By BRIAN LEPLEY
U.S. Army Recruiting Command
Future college football players weren’t the only stars at the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Senior general officers, the U.S. Army Field Band, the Old Guard Drill Team, Medal of Honor recipients and the Golden Knights were all part of the Army’s biggest marketing and outreach event, staged each January in San Antonio.
The West team beat the East 28-6 in the high school senior national all-star game Saturday in the Alamodome. The game concluded a week of activity publicizing the Army’s recruiting efforts.
Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said he has felt the American people’s appreciation of its Soldiers during the last dozen years of war. He also knows these patriotic feelings don’t always equal recruiting contracts.
“As the wars wind down, patriotism is no longer the prime motivator to join the Army,” he said. “With a better economy, youth have other options to consider. So we have to find better ways to communicate how Army service helps with paying for a college education, job skills, and personal development that will affect the rest of your life.”
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl’s outreach impact helps accomplish that. In the week leading up to the bowl, 100 players, their parents and coaches, 125 U.S. Army All-American Band members and their parents and 100 VIP guests of the Army from across the U.S are in San Antonio. The guests are civic, education and business leaders, the type of community influencers the Army seeks to become advocates.
The Golden Knights take a select few of these guests on tandem jumps. All of them tour Fort Sam Houston, meet Advance Individual Training Soldiers, and attend workshops with Army luminaries which included Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John Campbell, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler, and Gen. Robert Cone, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. These senior Army leaders and other general officers hosted the guests in suites for the game.
“Bowl week is a great public relations and partnership development effort on the part of Army leadership,” said one of this year’s VIP guests, Dr. Mickey Burnim, president of Bowie State University in Maryland.
Burnim said he thinks Army leadership is smart to engage in events like the U.S. Army All-American week.
“The Army is an attractive and viable alternative for young people looking for a way to help finance their college education,” he said. “It’s a great start on a career track that provides lots of flexibility and opportunities.”
Dr. Mark Church, superintendent of Franklin County Schools in Rocky Mount, Va., steers young people toward the Army from personal experience. His son and daughter both enlisted after graduating college.
“U.S. Army All-American Bowl week is a great opportunity for community and Army leaders to talk and build relationships,” he said. “With educators and recruiters working together, we can reach the right kids.”
Broadcast nationwide live on NBC, U.S. Army All-American Bowl reaches more than a million households. Social media exposure has grown exponentially the last few years as many of the players have Twitter and Instagram accounts that buzz on their selection day and during bowl week.
The personal outreach the Army realizes from the U.S. Army All-American Bowl began early in the fall of 2013. Each of the 100 players and 125 band musicians had a selection ceremony in their high school. The media interest in these events, and the game itself, creates months of sustained publicity for the U.S. Army brand.
“We pay a lot of money to pull this all together, and it’s important to us that the All American Bowl be productive, that we’re getting a good value for the money we invest,” Batschelet said.
Negative media perceptions about military service shape public opinion and become obstacles for recruiters. Marketing efforts like the U.S. Army All-American Bowl week and national advertising allow the Army to tell its side of the story. The information campaign is critical since such a small population of 17-24 year olds are eligible to enlist.
“In today’s youth population of 17-24 year olds about 75 percent of them are not qualified for weight, for moral issues, or for cognitive/education issues,” Batschelet said. “The propensity of these young adults to enlist is also declining.
“These are the factors that point to our desire to provide the most accurate information to a young person and their decision-influencers. We need to overcome their lack of information, their concerns, and their questions.”