WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- There's a growing disconnect
between Americans and their Army.
A 2011 Pew Research Center
survey found that only 57 percent of civilian respondents, ages 30
to 49, said they had an immediate family member who served. The
percentage dropped to one-third, among respondents ages 18 to 29.
Members of the Indiana National Guard sing the "National Anthem" at a 2014 NCAA Final Four basketball game in Indianapolis. There are a number of other ways Soldiers can reach out to the local community. (U.S. Army photo by John Crosby)
GETTING ACQUAINTED TIME
While a draft would
produce a new generation of veterans from across the
socioeconomic spectrum, lawmakers and the military itself
are generally not advocating that, for a number of good
reasons, including cost and a possible increase in
disciplinary problems, similar to those seen during the
Vietnam era. I saw this negative consequence first-hand from
draftees, after enlisting in the Marine Corps, in 1974, just
a year after the All-Volunteer Force was only beginning to
However, there are a number of steps
that can be taken to at least reacquaint Americans with
In July 2014, about 100 captains from
across the Army met at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, with the
Army chief of staff to discuss, among many other things, the
need to reacquaint Americans with their Army.
brainstormed a number of ideas, including visiting radio and
TV stations to do public service announcements, particularly
around the time of the Army birthday each June. The PSAs
could focus on why the Army is great, why they're proud to
be a part of it and so on.
Radio and TV stations are
usually receptive to PSAs. There's almost always someone at
the station who will be glad to assist, usually the person
with a military background, or someone who has a military
family member. I have first-hand experience making hundreds
of PSAs in the 1980s for the Marine Corps, so that's how I
At that meeting with the captains, known as
Solarium 2014, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said:
"One of the problems the Army has is that it doesn't talk a
lot about itself and what we've accomplished. We should be
proud of who we are and what we've accomplished."
Besides doing public service announcements, Odierno
suggested going to universities, Rotary clubs and other
venues, and simply sitting down and talking "about who we
are. People have misperceptions about what the Army is all
about and misperceptions even about us as individuals."
The problem going to universities, or high schools for
that matter, is that educators often have negative views
about the military. In the case of high schools, success is
usually measured by the percentage of graduates who go on to
college, not those who enlist.
One approach would be
to first introduce yourself and tell them you're not a
recruiter. I taught high school and at the university for a
while, and I know that teachers and professors often like to
have guest visitors. For instance, I used to invite local
business leaders to speak in my economics class.
History teachers might like a visit from a Soldier who
helped make history in Iraq or Afghanistan. English teachers
might too for that matter. The shop teacher might like to
get a visit by a Soldier who fixes trucks or tanks or welds.
And so on.
Besides the Rotary clubs, there are
literally thousands of non-profit organizations that are
desperately looking for guest speakers during their monthly
meetings. The bonus for the Soldiers is that these volunteer
activities always shine on resumes and a free meal is often
thrown in, as well. Best of all, though, is the good feeling
Soldiers on active duty, as well
as National Guard or Army Reserve, could benefit. Those who
separated or retired could be goodwill ambassadors for the
Army as well.
Many, if not most Soldiers, are humble
about their experiences in the Army, especially during
wartime. So perhaps some practice with friends or family
would help in opening up. People are genuinely interested in
hearing from Soldiers. I constantly hear Soldiers and other
uniformed personnel getting "thank you for your service"
greetings from civilians over the last 13 years -- something
I rarely recall before that time.
Soldiers can talk
about anything they like: travels to other countries, jobs,
wartime experiences, camaraderie.
An excellent topic
would be the Army Profession, which is commitment, character
and competence based on values and trust -- something the
sergeant major of the Army talks about passionately all the
time and probably will keep talking about after he retires.
By David Vergun
Army News Service
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