Amid a crisis in recruitment, the U.S. military has found a new way of convincing a war-weary Generation Z to enlist: thirst traps.
Chief among these attractive young women in uniform posting sexually suggestive content alongside subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) calls to join up is Hailey Lujan. In between the thirst traps and memes, the 21-year-old makes content extolling the fun of Army life to her 731,000 TikTok followers. “Don’t go to college, become a farmer or a soldier instead,” she instructs viewers in a recent video. “Just some advice for the younger people: if you’re not doing school, it’s ok. I dropped out of college. And I’m doing great,” she adds.
If Lujan feels like a psyop (a psychological operation) it is because, technically, she is. Lujan is a psychological operations specialist; one of a small number of Army personnel whose job is to carry out influence and disinfo operations, either on or offline. Thus, she is using her femininity to recruit legions of lustful teens into an institution with an infamous record of sexism and sexual assault against female soldiers.
According to Lujan, being a soldier is the “coolest job in the world.” She certainly does make Army life look fun, as she abseils down walls, fires a howitzer, and flies around in an Apache helicopter. “101st airborne division knows what the girls (and boys) really want”, she notes as she plays around with a high-tech, remote controlled robot.
Until late last year, Lujan’s social media accounts were far more tame. But as she pivoted towards content of her in skimpy outfits or suggestive, military-related videos and pictures, her following exploded to nearly three-quarters of a million on TikTok alone. Judging by the comments, her army of followers sees military life in a new light.
There are many active duty service members with large social media followings, but what makes Lujan stand out is her offbeat, Gen-Z style humor and how she leans into the idea that she is a military propaganda operation. With videos titled “My handlers made me post this”, “Not endorsed by the DoD 😉 :3” or “most wholesome fedpost”, she revels in layers of irony and appears to enjoy the whole “am I or aren’t I” question that people in her replies and mentions constantly debate.
The ironyposting is dialed up to 11, however, with Lujan’s own videos about psychological operations. In a video entitled “no one is immune to propaganda”, she even shares content laying out how the U.S. government manipulates public opinion through the media. In true Gen-Z style, she captioned another of her videos “propaganda this propaganda that let me take a propa ganda at them yitties”.
Lujan’s content appears to be a part of a weird new strategy of military outreach, shocking academics and military experts alike. “My main reaction is disgust and disappointment. People like Lujan are why I ended up declaring myself a conscientious objector during the Iraq War,” Rosa del Duca, adjunct professor of journalism at Diablo Valley College and author of “Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War” told MintPress, adding:
I can’t believe she’s getting away with posting some of this stuff. Everyone learns in boot camp that when you are in uniform, you cannot act unprofessionally, or you get in deep trouble. Maybe they [Army brass] saw how popular Lujan’s posts are, and how she’s basically doing recruiting for them and left her alone.”
Matthew Alford, a media and propaganda specialist from the University of Bath, U.K., was similarly amazed by her content. “Lujan’s content and messaging is wild. If she really is being used by the military for recruitment, then we have entered a brave, bizarre new world of Army recruitment strategies,” he told MintPress.
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There is no doubt that Lujan is aware that she functions as a new, avant-garde Army recruitment tool. In one short film made with a fellow military influencer, she stars as the pretty military bait, luring young men into service. Played for laughs, the film shows a young man standing outside an Army recruitment center, deciding not to enlist, only to see the dreamy Lujan enter the building, after which he joins up in a haze of horniness.
Thus, it is clear that Lujan is indeed a military recruitment tool. The only question is whether the famously image-conscious Army merely tacitly approves of her content, or whether they are intimately involved in its production. MintPress asked the Department of Defense for clarification, but has received no response.
Nevertheless, Edward Bernays, the father of modern propaganda, might conclude that it matters little if Lujan is or is not an Army psyop; the consequence is still to get impressionable young men to associate lust with the military, connecting sexual desire with the armed forces – in effect, making them horny for war.
The fact that Lujan is a psychological operations specialist with the Army makes the whole situation even more suspicious, given that her jobs is to convince, persuade and propagandize in creative new ways. The Army recruitment website description of the role sounds eerily similar to her own content. “As a Psychological Operations Specialist, you’ll be an expert at persuasion,” it reads, adding:
You’ll assess and develop the information needed to influence and engage specific audiences. You’ll broadcast important information through various mediums and assist U.S. and foreign governments, militaries, and civilian populations.”
Multiple videos suggest Lujan is connected with the 101st Airborne Division. Location data shows she is based at Fort Campbell, a large military installation on the Tennessee-Kentucky border that houses the storied division. Last year, she took part in Saber Junction 22, a huge military exercise in Germany, featuring thousands of troops from the U.S., Italy, Romania, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and a host of NATO ally states.
