How can the United States Army appeal to a new generation of potential recruits, kids who've grown up online in a post-9/11 world? Appeal to a hard-won sense of national patriotism? Emphasize the compelling role models and heroes that two wars have produced?
Why not turn military service into something more like an episode of Survivor? Starting Strong is a new reality series that follows nine potential recruits as they spend three days immersed in Army culture before they decide whether to enlist.
The show has been airing since June 2nd on Sunday mornings on 16 FOX affiliates around the country but the real audience for the program is either asleep or on their way to church, so they're more likely to watch them on the GoArmy.com YouTube Channel. Each episode follows one potential recruit as he or she gets a three-day immersion in Army culture before making a life-altering decision: sign up or go back to their old life.
The production values make each episode feel a whole lot more like Stars Earn Stripes than the documentary feel of something like Nat Geo TV's Inside Combat Rescue. There are on-set challenges, confessional moments with the camera and calls home to dubious family members. There's all the suspense you'd expect from your reality show and not everyone decides to join up at the end of the show.
The production values are really high, much better than any other syndicated show you're going to catch at 8am on a Sunday morning. In fact the show looks so good that the Army brass should hope that budget-slashing, pro-sequestration members of Congress don't see our tax dollars at work.
Starting Strong might not be as high-profile as running "Be All You Can Be" ads during the Super Bowl but it might prove to be an effective tool for recruiters dealing with hesitant parents and help give borderline recruits some idea of what they're actually signing up for. If you can't find it on TV, you can watch the entire series here.