The Army Experience Center and the Development of a Warrior Caste

young-gunmanTeaching 13-year-old children military tactics through the use of video games at the local shopping mall may sound like a completely novel idea, but the concept of training and indoctrinating 13-year-olds to join a warrior caste has been around since very early times. The ancient Chinese, Indians, and Japanese began indoctrinating youth at 13. We know from the Greek historian Thucydides, who lived 2,500 years ago, that boys in Sparta were cultivated and supervised by military officials like the modern-day military recruiters and educational specialists.

The children of Sparta were drilled in battle using knives and swords. At the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia the same kind of training for warfare is taking place, except children use simulated M-16 automatic rifles and M-240B light machine guns. The training in each scenario is appropriate for different kinds of battle — facing the dreaded Athenians in hand-to-hand combat during the Peloponnesian War or launching Hellfire missiles to “suspected terrorist targets” in Afghanistan by robotic drones controlled from digital war rooms in suburban Maryland and California.

The Spartans realized the importance of developing the ethos of a warrior caste and we’re seeing that same phenomena today in America. This isn’t a far-fetched notion. The Pentagon is intent on militarizing American youth at the earliest ages to cultivate this new breed of soldier, based on an ancient model.

Consider the changes made to the U.S. Army’s Soldier’s Creed. The old creed, discarded in 2003, had soldiers recite, “No matter what the situation I am in, I will never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit, or my country. I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions disgraceful to themselves and to the uniform.”

These words were scrapped for:

“I am an American Soldier. I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.”

In 2005, when Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker ordered Army recruiters in the nation’s public schools to wear combat uniforms, it signaled a philosophical sea change in the tenor of military recruiting throughout the nation. It was disturbing to many recruiters, used to wearing Class A or Class B uniforms. It squarely placed the subject of polarizing, unpopular wars on the table of national discourse, reflective of President Bush’s “us vs. them” mindset.

Career recruiters recognized the change. Recruiter manuals were purged of references of “contracts” or references to selling. Instead, a new creature, a new animal was to be cultivated — the warrior. Articles in the U.S. Army’s Recruiting Command’s Recruiter Journal became bellicose overnight. There was no overall strategy in the shift, according to two recruiting insiders, except that a strident, jingoistic tone was adopted in communications from the command to recruiters. The August-September 2009 edition of the Recruiter Journal calls on recruiters to “Take Back the Schools” and is filled with combat-related analogies to recruiting in high school hallways.

Another phenomenon has shaped the drift toward the goal of recruiting lifelong warriors rather than “citizen soldiers.” As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged, recruiting company commands faced a diminished pool of talented, educated officers with some semblance of an educated, world view. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed a tremendous strain on the Army officer corps and systemic shortages exist in many key ranks and specialties. Consequently, this shortage of Captains and Majors has necessitated the assignment of many lower quality officers to recruiting command.

For many, war is preferable to the hassle of recruiting. “Rolling a donut” — coming up with no recruits for a month — can be tortuous. Consider the five Houston battalion recruiters who’ve killed themselves in a relatively short period of time. Recruiters work 12-  to 14-hour days, six or seven days a week. If they don’t fill monthly quotas, they’re criticized as failures, punished with even longer hours, and threatened with losing rank or receiving poor evaluations, according to media sources. It’s all about producing “bodies on the floor,” that is, recruits at MEPS, the local Military Entrance Processing Command. These changes are evidence of a fundamental paradigm shift.

This shift is also characterized by a drift toward a more cloistered existence for recruiters, as evidenced by the successful unveiling of the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia. Increasingly, recruiters are persona-non-grata in thousands of communities across the nation. Their calls are anathema to parents and teens in millions of households. To counter this trend, the military is micro-targeting potential recruits. At Franklin Mills Mall, the Pentagon is going after teens “who don’t have X-boxes at home,” according to an active recruiter in the battalion.

The Army has been disconnected from the entire southeast Pennsylvania region since the Philadelphia Battalion was moved to exurban Lakehurst Naval Air Station in NJ and renamed the Mid-Atlantic Battalion. Also, the Philadelphia MEPS was moved from the city proper to Fort Dix, NJ. These actions further cloistered recruiting leadership and MEPS personnel from the citizenry they “serve.”

These trends will continue nationally. Since the AEC opened, five area recruiting stations have closed. Recruiters will no longer be coming into contact with the mainstream and that’s just fine with the Pentagon. Developing a Warrior Caste isn’t dependent on popular support. With the AEC, the Army is exposing/indoctrinating teens to a very narrow slice of what the Army does – “killing bad guys.” There are nearly 200 occupational specialties in the Army. Even those serving in the infantry are called on to do a whole lot more than shoot people. The Pentagon’s agenda is very clear – present a narrow view of the Army experience and hope that those indoctrinated will enlist; and volunteer for a combat categroization on their own accord.

Throughout world history, warrior castes have been built from particular regions or ethnicities within the territorial confines of an empire. We’re no exception today. Our warrior caste is being built disproportionately from recruits who reign from the Old South. We are witnessing the development of a military radically unmoored from the intellectual and popular center of American socio-political thought, further contributing to the refinement and further development of a new caste in American society – the warrior caste.


That brings us back to the two 13-year-olds giving each other high-fives in a suburban shopping mall in Philadelphia for “wiping out ragheads” with automatic machine gun fire. The Army has plans to extend these “Experience Centers” across the country. We’d better wake up before it’s too late. Join us on September 12.

Pat Elder


  1. Joe Maizlish says

    The change Pat Elder reports in the “soldier’s creed” is an admission of the bankruptcy of U.S. policies.

    “. . . never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace. . .” was dropped in 2003 and replaced by such phrases as “mission first. . . never accept defeat. . . never quit. . .”

    That change expresses on the individual soldier level the creed being pursued on the level of imperial policy, which is all about narrowly-conceived pleasure/control, short-term profit of the few to the detriment of the many and of the future, and safety — not safety of the soldiers but the safety of the system and its elite. The change shows the unworthiness of the highly aggressive mission in which the lives of the soldiers and their opponents and victims around the world are being risked.

    Joe Maizlish, Los Angeles

  2. Jorge Mariscal says

    Excellent article that should serve as a wake up call for all liberals, progressives, and even conservatives who have yet to realize the degree to which their children are being militarized. Given the fiscal crisis in California and our projected demographics, the bulk of the children of the Latino majority by year 2025 will be cut out of higher education and tracked into the warrior caste and the prisons. Joining them there will be the children of the African American, Pilipino, and white working class. As the author notes, our nation is an imperial giant in decline. Can we save it by turning our children into Spartans who, as Artistotle wrote, were closer to animals than humans because of their obsession with warrior values?

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