. Kevin Sandell, a public affairs officer, suggests that direct communication with Soldiers may be more productive than typical recruiting efforts. Word-of-mouth recruiting may be very effective, especially considering the recent focus on the Army ethic and professionalization. In addition to the opportunities for education, the Army has renewed its efforts to certify Soldiers in their military occupational specialties. This certification extends as far as civilian credentialing in some of the more technical fields.

Former Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning emphasized the importance of these word-of-mouth connections and of the ability of Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers to make those connections. This word-of-mouth strategy is being incorporated into wider campaigns. As the overseas contingency operations of the past decade have reduced in size and scope, the Army’s media coverage has reduced as well. To increase media exposure, the Army instituted the “Meet Your Army” campaign as a means of fostering communication between the civilian community and the military. It is important to maintain this level of visibility, not just for the recruiting effort, but to keep the public invested in the Army’s mission. The American people need to be reminded that they enable the Army: through their trust and confidence, through encouraging young people to serve and through their tax dollars.

The Army offers untested youths the opportunity to sharpen the skills they learn in their primary and secondary education and apply them as part of a team. The NCO is in a position to convey this message to the American people. Noncommissioned officers play a special role in the marketing of the Army as recruiters. The recruiter is often the applicant’s first interaction with a Soldier, regardless of the Soldier’s component. Recruiters must be a tangible representation of all those things the Army mission and vision represent. The recruiter must subscribe to the Army ethic and live by the Army values. A recruiter must stand by the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer and the Soldier’s Creed. A recruiter must keep the oath made upon enlistment. Recruiting and retention NCOs must not be primarily concerned with the number of recruits they bring into the Army’s formations, but rather with bringing in quality applicants that have the potential to abide by the values and ethics the recruiters represent. Trained, educated and ethical recruiters will attract trainable, educable and ethical applicants.

The job description of the recruiting and retention NCO specifically states that the recruiter will be a first-line marketer, distributing and displaying recruiting material and cultivating community centers of influence. However, word-of-mouth marketing strategies dictate that all NCOs are recruiters, regardless of billet. They are tangible symbols of the Army brand and therefore must be prepared to relay their positive Army experience, verbally or in writing. An NCO has professional experience, training and education that can easily be related to by Americans. NCOs have attained their status by adherence to the Army values, the Army ethic, the Warrior Ethos and the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer. Conveying why it is important to adhere to these abstract principles is as important as abiding by them. The NCOs of the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve are in prime positions to market the Army, because they are parts of their communities. They can and should take the time to relay the Army’s mission and vision to Americans, not only to attempt to recruit youths into the ranks, but also to inform others of what the Army does.

The Army has had successful marketing campaigns — first marketing itself to military-age men, but now to all service-age Americans — while simultaneously presenting an attractive employment and educational opportunity to applicants’ influencers. The Army’s marketing is most successful when it emphasizes the one-team concept, appealing not only to self-interest but to applicants’ desires to incorporate the Army values and ethics into their lives.

Staff Sgt. Brian Darling is a paralegal noncommissioned officer assigned to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, New Jersey Army National Guard.

Hard lessons for new Sergeants

Special to the NCO Journal

When given the opportunity, how do you relay a lifetime of experiences to young NCOs? What would be important for them to know today? What would be important to know at the end of their careers?

I recently had the opportunity to discuss those experiences with the 10th Mountain Division, NCO Academy Basic Leader Course graduating Class 04-16 at Fort Drum, New York. Whether it’s a BLC Graduation, an NCO induction ceremony or opening a Leadership Professional Development session, how do you convey these lessons in such a condensed time period?

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to answer this through a series of discussions with five highly successful NCOs, both active-duty and retired, that I had the honor of working with. Though their backgrounds and experiences differed significantly, I discovered a common theme that was woven throughout their experiences and was the single most important factor in their quality leadership: building trust.

The events these senior NCOs have been through cover a vast and impressive period. Those experiences include Special Operations, inspiring a history of family service, deployments in the desert and covert missions closer to home. Whether earning awards through their solitary actions or leading a team under arduous conditions, these Soldiers all became senior noncommissioned officers and achieved an almost unprecedented level of success during their careers in the U.S. Army. Before I share their words with you, context is extremely important. I would like to tell you briefly about these five Soldiers and why I think they are worth listening to.

