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What is "The Army Experience?"

By       Message Richmond Shreve     Permalink
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There is nothing secret about the Army Experience Center or the video game America's Army. You can check both out in depth by visiting the preceding links. The Army's aim in these offerings is for visitors to feel and see what army life is like. Army equipment presented in bloodless but otherwise realistic simulations lets folks engage in a virtual experience of some of the battle activities the men and women of the US Army perform. Teams of career army personnel, dressed not in imposing uniforms but polo shirts, welcome visitors and give them a chance to hear about Army life from people who are living it. Visitors get to "feel and see the Army in a non-threatening environment" as one spokesman puts it. There is abundant information about career paths, educational benefits, and other matters that someone considering enlistment would value.

The motives behind the center are not evil and the stated intent is transparency as this quote from Army web pages declares: "Everything's transparent. We don't want to fuel the misconception that once our Soldiers tell their great Army stories, we drag kids behind a 'black curtain' and they come out enlisted," Dillard said. "We have nothing to hide. If someone wants to know more about the Army, great. If not, at the very least we will have changed their perception of the Army. The Army is a great deal and people just don't understand that."

The controversy over the AEC and the America's Army video games arises from the notion that these virtual reality experiences are available to those too young to be eligible for recruitment, and from the positioning of realistic war activities and equipment as an amusement. In the real world any vet will affirm that war is not amusing, and it certainly is not child's play.

The Army used state-of-the-art marketing research and promotional techniques to design this innovative "outreach" program. If we want an educated volunteer military, the armed services must compete with all of the civilian careers that are available to young people. It isn't an easy sell. When one enlists one gives up certain privileges that civilians enjoy. A military person agrees to live where he or she is told, dress in specific ways, behave in very specific ways, follow orders without discussion, and be placed in harm's way when the mission requires it. You don't get to quit if you don't like your job or your boss. The job is not just 40 hours and 5 days a week. There is no overtime pay. All of this is what you sign on for. In return you get education and training, challenging and interesting work, and health and retirement benefits that are excellent. You may, after 20 years, receive a pension when you are still young enough to enjoy it. But you also face real dangers.

There are some pacifists who would like to prevent anyone from enlisting. It's not reasonable to believe that peace can be secured by unilaterally disbanding our military. But it is also not reasonable to package military service as fun and games. Our men and women in the armed forces are real heroes and they make sacrifices daily so that the rest of us can remain safe and free. The Army Experience Center and the America's Army virtual reality games should be rethought so that they don't suggest that a military career isn't dangerous. Military service always involves personal sacrifice and sometimes ends in grievous injuries and death. That is why it's patriotic service and not just a cool job.


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Richmond Shreve is a retired business executive whose careers began in electronics (USN) and broadcasting in the 1960s. Over the years he has maintained a hobby interest in amateur radio, and the audio-visual arts while working in sales and (more...)

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