High-Tech Recruiting Station Opens at Mega-Mall
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WOODBRIDGE, Va., Dec. 8, 2000 Uncle Sam needs you, and he's moving to the mall to find you.
The armed forces are stepping into the 21st century with a new approach -- high-tech recruiting stations in shopping malls. The military opened its flagship station here Dec. 5 at Potomac Mills, one of the largest and busiest shopping centers in the Washington, D.C., area.
The red-white-and-blue 'storefront' features computer kiosks and flat screen video displays. With its state-of- the-art technology, the new station takes recruiting centers into the new century in a great location, according to Carolyn Becraft, assistant secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
What counts, she said, "is 'location, location, location.'"
The Potomac Mills Recruiting Station represents a new, exciting way for the military to interact with the public, said Bernard Rostker, defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness.
"It's a way of getting people to come in and talk to our recruiters, who can convey the excitement, the thrill and the honor of serving our country," he said at the opening ceremony.
"This is a pilot," Rostker said. "If this works out, it's just the beginning. We have 30 other locations that would meet the same criteria as here. We're not going to go into them, however, until we know whether this is cost effective. The challenge now is for the recruiters to learn how to use this to the best advantage."
Anyone who's shopped at Potomac Mills will understand why Uncle Sam wants in: "I was here one Saturday," Rostker said, "and it struck me that this mall was wall-to-wall people, many of them teen-agers."
People -- 24.3 million of them in 1999, according to mall spokeswoman Michelle Ralston -- shop at the mall's 230 stores, go to movies, hang out and just browse. The nearly mile-long mall is a major area tourist attraction and also lures busloads of shoppers from across several state lines.
So when Rostker was undersecretary of the Army a while back, he asked, "Why aren't we in places like Potomac Mills?"
The response he got was that there was already a recruiting station in the area. It was across the street in a lower- rent strip mall.
"The rent was cheap for a reason," Rostker pointed out. "That's not where people go. Sports Authority wasn't across the street, it was in the mall. We have to learn how to appeal to today's youth just as Sports Authority has."
The Potomac Mills station isn't cheap, Rostker admitted. He added, though, the military needs to try different approaches to meet the recruiting challenge.
"It's all too easy to throw more recruiters and advertising dollars at the problem, but that's very expensive," he said. "The cost of the whole center here is less than a 30- second TV spot during a championship basketball game." High-visibility recruiting stations trade that kind of short-term investment for a more permanent investment, he added.
Putting recruiters in the nation's mega-malls just may be the way to go, Rostker said. There, military "sales" specialists can tell both parents and potential recruits about the skill training, travel and educational benefits available.
Recruiters can also highlight the military's intangible benefits -- discipline, esprit de corps, duty, honor and patriotism. Veteran recruiters say many young people, like Temeika Kaminsky, one of the Army's newest privates, proudly join to serve their country.
Kaminsky, 20, of Alexandria, Va., is married and has a one- year-old daughter. After her 1998 high school graduation, she worked in the e-trade banking industry. During the opening ceremony at Potomac Mills, she enlisted for four years as a signal systems support specialist, but said she plans on doing 20 years, if not more.
The Army recruit triggered a "virtual ribbon cutting" during opening ceremonies at the mall station. One touch on a kiosk computer screen and digital scissors appeared to cut a digital red, white and blue ribbon.
"The military has been part of my life since I was very little," Kaminsky said. "My mother's in the Air Force. My uncle's in the Navy. My family supports me. They want me to do what's best for my daughter and me.
"I love the idea of serving my country for a greater purpose. I want my daughter to know that there is a purpose out there for everybody. By making this decision of my own free will, I'm doing just that. I'm being the woman I'm supposed to be, and I'm showing my daughter that women are independent and strong and can do anything they want to do. Even if she wants to be president of the United States, I'm all behind it."
Kaminsky linked up with the military at a station located in a strip mall. The new high-tech station in the mall, she said, is a better spot to attract people.
"Everybody walks through the mall -- the young, the old, newcomers to the country. They're going to see this and it looks very professional. It stands out," she said.
Rostker also swore in four other recruits during the opening ceremony: Daniel Herbert, Navy; Stanley White, Air Force; Robert Siemor, Marine Corps; and William Conable, Coast Guard.