‘Myths’ Seen Distorting Military’s Image With Nation’s Youth

A survey conducted last spring showed 49 percent of young adults ages 17 to 35 couldn’t name the four largest branches of service. Only 17 percent could get all five to include the Coast Guard. In the same Military Ad Tracking Reserve Study, 60 percent of young adults said they’re not at all knowledgeable about the military.

‘Myths’ Seen Distorting Military’s Image With Nation’s Youth
We Say: While it is true that the available pool of military age young people is shrinking, it is also true that their perception, attitudes, and knowledge of what service in uniform entails continue to dwindle. Here in Military City, USA, that is not as noticeable as it is across the nation. But when the military cut back on its budgets, included was spending on promoting the services. Now pleas to support wounded warriors permeate their images on social and traditional media. It needs fixing.

Republished from Military.com, by Tom Philpott. Image credit: An Oshkosh Defense mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle All-Terrain Vehicle (MAT-V) bumps across ruts in the off-road portion of the master driver training course at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on Nov. 8, 2017. Spc. Elizabeth White/Army. Contributor: Tom Shumaker.


Tom Shumaker

Tom Shumaker

Military Update:  Seventeen years of war, TV spots depicting the struggles of wounded warriors, and curbs on military advertising budgets have left the armed forces with an image problem that could take years to repair, said a senior Defense official.

Unsettling myths about the military are rising among recruit-age youth and “influencers ” – parents, teachers, clergy and coaches – in part because increasingly they have no personal or family ties to the armed forces, said Lernes “Bear” Hebert, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy.

“While there is great support for military service men and women, we do find that misperceptions about service have taken a toll on propensity to serve,” Hebert said. “And because we’re not out there offering a contrary message, we’re seeing a decline that is most troubling.”

He cited various recent survey results that show a majority of recruit-age youth and influencers perceive service life negatively. Many also are surprisingly unaware of key attractions of service life including robust GI Bill education benefits to earn college degrees and skills training that can lead to satisfying civilian careers.

For example, 63 percent of youth ages 16 to 24 believe it is “likely” or “very likely” that a person leaving the military today has psychological or emotional problems. “They hear about post-traumatic stress disorder and all the challenges faced by service men and women post-conflict, and believe that’s indicative of the vast majority of individuals who serve,” Hebert said.

The same survey found 61 percent of youth believe it likely or very likely someone getting out of service today will have difficulty readjusting to everyday life. Forty-eight percent believe it is likely or very likely that a person departing the military has a physical injury.

Absent any other information, Hebert said, the public has no way to put in context the many ads they see soliciting donations to support injured veterans.

“The risks are very real and service is unlike anything else you will do in the civilian world,” Hebert said. “But by far the vast majority of service members leave the military perfectly healthy and move on to very rewarding and fulfilling lives.”

He cited other survey results showing that, in 2004, 85 percent of youth ages 16 to 21 thought it “extremely likely” that joining the military would allow them to earn money for college. By fall of 2016, the proportion who knew that, through military service, they could earn money for college had fallen to 60 percent.

The 25-point drop occurred despite the fact Congress, in 2008, enacted the Post-9/11 GI Bill, with vastly improved veterans’ education benefits. So it is worrisome when recruit-age youth aren’t being told at school or home about one of the most significant benefits they can realize from military service, Hebert said.

“We may not be able to compete with every large corporation on pay, but our benefits are second to none,” he said. “So, we really need to do something to educate prospective recruits that you can have a pretty good quality of life and a great [education benefit] on leaving service after one term.”

Over the same period, 2004 to 2016, the proportion of youth who felt the military provided an attractive lifestyle declined from 63 percent to 35 percent.

And one of the oddest myths about military life, particularly in this age of social media and instant communication, involves personal contacts. The proportion of youth who believe that, while in service, a member is able to stay in touch with family and friends fell from 58 percent down to 23 percent. The apparent fear, said Hebert, is that “either you’re going to be sequestered somewhere or you’re going to be deployed with no way to contact your family or friends.”

On average the services need 264,000 new recruits each year, taken from a pool of about 400,000 youth surveys estimate to have a propensity to serve.

