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Army’s new media push shines spotlight on Duke ROTC

Can you rise to the challenge?

That’s the question that welcomes visitors who find their way to the United States Army’s main Web site at www.goarmy.com. If users decide to accept this virtual challenge—by clicking through—they can find their way to a video about the Army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program that uses Duke as its backdrop.

It’s all part of a host of new digital recruiting techniques that are being used increasingly often by the Army and ROTC.

That the Army ROTC Web site currently displays a recruiting video that features two current Duke students reflects the quality of students, support and the ROTC program at the University, said Maj. Megan Mangan, Duke’s ROTC recruiting operations officer and MS I advisor.

“I think it’s a really great thing both for our program and for Duke in general to be highlighted like that, to be the school that’s chosen to show this is what Army ROTC is all about,” Mangan said. “It’s about students who are leaders, students who want to serve their country, students who are looking for something that’s bigger and better than themselves, because that’s really what Duke’s about, too.”

Sophomore Sarah Brubaker, one of the ROTC cadets shown in the video advertising ROTC through Duke alumni and faculty, said she thinks Duke was chosen for the video for its “well rounded” qualities, and because it shows recruits that they can be in ROTC and be a regular college student too.

The approximately three-minute clip includes shots of Perkins Library, von der Heyden pavilion, Hudson Hall, Main West and the East Campus Main Quadrangle.

 “I wasn’t completely sure what I was getting into when I was approached about being in the video, but I hoped I would be a part of something that will help others make decisions that are right for them,” Brubaker said. “Representing Duke was just an added bonus.”

The Army has joined in on the social networking trend by creating blogs as well as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts. Potential officer candidates can use these sites to peek into the daily life of an ordinary cadet, gather different perspectives from real soldiers more quickly than through e-mails and contact recruiters about becoming officers.

“In the past, the Army hasn’t done a lot of advertising around becoming an officer, so if you watch T.V. or look at billboards or ads in the papers or in magazines, usually they’re ads for enlisting in the Army, and so not as many people know about the ROTC college program and that’s something that the Army is looking at changing a little bit,” Mangan said.

Although the worsening economy and poor job market has contributed to a good recruiting year, the increase in numbers may also be attributed to social media ventures. The Army’s MySpace page has more than 90,000 friends.

“They’ve really kind of engaged in the Web 2.0 advertising strategy which I think is a good idea and can only lead to more information about the Army being exposed to the everyday layperson,” said senior Philip Cotter, Duke’s ROTC battalion commander.

Duke’s own numbers have gone up. This year was the ROTC program’s largest incoming freshman class in recent history.

“We’re about where we’d like to be, because our program is small enough that our cadets really have a chance to get to know each other and we can provide some really fantastic training resources for them,” Mangan said. “But we’re big enough at this point where the cadets are able to fill different leadership roles and positions and take turns leading each other.”

The Army ROTC program is also attractive because it offers a path toward recieving a commission as an officer in the U.S. Army, Army Reserve or National Guard and its offers of full tuition scholarships for qualified applicants, which is appealing to students like Brubaker.

“I’ve always been interested in ROTC and wanted to go to Duke, but I wouldn’t be able to afford to go here without the ROTC scholarship, so it kind of just worked itself out,” Brubaker said.

Although Duke was Brubaker’s top choice, that may not be the case for others. Mangan estimated that about half of ROTC students at Duke knew they wanted to attend prior to arrival. But others only knew they wanted to participate in an ROTC program and they selected a college later. Brubaker said Duke’s ROTC cadets enjoy being a part of the program and their experiences may help foster its growth.

Cotter said he recently suggested the introduction of a forum where commanders of the ROTC units at Duke—Air Force, Army and Navy—can discuss allocating resources and methods to improve recruiting and training efforts.

“I feel like the creation of that kind of joint environment will allow us to all kind of bounce ideas off of each other and become more effective organizations together both with respect to recruiting and with respect to actually training our underclassmen,” Cotter said.

Although the Army has embraced new forms of communication, the social networking push is relatively new. The Army ROTC program is still promoted mostly through high school guidance counselors and conversations with interested students. In addition, the most useful method still remains the age-old one-on-one conversation, Mangan said.

“What we’ve found to be most powerful for us is just having that honest conversation with prospective students and their parents…. When it comes right down to it, our program is not here as a recruiter,” Mangan said. “We’re here to help develop future leaders of the U.S. Army, so we want people who want to be in the program, but we’re not in the business of pulling people in or trying to recruit people in.”

Despite the development of social networking on the Web, Cotter said he thinks word of mouth is still most effective for recruiting.

“Interacting with people, talking to people are great techniques to get the word out about one of the best programs Duke has to offer,” he said.

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