In the military, there is a long tradition of sending pop stars to entertain troops who are serving their countries in wartime. But the German army has put a twist on the practice, bringing in one of the country’s hottest pop properties – singer-actress Jeanette Biedermann – in a move to recruit more officer candidates.
The Bundeswehr, as Germany’s army is called, is worried about the future of its officers’ corps. Some 14,000 young men and women apply for 2,200 open positions each year – but those in charge say they are concerned about attracting good-quality applicants.
“We have very good people, but we don’t know how the application situation will develop over the next six years,” conceded press officer Lieutenant Colonel Heinz-Wolfgang Spranger to German television ARD. And the number of applicants for officer training school – a 12-year-long training path which requires applicants to have a high-school diploma -- is “declining a bit.”
A new military
Especially in the areas of high-tech and computers, the “Bund” is looking for qualified people, said Major General Jan Oerding. “We have to compete with the private sector.”
The face of the German military is changing: from a Cold-War era dinosaur whose main goal was defending its eastern borders from attack, to a NATO member highly active in various peacekeeping operations. Indeed, Germany has some 8,500 troops deployed overseas, coming in only behind the United States in the number of soldiers serving abroad. And the death of five peacekeeping soldiers in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan last month is a further reminder that a stint in the German military is not the secure career that it was in the peaceful, post-World War II decades.
Now, military officials have gone on the offensive to avoid what they see could someday become a dire situation. They have started a first-of-its-kind advertising campaign to get German youth interested in a career as a military officer.
Part of this campaign is the “Scoolday” information fair – the (mis)spelling is intentional – which kicked off on Monday in Karlsruhe. About 500 students were allowed to skip classes and ogle tanks, amored vehicles, helicopters and bazookas.
Top on the list of enticements, however, was a free concert given by pierced pop idol Jeanette Biedermann, Germany’s answer to Britney Spears. Lieutenant Colonel Spranger praised the blonde Berliner: "Jeanette offered to come. She is a really hot property, and a magnet for today’s youth.”
On Monday, the 22-year-old actress-turned-pop singer certainly was a draw for many of the young men who showed up. Tarik Azir, a student at the Tulla Technical School in Karlsruhe, had come just to see her.
“She is good looking and can sing well,” said the 15 year old, who was aiming a bazooka a target. However, the Bundeswehr may have to come up with more than just the pop starlet to solve its problems. Azir said he still doesn't intend to pursue a career in the military and "would rather not” shoot the bazooka.