Armies of Simps
Lujan is far from the only serviceperson on military TikTok (#MilTok) promoting military life, however. Juliana Keding – a military policewoman with over 900,000 followers – regularly combines thirst traps with videos about Army life. Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force medic Rylee (@RyeRoast, 468,000 TikTok followers), has even leaned into the idea that her online persona is also a psyop. Yet their content is less overt and there is no hard recruitment sell with them. Indeed, they rarely discuss it at all.
To clarify (and so i dont get in trouble) id gaf about other’s opinions of me or about excuses HAPPY MONDAY!!! #MADEBEFOREWORKINGHOURS #trending #viral #fyp #foryoupage #foryou #miltoks #miltok #miltokcommunity #femalemarines #usmc #marines #navy #army #airforce #military #marinecorps #hair #hairtutorial #buntutorial
Nevertheless, it is clear that the powers that be appreciate their content subtly promoting military life. The official Air Force media guide states that “You are encouraged to use social media to share your experiences as an Airman” as “Your stories might inspire someone to join the Air Force, support the Air Force, comfort a parent or spouse, improve morale or correct inaccurate information.” Those experiences, however, better be positive ones, as it also warns that sharing the wrong kind of information (i.e. content showing the military in a bad light) “could jeopardize you and your Airman’s career”.
“My leadership is fully aware of my social media and actually are, in fact, very supportive of it” Rylee states in one video, “Id love to get payed [sic] for this lmao” she commented on another, suggesting that hers is a freelance operation.
Perhaps the closest star to Lujan in tone and content is Israeli Defense Forces military policewoman Natalia Fadeev, aka @GunWaifu. With 2.7 million TikTok followers, Fadeev is the queen of the simp-to-soldier pipeline, posting highly suggestive content alongside passionate defenses of Israel. Her videos (many of which have garnered over 1 million views each) suggest that Palestinians are an invented people, that Israel is a safe haven for LGBT groups and that the IDF is the most moral army in the world. In addition to the propaganda, Fadeev has also flirted with the idea that her account is an Israeli psyop.
YouTubers join the military
TikTok is not the only battleground for young people’s minds, however. In the last year, a significant portion of the Biden administration’s record-breaking $857 billion defense budget went on advertising. The Army in particular has spent large sums of money collaborating with some of YouTube’s biggest stars to produce barely disguised recruitment videos.
YouTube star Michelle Khare (3.71 million subscribers) “joined the Army” for her video, traveling to Fort Benning, GA, where she tackled obstacle courses, practiced marksmanship, and trained to jump out a plane. Glossing over the fort’s infamous reputation for training many of the world’s most brutal military dictators, the video ends with the message, “To Army soldiers and veterans, thank you for your service.” The description box features multiple pro-Army hashtags, plus an affiliate link to sign up for service. The video has already garnered 2.8 million views.
In April, YouTube mega influencer Ben Azelart released a strikingly similar partnered video to Khare’s, called “YouTubers vs. U.S. Army” in which he also glamorized military life, interviewing one officer who told him that the Army is, at its core, about:
The absolute transformation of the individual into a more accomplished, better version of themselves. As a valued member of a team, stepping out of your comfort zone, doing something new, challenging yourself, but being encouraged along the entire way.”
And like Khare, Azelart was careful to direct his 20.8 million subscribers towards an Army recruitment link, stating, “The challenges we had to endure were both physically and mentally challenging, but so rewarding! The Army is an opportunity, a bridge to self-development, and a place where you can be a valued member of a team regardless of hometown, ethnicity, or gender.”
Meanwhile, pro gaming star Doug “Censor” Martin flew out to Fort Carson, CO, to shoot a fawning extended advertisement for the military, presenting Army life as just like playing military shooter video game “Call of Duty.”
“Without you guys, what do we have?” Martin says to the soldiers he encounters, adding;
We love you; we appreciate all of you guys. If you guys have any interest in joining the Army, there are so many different career paths, over 200 career paths. If you guys want to know any more information, click the links down below. I had so much fun coming out here, this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
This sort of content is far more potent than the simple advertisements between television programs of yesteryear. Firstly, because it is the show and allows the Army to showcase itself to millions of impressionable viewers, most of whom cannot differentiate between paid and unpaid content. Furthermore, it comes courtesy of stars viewers love, respect and trust.
The difference, however, between these and other advertisements YouTube stars run is that they are not selling their suggestible young audiences soda or shoes, but are trying to convince them to join the world’s most sophisticated and ruthless killing machine. A new study from the Costs of War project at Brown University estimated that 4.5 million people have died as a result of the U.S.’ post-9/11 wars, primarily in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Pakistan. In addition, the report estimates at least 38 million more people have been forced to flee their homes. Yet this sort of brutal devastation is not even hinted at in these promotional videos.
The United States is a nation addicted to war, spending 229 of its 247 years of existence in some kind of conflict. It controls a network of over 800 military bases spanning the globe, and, according to a Congressional report, has carried out a staggering 251 foreign military interventions since the end of the Cold War in 1991. A new report compiled by the Institute for Policy Studies shows that the U.S. spends more on its military than 144 nations combined.
