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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.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageBernard Rostker (far right), defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, swears in five new recruits at the military's new recruiting station at Potomac Mills, a mega-mall in Woodbridge, Va. Taking the oath Dec. 5, 2000, are William Conable (from the left), Coast Guard; Stanley White, Air Force; Robert Siemor, Marine Corps; Daniel Herbert, Navy; and Temeika Kaminsky, Army. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageBernard Rostker (from right), defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, talks with Maj. Gen. Garry L. Parks, commander of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, and other Marine recruiters Dec. 5, 2000, at the opening of the military's new Potomac Mills Recruiting Station in Woodbridge, Va. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. 1st Class Charles Pulliam checks out a computer kiosk at the military's new Potomac Mills Recruiting Station in Woodbridge, Va., following opening ceremonies there Dec. 5, 2000. Pulliam, station commander at Alexandria Recruiting Station, has been a recruiter for six of his 14 years of Army service. He will work at the new high-tech mega-mall station starting Jan. 1. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy recruiters chat following the grand opening of the military's new high-tech Potomac Mills Recruiting Station in Woodbridge, Va., Dec. 5, 2000. The station is a pilot project which will help DoD officials decide whether to establish up to 30 more mega-mall recruiting stations around the country. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.   
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