U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cristian L. Ricardo

Connecting with future Marines

Nearly 700 Marines descended upon Detroit this week. Despite the impressive showing of the military vehicles and aircraft during Marine Week, the main goal was to connect with youth, families, community members and leaders.

“It’s a wonderful mission to be out in the neighborhoods of America and meet with people and explain to them what our value is to them, in their national defense, and also to the development of their youth and the quality citizens that we bring back,” said Lt. Col. John Caldwell, national director of Marketing and Communications for Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

Marine Week is not a recruiting effort. It is designed to directly connect Americans with their Marine Corps, as well as recognize the contributions of the United States Marine Corps. “There are a lot of unique activities that we are doing this week,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to be in some interesting spaces that you wouldn’t expect us: in the arts community, the food community and the music community.”

Featured are a drumline competition, a food competition in the Eastern Market and a photo competition in the African American Museum. “What we are trying to do is show that we have these occupational fields within the Marine Corps as well,” he said. “We have photographers. We have cooks. We have musicians. So it’s not just about guns, tanks, planes, and that kind of business.”

The Marine Corps does not add recruiters to the area after the event. What the event does is give the recruiters a broader set of stories to tell than what they normally have. They can talk to the students about joining the Marines and being a musician, photographer or cook. Marine wrestlers, Marine basketball players, Marine martial arts instructors, and the Silent Drill Team add more chapters for potential Marine recruits to choose from.

Recruiters will be visiting more than 20 schools in the Detroit area this next week. The leadership talks and workout activities, along with the static military equipment displays, Marine Air-Ground Task Force show, and Marine Corps traditions seen and experienced by students during Marine Week bring a heightened level of interest from the students. It also gives the community and youth leaders, who Caldwell refers to as “influencers,” some concrete knowledge about what the Marine Corps has to offer the young people they mentor.

Caldwell, a mustang Marine with more than 24 years on active duty, says that Marine Week is a long game. “The value of Marine Week is the long term,” he said. “It is about establishing relationships that you continue for long term advocacy with influencers, and also for planting seeds of interest in prospect youth. If we did not come in force and introduce the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and Marines themselves, who explain who we are and what we do in very personal terms, the 99 percent of the population that doesn’t serve would never know. “

Caldwell is in his third tour as a recruiting supporting officer, and would not still be in if he didn’t love what he was doing. The lieutenant colonel thinks the Marine Corps has the right model for recruiting, with a very competitive process for selecting recruiters. Recruiting station commanding officers are all board selected for command, and there is an intense vetting for the recruiters that come out.

“We train them for success, we hold them accountable, and we have a disciplined, systematic approach. But we are also constantly learning,” Caldwell said. “That steady investment of personnel and resources is what truly makes a difference. The main reason that we’ve maintained our success, I believe, is because we gained and maintained contact with the communities. We’ve never left. We have never tried little tricks like Kiosk type recruiting, because we understand it’s a very personal business.”

The Marine Corps puts a significant amount of investment into advertising and marketing. According to Caldwell, it is all to drive people to a kneecap-to-kneecap discussion. Just as Marine Week is about connecting with people, so is Marine Corps recruiting.

“When you sit down with a kid and ask, ‘What is it that you’re interested in?’ It starts a conversation,” said Caldwell, “and starts a relationship that, for a lot of people, lasts a lifetime.”