PHOENIX — Valley parents may notice a surge in Army recruiting this summer, especially through teens' social media and online gaming.
The Army has poured recruiters and resources into Phoenix and several other large cities as part of a new strategy to significantly increase recruitment. Lieutenant Colonel Scott Morley arrived in Phoenix last year to spearhead the effort.
In a state covered in military bases, it should be an easy sell, but it's not. Last year, the Army missed its recruiting target nationwide.
"We're doing better this year," Morley said.
His recruiting office is responsible for all of Arizona and northern New Mexico. They calculate recruiting is up 10 percent in 2019. With a goal of 2,900 enlistments, they already have 1,800.
In order to get more people to sign up, the Army is trying new marketing strategies, including rapping recruiters, "virtual" teams interacting on social media, and ads embedded in online games and streaming music services.
"Kids now use Call of Duty, or World of Warcraft, or whatever, so how do you get that kid's synapse to fire to think that 'Could I do [a job in the Army] for a living?'" Morley asked.
The Army also released a series of commercials in the last year advertising "Warriors Wanted." The action-packed spots have soldiers using high-powered weapons and equipment in simulated combat zones. Critics have complained the ads sanitize war because they do not show enemy troops, return fire or injuries.
"It's really not my place to judge," Morley said. "If kids listen to it, the end justifies the means."
The "ends" is the plan is to grow the Army to 500,000 soldiers. Morley explained the challenge: less than 30 percent of youth meet the Army's minimum standards and only one percent enlist. Most enlistees come from families with histories of military service. Morley said the hardest slots to fill are in the infantry, especially people who may join the special forces someday.
"The kids I think excel in these environments are athletes," Morley said. "It's the hard work, it's the sacrifice, it's the perseverance, the endurance."
Concerned moms and dads sometimes push back. They worry their kids will come back with post-traumatic stress disorder, missing limbs, thoughts of suicide, or not come back at all.
"They see all that's in the media, what's in the news," Morley said.
At the same time, Morley, an Army Ranger and Green Beret, holds himself up as an example of the Army's benefits. He explained his travel to foreign countries, humanitarian work, and college degrees.
"It's a good life," he said.