Monday, April 03, 2006

Real American Heroes - Six Inches Tall

By Jeffrey Ressner
Time
April 10, 2006

Faced by a dwindling number of volunteers, the U.S. military is adding a new recruitment tactic: aiming young. Real Heroes, a line of Army-authorized toy soldiers modeled on Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, is expected in stores this June, selling for $12.99 each. The first four 6-in.-tall dolls--offshoots of a Pentagon-backed video game called America's Army--are based on four real soldiers, all still serving, who have recently earned Bronze or Silver Stars. "We wanted folks who look close enough in age and background to what we call the prime market: potential soldiers," says Colonel Casey Wardynski, who is overseeing the America's Army project, budgeted at $50 million, including $3 million earmarked for merchandising.

The military hopes consumers will respond as well to the action figures as they have to the video game, which is available online and boasts more than 6 million registered players. An Xbox version of the game is expected in April, followed by one for PlayStation 2 in May and for cell phones this summer. America's Army TV specials, comic books and trading cards are also being considered. "We don't expect young people to join the Army because of a toy, but we want to get in their decision space--and for that, you have to be in pop culture," Wardynski says.

Though the Pentagon can't say what effect America's Army has had on recruitment or how Real Heroes might do, here's an outcome they might not have foreseen: an action-figure civil war, once G.I. Joe realizes there are some new American heroes muscling in on his turf.

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