Sgt. Maj. William Tomlin III grew up in a suburban Connecticut neighborhood. The infantry called to him, and he never looked back. While in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in early April 2007, then-Sgt. 1st Class Tomlin was the acting platoon leader for his scout platoon. After three straight days of fighting, 300 Taliban attacked his 45-man element. The six-hour enemy attack reached within 15 meters of their location and continued to press forward. Tomlin consolidated their remaining ammunition, and his persistence and leadership during their counterattack turned the tide of the battle. He was awarded the Silver Star.

Then- Sgt. 1st Class William Tomlin is awarded the Silver Star by President George W. Bush May 22, 2008, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Tomlin led several counterattacks against an enemy force that outnumbered his platoon six-to-one in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. Timothy Dinneen)
Then-Sgt. 1st Class William Tomlin is awarded the Silver Star by President George W. Bush at Fort Bragg, N.C., on May 22, 2008. Tomlin led several counterattacks against an enemy force that outnumbered his platoon six-to-one in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. Timothy Dinneen)

Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Cortes, known as “Pup,” was a member of a Special Operations unit. He became part of history as a member of the first High Altitude Low Opening team to jump into Afghanistan to support the Northern Alliance. In June 2003, he was sent on a mission to find two missing Soldiers in Iraq. Then-Sgt. 1st Class Cortes drove upon an enemy force preparing an ambush site. His two-man team, heavily outnumbered, engaged the enemy element at close range, their nontactical vehicle being disabled by enemy fire. Ignoring his wounds, Cortes continued to engage, killing several enemy fighters and forcing the remainder to retreat. His efforts not only prevented the enemy fighters from killing his element, but also reduced their ability to conduct future ambushes. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.

Sgt. Maj. Brendan O’Conner was 7 years old when his father was killed in the Vietnam War. Raised in a family with a deep history of military service and surrounded by the valorous actions of his forefathers, he chose to follow in their footsteps and earned an officer’s commission from the Valley Forge Military Academy. In 1994, he resigned his commission and enlisted as a Special Forces medical sergeant. In June 2006, O’Conner’s team was in southern Afghanistan, where it was ambushed by 250 Taliban fighters. During 17.5 hours of intense battle, two of his team members were severely injured and his team leader was killed. He took command of the team. Eventually, he and his Soldiers killed 120 Taliban fighters before withdrawing under the protection of air support. O’Conner was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Sgt. Maj. Tony Pryor, a Special Forces team sergeant, was a good-old boy from rural Oregon. Thick-necked, with hamhocks for hands and the strength of a silverback gorilla, he was often referred to as “Bucket.” While in Afghanistan on a late evening in January 2002, he and his team were clearing al-Qaida and Taliban forces from a compound and conducting site exploitation. In the darkness and the heat of the battle, Pryor was separated from his team and found himself clearing rooms alone. Soon after getting separated, he encountered a charging enemy and eliminated the threat. In the next room, he came upon an additional three fighters. In the melee, a fourth struck him from behind with a board, breaking his clavicle. The enemy then jumped on his back, dislocating his shoulder and knocking off his night-vision goggles. Pryor continued to fight, eventually killing all four. For his pure Soldier instinct, for engaging the enemy and continuing to lead, he was awarded the Silver Star.

Sgt. Maj. Joe Vega is the Hollywood-version of an operator: chiseled physique, a master breacher and a demolition expert. He played key roles in the capture of a South American dictator and the death of a Colombian drug lord, and he conducted operations against a Somali political leader who hindered international relief efforts. The last operation was made famous by the movie Black Hawk Down depicting the 1993 operation called “Restore Hope.” He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions. Later in Iraq in 2003, he was awarded a second Silver Star. Vega’s missions during his time in a Special Mission Unit are not releasable. The award simply states, “For his ability to consolidate and reorganize under extreme duress.” I am grateful for his guidance and friendship.

