Why Two Years?

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the whole “Alternative Service Option” debacle is the Army’s blatant disregard for the Department of Defense policy that defines the terms for service* academy graduates to pursue opportunities in professional sports. The DoD policy requires graduates to spend at least two years on active duty before even being allowed to ask permission to play professionally. The Army has circumvented this by redefining “active duty” to include pretty much anything. If you believe the spokes-colonel that West Point trotted out to recite the talking points for the E:60 piece on the subject, that could mean playing in the NFL, playing minor league baseball, or singing on American Idol. The Army has exploited a loophole. This great American institution that has valued honor above all else throughout its history has chosen to ignore the spirit of a DoD order by utilizing a technicality. It’s shameful.

But doesn’t the DoD policy itself say that putting players in the NFL is good for PR and recruiting? That’s how people who defend the Army policy would read it, but that’s not what it actually says:

Exceptional personnel with unique talents and abilities may be released from active duty when there is a strong expectation they will provide the Department with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national recruiting or public affairs efforts.

May be released from active duty, and only when there is a strong expectation of enhancing recruiting and public affairs efforts… Not because it will enhance recruiting and public affairs efforts. In other words, putting officers into the NFL isn’t inherently good for PR, and the decision to do so should be handled on a case-by-case basis. Army’s “Alternative Service (lol) Option” operates on a different assumption.

So when, then, does the DoD think there is a recruiting or PR benefit? Good question, and it brings us to why there is a two year active duty requirement. Supporters of Army’s policy like to point to Chad Hennings, David Robinson, and Roger Staubach as examples of the great PR that pro sports can bring to the Armed Forces. But those three players actually served– and by serve, I mean in a capacity other than as a recruiter on offseason Tuesdays. Hennings spent four years as a pilot and flew missions in Iraq. Robinson spent two years in the Navy’s Civil Engineering Corps. Staubach served for four years, including a tour in Vietnam, before he played a single down for the Cowboys. That’s why they were good publicity. By actually showing that even the pampered and glorious life of a professional athlete was worth putting on hold for the sake of the same jobs that rank & file servicemen perform, they raised the profile of the those rank & file jobs in the eyes of the American public. By allowing Campbell to eschew those jobs in favor of the NFL, the Army does the opposite. They become no different than any other job that someone would give up in order to play in the NFL.

The only marketing benefit that the Army receives from putting Campbell into the NFL is an increased awareness that the Army exists, as if there’s anyone who doesn’t already know that. That doesn’t do the Army any good. What the American people aren’t aware of, and what the Army would really benefit from if they were, is the actual nature of service– what life is like, the wide variety of careers available, etc. The most credible people to tell this story are the people who have done it. Hell, the Army already knows this. Just go to their own official recruiting site. The first thing you see is a video described thusly:

Explore over 150 different careers you can train for and find out from real Soldiers what it’s like to be a Soldier in the U.S. Army.

Clearly, the argument that Campbell would be good for recruiting contradicts the Army’s own methods, since no part-time Tuesday recruiter and football player can tell anyone “what it’s like to be a Soldier in the U.S. Army.” There is only one group that could potentially see recruiting benefits from Campbell being in the NFL: the West Point football team. That’s the Army’s true motive behind their policy. If the Army football team was going 9-3 instead of 3-9 every year, I doubt we’d hear about how much we need this “good PR.” Ask yourself this: what is the most likely place that this “Alternative Service Option” idea was hatched? At the Army’s recruiting command? Or in one of the “expert” panels that West Point put together to improve the football program? Deep down, I think we all know the answer.

Besides, what exactly is the benefit behind this “good PR?” There’s no doubt that Campbell carried himself well at the draft, and seeing him get applauded certainly gave everyone a warm and fuzzy feeling. But doesn’t that applause demonstrate how highly the American public already thinks of its servicemembers? We have holidays to honor them, people put bumper stickers on their cars about supporting them, and spontaneous applause for uniformed personnel is by no means rare when they’re seen walking through an airport. Serving in the Army is already considered honorable and held in high esteem by the mainstream. The Army doesn’t need good PR about the idea of service. They already have that. What they need is good PR about the actual work that its members perform; to break the various misconceptions that people have about what they’d be in store for if they signed up. The Air Force got that kind of PR when broadcasters talked about how cool it was that Chad Hennings flew A-10s in combat. The Army gets nothing of the sort from Campbell, nor from those who will follow in his footsteps.

