By Jerry Merideth, USARECMarch 21, 2019
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The Army Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) mobile exhibit was on site March 20 at the AT&T Center for the Spurs' Military Appreciation Night. The launch of a third Army STEM mobile exhibit in December 2018 underscores the Mission Support Battalion (MSB) efforts to augment recruiting by expanding the use of technology.
MSB tractor trailers pull semis with themes ranging from aviation to special operations and static displays that are Army branded with larger than life images of Soldiers at work. MSB exhibits provide a mobile environment for Recruiters and ROTC departments to engage the public and share more information about Army career opportunities, according to Mobile Exhibit Company Commander Capt. Steven Kutz.
"When you think of the Army, what is the first thing people think about? Weapons," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sullins, an exhibit operator. "A lot of people don't realize how far we are digging into the STEM program and how it's helped us evolve."
MSB's most popular exhibit, the STEM Semi, includes a computer scenario where students work as teams, using a rescue robot called SARAH (Search and Rescue Autonomous Hybrid) to free trapped factory workers during a mock environmental catastrophe.
"The STEM exhibit means leads and increased access to hard to reach schools," Kutz said. "This exhibit provides maximum opportunity to quickly form meaningful relationships with target-aged prospects."
Visitors can also take a selfie with the STEM unit using green screen technology that replaces a solid color background with their choice of Army image and post the image to social media complete with Army hashtags. In turn the Army gains a lead, information used to contact qualified prospects, ages 17-34.
"The Army has more than 150 career paths including science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Kutz said. "Students and teachers find the content engaging and they learn about the Army along the way."
STEM vehicles are on display for 125-150 event support days per year, generating roughly 2,500 leads, Kutz said. The MSB has between 14 and 17 vehicles on the road at a time. The MSB stepped up its operational tempo in 2018 expanding the number of display days in support of Army recruiting. Last year the battalion logged over 700,000 miles.
In addition, MSB constantly renovates assets. Room one of the new STEM Experience has been redesigned to reflect technology at use in the Army. Similar updates to the remaining two STEM vehicles are planned.
"We are trying to highlight the legacy of the Army and how technological advancement in the Army has impacted the public," said MSB Commander Lt. Col. David Eckley. "We communicate what the Army is about. We are really trying to help recruiters engage the right person.
"We are looking 10 years out to build the technological capital we need," Eckley said. "We had an opportunity to build a new exhibit this year and chose to replicate the STEM because it's so successful in terms of popularity at U.S. high schools."
The battalion continues to leverage a dynamic relationships with the Army Gaming Studio. Moving forward, MSB hopes to work with Army Futures Command to share capabilities.
Other programs in development are e-gaming and cross fit competition teams that would allow Army recruiters access to large numbers of Americans interested in these activities.
"E-gaming is part of pop culture," Eckley said. "There are hundreds of thousands of people who participate each year. The trend in gaming is toward virtual reality or augmented reality. We are working to incorporate that technology into our exhibits. At the beginning of the last fiscal year, we had one exhibit with virtual reality. Now we have grown that capability to seven mobile exhibits and one fixed exhibit with our National Conventions Division.
"It might be the trigger for someone to reach out and contact the Army about joining," Eckley said.
The U.S. Army MSB is part of the U.S. Army Marketing and Engagement Brigade. The brigade supports Army accessions through engagements where the public can learn more about the Army and also includes the Army Marksmanship Unit and the Army Parachute Team (Golden Knights).
The MSB's history dates back to 1936, when the War Department ordered the establishment of a program that would produce an Army exhibit for the 1939 World's Fair in New York City.