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Monday, December 06, 2004

Edutainment 

More evidence that the military manpower shortage is strictly a short-term phenomenon, from MediaChannel.org, courtesy of the ubiquitous Zemblan patriot K.Z. (for Christ's sake, give it a rest, why don't you, Zemblan patriot K.Z.??):
As the Fourth Estate continues to morph into what General/Journalist Tommy Franks calls the "Fourth Front" in the ongoing and endless war on terror, and as the lines blur ever-further between military public affairs -- disseminating accurate information to the media and the public -- and psychological and information operations -- using often-misleading information and propaganda to influence the outcome of a campaign or battle -- the inevitable has finally happened . . . .

That's right -- Discovery Communications International (DCI), a media behemoth that boasts 60 networks representing 19 entertainment brands (including TLC, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, Discovery Health Channel, Discovery Kids, and, in partnership with the New York Times, the Discovery Times Channel) will "re-launch" its six year-old Discovery Wings cabler next month as the Military Channel, focusing on all aspects of the armed forces, military strategies and personnel throughout the ages.

Soon you too will be able to 'go behind the lines" and undertake a "new mission" as Discovery offers what its press materials dub "a Broad Focus on All Aspects of the Military With a Wide Array of Programming About its People, Strategy, Technology and History."

What kind of programming? The kind that will bring you "compelling, real-world stories of heroism, military strategy, technological breakthroughs and turning points in history" . . . .

Although the Pentagon was forced to close its controversial Office of Strategic Influence two years ago following reports that it intended to plant false news stories in the international media, the reality is that much of its mission has merely been moved to other offices of the government. Most of the work remains classified, although officials say the emphasis to date has been on influencing how foreign media depict the United States.

"The movement of information has gone from the public affairs world to the psychological operations world," one senior defense official told Mazzetti. "What's at stake is the credibility of people in uniform."

A recent decision by commanders in Iraq to combine public affairs, psychological operations and information operations into a "strategic communications" office caused such conflict and controversy within the Pentagon that Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers distributed a letter to the Joint Chiefs and U.S. combat commanders in the field warning of the dangers.

But Myers' concern is apparently not shared by many top civilians at the Pentagon and National Security Council, who believe the 24-hour news cycle and the influence of Arabic satellite television make it essential for U.S. military commanders and civilian officials made the control of information a key part of their battle plans.

"Information is part of the battlefield in a way that it's never been before," one senior Bush administration official told the L.A. Times. "We'd be foolish not to try to use it to our advantage."
Don't want the kids exposed to this sort of thing? You can always shoo them away from the TV. Unfortunately, as Zemblan patriot T.T. informs us, you may have to disconnect the computer as well:
The universe of online computer games is home to 200,000 players at any time. It's also where you can find the newest innovation in military recruiting. Check out America's Army, a state-of-the art computer game featuring 3-D graphics, surround sound and the most advanced gaming technology available. It's as entertaining as current favorites Counterstrike or Doom, but there's a different agenda at work. Unlike commercial games designed to make big money, the aim of this taxpayer-funded project is to generate Army recruits.

In 1999, recruitment numbers hit their lowest point in thirty years. In response, Congress called for "aggressive, innovative experiments" to find new soldiers, and the Defense Department jacked up recruitment budgets to $2.2 billion a year. Hence we have America's Army, one of a number of new initiatives designed to help the military reach America's youth. The game consists of two parts: "Soldiers: Empower Yourself," a role-playing segment that instills Army "values," and the more violent (read: entertaining) "Operations: Defend Freedom," a first-person combat simulator where players engage in virtual warfare over the Internet . . . .

America's Army and the new recruiting website are not isolated efforts, but part of a much larger overhaul of recruiting strategy. After the Army missed its quotas by over 6,000 enlistees in 1999, private-sector specialists were brought in to form the Army Marketing Brand Group. Leo Burnett, a top advertising agency that has also worked with McDonald's and Coca-Cola, developed a new Army advertising campaign that debuted in January 2001. The two-decades-old "Be All You Can Be" slogan was dropped in favor of "An Army of One," which aims to promote the dubious notion that the Army is a place where individualism can flourish.

The "aggressive, innovative experiments" called for by Congress seem to be doing their job; enlistment quotas have now been met for two years straight and are on track for 2002. But the goal of the revamped recruiting campaign is not just to raise short-term recruiting numbers, it also aims to ensure a steady stream of recruits in the long term. The goal, as spelled out in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, is to penetrate youth culture and get the Army into a young person's "consideration set," as Timothy Maude, the Army's deputy chief of personnel, put it. By reaching kids when they're young, the Pentagon hopes they will develop a level of comfort with the military that will increase their propensity to enlist later.

The initial success of America's Army has exceeded the Army's expectations, and Colonel Wardynski and his design team are excited about the possibilities. "We're going to be pushing out new versions of the game as fast as we can build them," he says. "This same team will be building missions, weapons, and new features for years to come." The nation's youth can expect a lot more from their friendly army of one.
UPDATE: The source of our bliss (well, half of it, anyway) has returned from sabbatical. What Alice Found links to an article from the libertarian site LewRockwell.com in which Jim Lobe catalogues other inducements to serve:
Some units originally scheduled to return home in October have been told they will have to wait until March 2005.

As noted by the New York Times, extending the tours of duty "is risking problems with morale and retention," which is already a rising concern both in the ranks and on Capitol Hill.

It didn't help that the much-read "Perspectives" page of Newsweek this week featured Marine Staff Sgt. Russell Slay's "instructions" to his 5-year-old son in a letter he sent to his family shortly before he was killed in Iraq. "Be studious, stay in school, and stay away from the military. I mean it."

Last week, the Army National Guard announced it has fallen significantly behind its recruiting goals this fall, continuing a downward slide that began last year. The Guard missed its October target by 30 percent.

At the same time, the Baltimore Sun reported the Army is planning to pull officers out of military professional schools or delay their entry into academic programs in order to meet "wartime needs." It is also considering curbing "family-oriented programs," such as one that permits soldiers to extend their tours of duty at particular U.S. bases so their children can finish high school.

Also, the Los Angeles Times reported last week that the Marine Corps is offering bonuses of up to $30,000, in some cases tax-free, to persuade enlisted personnel with combat experience or training to re-enlist.
Elsewhere, eight soldiers today filed a lawsuit challenging the Army's stop-loss policy.

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