Hannah K. Gold -
For decades, the US military has been using souped-up mobile exhibits to recruit prospective soldiers. In July of this year, the military deployed the latest addition to a fleetthat roves the country hoping to win the hearts and minds of American youth. The new vehicle, known as the Extreme Truck, is equipped with two 32-inch gaming stations, a 60-inch flat-screen television, several smaller TVs, and pull-up and push-up platforms. It has its own Facebook page, which, at press time, has been liked 111 times.
According to Mobile Exhibit Company commander Captain Korneliya Waters, who recently talked to Recruiter Journal, the Extreme Truck is "a symbol of independence and power." Her description reminded me of the jacket Nicolas Cage wears in Wild at Heart, which, for him, "represents a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom." Except the Extreme Truck is funded by tax dollars and designed to assist in contractually binding young people to America's wars.
Recruiting vehicles have been around in some form or another since 1936, when the government established the US Army Accessions Support Brigade, the only department of the Army dedicated exclusively to marketing (the MEC falls under its purview). Three years later, the secretary of the Army sent a team of soldiers to operate a high-profile mobile exhibit at the New York World's Fair.
An artist's rendering of Army mascot GI Johnny. Photo by Michael Bühler-Rose
The military expanded its marketing efforts dramatically in the 1970s, when it lost unfettered access to new recruits after the draft was repealed. In 1973, the year the all-volunteer force was instituted, the Army launched its first successful campaign-"Join the People Who've Joined the Army"-with the help of advertising agency N. W. Ayer & Son. In 1991, Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced plans to expand the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps-a program that instructs high school students in basic training skills-to 3,500 units in five years' time. Thanks to anti-recruitment activism, the plan slowed significantly. Today, JROTC units, which are filled with MEC vehicles and exhibits, are about to reach that goal. And as Sam Diener, a visiting professor of peace studies at Clark University, notes, "Both the ROTC and the military recruiting trucks are ways in which youth in the United States are militarized."