It was a true honor to serve with them all. The advice below is a combination of the five senior NCOs’ own words of what they think is important for Soldiers today and throughout their military careers:

  • Stay motivated.
  • Volunteer for assignments; don’t ever quit. You will fail — get up and try again.
  • Your reputation, the examples you set, will cast a long shadow. You will either inspire others or de-motivate them by your actions.
  • Be the guy with real experience, not just the theoretical or book knowledge.
  • Don’t go after the wounded, have them push themselves to you.
  • You learn more from your mistakes and misses than you ever will from your successes.
  • Maintain a warrior’s mindset in everything you do.
  • I cannot define what an act of valor is, but I do know what cowardice looks like.
  • Yelling is not an effective training tool; your training should develop solid basics and initiative.
  • Soldiers will do great things if there is trust.
  • Every experience is important to an NCO’s development, and every event is an opportunity to counsel.
  • Good leaders are valued over time.
  • As a leader you must constantly give hard problems to solve — this develops Soldiers.
  • Lead from the front. It’s everything.
  • Focus on the things that matter: fitness, values and training.
  • Humility: Don’t just be the loud guy; it almost always identifies false bravado. Don’t be afraid to bring up your own faults.
  • Remember — it is never about you; it is always about the Soldiers.
  • Never ever be the crab. Don’t go sideways or backward, only move forward.
  • Be honest in everything you do. Grow to hate liars.
  • If more Soldiers did their jobs and demanded a higher level of execution, there would be significantly less need for valorous acts.
  • Take responsibility, take charge and take the initiative. You must make it happen.
  • Wear your body armor!

Soldiers may never experience the extreme living conditions or firefights the aforementioned Soldiers were engaged in. That fact does not decrease the importance of embodying the Army Values on a daily basis. As described above, use every opportunity to build trust with your Soldiers, peers and superiors alike. Nurturing that trust will serve Soldiers well today and throughout their time in the Army. This is especially true in a world of uncertainty that is more chaotic now than at any time in my military career. You will be called upon and, usually, at the most inopportune time. Ensure you and your Soldiers are ready.

Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Hendrex has been selected to serve as the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) command sergeant major. He recently completed his tour as 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division CSM, served as a fellow at the CSA Strategic Studies Group, and is the director of NCO Academy Mission Command recently formed under the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy. He served with the five NCOs mentioned in the article in the Asymmetric Warfare Group and interviewed them in the summer of 2014.

Sgt. Aura Sklenicka, a public affairs officer NCO at Fort Bliss, Texas, contributed to this article.


TRADOC leader sees ‘major step forward’ in NCO 2020

NCO Journal

As technology, the environment, and the strategies and complexities of warfare continue to evolve in the new millennium, national defense leaders are preparing what is widely regarded as the foundation of that security – the Noncommissioned Officer Corps – with 50 initiatives designed to help NCOs meet those evolving challenges. These key initiatives to the nation’s defense in the modern operational environment are known as NCO 2020.

The NCO-driven plan will serve as the lynchpin of the nation’s defense.

The NCO Professional Development System will be the vehicle that drives the NCO 2020 strategy through human performance optimization in the areas of leader development, talent management, and stewardship of the profession. More than education and knowledge, it is a system of professional development based on substantive concepts that matter, delivered in an efficient and effective way, with each and every part of the system integrated with the others, according to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s “NCO 2020 Strategy: NCOs Operating in a Complex World.”

“We are talking about no less than a paradigm shift in NCO development,” TRADOC’s Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr. said.

Davenport envisions “a continuum of learning” for NCOs, where training designers look at content, how the training is delivered and how to make it matter.

“At times in the past, we’ve had training NCOs completed, but it didn’t really mean anything,” he said. “We want training that has value, that leads to something, and that matters.”

Credentialing is a big part of plan for NCO 2020. Leaders working the initiatives are looking for ways to show affirmation or evidence that NCOs’ training is meaningful and relevant ways. Grading is another tool being considered by the NCO 2020 contingent. Assigning grades to courses and other training may make them more meaningful for NCOs. Moreover, where does the training lead? Does it have a purpose? Does it have a direction? NCO 2020 is implementing an integrated, comprehensive approach to NCO development.

