Military to Boost Recruiting with Better Ads, School Access

Talking to Army Recruiter

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced plans Tuesday for a new advertising campaign and efforts to stop high schools from blocking access to recruiters in a drive to broaden the appeal of military service to a new generation.

Carter also said he would seek to enhance career opportunities for officers who serve as Reserve Officers' Training Corps instructors, a posting that is often viewed as an impediment to promotions compared with command assignments.

The Defense Department has yet to decide on a new recruiting campaign slogan, but Carter said the ads would be crafted to appeal to a young audience unfamiliar with military life -- those who have no family connections to the military and whose only experience with uniformed service comes from movies and video games.

To reach the new audience, "we're going to change how we highlight our mission through advertising," Carter said in a speech at the City College of New York in Manhattan, part of the City University of New York.

"While the Defense Department used to advertise the value of military service as a whole, we got away from that over the last several years," Carter said.

"In some ways, we were a victim of our own success" at recruiting after 9/11 and during the economic downturn of the recession, he said. "So now, we're going to get back into it, and start advertising the value of military and public service again from the DoD level, in coordination with the services' recruiting ad campaigns."

A New Marketing Strategy

The campaign will feature a new marketing strategy. Instead of focusing almost exclusively on TV, the ads will also be offered "in many different places online," Carter said. "And we won't just speak to potential recruits -- we're going to speak to everyone, including parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers, guidance counselors, and more. "

Carter stressed the need to expand the recruiting base from rural areas of the South and Southwest, where military service is a tradition, to urban areas of the Northeast and Midwest.

"We would be missing an opportunity if we kept fishing only in the same geographic ponds we always have," he said. "Instead, we need to seize that opportunity by fishing in more ponds, new ponds and ponds we haven't been to in a long time."

To back up the advertising, Carter said the Defense Department will set up a "Speakers Bureau" of senior leaders and experts to address civic and business groups "on the value and benefits of military and public service in support of our mission of national defense. I'm the first speaker to sign up, and I'm kicking it off with this speech."

Blocking Recruiters

Carter also noted that it is against the law for high schools to block access to recruiters. "For example, I've heard from some of our recruiters that some high schools aren't giving them the access they feel they need to be able to do their jobs well," he said.

"The law requires schools to give our recruiters a basic level of access and, while it seems many schools are complying with that, some others are putting up roadblocks. This is wrong."

Carter made no threats, but said the Defense Department will conduct a survey of high schools nationwide to identify those where recruiters have an access problem "so we can educate those educators who may not be complying with the law."

Overhauling ROTC

In addition, Carter said the Defense Department will overhaul the ROTC program to enhance its appeal to recruits and to the instructors who serve in it.

"We'll be offering more graduate school scholarships -- especially for law school and medical school -- for cadets who are college seniors," Carter said. "We'll also offer more two- and three-year ROTC scholarships, which will make it easier for someone who maybe didn't know about ROTC at first to still be able to participate."

The Defense Department also will "sponsor more high school students interested in science, technology, engineering or math to shadow ROTC cadets at schools that specialize in those fields, to help open their eyes to how ROTC is worth a try," he said.

Carter said more than 40 percent of the officers in the military come out of the ROTC, and "we want them to be taught by our best." He noted that Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was an ROTC instructor for three years at the College of the Holy Cross in his home state of Massachusetts.

"The thing is, often in the military, just as with teachers in our society generally, the job of being an ROTC instructor isn't always treated as importantly as it should be," Carter said.

"For instance, some officers determining their next assignment may have to choose between being an ROTC instructor, or accepting a coveted command slot that could help them get promoted faster," he said.

To get past that stigma, Carter said, "I'm directing the military services to ensure their officer promotion and selection boards more appropriately value those who serve as ROTC instructors, and not penalize them for it. And we're also going to set up a pipeline for officers who did ROTC themselves to give back to the program, and be instructors later in their careers."

Force of the Future

In a brief question-and-answer session after his speech, Carter said he expects the changes he is proposing in his "Force of the Future" initiative to survive under the next defense secretary and the next White House administration.

"I'm confident that will be the case because they make so much sense," he said. "There's a logic here to what we're doing. I'm confident that logic will carry into the future."

Carter made similar points last Friday on his efforts to overhaul how the Defense Department attracts Silicon Valley talent, buys weapons systems and innovates for a security environment in constant flux through such programs as the Defense Innovation Board and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx).

Carter has served as defense secretary for nearly two years and is not expected to be asked to continue by the next president. But he said that, "Going forward, I'm confident that the logic behind everything I'm talking about today will be self-evident to future defense secretaries, as will the value of these efforts."

In an address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on his "Force of the Future" proposals, Carter said he will recommend that the Defense Innovation Board create a chief innovation officer.

The new position will "serve as a spearhead for innovation activities," he said, including building software platforms, sponsoring contests, and providing training and education to promote new ideas.

Carter said he also wants to make computer science a core DoD competency through a "virtual center of excellence" under DIUx, which he set up last year to "build bridges with startups and other commercial technology firms located in innovation ecosystems across America."

The changes were necessary "because we live in a relentlessly changing and fiercely competitive world," Carter said. "In the area of investment, it's no longer just a matter of what we buy. Now, more than ever, what also matters is how we buy things, how quickly we buy things, whom we buy them from, and how rapidly and creatively we can adapt and use them in different and innovative ways."

The U.S. has "a legacy of innovating, but that in and of itself is not enough," he said. "That's why we're moving aggressively toward a more innovative future" but "going forward, our success will depend on whether we can keep it up."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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