To address negative misperceptions or general disinterest in the military among others, the Defense Department will ask Congress this year to fund a mass marketing campaign to educate youth and their influencers on the attractions of service life. Though he could not discuss the size of the marketing effort until the budget is unveiled, Hebert forecast a “pretty significant campaign.”

“We fully appreciate that people don’t get media the same way they did five years ago,” he said. Therefore, the campaign “will be split between addressing influencers and [media] they frequent, as well as getting into social media and online to approach youth in a more meaningful way.”

A second initiative, called “This is Your Military,” won’t require budget dollars. Starting in February, military commands and personnel will be encouraged to reach out to local communities to try to broaden understanding of service life.

Each month the focus of this outreach will change. In February the theme is that service members are “people just like you,” Hebert said. In March the focus will be educating communities and youth on the variety of job skills found in the military. In April, the breadth of education benefits will be highlighted.

The challenge of educating Americans on their military got harder after the draft ended in 1973. Over the years more military bases across the country closed and the force got smaller, further reducing military ties to towns and communities.

In 1995, 40 percent of youth ages 16 to 24 had at least one parent who served in the military. By 2016 that had fallen to 15 percent, according to the department’s Youth Attitude Tracking Survey (1995) and Youth Poll (2016).

“As a result, they don’t get first-hand accounts of what military service is all about,” Hebert said. Perceptions instead are shaped by “what they see in the news, what gets streamed or the many advertisements [for] helping [injured] veterans.”

A survey conducted last spring showed 49 percent of young adults ages 17 to 35 couldn’t name the four largest branches of service. Only 17 percent could get all five to include the Coast Guard. In the same Military Ad Tracking Reserve Study, 60 percent of young adults said they’re not at all knowledgeable about the military.

The Defense Department aggravated the perception problem when, starting in 2010 as military budgets tightened and recruiting remained strong, it stopped advertising about the military in general, though each service continued to run their own ads to go after recruits as they needed. That rollback in advertising has weakened the military’s “brand” among Americans, Hebert said.

“It costs a lot more to get back into establishing your brand than it does to maintain your brand,” he said. “If Cocoa Cola stopped advertising and we stopped calling everything a Coke, then it would take them a significant investment to get that branding back. I think that’s the situations the department is in now. ”

Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, is personally engaged in the effort to better educate youth and influencers. He has called for more detailed reports on recruiting and retention than past defense chiefs sought.

“He knows probably more about the business than we do by the depth of questions he’s asking,” Hebert said. He knows “recruiting is something you do [continually] and not just for recruits you’re bringing in next year but for recruits, you’re bringing in for the next five years…It’s a long-term investment the department has to make to sustain the all-volunteer force.”

To comment, write Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120 or email milupdate@aol.com or twitter: @Military_Update.

# # # # Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched “Military Update,” his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. “Military Update” features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families. Visit Tom Philpott’s Military Update Archive to view his past articles.

Tom also edits a reader reaction column, “Military Forum.” The online “home” for both features is Military.com. Tom’s freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader’s DigestandWashingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd “Jim” Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback. Buy Glory Denied from Amazon

Show Full Article

© Copyright 2018 Military.com. All rights reserved.

Republished from Military.com. CLICK HERE to read the original.


This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Please honor attribution.

Retired from the Air Force in 1991 after 22 years of service as a public affairs officer and broadcast management officer.
Entered Air Force active duty as a second lieutenant in August, 1969 with a commission from the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC).
Served as a base public affairs officer at three bases: Laredo AFB, Texas, 1969-1971; Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base , 1974-1975 and Hahn Air Base, Germany, 1975-1979.
Retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.

3 Responses to "‘Myths’ Seen Distorting Military’s Image With Nation’s Youth"

  1. Tom Shumaker  February 7, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    There are planes leaving for Bagram every day, Don! But let me see first if Camp Bullis offers civilians the opportunity to go over hill and dale in one!

  2. GranPaSmurf  February 7, 2018 at 11:26 am

    I want to drive one of those!

  3. Tom Shumaker  February 6, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Yes, the Wounded Warrior needs our full attention. But isn’t it time to find and highlight success stories of veterans? There are many out there. How to get these in front of military-aged youth and currently serving active duty is the problem. What social media can be effective in carrying out this mission?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.