February 13, 2001 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

A Go-it-Alone Army

An Army of One?

I don't want to read too much into an advertising campaign, but I can't help thinking the U.S. Army's latest effort to boost enlistments sends the wrong message.

Alarmed at falling short of its recruiting goals three of the last five years, the Army recently chucked its 20-year-old "Be All You Can Be" campaign, hired a new ad agency, and rolled out its $150 million "Army of One" campaign.

"I am an Army of one," says the soldier in the commercial. "Even though there are 1,045,690 soldiers like me, I am my own force. With technology, with training, with support, who I am has become better than who I was."

I know there's nothing new about the armed forces appealing to less-than-altruistic motives. "Be All You Can Be" is hardly World War II's "I Want You for U.S. Army." The secondary theme of the new ad, which highlights specialized training, resembles past campaigns, with its emphasis on career skills and college tuition.

And I know that with a strong economy, the armed forces must do what they can to compete with the private sector for young workers. Teamwork and sacrifice don't sell well in an age of baby-faced, dot-com millionaires.

But this new ad campaign betrays the very nature of what the Army's all about: Following orders and working as a team to defend America's national interests. Free spirits won't walk off with business awards, trophy wives and bags of cash in the Army, but they can endanger their unit and jeopardize a mission.

It's not that the individual pursuit of happiness is bad. Far from it. Indeed, such freedom is a core conservative principle.

But the military's a different ballgame. It's one place where the pursuit of individual desires must be sublimated to the good of the whole. That explains the buzz cut and olive-drab uniforms soldiers receive at the start of basic training. They establish that everyone is equal.

But you'd never know that from the "Army of One" campaign. Louis Caldera, who served as Secretary of the Army under President Clinton, said the campaign is supposed to make prospective recruits "feel empowered, individually and as a group" because research shows that young people consider military service dehumanizing.

But to me the ad says, "Don't worry, you can do your own thing." It even shows a soldier marching alone through the desert-feeling empowered, I suppose.

I don't worry that soldiers will carry these "Lone Ranger" ideas into battle. Drill instructors will see to that in basic training.

But two things do worry me. One is the effect the ad could have on the military's credibility. Since no one in his right mind believes the Army wants a bunch of Rambo-wannabes for solo missions in global hot spots, the ad makes the Army look no better than the stereotypical used-car salesman pulling a classic bait-and-switch.

My other concern is how society will view this move to stress the individual over the team by the one institution in society that remains the epitome of American teamwork. In our country, a lot of people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. It's why they join teams, clubs, campaigns-volunteer for service in soup kitchens-and, yes, it's why they join the military.

At a time when public officials mourn the loss of civic life and call for greater national unity, do we really want to discourage this instinct?

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

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