By Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante, 13th Public Affairs DetachmentMarch 13, 2009
The United States and its ideals and beliefs are protected by an all volunteer armed forces. To continue to protect freedom and end terrorism worldwide, the Army counts on Americans to put their country before themselves and raise their right hands in defense of the nation. The U.S. Army Accessions Command, based at Fort Monroe, Va., is dedicated to ensuring that all potential volunteers have the information needed to make such an important life decision.
Helping to inform prospects are a very likely group of Soldiers: Army public affairs personnel. Public affairs specialists seem like the logical choice to get the word out to the people. Their job is to tell Soldiers' stories and put out the good word about the Army to an audience with little or no military affiliation. "Public affairs officers are instrumental in helping tell the Army story," said Col. David A. Lee, deputy chief of staff, strategic communications, marketing and outreach, U.S. Army Accessions Command. "We need their support to find the right Soldiers and the right stories for all of our marketing efforts."
However, this program, intended to link potential recruits to deployed troops, didn't get started until an Accessions alum found himself in Iraq.
Lt. Col. Brian Tribus, chief of media relations for Multi-National Corps - Iraq, left on his first deployment shortly after a two-year position at Accessions Command where he was the chief of plans analysis and initiatives. One of the major innovations in how prospects see the military was the goarmy.com Web site. Goarmy.com seeks to engage the younger generation in a more comfortable format. "It's another way to add credible content to a widely used medium - the internet," Tribus said.
When Tribus arrived at MNC-I public affairs, he found there were untapped resources in public affairs to implement a new concept that had been bounced around at Accessions Command. The Web feature, entitled "Straight from Iraq," allows prospects to submit questions and the questions would be answered via videos sent from Iraq. "This is a chance to connect prospects with Soldiers," he said. "Research tells us that one of the most credible sources of information about the Army, from the prospects' perspective, is a Soldier."
Accessions Command asked for assistance in getting questions submitted through "Straight from Iraq" answered by Soldiers on Camp Victory, Tribus explained. Tribus enlisted the assistance of the MNC-I PAO broadcast staff who took to the streets to get answers to prospects queries. "The videos captured by the PAO answer those common questions in a unique and meaningful way by providing an honest, on-site opinion from real Soldiers who are actually deployed to Iraq," Lee said.
Twice a week, broadcast journalists set up outside the Sports Oasis Dining Facility on Camp Victory for two-hour sessions and try to draw in troops willing to tell the Army story. Spc. Derick Call, a broadcaster with MNC-I, said a lot of work goes in to getting people, who are generally shy and nervous, to answer important questions about the Army.
But, the effort is well worth it.
"The focus of the "Straight from Iraq" program is to get truthful answers to prospective Soldiers' questions," Call explained. "If people have negative things to say, that's ok as long as they are telling the truth.
The successful output of this project spawned another side project for the public affairs Soldiers. "A Life Deployed" was the brain child of Marine 1st Lt. Doy Demsick, Tribus' media assistant. It's a short viral video with a Soldier host that answers multiple "Straight from Iraq" questions in a fun, engaging format.
"I'm a big fan of Strongbad on Homestarrunner.com and Ask a Ninja on YouTube, so when I received the first batch of questions from Accessions Command I noticed that many of the questions could be answered in humorous ways while still providing the viewer with information," Demsick said of his brainstorm. "I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to do something for the Army so we could connect with a different audience by showing them that, we too, have a sense of humor."
After making its way on to YouTube, "A Life Deployed" pulled more than 400 hits in its first few days posted.
And this kind of response is just what the Army needs. As the more wired-in generation begins to reach enlistment age, the Army needs to be able to communicate in its language, Tribus said. "The main purpose of 'A Life Deployed' is to speak directly to a younger audience, which, in the long run, is more important than speaking to the older audiences on whom we often focus," Demsick said.
"We as an organization need to become a lot more comfortable with the use of new media," Tribus explained. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter and new media sites like YouTube and Flickr consume much of the downtime of today's youngsters. Army senior leaders, such as 10th Mountain Division Commanding General Maj. Gen. Michael L. Oates, are using the Web to reach their troops and families. Oates' approach involves blogging with Soldiers, spouses and other family members about their concerns.
Oates' communication insight is proving a valuable tool in initiating conversation within the ranks, but it is not yet a widely accepted practice. The same goes for public affairs new media products created for Accessions Command.
While the initial response has been positive, the Army has yet to officially implement "Straight from Iraq" as a requirement. "Accessions Command needs to come to an agreement with OCPA [Office of the Chief of Public Affairs] so PAOs in the field understand and recognize the need for Soldier voices in recruiting," Tribus said. There is also consideration for a program of the same nature in Afghanistan, where the attention of potential recruits will be turning to shortly, Tribus said.
The questions and answers being fielded now are a pilot program for a more permanent collaboration between recruiting and public affairs, Lee said. "We hope to eventually expand this series to other parts of the world, foreign and domestic, to show the many sides of Soldier life, straight from the Soldiers' mouths," Lee said. "There are no better spokespeople for the Army than its Soldiers."
"I'd like to see this program develop into something that the Army can continue to use to reach out to people considering joining the Army as well as people who just want to know more about life here," Demsick said. "It's a great opportunity for the audience to get information and see something interesting."