VR goggles and an Amazon-like recruiting website: Inside the next generation rebrand of the US Army

"We Stand Ready"

The Army has been taking "new year, new me" to the next level.

There seems to be a massive rebrand underway; In addition to the Army bringing back it's snazzy-as-hell Army Greens, they're developing new commercials and a new GoArmy website, according to Col. John Oliver, the Army Marketing & Research Group's deputy director.

Different from say, the Marine Corps, the Army's advertising campaigns haven't been as consistent in the messaging.

"The Marines' advertising works for the Marines, because they have a very specific mission set and a very specific service and a very specific need for how they recruit," Oliver said. "Our advertising has to work for our service. … If we don't take what they Army is and communicate it in a way that speaks to each generation, in a way that they want to be spoken to, then we're just never going to get there with our recruiting mission."

All of this has to be done in a way that speaks to the Army's three core target groups: Potential soldiers, influencers, and the internal Army. The problem is, those three groups all want to see something different.

In previous advertising campaigns, the Army focused on the different career paths in the Army, honing in on the STEM field, and even advertising the bonuses available to soldiers. This tested well with influencers and potential soldiers, but current soldiers weren't interested.

But senior leaders said they wanted fewer "guys in lab coats," and a little more action, Oliver told Task & Purpose. Then came the current Warriors Wanted campaign — fast-paced, combat-heavy commercials that Oliver said tested really well with the internal Army, though they were "turning moms off a little bit."

Now, senior leaders say they want to go back to advertising the other non-combat jobs the Army has to offer.

Army Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, told Task & Purpose in May during an event in New Hampshire that the Army is undergoing "a renaissance," and "coming out of the industrial age of recruiting into the digital age."

One of the easiest ways to see that is the #InOurBoots campaign — a 100% digital and social campaign that uses virtual reality to put potential recruits in the (virtual) boots of a real soldier.

Task & Purpose got the chance to test out some VR goggles that dropped me into the boots of 2nd Lt. Charlotte Levine, a platoon leader and one of the first female tank commanders in the U.S. Army. When wearing the headset, it's like you're standing in her M1 Abrams tank — you can look to your right and left, and see two other tanks firing.

Eventually, the goal is to have a VR experience for every career track in the Army, Oliver said, so recruits can get a better idea of what it would be like to be in the job they want.

In our Boots: Tank Commander www.youtube.com

Recently, the Army has switched over to a new marketing firm, DDB Chicago, which Oliver says is "full of energy" and packed with ideas on how to develop the Army's image. And while he couldn't disclose everything DDB was working on — "we want some things to remain a surprise" — they're looking at capitalizing on pop culture phenomenons, like superhero movies.

"It's something that we think will resonate, because these are things that are really popular," Oliver said. "The Avengers: Endgame was like, second most-valuable movie ever, right? So if we can capitalize on things that are already going on in America, and become a part of that conversation, then maybe the message will resonate a little bit more."

There will also be a complete overhaul of the Go Army website in the next year — think Amazon suggestions, but for the Army. Oliver said they want to have an algorithm that picks up the kinds of things you're interested in, and displays them on GoArmy.com.

For example, if you've been googling for financial aid and scholarships for college, the ideal GoArmy.com home page would display financial assistance available to a potential recruit.

In the short-term, DDB is going to be evolving the Warriors Wanted campaign, and growing it to show things like off-duty time, family life, and other aspects of the military. Oliver said there will be a new campaign out later next year.

In May, then-Army Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Task & Purpose that the challenge with marketing for the service is that soldiers do so many different things, it's difficult to capture everything in such a short few minutes.

"In the deepest peril in the history of our country, the Army stepped up and dealt with all those challenges. So to serve in the institution, you are the last defenders of everything we hold dear," McCarthy said. "There's a variety of options and things that can be done because there's really not much that isn't asked of us."

SEE ALSO: This 1980s Army Commercial Is The Hottest Thing To Come Out Of The Cold War

WATCH NEXT: Army Recruiting Commercial: "Honor"

The Defense Department just took a major step towards making the dream of a flying drone carrier a reality.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's air-launched and recoverable X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle finally conducted a maiden flight in November 2019, Gremlin contractor Dynetics announced on Friday.

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Photo: U.S. Army/Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery

The Department of Veterans Affairs' Inspector General pushed back against Secretary Robert Wilkie last week, after Wilkie called an allegation of sexual assault in a D.C. facility "unsubstantiated."

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Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.

However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:

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Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.

On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.

In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.

Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.

The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.

There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.

At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects. Not surprising then that Pentagon bureaucrats and Washington political operators are regarded with skepticism throughout the movie.

When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.

Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)

As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.

In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.

"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.

"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."

The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.

There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.

The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.

Protesters and militia fighters gather to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces), outside the main gate of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2019. (Reuters/Thaier al-Sudani)

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"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

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