Potential Recruits ‘Experience' Army
(August 13, 2009)
|PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 10, 2009 – Army Sgt.
Steve Compton remembers the gulp rising in his throat when
he stepped inside an Army recruiting station to get
information about enlisting. Every head turned his way –
except that of the one recruiter Compton felt comfortable
enough to approach, and who ultimately enlisted him.
Nearly seven years later, Compton is helping to give
potential recruits, and anyone else curious about the Army,
a less intimidating introduction at the Army Experience
More than 12,000 people have visited the one-of-a-kind
facility since its doors opened almost a year ago at the
Franklin Mills Mall near Northeast Philadelphia's city
The center is billed not as a recruiting station, but as an
educational facility that offers an array of interactive
computer game stations and simulators visitors can enjoy to
their hearts' content.
Visitors to the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia go through a simulation exercise using a life-size Humvee – a drill the staff says helps them better understand the Army mission as they learn about its values. U.S. Army photo
The goal, explained Capt. Jared Auchey, the company
commander, is to make the center as inviting and
nonthreatening as possible so people want to come in and
enjoy the offerings – and learn about the Army in the
“The bottom line is, we want people to walk away with a
favorable experience about the Army,” Auchey said. “If they
want to join, that's great. But if they don't, we want them
to look back at coming here as a positive experience.”
Unlike the bland recruiting station Compton remembers, the
Army Experience Center beckons visitors inside. It's
situated within a traditional shopping mall, just across
from a restaurant that features interactive video games and
an indoor skateboard park.
Inviting sofas and chairs positioned around wide-screen TVs
beckon mall-weary feet inside the glass-front panels. A
boutique within the center sells Army T-shirts, running
shorts and other paraphernalia. A snack bar sells treats.
The 23 soldiers who man the center wear Army polo shirts and
khaki pants rather than uniforms, and they're quick to note
they have no recruiting quotas to fill. All were hand-picked
for the job, and they're happy to share their own Army
experiences or answer questions about Army life or
opportunities with anyone who asks.
And for anyone interested in serious discussion about
signing up, the soldiers sit them down behind a glass panel
-- not a dark curtain – to talk. About 150 visitors have
enlisted at the Army Experience Center since it opened, and
the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test is
conducted regularly at the center.
But anyone who prefers a more hands-off approach is free to
stroll through on their own, checking out interactive
displays that show where Army bases are located worldwide,
what kinds of jobs soldiers perform and how much they get
The most popular attractions
at the Army Experience Center, however, are the
rows of X-Box 360 video game consoles that
feature Army-made as well as off-the-shelf
Other big draws are life-size simulators that
replicate flying a UH-60 Black Hawk or AH-64
Apache helicopter or driving a Humvee as part of
a convoy delivering humanitarian supplies in a
Staff Sgt. Joshua Baggett, a soldier of seven
years who jumped at the opportunity to be
assigned to the Army Experience Center, calls
these offerings “the wow factor.”
“What we have here is a really high-tech way to
show the young Americans who visit here there's
a lot more to the Army than they think,” he
As the games and simulations put participants
through realistic combat scenarios, they also
introduce key Army values: loyalty, duty,
Joseph Staszak, 17, who visits the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia almost every day, joins his buddies at the row of X-Box consoles that offer a full range of computer games. DoD photo by Donna Miles
service, honor, integrity and personal
For example, after Christopher Brooks and his wife,
Jennifer, went through a Black Hawk simulation, Conway
talked them through not only how they performed against the
enemy, but also how they communicated and worked together as
Brooks, a former soldier, had a leg up on most visitors, but
his wife said she learned a lot through the exercise.
“We don't want people to come in here thinking that it's all
about shooting things up,” Auchey explained. “There's a lot
more than that to being in the Army, and that's what we want
people to understand after visiting here. We want them to
have a taste of what it's like to be a soldier.”
The experience helps to clear up a lot of misconceptions
about the Army in this historically Navy city that's never
quite lived up to its recruiting potential.
“All that a lot of the people who come in here know is what
they've seen in the Hollywood movies,” Compton said. “This
helps change that perspective. This is valuable face time
for the Army.”
Seventeen-year-old Joseph Staszak gets a lot of that face
time, spending six to seven hours playing computer games at
the center almost every day. “I don't have an X-box at home,
and here I can play for free,” he said.
Staszak works part-time in a hospital cafeteria, but said he
plans to join the Army as soon as he undergoes the knee
surgery he needs to enlist.
“Going into the Army is a way for me to go to college, and
it offers great benefits,” he said, pausing the action in a
video game that takes the player through Army basic
training. “And coming here is a good way to learn about all
Not all the visitors who hang out at the center aspire to be
soldiers, but Auckey said that's fine with him. Even those
who choose not to join the Army will be better informed
about it, and more likely to share their positive
impressions with others, he said.
Thirteen-year-old Sean Yaffee, for example, doesn't see
himself joining the military. But he's becoming another
regular at the center, where he can play the same computer
games he has at home, but in the company of his buddies.
Yaffee said he's learned a lot about the Army at the center.
“It just tells you about the Army experience, but it doesn't
pressure you,” he said. “I'm really just here to have a good
Sgt. 1st Class Monica Godfrey, who has spent 10 of her 18
Army years as a recruiter, likes the center's no-pressure
approach, and what it communicates about the Army. Visitors
can experience some of the concepts she said are simply too
hard to put into words in a traditional recruiting office.
“The Army is not all about combat,” she said. “I also want
people to experience the love and companionship, the esprit
de corps and teamwork that's all part of being in the Army.
“We want people to understand that being a soldier means
someone always has your back,” she added, “and that we take
care of each other.”
American Forces Press Service
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