Nothing like a combination of video games and abject poverty to entice people into signing their lives away
The U.S. Army, struggling to ensure it has enough manpower as it fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is wooing young Americans with video games, Google maps and simulated attacks on enemy positions from an Apache helicopter.
Departing from the recruiting environment of metal tables and uniformed soldiers in a drab military building, the Army has invested $12 million in a facility that looks like a cross between a hotel lobby and a video arcade.
The U.S. Army Experience Center at the Franklin Mills shopping mall in northeast Philadelphia has 60 personal computers loaded with military video games, 19 Xbox 360 video game controllers and a series of interactive screens describing military bases and career options in great detail.
Potential recruits can hang out on couches and listen to rock music that fills the space.
The center is the first of its kind and opened in August as part of a two-year experiment. So far, it has signed up 33 full-time soldiers and five reservists -- roughly matching the performance of five traditional recruiting centers it replaced.
The U.S. military says it has been meeting or exceeding its recruiting and retention goals, with 185,000 men and women entering active-duty military service in the fiscal year that ended on September 30 -- the highest number since 2003.
Defense officials say the recession and rising unemployment were likely to boost recruiting.