June 16, 2008

The Royal Air Force finding recruits on home territory

Dhg_findlay_2 My granddad Findlay, pictured, was an officer in the Royal Air Force but one who never flew. It's only because of the stories I've heard second hand of him being stuck in the desert for five and a half years that I was even aware there were jobs akin to being Bond that one could apply for in the Air Force, Army and Navy. I even went as far as going through the rigorous application process so that I, too, could spend the prime of my life hiding in a tent, listening to enemies miles away.

Today's youngsters don't need secondhand stories of relatives that lived in a black and white world to see what exactly is going on in war zones around the world, thanks in part to the work the Royal Air Force has been doing in their homeland, the world of social media.

The Force's YouTube channel has relatively low numbers for each video, but a huge selection from which to choose. They explain, for real, what actually happens when the Air Force's ground soldiers have to go in and clear mines - there's no hi-tech, just brass necks.

The Force has kitted out several servicemen with cameras and storytelling skills, including this young Geordie gunner. They're about to kit out further personnel in Basra, giving an insider's story of what's going on through a new site, to be launched later today, RAF Frontline.

These might be part of a cynical bid to recruit youngsters to the world's most dangerous of jobs, or it might be a genuine effort to show them what they're getting themselves into. The videos are lightly edited, to omit anything that could be a security breach. Otherwise, though, the in-house web team is keen to show not just front line action but downtime, too, to show, I imagine, that life in the forces is not all about skiing, pristine beaches and drinks with the lads.

But where I really admire their approach, is in how an initial foray into YouTube has helped develop the use of video much more throughout the more traditional parts of the site, in their "what it takes to be a gunner" video slideshow, from civvy to gunner. It works well as a story.

Not enough, mum will be glad to know, to make me want to reapply, but a jolly good example all the same of the fringe becoming the mainstream offering.


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The Army do this as well. Lots of the Jocks from my local regiment send videos to youtube from Afghanistan and Iraq. This means that (a) their peers who were at school with them see the gritty, hard work and the funny times/comradeship and (b) it rather undermines the small clique in the teaching unions who keep trying to stop Army recruiting as they try to imply that the youth of today are being asked to sign up without being aware of the dangers; a patronising and totally false viewpoint. "The youth" have a better idea than many teachers as they talk to their friends who DID join up by email or IM in Afghanistan or Iraq. Recruiting is actually UP as youngsters see both the good and bad things that are inherent in a military career such as the loss of almost all their human rights in order to defend the human rights of the very people who are criticising them all the time.

And who can forget the funny "Armadilo" or "Bohemian Rap" type videos that keep appearing from the frontline showing that above all else, the British military have a great sense of humour in very trying conditions 8-)

What's different about the RAF is that the YouTube storytelling and the new spaces have all be set in motion by the bosses. They have empowered their people to tell stories. They are also actively looking at how to enable 'unofficial' storytellers across the Force to connect together with others. They have a very open attitude to trusting their people to be professional in these spaces. Yes of course it's a recruitment thing but it's also bigger than that, it's about trying to find ways to tell the 'RAF story' in new ways.
Disclaimer: I have been working with the RAF and COI on developing the initiatives and strategies so yes, I am a bit biased about it!

You're dead right I'm glad you won't be re-applying ... just remember your grandfather didn't choose this as a career and ended up being one of the best - and best-known - educators of his generation!

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