Legal and ethical questions surround rapping recruiter’s viral video

2018 has been a tough year for U.S. Army Recruiting Command. After failing to meet the fiscal year recruiting mission at the end of September, USAREC’s new command team, Maj. Gen. Frank Muth and Command Sgt. Maj. Tabitha Gavia have put the word out across the command – pull out all the stops to bring America’s sons and daughters into the recruiting station and into uniform.

USAREC’s list of problems is long and distinguished. They’ve spent the last several years operating at less than full strength, both with recruiters and key support staff. Their marketing strategy, including social media and paid advertising, has been abysmal. Their website is state of the art – circa 2011. All this made the outlook for 2019 that much bleaker.

Enter Sgt. 1st Class Arlondo Sutton, a recruiter in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a suburb of one of USAREC’s key recruiting markets, Atlanta. Sutton, an amateur rapper known by his stage name “Rookiebaby,” has been performing for years with limited exposure – until a video for a recent song he recorded went viral on social media.

“Enlisted,” a song about the opportunities the Army offers to change lives and provide skills, has pulled in nearly two million views, thanks to rapper Young Verse’s share of Sutton’s video. With nearly 28,000 shares and support in the video from other recruiters at Sutton’s station, it seemed like this video was going to be a bright spot in an otherwise dismal beginning to USAREC’s year.

Not so fast.

The viral video, which appears to be sanctioned and authorized by the U.S. Army and USAREC, was not. In fact, it wasn’t until after the video went viral and USAREC attempted to capitalize on its growing popularity did anyone realize some key problems with the video.

First, the video was a paid product. Sutton contracted local production company TMPFilmz to shoot the video – and the company used their logo in the video, a violation of Army rules. Sutton, along with five other recruiters in the station, appeared in uniform in the video without permission, another violation of Army regulation. The video was also shot inside the recruiting center, a government facility, and based on the sunlight in the video, purportedly on government time.

Once the video began to gain steam online, USAREC shared it on its various social media platforms, providing what one senior Army representative we spoke with called an “implied endorsement,” meaning USAREC was signing off on the regulatory violations.