Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Malaysian Army Recruiters Don't Make the Cut

Written by johnleemk on 10:23:48 am Feb 12, 2007.

On the 17th of January, I found myself being roped in to attend a recruiting drive by the Territorial Army (Tentera Wataniah). Now, I must confess, I was actually quite interested, and might have seriously considered joining if not for two things. First my age disqualifies me from joining (you must be between 18 and 40 years of age). Second, I don't intend on staying in Malaysia for university. (If I did, I probably would have even considered joining the Reserve Office Training Unit at a local university — I actually didn't even know we had such things until the recruiting officer mentioned it in his speech.)

I honestly don't know what I was expecting when I went in to see what all the fuss was about. I guess I was hoping for an idea of what things would be like in the army, and perhaps to see how the recruiter would ignite passion for the military. At any rate, I didn't get what I was hoping for.

Things already got off on the wrong foot, when we were subjected to a far-too-long introductory video presentation. Comprising mainly clips of soldiers in training, fighter jets taking off, various parades, and some odd footage of army personnel sitting at computer terminals, it was interesting for all of 30 seconds. The couple of minutes it must have taken to get through the same old shots with slightly different people and slightly different settings felt like an eternity — especially since no meaningful information was being conveyed.

Finally, the recruiting officer — if I recall correctly, he was second-in-command of the unit that was there that day — took the podium to begin his spiel. A bit to my surprise, he spoke almost entirely in English — a bit odd, considering that Malay is our national language and that the usage of English for official purposes is highly limited in scope. Whatever the case, like a true Malaysian, he mangled the language — but fortunately not as badly as most Malaysians.

The presentation of his speech was highly stilted. I'd expected an army recruiter to be all fired up, with a variety of passionate arguments for joining the armed forces. It's possible I've just watched too many stereotyped depictions of army recruiters, but I found it disappointing that his only positive argument for joining up was that "you are the second line of defence" (his exact words, if I recall, and spoken in a rather sober and soft manner). He had no fiery words to remind people how much they love our country (or are supposed to love it), and nothing passionate to say about the armed forces or the joy of serving the country. A cynic might say that perhaps there is no joy or passion in serving the country, but in such a case, why join the Territorial Army, which is essentially a part-time volunteer force, with not much money to be made? There must be some external motivating force, and whatever that force was or is, it failed to be conveyed through the presentation.

Much of the presentation focused on the pecuniary benefits and other boring information about the armed forces. A heads-up for army recruiters out there: the brochures are there for a reason. If we want to know how much we get paid or how often we have to go for training, we refer to the brochures, not to you. You exist to provide a human element and to do what printed words cannot: convey a sense of patriotism and passion for the armed forces.

If I had been the recruiter, I'd have taken quite a different approach. First of all, I'd have quickly given a brief overview of the pecuniary benefits, and gotten them over with. Nobody, especially not anyone who can afford to attend a private college (where the recruiting drive was held), is going to be fired up by information about how much he will be paid for what is essentially part-time community service. People will be motivated to join by a sense of belonging to the community, and that through the Territorial Army, they can give back to it without too much sacrifice. This is the point a good salesman would make, and he would hammer it home and home again.

Of course, as many wags might note, a sense of patriotism and community is quite lacking in our young. But since when has that deterred a good salesman? Most people tend to say they are cynics about things like multi-level marketing or Amway, but since when has this halted the proliferation of such products? A good salesman takes the approach that people want to buy what he's selling — it's just that they don't know it yet. Basically, the salesman's job is to arouse this dormant desire for his product. Similarly, recruiters should aim to awaken this dormant sense of patriotism with a stirring oration. After all, why else are they there at the podium? It's certainly not to make the audience doze off with boring statistics about the armed forces.

I suspect the problem may be one of audacity. Many people (including yours truly) find it difficult to walk up to people and tell them that they are going to buy your product or join your service or else. We simply aren't audacious and confident enough to give a convincing pep talk. Unfortunately, the only way your audience will have confidence in you is if you yourself have confidence in them — that they will "be a man, do the right thing" (as comedian Russell Peters might say) and join up.

But, whstever the case may be, the recruiters should play up the community service angle and downplay the disadvantage that must be in the back of every potential recruit's head (namely, the thought that he could be spending his weekends doing other things, like going clubbing and/or getting laid). Most importantly, the recruiters ought to know why they are there. They are not there to read out boring numbers and figures. They are there to emote, to make people feel the passion and pride of serving in the armed forces. And that is something the recruiters at my college last month just didn't do.

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