Legacy: 1947

Fall Line

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In an attempt to boost troop numbers in Iraq, the army is paying bonuses of $15,000 to entice reservists into active duty—but it’s still falling short of recruitment goals. Maybe Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should look beyond cash inducements. Almost 60 years ago, the military did just that. When the draft expired for a brief period after World War II, the Army—short of manpower to face the building Cold War—looked to attract “young men with a taste for excitement by introducing them to a new sport. Namely, downhill skiing.

Join the Army and “Hit the hickories, urged an advertisement in the 1947 Saturday Evening Post as it rhapsodized about skiing’s daredevil thrills and warm camaraderie. “There’s control in every movement of their bodies, 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 famous—and then recently demobilized—10th Mountain Division. The ad cautioned, however, 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. The ad goes on to mention such glamour resorts as Cortina, Italy, and Garmisch, Germany, while also noting that ground forces in Japan “take time from their occupation duties for a thrilling week-end on skis.

Today’s Pentagon continues to entice soldiers with skiing. The U.S. Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation network offers vacations in Garmisch, where it recently opened the refurbished 330-room Edelweiss hotel. Next to the lifts, the huge Hausberg baselodge—subsidized by American taxpayers—often buzzes with men and women on leave from Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and other hot spots. Military ski clubs regularly organize trips throughout the Alps and elsewhere. Recovering amputees are inspired to put their lives back together by entering disabled skier programs. Across generations and across conflicts, skiing’s healing power, it seems, retains its appeal.

Summer 2005