This constant drive towards war takes a serious toll on those recruits who enlist. The job attrition rate is extremely high; only 17% of active duty military members stay around long enough to earn any pension whatsoever. Veterans complain of broken promises from recruiters, while every year, between 6,000 and 7,000 veterans commit suicide.
Del Luca also noted that women face a particularly hard time. “The military is extremely sexist,” she said;
Even the VA agrees that 1 in 3 women in uniform are sexually assaulted while ‘serving.’ I put ‘serving’ in quotation marks because I don’t see a useful service being done. Young people who join the military are taught how to kill and use weapons and follow orders and shut up.”
These carefully choreographed advertisements say nothing about these harsh realities, instead painting a rosy picture of life in uniform as one of endless opportunities and dignified service.
Faced with a shortfall in recruitment, the military has been aggressively marketing itself towards younger and younger generations. The Army has sponsored gaming tournaments, even fielding their own U.S. Army Esports team and directly trying to recruit teens on streaming sites such as Twitch. The Amazon-owned platform eventually had to clamp down on the practice after the military used fake prize giveaways that lured impressionable young viewers onto recruitment websites.
As detailed in a previous MintPress investigation, the Armed Forces also work closely with video game companies on titles such as “Call of Duty,” flying executives out to ensure they become, in their own words, more “credible advocates” for American power.
Meanwhile, Dr. Alford’s research has exposed how deep the connection between Hollywood and the Pentagon has become, with the Department of Defense essentially co-producing thousands of movies and TV shows. “In our 2017 book ‘National Security Cinema’ we listed around 2000 titles worked on by the state. By the time our film, ‘Theaters of War’ was out in 2022, we had evidence for 10,000. This suggests an incredible level of public manipulation – and cover up”, he told MintPress.
These titles include a vast array of blockbuster films, including “Iron Man”, “The Avengers” and “Top Gun: Maverick”, all the way down to light entertainment like “Teen Idol”, “The Price is Right” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”.
Militaristic propaganda is everywhere in pop culture. Katy Perry’s music video for “Part of Me” is shot at Camp Pendleton in California and shows the star joining the Marines to better herself. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball held what it called a “military appreciation week” last month, where players, coaches and all on-field personnel were instructed to wear camo “service-inspired” caps and encouraged to sport camo socks, helmets and other gear. Some teams are going further: the Washington Nationals are hosting six “Branch Day” games this summer, dedicated to the six arms of the U.S. military. The events are sponsored by arms manufacturer Raytheon Technologies. Major League Baseball did not respond to MintPress’ questions, but previous ultra-nationalistic displays were not independent outbursts of patriotism, but carefully planned events paid for by the military, meaning that the taxpayer footed the bill to be exposed to such propaganda.
It is now well-established (if not well-known) that the Department of Defense also fields a giant clandestine army of at least 60,000 people whose job it is to influence public opinion, the majority doing so from their keyboards. A 2021 exposé from Newsweek described the operation as “The largest undercover force the world has ever known,” warned that this troll army was likely breaking both domestic and international law, and explaining that,
These are the cutting-edge cyber fighters and intelligence collectors who assume false personas online, employing ‘nonattribution’ and ‘misattribution’ techniques to hide the who and the where of their online presence while they search for high-value targets and collect what is called ‘publicly accessible information’—or even engage in campaigns to influence and manipulate social media.”
The Twitter Files further exposed the Department of Defense’s shadowy propaganda, showing how it worked with Twitter to carry out a Washington-run influence project across the Middle East, even as Twitter claimed it was working to shut down foreign-backed disinformation operations.
Not our war
For all the creatively dystopian attempts to market itself as a positive force to young people, it is far from clear whether the military is succeeding in its goal. 2022 saw the lowest recruitment figures since the draft was abolished in 1973. The Army alone missed its enlistment target by 25%, or 15,000 active-duty soldiers. The numbers for 2023 are expected to be even more dismal. A great number of Generation Z do not qualify for service on medical grounds, and even fewer wish to join. According to a recent survey, America’s youth are decidedly against becoming a cog in the war machine; only 9% of Zoomers express any interest in enlisting in the Armed Forces.
This, according to U.S. Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, is in large part down to many “misconceptions” people have about soldiers being sexually harassed, developing PTSD or driven to suicide by what they have seen. Others, such as del Luca, might consider those justified concerns. The military, she says, preys on desperate idealistic teens trying to find a way out of their life circumstances or go to college.
Every single veteran you meet will tell you that the expectations they had before enlisting were wildly different from how their service ended up,” she said; “I hope teens wise up to the fact that they are being hunted and lured by recruiters who have a quota to fill… If the military was a great, honorable profession, then they wouldn’t need to spend $6 billion a year bribing people to join.”
While it is still not certain whether they are actually directing and paying for it, what is clear is that the U.S. military is hoping that E-girls will be part of their recruitment solution, turning armies of horny American teens from simps into soldiers.
Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News
Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.
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