There is another reason that the DoD policy requires two years of active duty service. One of the conditions for a selected player’s reserve service is that he will:

4. Be assigned to a Selected Reserve unit and meet normal retention requirements based on minimum participation standards per Title 10, United States Code, Section 10147, and be subject to immediate, involuntary recall for any reason to complete the period of active duty from which early release was granted.

If someone is being recalled, there’s a good chance that he’s needed as part of an armed conflict. That’s the difference between recruiting and other non-combat roles. Things like medical and supply directly support the front lines. Recruiters do not. In requiring applicants to have at least two years of active duty service, the DoD ensures that they are trained in something that can support those engaged in the conflict. By spending two years of “active duty” as a recruiter without having any other training or experience, officers that are part of the Army’s policy are basically useless in the event of a recall.

By the way, here’s the referenced section of the U.S. Code:

Except as specifically provided in regulations to be
prescribed by the Secretary of Defense, or by the Secretary of
Homeland Security with respect to the Coast Guard when it is not
operating as a service in the Navy, each person who is enlisted,
nducted, or appointed in an armed force, and who becomes a member
of the Ready Reserve under any provision of law except section 513
or 10145(b) of this title, shall be required, while in the Ready
Reserve, to –
        (1) participate in at least 48 scheduled drills or training
      periods during each year and serve on active duty for training of
      not less than 14 days (exclusive of traveltime) during each year;
      or
        (2) serve on active duty for training not more than 30 days
      during each year.

If the story in USA Today is correct– that “he’ll serve as a recruiter, spending his Tuesday off days from the Lions visiting high schools and working”– then what the Army is calling Campbell’s active duty doesn’t even meet the U.S. Code’s requirement for the reserves.

The two year requirement for active duty– real active duty– is there for a reason. The Army’s redefining of active duty to include professional sports, when the Department of Defense clearly distinguishes the two, is deplorable. For the Army to claim that it’s being done for its own good is disingenuous at best, dishonorable at worst.

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11 Responses

  1. Thanks for the detailed investigative reporting! Can you imagine sports players roaming the halls of a service academy, knowing they’ll probably be drafted or signed? Do you think they’d follow orders of upperclassmen, or adheare to time-honored traditions? Will their peers, who witness their actions, find their morale increased by a good football team or poll rankings or decreased by the definite establishment of a deep seated double standard? Bird, good point with the Staubach, Henning and Robinson examples of selflessly serving before playing. In a recent interview, Staubach himself stated if this policy was around back then, he would have thought about it. Would he have had the same moral and morale impact that he has now?

  2. the bird is the word

  3. (is that the first time that’s been said on this blog?)

  4. I’m pretty sure you have the honor.

  5. sweet…what’s mine say? (or is that too obscure a reference?)

  6. dude…what’s mine say?

  7. good post birddog.

  8. disclaimer: no knowledge base to base this opinion on…

    I would think doing two years active would allow time for specialty training to open, specialty training to take place, and a small amount of experience to be earned prior to assuming six years of reserve service. That would allow the member, if called up, to have requisite training complete so they would be more detailable as a reservist.

    To take your commission with no MOS/branch/desig training, and then work two years recruiting (which, I think will be more in advertising vice marketing and sales), what “value” do you have when you convert your next three years to six as a reservist, especially, if there was a need for a call up? With no specialty (other than public speaking), your first assignment would have to be to get trained. Not really a “ready” reserve.

  9. wow – 86 with the catch! i thought you were old or something :D

  10. TBD,
    A well written post & excellent presentation of the facts of the matter. One of my younger brothers, … who is a USMA grad (and ardent Army football fan) started to make mealy-mouthed excuses for WP … until I forwared this to him, and then he admitted he was completely unaware of what the new policy really said/did.
    So how much did you end up “accumulating” for your MOD walk this past w/e?

    GO NAVY!!!

  11. A last-minute donation put me at over $700, and my team at $8000. Pretty good for a 10-member team, I say. I’m still amazed that so many readers of this site could be so generous.

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