By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
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What is happening here? Whitley says, “It’s about inner strength, which you have to tap, and once you have tapped that, it’s like an awakening. ‘I once was blind, and now I see.’ Transform your skinny, 100-pound self, and come out as yourself. This plays especially well to the millennial generation, kids born after 1982. It reflects a generational difference: X-ers grew up selfish — all about what’s in it for us. Millennials are a backlash against that. X hated the institutions America built up, and wanted to tear them down: Kurt Cobain, pessimistic, dark. Millennials are very up about the country, and they want to surf. When you offer millennials a chance to be something bigger than themselves and a chance for service, it adds up for them. They understand discipline and self-discipline, and they read into that the chance to get a lot out of their lives.” Climbing the mountain and becoming a Marine is the metaphor for conquering yourself and becoming who you truly are.
And so it goes, with minor changes of emphasis from branch to branch. War, the ultimate form of violence, which our nation is about to inflict on Iraqis, isn’t in the picture.
The Air Force has “We’ve Been Waiting for You,” a national TV campaign that is also running on 3,500 movie screens across the country. The series includes “Waterfall,” “Speed,” “Bronx” and “Glider.” In each of the spots, a youngster exhibits a unique quality — the daredevil dives into a rapids, the speed addict pushes a street luge to the limit, the high-tech tinkerer fixes her parents’ satellite dish, the dreamer guides radio-control planes — only to emerge, after the “Cross Into the Blue,” in the perfect Air Force job, as a para-rescue jumper, an F/A-22 Raptor pilot, a space-systems operator, an unmanned-Predator operator.
“Whatever your interest, we have an interesting career opportunity you can make the most of,” says Lee Pilz of GSD&M in Austin, Texas. “In testing, kids recognized that, and they felt that it was a special invitation to them: ‘We’ve Been Waiting for You.’ It’s a personal invitation. It’s subtle. A lot of military advertising says, ‘We’ll transform you, the slacker, into a trained person. We recognize what is special about you. We value it.’”
“We’re not in war situations with our advertising,” says Brian Born, the creative director on the Air Force account. “The Air Force is more about the teamwork, and more about the job, and less about the wars. We want people to know they actually can do better in AF. You get out of school, and you are working up the corporate ladder, but in the Air Force you don’t have to wait years to get into the position you want to be in. You’re in there in maybe four months. What was up with ‘Cross Into the Blue’? Why is the Air Force so special? We realized that this is the place where you can still be yourself, it feels like your job, it still feels like you, and you do what you want to do, and you’re gettin’ paid for it.”
The Navy’s tweaking of this theme is “Accelerate Your Life,” which promises “adventure, travel, career, patriotism, technology, education, honor.” Set to music from the band Godsmack, a voice-over intones, “If someone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?” The Army’s is less oblique. Its commercial flashes snapshots of “real” army personnel at “work.” Airborne Trainee, Apache Pilot, Ranger, Intel Analyst, Aviation Mechanic, Air Defender, Land Warrior, Medic. And then the pitch is made: “Most Job Training Teaches You How To Make Something. Ours Teaches You What You’re Made Of.” The announcer explains, “There are over 200 ways to become an Army of One.”
Back on the outskirts of USC, Army Sergeant Ramos’ Delay Entry Program & Maintenance recruits have returned to the office for a brief lecture, to be followed by a physical examination of sorts, basically a boxer’s weigh-in. Ramos asks, “What is leadership?” Rodolfo Valenzuela answers, as if he’d been memorizing the correct reply, “More responsibility. Learn how to lead. Have self-confidence. Learn right from wrong. Learn to make decisions.” Others add, “Take charge.” “Take control.”
“Can you be a leader and a follower all at once? Is that a trick question?”
Ramos answers his own question. “When you go to basic, that is the initiation to leadership development. Did you know that the Army is going to send you to leadership schools? You will develop as a person, as a leader. When you want to be a good leader, you gotta know your job. But you have to strive to become proficient, you have to know everything about that job. You want to be number one. You’ve got the experience to manage people. Let’s say you do your five years in the Army, and you are going into a job. The Army has been good for you, but you are through. You do your four years, you get your B.A. Next thing you know, you are a role model in your community.”