Military Recruiting: Be All That YouTube Can Be

A film clip entitled "Vanguards" and posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube opens with a view of Earth spinning in outer space.

From there, the camera rapidly zooms in through computer-generated clouds, and into a tent where an officer stands in front of a cutting-edge video display and briefs a team of fictional, futuristic American soldiers.

The next six minutes include what you'd expect to find in any Hollywood action movie: lots of explosions, high-tech gadgets and heroism.

The video was created by the U.S. Army and is part of a broader plan to use the Internet, and YouTube in particular, to recruit young people. Trying to win hearts and minds in the age of Web 2.0. It's probably not such a stretch. The Army needs young people, and it has always taken some convincing.

The Army says its future plans for the site include fewer scripted clips and more reality programming. We hear "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett could use some more work.

Soldiers, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, will soon be able to post homemade videos depicting "real slices of life," said Louise Eaton in the advertising division of the Army's Accession Command.

The Army already has a special page, or "channel," on YouTube, and plans to launch its new platform no later than June. Once the platform is operational, soldiers will be able to send their clips to the Army for posting, but videos will "only go on the site with [the Army's] blessing," Eaton said.

Eaton said that though the Army would "exercise a filter function," the videos posted to YouTube "are not propaganda." They are instead, she said, an effort by the military to "participate in the YouTube community" and counter some of the "misrepresentations" of the Army and Army life already found on the Web.

YouTube is full of videos opposed to the Iraq War and the U.S. military. Quite a few videos, created by American soldiers themselves, depict U.S. forces abusing and taunting Iraqi civilians.

The Army wants to counter those videos with its own. "People don't have a realistic vision of what soldier life is like and the best person to give them that is a soldier. … It would be criminal if only the bad side was out there," Eaton said.

But for activists who oppose military recruiting efforts, the Army's use of YouTube is a "natural next step" in what they see as an insidious barrage across all forms of American media to inculcate and recruit young people.

The military leaves "no stone left unturned when it comes to getting into the hearts and minds of young people," said Oskar Castro of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker anti-war group.

Citing Army advertising in films, video games, magazines and on other Web sites aimed at young people, including the social networking site MySpace, Castro said, "the military has been taking advantage of Madison Avenue trends for 25 to 30 years."

He said that military ads were filled with "misrepresentations and lies" about the military, and that they preyed on young people who had been raised on militaristic myths.

YouTube was contacted by but would not comment on its relationship with the military.

Other branches of the military, including the Navy and Coast Guard, also operate "channels" on the site. Any individual or organization can open a channel on the site free of charge.