John Leo
After 20 years, the Army is dropping its famous recruiting slogan, "Be all you can be." Guess which of the following is the new slogan:

(a) "One man, one Army."

(b) "An Army of one."

(c) "Your Army thinks you're the one."

(d) "One place for you is the Army."

(e) "Hey, we have only one Army."

The answer, of course, is (b).

"An Army of one" is an odd contradiction in terms, and it may be too mystifying to make anyone dash to the nearest enlistment center. But the Army has a problem. It missed its recruiting goals in three of the last six years, and barely met them in the other three.

The economic boom is a factor, draining off many potential recruits. But the real difficulty is the mind-set of the 18- to 24-year-olds targeted for enlistment ads. They think of soldiers as "nameless, faceless people in green uniforms crawling through mud," said an Army PR man.

The Army churned up a lot of research on young adults by the Rand Corp., Yankelovich Partners Inc., and McKinsey & Co. On the basis of the findings, many of them already well-known, the Army apparently concluded that the current generation of young people is so individualistic, so resistant to authority and rules, that it has to market military life as the natural home of the free-wheeling unfettered spirit.

Soldiers have to follow orders and work for group cohesion. They also have to risk getting shot at from time to time. Selling this to the young as the freedom of the independent self is no easy task. But the research was sobering. Even "Be all you can be" -- a Me Generation slogan entirely about self-actualization -- was widely perceived as too authoritarian. "Kids don't like it," said Ray DeThorne of Leo Burnett, the ad agency that produced the "Army of one" campaign. "They say it's the voice of their parents telling them what to do."


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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