- Associated Press - Thursday, March 8, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — They’ve long been known as devil dogs, leathernecks and “the first to fight.” But U.S. Marines, with their self-described expertise in “killing people and breaking things,” now want to promote their kinder side as well.

A new Marine Corps advertising campaign starting this weekend takes its cue from research showing today’s recruit-age generation is interested in helping people. So the campaign is crafted to show Marines not only as warriors but as humanitarians and peacekeepers, not only as courageous but also as compassionate.

Photos and videos to be distributed on television, in American movie theaters, on YouTube and elsewhere show Marines talking with children; bringing food, water and medical supplies to Haitian earthquake victims; and clearing rubble from a tsunami-devastated Japanese village. These missions aren’t a new thing for the Marines, but they are ones the force expects to do more of as it’s freed from a decade of fighting land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and returns to its seafaring, expeditionary roots.

Titled “Toward the Sounds of Chaos,” the campaign seeks to explain that in an uncertain world, Marines “need to be ready to engage in whatever activity our country needs us to engage in,” Brig. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, head of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said in a recent interview.

“That may go all the way from a combat-type environment, as we’ve been doing for the last 10 years, to what we did before … emergent chaotic situations … catastrophes … natural disasters or failed-state-type situations where people need help,” he said.

The smallest of the service branches, at 202,000, the Marine Corps trains and equips itself with the aim of being light and agile enough to get to any crisis on a moment’s notice. They sometimes call themselves “The 911 Force,” at the ready to restore order, come to the rescue or evacuate those in danger. A Marine in one of the new advertising videos runs toward an unidentified city under a smoke-filled sky amid sounds of people screaming.

“There are a few who move toward the sounds of chaos … toward the sounds of tyranny, injustice and despair,” a voice says. “Which way would you run?”

The question is a subtle appeal to the generation known as millennials, who said in a survey that they believe in giving back to society, voting in national elections and “helping people in need, wherever they may live,” said Marshall Lauck, director of the Marine Corps‘ advertising account at the JWT ad agency.

JWT does year-round research and periodic larger efforts with the Corps to keep an eye on what the pool of potential American recruits is thinking. It found in the late 2010 survey of 17- to 24-year-olds that roughly 70 percent believed helping others was essential to being a good citizen today.

Only 31 percent of the same 5,000 surveyed thought serving in the military was important to being a good citizen.

“We have a large number of young people who are very interested in doing good … yet they don’t necessarily realize that the military in general and the Marine Corps in particular is a great way to do that,” said Mr. Lauck, a former Marine.

The survey included another 5,000 people the military calls “influencers” — parents, coaches, teachers and similar role models. Many said they had a very favorable view of the military but did not respond in the same high numbers on whether they would recommend the services to the young people in their lives.

The new campaign will launch during the March Madness college basketball tournament.

“They may not have realized it when they expressed that desire to help people, but the roles and mission of the Marine Corps today and in the near future were really converging very specifically with those youth interests” in the survey, Mr. Lauck said. “We saw it immediately … the convergence.”

How many others will see it and embrace the idea is the question.

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