Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the Daytona 500 in the National Guard sponsored car. People jam recruiting offices to enlist citing his car as their inspiration. But a mass exodus takes place when Hagel and Dempsey announce major cuts to benefits and entitlements.
As I watched Dale Jr cross the finish line at the Daytona 500 Sunday, Feb. 23 I couldn’t help mulling whether that headline would be appropriate come the DoD's abysmal budget plan announcement.
Each year millions upon millions of dollars from the one and only DoD budget are given to help “recruit” people through sponsorships. Sponsorships like Dale Jr. has with the National Guard.
You probably heard the announcement this week from Defense Department officials that they are planning drastic cuts as the course ahead is plotted. Basic allowance for housing (BAH) is going to be cut. Pay raises will be smaller. Commissaries will not be getting as much funding.
I am completely aware of the marketing angle associated with race cars and other sports, but I can’t help but think the message being sent is really “race car fuel is more important than BAH”.
Let me make it clear that in no way am I attacking the integrity of Dale Jr. He is truly a standup guy. For those of us who watched him grow-up around his dad in the garage and into a driver, we have seen him go from a cocky young kid full of testosterone and seeking adrenaline, to a man who stands with high moral character.
And one of the things he does best is stand for our military. But allow me to let you in on a little secret ... guys like him, they don’t need to be paid to support their country. I bet he would do nearly as much if we simply asked. In fact, he just this week opened a twitter account. I bet we could get him to help us do a little free recruiting over there by tweeting out a selfie that resembles the old “Uncle Sam needs YOU!” posters.
One of the reasons I don’t watch Duck Dynasty is because I can’t get myself to watch a show about guys I grew up with. No, I didn’t really grow up with the Robertson clan, but I grew up with some good ol’ boys just like them. While everyone else sees crazy antics with a wholesome story, I see the guys down the road. Albeit a very long dirt road that may not be accessible after a heavy rain, but they are just like the guys from (literally) my neck of the woods where we have towns with names like Mondex, Espanola and Haw Creek.
So I know these guys. I understand these guys. These are my people. And while I know that NASCAR does have a very diverse following,there is no denying that a majority of their fan base believes heavily in these three things:
These are the kind of folks who about a decade ago put an “Official Hunting License” with a picture of Osama Bin Laden on their trucks. And if it faded, they peeled it off and got a new one while leaving the 1992 peeled and faded Atlanta Braves bumper sticker alone.
These are people who don't need a race car to remind them about the military.
I don’t know how much exactly it costs to put the name of one of the service branches on the side of a race car, but it would be a lot cheaper to print out some photocopies that read “YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU TO SERVE IN THE ARMED SERVICES. No need to bring your gun, we will provide you with one.”
I am completely aware that the money used to sponsor sports pales in comparison to other areas of government waste, abuse and questionable practices.
I get that a lot of recruits have been exposed to the advertising at these events. After all, most of the events the DoD sponsors are for adrenaline junkies with high testosterone -- kinda like your average new recruit.
I also have a very firm grasp on the fact that the DoD portions out all money differently and this type of sponsorship has its own place. I’m told that getting rid of sponsorship won’t result in an increase in funding for housing.
But this simple minded boy from the south can’t help but see how all the DoD does is use a version of envelope budgeting. All the money comes from the one same place like it does in our home budgets and it all has a place. Kind of like how in my home we have an envelope for my truck payment with another envelope inside the main envelope for my truck accessories. (That’s just how southern boys do it.) If there isn’t enough money to make the truck payment, we take it out of the accessory envelope.
I am not naïve to the fact that there is merit to the practice of sponsoring sports/athletes, but I am unable to believe in this day and age we need to spend millions of dollars like this on things like NASCAR to get these new recruits for a military that is going to be significantly decreased in size.
There was a point when I was beginning to wonder if I was really off my rocker and blowing this way out of proportion, then I found out for four out of the last five years this very thing has been on the agenda in Congress. Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) last year introduced an amendment that would not allow this type of spending to continue. Sadly her proposal was defeated by a relatively large margin. But in 2011 a similar bill was narrowly defeated which gives me hope maybe we can start nitpicking at inappropriate, wasted and bloated spending. Similar push back successfully ended sponsorship of a US Army car in 2013.
I can’t help but wonder if maybe had that bill had passed, maybe it would have started a domino effect curbing the spending and just maybe wouldn’t cost us our BAH, health benefits, commissary, etc. I also can’t help but to wonder if this one little victory could save some other things our military families benefit daily from in the long run.
But maybe that's wishful thinking. Maybe I'm just being too logical.
Editor's note: While NASCAR sponsorship was not discussed at this week's DoD budget briefings, all the details of the 2015 budget will not be revealed until March 4. It remains to be seen whether or not sports sponsorship is included there.