Some of the NCO 2020 initiatives are reviews of structured self-development, curriculum relevance/rigor, skills/qualification/certification, training with industry, professional writing/reading, character development and update Army Career Tracker.

With character development, sergeants major are working on a plan to make Army Values a part of NCOs’ inner being, so when they are in a complex environment they have a foundation of trust.

“NCOs should be an example of honor and integrity because as they progress they are given more and more authority, making the way they handle that authority all the more important,” Davenport said.

The NCO 2020 board is looking at the rigor and relevance of structured self-development and how germane it is to NCO duties and responsibilities, including the provision of self-paced learning allowing NCOs to either take more time with course instruction and material or, for quick-learning NCOs, to test out of NCO training programs.

The board has already decided the Skill Qualification Test, a staple of NCO military education in the 1980s, will not be coming back.

“The more we can encourage NCOs to research, write, and convey their thoughts the better,” Davenport said of the professional writing initiative.

This initiative is actually already underway in the form of the Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston NCO Writing Excellence Program. Submission dates, themes and guidelines can be found at

In fact, Davenport said he wholeheartedly agrees with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey making Army University and Soldier education in general a top priority, adding he has every confidence NCOs can “handle any educational challenge and operate at any and every level of the Army.”

Training with Industry has real value and should not be seen by promotion boards as a promotion stopper, Davenport said.

“Those who downgrade Soldiers because they’ve participated in a Training with Industry program do not understand AR 600-25,” he said, adding, however, that Soldiers should not participate in back-to-back programs of that nature – and that Soldiers’ branches have a role in ensuring they are given assignments that help them progress in accordance with their career map.

Extensive planning, effort and innovation are being applied in many other NCO 2020 initiatives.

The NCO Corps has the support of Army leadership, and the initiatives are being carefully planned and put together to ensure they are solid, enduring programs, Davenport said.

The key to the overall plan of NCO 2020 is “an understanding by all parties of what we are doing here and the integrated, sequential way we are making this relevant development happen.” Davenport said.

“I think NCO 2020 will have a very lasting impact,” Davenport said. “These 50 initiatives are the azimuth to take the Corps a major step forward in NCO development.”

Editor’s Note: To review “NCO 2020 Strategy: NCOs operating in a complex world,” click on the following link:

*(At the Army Career Tracker web site, click on “Communities” on the left side of the page, then select “Other Communities” and select the page “NCO Professional Development,” and click on “NCO 2020” on the right side of the page.)

Recruit the Selfish: Stressing Individual Opportunity in Army Recruiting

By Staff Sgt. Oren Hammerquist

Winner, NCO Writing Excellence Program (January 2017)

The Army should reconsider its target market and implement a campaign emphasizing mutual benefits for both the Army and the recruit. Since its formation, the Army has relied on one medium for Army recruitment above all others: the recruiting poster. With the recent retirement of “Army Strong,” a partially successful marketing strategy, the Army switches to a more dynamic image. This offers the Army a chance to brand itself considering sweeping changes to Army policy (Army University, Blended Retirement Program, etc.).

As this paper looks back at historical campaigns, it will be helpful to divide recruiting posters into categories to aid understanding of the basic impetus behind the associated campaign. Each category is discussed in detail as they arise below. Recruiting posters fall generally into one of three categories: patriotism, negotiation, and functionalism. Under patriotism, you could further divide posters into symbolized, vengeful, or guilty. Negotiation divides loosely into beneficial, tailorable, and civilian. Functionalism applies best to more recent marketing techniques such as television spots, recruiting videos, and various innovative (and not always successful) ideas. However, there is an element of functionalism in posters focusing either on general Soldiering or specific Soldiering.

After looking briefly at historical examples, this paper will consider how best to market the Army in the current landscape. The Army seems poised to move away from slogans and posters in the coming decade. The focus must therefore be on branding rather than marketing in the traditional sense. The most efficient means may be to expand civic involvement rather than increase sales pitches.

