THE WAY OF THE SOLDIER (DVD) Image

The most highly publicized DVD on the market today is not a Hollywood offering, but rather a propaganda film called “The Way of the Soldier,” which was made by the U.S. Department of Defense to attract new recruits into the U.S. Army. You can’t blame the Army for increasing their advertising, as recruitment rates have been plummeting since the quagmire in Iraq has become bloodier.

“The Way of the Soldier” is an effective promotional tool which almost makes a career as a soldier seem like a lot of fun. The cautionary word is “almost” due to some rather obvious omissions and a few statements which seem to contradict basic knowledge of Army life.

Since the audience for “The Way of the Solider” is the teenage set, the Army wisely crafted this production to appeal to this demographic. With its persistent rock score, music video-style camerawork and carefully designed multicultural line-up of photogenic soldiers, one could easily get the impression that MTV is running the military. (It is not clear if everyone here are real soldiers – some people identify themselves, most do not, and those who do not look and sound suspiciously like actors.) It’s a shame there are no production credits on “The Way of the Soldier,” because it offers some of the most inventive editing and videography in any recent production.

The content also hits nearly all of the right buttons. The soldiers featured here speak with measured awe over the variety of tasks and benefits which Army life presents. One soldier notes that the Army recruits are “given tasks that normal everyday people don’t fathom” while another intelligence trainee notes how he gets to “play James Bond in the Army. There’s even a bit of secret society appeal here: one woman identifies herself as an “interrogator” but coyly tells the camera that she “can’t tell you much about the job because it’s a secret.” Another woman, of a somewhat less sophisticated nature, gushes: “Heck, what other jobs can you fire weapons in?”

No one actually fires weapons in “The Way of the Soldier” and no one gets shot at or blown up either. Occupational hazards are never presented, let alone flag-draped coffins, and Iraq is only briefly mentioned very briefly twice (Afghanistan is ignored and you won’t see smirking George W. Bush and sneery Donald Rumsfeld either). For those fearing a one-way trip to the Baghdad slaughterhouse, one soldier calmly notes that deployment “doesn’t mean you’ll be in the Middle East or Iraq” – although recent events seem to contradict that.

Beyond the battlefield, there is plenty of footage devoted to downtime. Army housing is shown as being a pleasant suburban existence complete with comfortable houses and kids riding their bikes down clean streets. Single people have to live in a barracks, though one soldier gushes how his barracks residence is “beautiful.” Another soldier is shown posing on a golf course while a shower of golf balls bounces around him; he notes his good fortune at being stationed at bases neighboring the old 18 hole playground and that he tries “to get on the golf course once a week.” One of his comrades exclaims the Army does not discourage you from having a private life, which of course will come as a surprise to any soldier who happens to be homosexual.

And there’s the problem with “The Way of the Soldier.” For every happy-smiley aspect of Army life, something is either not mentioned or glossed over. The military’s continued discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans is ignored, and in fact the U.S. armed forces is the only remnant of the federal government to continue this level of distasteful and painfully un-American form of discrimination. The production plays up the college tuition benefits, but a quick flash of fine print requires some pausing and rewind to see that the promise is not a one-size-fits-all. One soldier claims “deployments don’t last forever,” although it is common knowledge that recent deployments in Iraq have been stretched to the fraying part. Army reservists are promised their jobs will be waiting for them upon return, yet no mention is cited of the acute financial problems being faced by many reservists who’ve been forced to serve in Iraq at extended deployments.

Young Americans who join the Army are clearly demanding of respect. Yet one cannot watch “The Way of the Solider” and wish the Army was more respectful of its youthful audience. Clearly, a little more honesty and candor might help boost the recruitment quota.

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