BY Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr. – There is an effort underway in Congress to prohibit the U.S. military from sponsoring professional motorsports as part of military recruiting.
On the surface, this may seem like a good idea in the face of current fiscal challenges. But a closer look reveals that such a ban would provide no real savings and only serve to hinder Defense Department efforts to reach the most qualified potential recruits.
Recruiting for our all-volunteer force isn’t what it used to be. Only one in every four young people is even eligible to join. And television advertising no longer carries the payoff it once did. Today, you have to know how smart, fit young people think, where they live and play, and go to them.
The Army National Guard learned these lessons a few years ago. Traditional recruiting approaches no longer worked and our troop strength was shrinking. So we abandoned convention and focused our limited resources on an innovative marketing mix that linked recruiting messages to popular musicians and motorsports.
It was a bold move, but it paid off. Recruiting steadily improved, both in terms of the quantity and quality of the applicants. Today, the Army National Guard has the fittest, most intelligent force in its history. Other military services noticed and have taken similar approaches.
The link between military recruiting and motorsports is temporary. The results prove it’s a match that works today. It may not in the future when other approaches may provide a better payoff. And that’s the point.
We applaud lawmakers like Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and Rep. Barbara McCollum, D-Minn., for asking tough questions about how and where scarce defense dollars are spent. But we believe military marketing experts should evaluate return on investment and determine without restriction where best to put increasingly scarce recruiting dollars.
Retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr. is the association president for The National Guard Association of the United States