Historical Perspectives

Recruiting posters have been a part of Army and civilian culture since the inception of the Army. What may be the first American military recruiting poster seems like a road map to the next 240 years of marketing. The recruiting poster for the Continental Army bears the words “TAKE NOTICE” boldly in the middle.1 We see elements of symbolized patriotism in the prominence of the words “liberties” and “independence” just above center. Likewise, two stars, already becoming key patriotic symbols, lay below center.

The poster uses guilty patriotism by calling to “brave, healthy, able bodied” young men. This implies any reader not interested in joining may not be one of the three. Though this particular poster does not use vengeful patriotism openly, other campaigns of the time likened the current state of governance by England to slavery.2

The Continental Army poster clearly uses beneficial negotiation techniques by clearly listing the pay (twelve whole dollars per year), provided food and uniforms, and opportunity to travel. Though the Continental Army was not broadly tailorable by job (Soldiers had a choice of infantry or artillery), this poster clearly uses civilian negotiation by listing benefits after military service.

Finally, we see functionalism at play prominently on this early poster. The idea of specific functionalism did not exist in the Army then, or was at least highly limited; the MOS is a modern military item. This poster does show general functionalism by prominently displaying Soldiers loading and firing assigned weapons.

Though the nature of these messages changed over the decades and centuries, this poster succinctly explains all strategies used to the present day. Even as we move away from posters and slogans as an Army, these three areas will dominate our image. Later posters tend to be more focused as this paper explains below.

Recruiting for World Wars. Raising an all-volunteer force in the millions was impossible. Still, for obvious reasons, a volunteer is Soldier is better than a draftee when possible. Even with widespread drafts, the Army and its sister services advertised heavily for volunteers. With a few exceptions, recruiting posters in this era relied heavily on patriotism.

The most well-known Army recruiting poster passed beyond marketing and into popular culture: Uncle Sam looking directly into the viewer’s eyes and issuing a challenge. This image originated in World War I, but is usually associated with WWII recruiting efforts.3 Similar is the well-known image of Uncle Sam with hat and jacket removed, sleeves rolled up, and flexing muscular arms as he marches forward for a brawl—a bald eagle surging forward in attack at his shoulder—while the poster orders “Defend Your Country.”4 These two images are pure symbolic patriotism. Uncle Sam is clad always in stars and stripes. In a time with a clearly defined enemy in a force-on-force battle, these images work well.

The Army often used more varied posters to spur recruiting especially during WWI. One well-known poster begs Irishmen to “Avenge the Lusitania,” which is an example of vengeful patriotism.  Another poster offered adventure and travel for artillerymen (specific functionalism and beneficial negotiation). Despite these examples, patriotism dominated this era.

Vietnam. Modern warfare tends toward more asymmetrical conflicts. Strategic planners still look toward Vietnam for lessons learned—good and bad—and those wishing to portray the Army image should also consider lessons learned here as well. Recruiting posters during Vietnam tend to rely heavily on general functionalism as an image. Images of Soldiers with weapon in hand assaulting an enemy dominate this era. In hindsight, this probably was not the best marketing strategy during a largely unpopular war. Images of Soldiers fighting likely exacerbated the public distaste for this conflict caused by unfavorable media coverage. However, patriotic images may not have worked well during this period due to a lack of a clear enemy in the minds of many Americans.

Navy Beats Army? In many ways, the Navy lead the way in marketing during World War II and beyond. WWII posters for Navy carry more vengeful patriotism with messages such as “Smack the Japs.” The Navy also displayed tailorable negotiation by offering specific jobs in posters during WWI and WWII—submariners, machinists, electricians, etc. Following WWII, the Navy immediately began advertising for jobs in electronics while the Army began to advertise general Soldiering skills.

Most notable is the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program. While posters targeted at men often displayed ten-inch guns, posters targeted at women showed women in dress uniforms and clearly stated compensation. These are examples of general functionalism and beneficial negotiation.

