The US Army is an organization that cares about its public image. It has to, since an all-volunteer force has to be in the business of attracting fresh volunteers.
For many years the Army has stuck with the familiar "Be all you can be" theme - implying it was a place where young people could develop their talents and be appreciated, glaring drill sergeants aside. For a lot of Americans in their teens and early 20s, particularly those not inclined to go to college, this come-on seemed to work.
But a low-unemployment economy has given young people many more appealing options than life in a regimented, albeit "self-actualizing" Army. In 1998 and 1999, the service missed its recruiting goals. Last year it barely met its goal of 80,000 enlistees.
Army planners believe more was at work than the economy in this trend. Youths have become even more individualistic and impatient for self-realization. Being part of a team had to give way, even more, to being yourself.
And so the new slogan is "An Army of One."
Top recruiting brass assure us there's nothing mystical in this. The Army itself is still bigger than each individual recruit, true. But the strength of the individual recruit is the foundation of the whole force. Selfless service - i.e., obeying orders without question - is still the ethic, but individuality is appreciated. To a point at least (drill sergeants won't go away). The Army should take care that its new-style pitch is not too out of tune with an old-style military culture.
The Army's difficulty in recruitment bears watching. Finding good people could prove as big a challenge as fending off a rogue missile.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society