Competing Messages
Oklahoma University - January - March 2006

“Army, Marines miss recruiting goals again: More cash and appeals to parents, patriotism haven’t reversed trend.”  This was the headline for NBC news correspondent Jim Miklaszewski’s story concerning the problems facing recruiting May 2005. Many similar headlines appeared during the third year of the war in Iraq. April 2005, the Army had missed its recruiting goal for the third month in a row. The recruiters were short by 2,800 recruits, missing their mark by 42%. And for the first time in 10 years, the Marine Corps was unable to meet their goal for four months in a row (Miklaszewski, 2005).

Miklaszewski (2005) reports part of the recruiting problem is related to fear from parents about sending their child into the military and the prospect they will be sent to war. This report is just one example illustrating how the media has managed to cultivate fear by making images of death and casualties resulting on both sides salient during their intense coverage of the war. “Journalism’s images of war disturb. Among the most powerful visuals known to humankind, they are haunted by the stubborn inevitability and proximity of death” (Zelizer, 2004, p. 115).

After September 11, 2001, the number of war images nearly doubled the typical amount of published images (Zelizer, 2004). This increase in war images has the potential to cultivate perceptions and feelings toward the military and also has the ability to directly impact recruiting.

Recruiting difficulties have been well documented over the course of the past two to three years dating back to the Army National Guard first missing its monthly goals in 2003 (Lumpkin, 2005). That trend led to the Army Guard missing their fiscal year 2004 goal for the first time in 10 years, falling 7,000 enlistees short of their goal of 56,000, and further causing the Guard to increase its recruiting force more than 50% (Moniz, 2004).

The New York Times first reported about Army Recruiting Command’s changes regarding lowering goals of recruiters and recruit standards in October 2004 (Schmitt, 2004). According to the report, one main reason was the Army’s inability to enter the 2005 fiscal year with 35% of its yearly goal already achieved. Instead the Army projected its goal as 25%, before officially achieving a goal of 18% – almost half of the original intended target.

Even with lower standards for enlistment, the Army fell 7,000 enlistees short of its target of 80,000 (Mazzetti, 2005). The difficulties of recruiting are also being felt within the Marine Corps, although they continue to meet yearly goals. General Michael W. Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, has said that with the war in Iraq still raging, many parents were advising their children to wait before signing up for the Marines.

"They're saying, 'It's not, maybe, a bad idea to join the Marine Corps, but why don't you consider it a year from now or two years from now,'" he said. "So the recruiters are having to work much harder out there right now” (Mazzetti, 2005, p. 1).

The war in Iraq made death and the inherent dangers of being in the military salient to the military’s audiences. The military was riding the wave of post-September 11th patriotism and seen as upholding a noble and patriotic duty to the country. As the war progressed into the summer of 2005, and more of the nation’s service members lives were lost, pressure came from members of both parties in Congress for the White House to create a strategy for withdrawal from Iraq (Klein, 2005).

In regard to the recruiting difficulty, the military branches say they have no way to directly measure the effect that war injuries and deaths are having on each service's recruiting (Moniz, 2005). “There is no way to quantify it, no block on an application that you can check for that,” says Maj. Dave Griesmer, a Marine Corps spokesman (Moniz, 2005, p. 1).

However, there are numbers that show the desirability of military service has not necessarily dropped – just the desirability of serving in the Army and Marine Corps. The Navy and Air Force are reportedly turning away thousands of recruits, and the Air Force has a backlog of nearly 9,000 enlistees (Moniz, 2005). According to the Department of Defense military casualty information (2006), nearly 96% of the deaths during Operation Iraqi Freedom have been members of the Army or Marine Corps making a strong case for the correlation between media messages and the desirability to serve in either of these two services.

Shah, McLeod, and Yoon (2001) conclude “people seek information from whatever media sources are most accessible and normative in their social networks” (p.496) with older generations using print and broadcast media supplemented by the Internet and the reverse being the case for younger generations.

Because the effectiveness of the variety of media messages is not known, the purpose of this study is to examine which, and to what extent, of various communication forms cultivate and affect perception and/or beliefs about the military in high school youth and their parents. In regard to recruiting, the military can use this information to add to, correct, or even influence attitudes of those audiences.


 DoD Joint Course in Communications - Class 06-B