“Pick a service, pick a challenge, set yourself apart, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines! What a great place it’s a great place to start!” Late 1970′s and early 1980′s military recruiting jingle.
I was in high school when Selective Service was ended and the military switched from a force that was primarily draftees to the “All Volunteer” military. At first this was not a good thing, not the fault of the change but because of the timing. The United States had withdrawn from Vietnam, morale was low and the country in the midst of a massive political crisis. The military had become a target for any protester with an axe to grind against the government. The military was seen by many as a place for losers. And unfortunately a lot of the early volunteers, while not necessarily losers, were among the lowest classes of recruits. By the 1980s this began to get better and the all volunteer force became one of the finest military organizations in the world, in some areas the finest.
In the process of this the military has spent lots and lots of dollars to attract the best recruits. In order to do this effectively it turned to Madison avenue advertising gurus. These are the same people who can make you want to choke down an otherwise unpalatable sandwich and fries from a fast food chain that causes your arteries to harden before you finish. Yes the very same guys who make cigarettes which turn your lungs into tarry goop look sexy, and who can turn the slimiest of politicians into someone who makes you feel good because “they care.” Obviously these were dark times for the military…it could not have been easy for the brass who cut their teeth at Normandy, Iwo Jima, Midway, Korea and Vietnam that they should rely on Madison Avenue to get them the best recruits available.
In the process we got some good and not so good recruiting slogans. One of the early Army ditties was “We do more by 9 in the morning than most people do in an entire day.” Having spent 17 1/2 years in the Army I can say that this was true at least as far as how many hours you were awake before the rest of the world woke up. What they forgot to mention was that “We spend more time after hours daily than most people do in an entire month.” This was even more true. I remember one incident where some Headquarters weenie at V Corps in Frankfurt saw a vehicle at Frankfurt Airport with a tail light out. The edict went out from high to find the offending vehicle. Of course instead of simply looking up the bumper number or vehicle type, they queried the whole Corps. About 1900, or 7PM to civilian types my Motor Sergeant Steve Culp and I were about to close up shop on this Friday evening. Our Company Commander sent us back out in the dark and the snow and sleet to check taillights. No offending taillights found we reported to the C.O. who told us to wait until Corps told us that we could go home. Finally after the report went up through Group, the 3rd Support Command and Corps word came back, about 2200 that we were safe. We could go home. It was like an Army version of the Strawberry incident in the Caine Mutiny only without the ice cream.
Of course the Army not to outdo itself created a monster in it’s “Army of One” campaign The “There’s Strong and then there’s Army Strong” campaign is better but I did see a hilarious screen saver at the Navy mobilization site at Ft Jackson SC. That parody had the caption “There’s Stupid and then there’s Army Stupid.”
The classic Army recruiting ditty was “Be all that you can be!” This lasted a long time. Of course it engendered both positive and negative reactions but one definitely associated it with personal success and the Army. Admittedly for some people it didn’t take much to get to being all that they could be, but still it was a pretty good slogan. Another Army slogan was “Get an edge on life.” I thought it forgettable as obviously did most who heard it.
The Air Force had one that also became legendary. “Aim High.” It pointed people up. Since very few people in the Air Force ever set foot in a military aircraft this slogan engendered a sense that if you were in the Air Force that you would be flying. This was cool and since the Air Force also sold itself as being “A great way of life” it ensured that people would get people who liked the sexiness of being associated with aircraft and great base services. These I think were better than the current crop which include some lame slogans like “Do something amazing.” and “We’ve been waiting for you.” On the plus side the Air Force Song actually talks about shooting people, albeit from far away, but still give them credit.
The Navy has had a number of recruiting slogans over the years. I think the classic was “The Navy, it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” The current slogan, “Accelerate your life.” is just okay. Saturday Night Live did a spoof on the “not just a job” back in the late 1970s. After showing a old supply ship at Bayonne NJ with sailors chipping paint, scrubbing heads (toilets) and every other menial task associated with the Navy the clip ended: “It’s not just a job; it’s $96.78 a week.” That link is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL-OtsN9VdM
At the same time the Navy also appealed to it’s heritage linking the past and present. I think one of the best recruiting posters every made was the “Heritage” poster from the 1970s.
The Marines though have had the best slogans. “The Few, The Proud, The Marines,” and “The Marines: We’re Looking for a Few Good Men.” and the classic “We didn’t promise you a rose garden.”
The scary part of all of this is that I have been in the military long enough to see all of these commercials and posters. Since I look forward to being around at least a few more years I do, with trepidation and an eye for parody look forward to the new slogans that will be introduced and what parodies will be made.