Opinions and Commentary

There’s Fun and Then There’s Army Fun


PUBLICATION: Goldendale Sentinel, WA print edition

Rachel Cavanaugh

Watching the U.S. Army’s recruitment video on their website is really, really fun.

I discovered this yesterday, after hearing a blurb on the radio about a new military fun center to open soon in Florida.

“Army fun center?” I thought. “Hmm.” Being raised more conventionally on places like Six Flags, I found the nomenclature a bit confusing, so I decided to probe further. What I found was indeed exciting.

Aside from smoking tanks, skydiving clips, and miles and miles of sprawling, rogue landscape, there are music-filled videos, live chat rooms, discussion boards, virtual guides, and free iPOD downloads—not to mention a bunch of hunky guys and gals in uniform. Ten minutes on that site and I was looking for the dotted line. Take me! Take me!

OK, I’m being sarcastic. But frankly, the Army does look like fun from a distance.

The fact that military strategists use game-based marketing to bring kids into service is nothing new. To be fair, they have an operation to run with many lives depending on sufficient recruitment numbers. Some would argue the lives of everyday citizens, along with certain freedoms, depend on it.

Nevertheless, as the U.S. death toll in Iraq climbs daily (4,155 as of Monday), these hyped-up images seem rather disrespectful.

In January, the Army announced a goal of 80,000 new active recruits and 26,500 reservists for 2008. Last year, they reported 170,000 new recruits in the Army, Reserve, and National Guard.

Let me interject with a quick story: Four years ago, I was sent to cover a deployment near Bozeman, Montana. The war has just begun and I arrived, camera in hand, ready for action. I found myself quickly drawn to a young couple, each about 19 years old. They were holding each other and she was crying.

As he stroked her hair and tried to calm her, he looked out past her and there was this gaze in his eyes I still find difficult to put to words. It was a combination of sadness, fear, and confusion—as if it was just dawning on him that he was actually going to war. Watching his expression growing more terrified was, for me, the first time the human impact of the war became real. It is truly chilling to witness a young man realize he might die.

We all have our own opinions about Iraq, foreign policy, patriotism, and self-sacrifice, but it is critical we come together on certain issues. In my opinion, that must include preparing our troops and their families for what lies ahead of them.

We must explain that, if they choose to serve, they will have to do things they may not be prepared for and, contrary to what the recruiting office may have alluded, it is not going to be like a round of Capture the Flag.

That realization should be clear from the start, not taking place on a tarmac or at a bus station, hugging one’s girlfriend or wife.

So how does this relate specifically to Klickitat County?

We have a great ability to affect change, more so than many other regions. In terms of population, we are small and rural which is a constituency that recruiters count on for political support. If just a small portion of Klickitat County residents called, emailed, or wrote a letter to the state’s recruiting headquarters, it would have an enormous impact/

I am certain 100 letters from Goldendale, Bickleton, Klickitat, Glenwood, Lyle, Dallesport, Wishram, Bingen, and White Salmon, would hold far more weight than 1,000 or even 10,000 from Seattle or Olympia.

As this war continues, let’s come together as a community and set some ground rules for what we will and won’t tolerate from our military recruiters. It is a matter of respect to our veterans and troops who serve bravely, and the people back home who love them.

This article was originally published in the Goldendale Sentinel newspaper. Goldendale, Washington.