The Washington Times
Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Army has launched a campaign geared toward attracting the next generation of officers. The unique program is designed to fulfill the needs of post Sept. 11 American armed forces and appeal to recent college graduates. One ad in this program features successful Americans, such as of 7-Eleven Chief Executive Officer Joseph DePinto, who honed his leadership skills at West Point. The message of the ad is that leadership skills acquired during military service are valuable in the civilian world as well.

In 1987, when “Be all you can be” was the Army motto, Tuskegee University sophomore Lynn W. Ray responded to the call. The youngest of six in a household headed by a single-mother household, she was a full-time student with a full-time job whose financial aid was no longer sufficient to keep her in school.

The ad campaign emphasized the offer of college tuition through the GI Bill and a chance to “see the world” - the two goals highest on her wish list. In September 1987, the 20-year-old from Philadelphia enlisted and began a journey of achievement and success that has taken her to the rank of major.

That path also has led to a starring role in the Army’s newest recruitment program, designed to encourage young, ambitious and adventurous Americans to consider making the same choice Maj. Ray made decades ago.

The career officer, who is attending the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., is featured on the Army’s Web site promoting the Officership Program: This program aims to educate college graduates about the four paths to becoming an officer in the Army.

Maj. Ray transitioned from the enlisted ranks to officer through Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., in June 1996. On the Web site she explains the necessary qualifications, training, time involved, and the benefits of completing the course. She says she went from being an “actor to being a director” and has relished the ability to have “more responsibility and more impact on the lives” of her soldiers.

The other three routes to officership, as explained in the ad campaign and Web site, are a direct commission, ReserveOfficer Training Corps, and West Point.

The official kickoff of the recruitment drive is Sept. 16 at Temple University in Philadelphia. During the following eight weeks, campaign members will travel to Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, and Hato Rey in Puerto Rico. These are cities where the Army has established grass-roots recruiting programs.

The ad campaign, which features the voice of actor Gary Sinise, began airing Aug. 3. One ad features an array of Army officers from George Washington to Colin L. Powell. “Officers in the U.S. Army can rise to any challenge. Can you?” the ad asks. The campaign seeks to inspire patriotism, creativity and daring. The target audience includes those who may never have considered a military career.

Every city will feature a panel discussion for college students. The students will have an opportunity to listen to and ask questions of Army officers. In some cities, such as Philadelphia, this will be followed by an “influencer information session” for guidance counselors, principals and others who have influence over high school students.

The Army has added more than 50,000 troops to its ranks since 2005. In July, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said it would add another 22,000 to the active-duty force in order to keep up with the “persistent pace of operations” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though recruiting goals have been met for the most part, there still is a need for highly trained officers to lead the troops.

Maj. Ray completed her bachelor’s degree while on active duty at Fort Bragg, N.C. She then completed a master’s degree in public administration from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. Her current studies in Kansas will add more postgraduate credits to her resume.

Maj. Ray, the first in her family to join the Army, is a prototype of the kind of person the Army hopes to recruit. The enterprising officer says her mother is her biggest fan and her older brothers and sisters are delighted to see “baby sis” on TV.

Linda Bartlett is a writer in Annandale. Her husband is a retired Army colonel.

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