Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press featured an all too familiar front-page story–a story talking up military service as a career choice for youth.
The article was titled “Re-enlistment, recruitment on rise as soldiers seek economic stability” and while at first glance it is a look at how military enlistment has risen as a result of the dismal economic situation in Michigan, it quickly becomes obvious that the story also functions as free advertising for the military as few critical words are said about military service.
Why Join the Military? Casualties Down, Financial Benefits
The risk of death in Iraq? Not a problem:
“At the same time, the drop in casualties in Iraq has made the military seem less risky.
In 2008, 314 U.S. troops died there. It marked a significant drop from the 904 who died in 2007, 822 in 2006 and 846 in 2005.”
Still, you might be risking your life serving in the military, but it might be easier than facing the economic situation here:
“Army Spc. Alex Stewart had a choice: Roll the dice with a dismal economy or put his life on the line and extend his military commitment.
The Grand Rapids resident concluded the Army is a safer bet.
‘I want a stable life for my wife in a very shaky economy,’ Stewart said. ‘There were no other options.'”
The article follows a familiar refrain: while the military may have some risks and may disrupt your personal or family life, the lure of benefits is worth it:
“Army Maj. Joel Heath, in charge of recruitment for the Grand Rapids region, said a military hitch is a much easier sell when the market is tumbling and job losses mount.
‘They want the educational benefits the military provides. Some are seeking adventure and just to get away from Michigan,’ Heath said.
‘We are seeing quite a few individuals enlist that are in their 30s and have a family and are looking to provide a better form of stability for their family.’
‘It looks even better than it did before. I get health care, dental, a regular paycheck that you can count on,’ she said.”
Lack of Independent, Dissenting Perspectives
While reporter Ted Roelofs talked to military recruiters, service members, and recent enlistees, he made no effort to seek out independent perspectives–most strikingly those that have a critical perspective of military service. Across the country, groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, the War Resisters League, and Project YANO are organizing against military recruiting and challenging common claims made by the military, particularly around promises of benefits. These sources have reported that receiving educational benefits and enlistment benefits from the military is much more difficult than the military makes it seem. For example, one study showed that only 43% of enlistees received money from the GI Bill. Moreover, there are also local groups that have done work critical of military recruiting in the past, with both ACTIVATE and the Institute for Global Education (IGE) doing “counter-recruiting” work. Outside of Grand Rapids, Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment (FAME) out of Detroit could have provided an independent perspective on the topic.
A Common Way of Covering Military Recruiting
Unfortunately, this glowing coverage of military service as a career choice is common in the media. During the Army’s recruiting slump in 2005, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story–also by reporter Ted Roelofs–talking up the financial benefits of joining the military, in addition to similar articles over the past several years. The Press has also reported on publicity stunts done by the military to generate free media coverage, a common strategy employed by the military.
Sadly, it isn’t just the Grand Rapids Press that has covered media uncritically promoted military recruitment. WOOD TV 8, WXMI Fox 17, and WZZM 13 have all run stories that portray military service in a positive light with little mention of any negative aspects.