Friday, January 29, 2010

Once, skiing was bait to join the Army


In an urgent attempt to fill troop needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Armed Services have been offering thousands of dollars of bonuses to entice men into active duty—yet it's still falling short of recruitment goals. Maybe the government should hold out bait worth more than cash. Take, for instance, a priceless inducement like skiing. Sixty-three years ago, the military did just that.

When Selective Service (the draft) expired briefly in 1947, the U.S. Army was short of manpower to face the growing Cold War threat in Eastern Europe.

The Army hit on the idea of persuading young men to enlist by promising them the chance to ski. "Join the Army, hit the hickories," urged an advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post. (The best wooden skis of the time were made of hickory). "There's control in every movement of their bodies," the ad declared, "mile-a-minute speed on their hickory mounts, inspiring grace in the swirls of powder in their wake. Tonight they'll be swapping yarns around the fire, waxing for tomorrow."

< The image of rifle-bearing, white-suited skiers surfing through a sea of powder suggested that young men could become elite ski troopers like the heroic members of the recently demobilized 10th Mountain Division. The ad cautioned that "vacancies seldom occur in the Ski Troops."

Not to worry. "Ski enthusiasts who enlist in other branches of the Army Ground Forces—whether stationed in the U.S. or abroad—are encouraged to ski for sport. Army men ski at Cortina, Italy, and at Garmisch in Germany. Volunteers for divisions in Japan can spend free time on Honshu or Hokkaido." All were Winter Olympic sites.

The Army wasn't the only institution that used skiing to lure recruits. Talented young people so valued the sport after World War II that IBM located offices and plants in places like Vermont and Colorado with the knowledge that employees would be attracted to careers that enabled them to live close to lifts and downhill trails.

To this day, U.S. soldiers continue to enjoy inexpensive skiing as a reward for their services. The U.S. Army MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) network offers inexpensive vacations at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, on the border of the Austrian Arlberg. Next to the lifts is the huge Hausberg base lodge with bar and restaurant—subsidized by American taxpayers—often filled with men and women on R&R leave from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Armed services ski clubs organize trips throughout the Alps for servicemen, with guides and instructors. Wounded and recovering amputees are inspired to put their lives back together by entering disabled skier programs.

In a time of war and terrorism, some things in life are worth more than money. One surely is skiing.

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