Making it Look Good. Historically, the Marines are among the most successful meeting recruiting goals. One obvious reason is the relative size of the Marine Corps versus the Army. The Marine Corps also gives less focus historically to the career Marine than the Army (with the pension program for example). Marine recruiting posters and advertisements all seem to have one thing in common: the dress uniform. This creates an easily recognizable symbol across decades but also draws attention away from the dangers of combat. The Marine Corps places a much greater percentage of its members into combat positions than the Army and has far fewer job opportunities. The recruiting success of the Marine Corps illustrates the value of symbols and minimalizing dangers to civilians.

Be All You Can Be. Many older Soldiers grew up hearing this popular slogan, which replaced the unsuccessful and unpopular “This is the Army” campaign of the late 1970’s. The latter stemmed from an ill-conceived attempt to make the Army more honest and whimsical. Though taglines such as “In Europe you’re a Soldier 24 hours a day, but the rest of your time is your own”5 enjoyed ironic popularity, they did little to spur recruitment.

“Be All You Can Be” is an excellent example of negotiation. This campaign led potential recruits to consider what benefits they may gain by joining the military. An increased focus on technology also caused many to view the Army outside of the framework of the Korean and Vietnam wars.6

Just as important to consider is when the campaign enjoyed success. Though it buoyed recruitment through Desert Storm, it also fared well in the height of the Cold War. Like the Vietnam War, this conflict—or perhaps the lack of conflict—was characterized by power structures and issues difficult for civilians to understand. The success of “Be All You Can Be” suggests marketing campaigns should encourage recruits conduct a cost-benefit analysis for military service.

An Army of One. Despite being unpopular with veterans, this slogan launched in the early 2000’s enjoyed early success.7 By 2005, the Army spent more on marketing than all other services (not including Coast Guard) combined.8 Despite these expenditures, the Army consistently missed recruiting goals. In fact, the Army showed zero growth from 2003-2004.9 This caused serious problems for an Army fighting a war on two fronts. It is likely that the rising death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan seriously damaged the Army image during this time; the other services spent less and did not experience the same recruiting shortages including the Marine Corps (also posting heavy combat losses).10 “Army of One” unfortunately involved heavy use of images showing general functionalism; Soldiers in combat uniforms likely had an unfavorable juxtaposition with the rising death toll.

The early popularity of “Army of One” is likely skewed by historical events. “Army of One” launched close to the September 11th attacks. This devastating attack on American soil prompted many to roll up their sleeves and “Defend Your Country” regardless of ad campaigns. Relaxed enlistment standards also skewed statistics of the unpopular slogan.

One indicator of skewed results is the decline in minority enlistments. From 1999-2004 (roughly coinciding with the launch of “Army of One”), recruitment of minorities dropped more than 10%.11 Studies, focusing on Navy recruitment, found that family opinion of military service played an important role in the decision to join, and that Hispanics were among the most heavily affected groups.12 Marketing began to target minorities, but the current slogan still did not meet requirements.

Army Strong. “Army Strong” enjoyed great popularity with veterans. Unfortunately, research showed civilians did not share this enthusiasm. Though the tagline changed, the images associated with the project varied only in an increase in minority representation. The posters still bore images of Soldiers in combat uniforms carrying out combat missions or training. The slogan lasted about ten years and performed well, but research eventually showed that civilians were apathetic to the message. “Army Strong” was retired in 2015. Planners stated they have no intention of replacing it with a new slogan, and intend to focus on a broader, online presence instead.13

Lessons Learned

Symbols. Advertising must use symbols of some sort to be effective. During national crises, flags or the stars and stripes are common. Such symbols are easily recognized by civilians and Soldiers alike. The same rule must apply to symbols used outside of crisis eras. “Army of One” often used symbols such as Airborne badges, night vision goggles, and body armor. Though Soldiers understood these instinctively, they had little meaning to civilians. Frequent pictures of Soldiers bearing rifles in full-battle rattle also did not play well beside the rising death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Propaganda. An internet search for Army recruiting posters often brings the word propaganda alongside images. Though the sites displaying these posters as “propaganda” are often opinionated at best and sometimes skewed towards anti-military sentiment, it is important that we consider if, in fact, Army recruiting is propaganda. Propaganda is the use of symbols—visual or verbal—representing only one side of an issue to convince others to take a specific action on emotional grounds. Simply put, stamping a label of propaganda on recruiting posters is often propaganda itself.

