Army recruitment methods exposed in new report
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was forced to defend itself this week after a hard-hitting report accused it of using glamorous advertising techniques to recruit young people. Its author, defence and security analyst David Gee, has also developed a website to provide ‘accurate and balanced information’ about life in the armed forces, so that would-be recruits can make an informed choice about their potential career. Informed Choice? Armed Forces and Recruitment Practice in the UK calls for major changes to armed forces recruitment policies, including a radical revision of recruitment literature, an end to the recruitment of under eighteens and new rights for recruits to leave the forces. This call has been echoed by politicians and exsoldiers who criticised army adverts for not giving a true portrayal of life in the forces. Nick Perks of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, which funded the report, described it as ‘constructive criticism’. ‘People are taking it in all sorts of different ways,’ he said. The report caused a stir in military circles. The MoD’s response was a strongly-worded
denial that it targets children under sixteen when recruiting for the armed forces and rejected claims that it glamorises war and portrays it as ‘game-like’. Visits to schools were aimed at raising awareness of the armed forces, not to recruit, an MoD spokesperson said. However, this claim is undermined by some of the literature put out by the armed forces (see box below). David, a former manager of the peace and disarmament programme at Quaker Peace & Social Witness, emphasised that the report was about getting people talking about the issue. The media coverage, he said, had ‘vastly exceeded what I expected and hoped for and reached millions of people. The important thing is that a conversation happens, not that we have all the right answers.’ He added that he had met with senior army recruiters while researching the report and was hoping to do so again. Adopting the changes recommended in the report, argued David, will be good for the recruits and good for the military: ‘The armed forces have a poor retention record, partly because they promise recruits more than they can deliver, so thousands end up wanting to leave as soon as possible. Not only will a more balanced and
honest approach to recruitment ensure that those who join do so for the right reasons, it will also help reduce the huge resources spent on replacing personnel.’ ‘The recruitment issue was something that David had identified there had been very little done on,’ said Nick Perks. Unlike the USA, he said, where military recruitment techniques have been heavily scrutinised, the fact that ‘the army is using some quite slick recruitment practices with some quite vulnerable young people has not been well documented in the UK. The website accompanying the report, Before You Sign Up (www.beforeyousignup.info), was also created by David, but unlike the report, which David says is aimed at ‘achieving changes in the way the army in particular recruits people so the rights of potential recruits are met’, the website aims to plug a hole in the provision of independent and balanced information for those considering a career in the forces. ‘The key thing is that people make an informed choice and they have a right to that,’ he said. Oliver Robertson
What recruitment doesn’t look like Camouflage is the army’s magazine for thirteen- to seventeen-year-olds, most of whom the army does ‘not target’ when recruiting. Each issue contains positive stories about life in the army, details of weaponry and photos of soldiers on duty and enjoying themselves (for instance, at a skateboarding park). Army experiences and equipment are described in emotive terms, with the enemy becoming ‘bad guys’ and the Challenger II tank being something whose ‘mere presence feels like a threat; it reeks of power’. The accompanying website includes a free computer game called ‘Hostile Territory’, images of soldiers to download and links to the army cadet force and the army jobs websites.
An army recrui tm ent centrein London. P hoto:Jez Smi th
the Friend , 11 January 2008