FORT KNOX, KY — The U.S. Army Recruiting Command's top officer was called to testify before Congress after an investigation by the Inspector General's office determined that powerful subliminal messages were hidden within the iconic "Army Strong" recruiting song, commonly used as a background soundtrack in Army recruiting commercials and videos.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Maj. Gen. David Mann confirmed the messages were part of a top-secret joint venture between USAREC and the U.S. Army psychological-operations community, the ultimate goal of which was to secure the maximum number of new recruits into the Army while simultaneously keeping down the costs associated with enlistment bonuses and other recruiting incentives.
The investigation was launched after the IG's office received numerous unsolicited, independent complaints from soldiers who claimed they somehow lost their capacity for rational decision-making and critical analysis when viewing Army recruiting media or meeting with recruiters, and subsequently agreed to enlistment under less than favorable circumstances, forgoing most, if not all, of the incentives for which they might otherwise have been eligible.
Mann testified that the song, which debuted with the rollout of the "Army Strong" recruiting campaign in 2006, was commissioned by USAREC in advance of the planned 2007 Iraq surge, in order to enable the Army to meet anticipated manpower needs at a time when many recruiting offices nationwide were having difficulty reaching their enlistment goals.
"When I first heard that song, I was just overcome with this feeling like, 'Oh man, I so gotta join the Army!'" said Staff Sgt. Matthew Burns, an infantry squad leader who enlisted in 2006 and began his first deployment to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division mere months out of basic training. "When I went to my recruiter, that song was playing in the office, and I couldn't sign that contract fast enough. Even to this day, whenever I hear it, for some reason it makes me want to go find my battalion retention NCO. It's a pretty epic song."
The subliminal messages, which were designed by PSYOP teams working at the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Ft. Bragg, N.C., were engineered to impede certain higher brain functions; specifically, the ability to resist coercive pressure and perform simple cost-benefit comparisons.
In laboratory tests, subjects exposed to the song were over 30 times more likely than the control group to agree to a range of absurd propositions, such as offers to go chuteless skydiving, engage in intimate relationships with various types of poisonous insects, and serve as human pop-up targets on live-fire rifle ranges.
Initial real-world findings showed that recruiting offices which regularly played the song for prospective enlistees reported a sign-up rate 850 percent higher than those that did not. The song has also proven to be a useful retention tool in maintaining force levels in undesirable career fields and duty stations.
Duffel Blog spoke with one senior recruiting NCO on condition of anonymity, who called the song a "godsend."
"It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," said the recruiter. "Back during the 'Army of One' days, we were having to offer people $30,000 bonuses just to enlist for three years. Then these new 'Army Strong' commercials started playing all over the place, and before we knew it, people were walking in right off the street. They'd sign on the line for infantry, with four- to six-year contracts, and we'd process them through MEPS and ship them to 30th AG that same week. No bonuses, no student loan repayment, nothing. In that first year, our office alone saved the Army over $3 million in incentives."
The Armed Services Committee is scheduled to continue hearings through the end of the week, although proceedings were unexpectedly delayed when committee member Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) had to be removed by congressional pages from a D.C.-area recruiter's office where, after having heard the song, he was trying to sign an indefinite needs-of-the-Army enlistment contract.