Most advertising uses propaganda to some extent, and the Army is no different. Attempts to completely remove this resulted in the often comically inept strategies of “This Is the Army.” Technically, posters with tattered American flags with slogans such as “Avenge Pearl Harbor” or recruiting based on September 11th are propaganda, but most would agree that given the time this is often appropriate.

Occasionally, military posters are inappropriate propaganda in hindsight. One example is a WWI poster featuring a Gorilla wearing a German helmet and carrying a bloody club with the German word Kultur written across it. In the other arm, he carries a swooning white woman naked to the waist. Across the top are the words “Destroy this mad brute.”14 Though undoubtedly considered appropriate at the time, this bears images that may not cast the Army in the best light for future generations.

The success of “Be All You Can Be” suggests that though propaganda often works well during times of crisis, it is not the best practice for long term recruitment. The most successful campaigns tend towards negotiation.

Cost-Benefit Analysis. Marketing campaigns for the US Army don’t seek to recruit those coming from military families who plan to join the military from a young age. Rather, the Army must market to those who are undecided or even initially uninterested in military service. The zero growth in the military between 2003-2004 stemmed from the fact that the cost outweighed presented benefits at the time. People are by nature selfish, and successful Army marketing must present a wide variety of personal benefits to military service.

Army University. Free college has been a motivator for military service since the inception of the GI Bill. Rising costs of higher education benefit recruitment, and an emphasis on college benefits helps gain support for service from family members. With the planned accreditation of Army University, recruiting efforts might benefit most from open marketing of free college opportunities for service.

Quality. In 2014, the USAREC Commander MG Batschelet said, “The quality of people willing to serve has been declining rapidly.”15 Up to 80% of walk-in recruits are turned away as ineligible.16 Some are ineligible due to legal or medical concerns, but the primary reason for rejection is obesity. MG Batschelet called the growing obesity epidemic in America “a national security issue.”17

The issues that affect military recruitment affect the quality and health of our citizens at large. Children may “mature out” of petty theft, drug use, or other juvenile delinquencies, but these childhood transgressions may still affect that potential recruit’s ability to get a security clearance. This makes many of the most critical jobs harder to fill. Likewise, healthy eating habits and regular exercise from an early age benefits the country, the Army, and the individual.

When considering approaches to this problem, it is important that campaigns highlight real physical benefit to individuals of good citizenship and good health without seeing to create a shadow Army of future recruits. Aside from raising obvious parental and political concerns, such a formation would draw too many parallels to “Hitler’s Youth.” Properly executed campaigns would garner more support from parents.

Branding. As marketing of the Army brand moves away from catchphrases and posters, it is time to consider how the Army is branded. Already, a group of several hundred retired Generals and Admirals have formed an organization dedicated to exactly the citizenship and health issues above. This organization is Mission: Readiness. Army investment in this program (monetary or personnel), followed by a plug saying “Paid for by the US Army,” is one way to unobtrusively publicize the Army brand while addressing quality concerns for future recruits.

The Army should brand also itself as an organization dedicated to fitness. Campaigns for Soldier athletes enjoyed success during both world wars both in America and Allied countries.18 As the Army attempts to reorganize as a university, an increased and more public emphasis on sports is a logical step. This may further address the intent of the new Blended Retirement Program, which moves the Army away from a career-based organization to an organization more akin to the Marines (who have better recruiting success for focus on temporary rather than career service19).

The Army should expand the Soldier for Life (SFL) program in both directions and cooperate with organizations with similar goals. SFL instructors could give financial planning classes in High Schools, explain education options to young people, or help offer free career planning advice. Instructors need not take any action to recruit at these seminars; such seminars would also be more likely to grow support from family for the decision to join the Army. More public partnerships with organizations such as Mission: Readiness, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or even Boy Scouts of America—perhaps through increased volunteer involvement or unit partnerships—offers cheap and partnerships with the opportunity for great advantage.

