Armed forces recruit on YouTube

by Steven McKenzie, BBC Scotland

Videos of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and others designed for recruitment purposes are being posted by the armed forces on YouTube.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD), Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have channels on the popular internet site.

RAF Lossiemouth-based gunners also regularly updated an online Afghan diary during a six-month tour.

The Ministry of Defence said it was one of the first government departments to recognise the potential of YouTube.

Footage posted on the video-sharing site included one entitled "British forces catching a roadside bomb team in the act".

The gunners Afghan diary also involved Territorial Army members from the Highlands and Moray.

Defence analyst Gordon Mackenzie, who served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, said in marketing terms, the site offered a low-cost medium to attract new recruits.

He added that it provided a means for the military to show the work it was doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and may also be in response to Al Qaeda and the Taleban's use of the internet.

RAF Recruitment Marketing appears to be the most active of the services in its use of YouTube.

It joined the site in March 2006 and it has seen 139 videos watched so far, 596 subscribers and 76,660 channel views.

One of its busiest periods in uploading videos was in the past few months when it ran its RAF Afghan Diaries charting Lossiemouth-based 51 Squadron gunners' six month deployment to Afghanistan.

The most recent video was put up two days ago. A gunner said on the posting that one of the ideas behind the diary was to attract new gunners.

Explanatory detail accompanying the diary said the videos were shot on a small 'lipstick' camera to create films.

They were checked in Kandahar to ensure they did not include any sensitive data, then sent to London and posted online.

The MoD, calling itself defenceheadquarters on YouTube, signed up to the site in January this year.

Footage include training of the Iraqi Security Forces, emergency medical services in Afghanistan and "forces pin-up" actress Jennifer Ellison visiting troops.

Two "friends" that link from its page are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Multi-National Force - Iraq (MNFI).

'Interesting development'

The MNFI said the purpose of its videos were to give a "boots on the ground perspective" of Operation Iraqi Freedom and joined YouTube this March. It has had 373,721 channel views.

One of its current videos shows US soldiers in a battle on Haifa Street in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, royalmarinesuk which links to the official Royal Navy website also signed up in March. It is a tribute by an individual and not officially sanctioned by the MoD, but at the same time not regarded as a problem.

Among the videos it carries is one of a marine from 42 Commando being shot at while wearing a helmet camera.

Mr Mackenzie said the military joining YouTube was an "interesting development".

He said: "From a recruiting point of view it's cheap compared to a 60-second advert on primetime television."

Mr Mackenzie added that it was not a surprise the RAF were most active as the service was "technically savvy" and was regularly exposed to new technologies.

The defence analyst said videos shot by soldiers on operations had been appearing on the internet for some time despite MoD efforts to control them and these have been used in the past by the BBC.

However, Mr Mackenzie said videos of operations uploaded officially by the ministry and armed forces verged on sending out a political message.

He said: "Effectively the armed forces are carrying out a political order.

"The Ministry of Defence is a political organisation, the army isn't, but has to find support for what it's asked to do."

Wider audience

Mr Mackenzie said, though possibly not the specific aim but not unrelated to the military's activities, was to counter what some may perceive as the Taleban and Al Qaeda's use of the internet in claiming successes.

An MoD spokesman said: "The Ministry of Defence was one of the first government departments to recognise the potential of using alternative media channels such as YouTube to communicate with a wider audience.

"We have a duty to explain defence activity - particularly the role of HM Forces on operations overseas - to the public and to promote recruitment opportunities.

"To do this effectively we will continue to explore new channels and technologies."

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