Finally, the Army should take part in public campaigns such as Red Ribbon Week, anti-bullying campaigns (with a tagline that almost writes itself), or prevention programs for sexual assault and domestic violence. Many Army programs share aims and methods with civilian programs. Commanders should consider involving young Soldiers in these efforts to make a greater connection with potential recruits than a commander speaking.


As the Army retires “Army Strong,” recruiting planners have a unique opportunity to rebrand the Army and rethink marketing plans. The success of “Be All You Can Be” indicates that an emphasis on individual involvement and opportunity is likely to be most successful. Marketers should consider carefully the symbols used in marketing; like the Marine Corps, the Army should increase the prevalence of Soldiers in dress uniform and decrease the appearance of Soldiers in combat uniforms or with equipment when marketing to civilians. Finally, a subtler marketing campaign focusing on improving quality in the recruiting pool may be the best option to improve support for military service by recruits and family members.


1 “Military Recruitment Across Time: An Historical Analysis of Recruitment Propaganda.” Camouflaged. Part I. Section E. It is important to note that this reference is highly skewed and unapologetically anti-military.
2 Ibid.
3 “The Most Famous Poster (Memory): American Treasures of the Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress. July 20, 2010. Accessed December 26, 2016. treasures/trm015.html.
4 Szoldra, Paul. “The 8 most famous US military recruiting posters of World War II.” We Are The Mighty. May 8, 2015. Accessed December 26, 2016. /articles/world-war-2-recruiting-posters.
5 Evans, Tom. “All We Could Be: How an Advertising Campaign Helped Remake the Army.” The Campaign for the National Museum of the United States Army. January 20, 2015. Accessed December 26, 2016.
6 Ibid.
7 Matulich, Erika, Dierdre Dixon, Jacqueline Atkins, Erin Cece, and Stefan Dreschel. “Army of One? Marketing Battle for Recruits.” Journal of Business Cases and Applications 14 (July 2015): 1-9.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Lilley, Kevin. “Service ditches ‘Army Strong’ for new branding strategy.” Army Times. April 30, 2015. Accessed December 26, 2016. 2015/04/30/army-strong-advertising-recruiting/26586513/.
14 See note 1.
15 Feeney, Nolan. “Pentagon: 7 in 10 Youths Would Fail to Qualify for Military Service.” Time. June 29, 2014. Accessed December 26, 2016.
16 “80% of Military Recruitments Turned Down.” May 14, 2014. Accessed December 26, 2016.
17 Ibid.
18 “World War I Recruiting Posters.” The Ultimate History Project. Accessed December 26, 2016.
19 See note 5.

Staff Sgt. Hammerquist is a 14G (Air Battle Management Systems Operator) Section Sergeant currently assigned to the Air Defense and Airspace Management/Regimental Aviation Element (ADAM/RAE), 2d Cavalry Regiment, Rose Barracks, Germany. Staff Sgt. Hammerquist has an Associate’s Degree in General Studies, a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, and a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing.

Commentary: The Army has a sleep problem. Here’s how to fix it

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NCO Journal staff report

Army Maj. Jeff Jager and Former Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Kennedy say the Army has a sleep deprivation problem in a commentary published in the Army Times.

“Studies show sleep deprivation offers effects equal to drinking alcohol, and continued lack of sleep has the potential of being even more deadly,” Jager and Kennedy write. “We would never allow a drunken Soldier to lead an ambush, so why do we consider it acceptable or even admirable to send one with lack of sleep into life-threatening situations?

“The Army’s culture of sleep deprivation begins during basic training, although the Center for Initial Military Training has taken steps recently to incorporate additional sleep into the platform,” the continued. “It continues through the first unit of assignment, where we interrupt sleep with training and other duties until going without rest becomes ingrained in our Soldiers.”

Jager and Kennedy note that the Army is attempting to address sleep problems with its Performance Triad, but a survey they conducted of active-duty and reserve-component Soldiers found that nearly 42 percent had never heard of the triad and that 18 percent didn’t agree with it. They offer some suggestions for fixing the military’s sleep deprivation problems, including raising awareness and enforcing sleep standards.

Read the article.