A few years ago, Sgt. Brandon Jacoby had more time on his hands than he knew what to do with. The COVID-19 pandemic had seen to that.
“When COVID hit, I basically got three months off,” said Jacoby, a recruiter for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Confined to his home alongside the rest of America, he turned to TikTok for some light-hearted distraction at the encouragement of his teenage children.
“At first, I was just scrolling through videos and laughing,” Jacoby said. “Then one day, we were at the lake for Father’s Day, and my son and I made this video, and I posted it, and it went super viral.”
Viral – as in 4 million views viral. Jacoby’s first social media effort, posted on a whim, propelled him into that most hallowed ground of content creators – overnight, he was an influencer.
“It was a rush, all the comments, all the laughing,” Jacoby said. “I was hooked.”
A reluctant soldier
Jacoby is basically National Guard royalty in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. His father was the state’s command sergeant major, and his mother retired as a master sergeant. Military rigor was weaved into the fabric of their home.
“It was tough, because he would talk to me like a soldier,” Jacoby said of his father. “As early as 9 or 10 years old, he would wake me up to work out with PLDC (now called Basic Leader Course) in the mornings. I was never allowed to sleep in.”
Despite being forced to conduct PT alongside aspiring noncommissioned officers more than twice his age, when Jacoby found himself needing to get his life back on track, he turned to the Guard.
“I was going through a divorce, I had zero money, working at a warehouse on 12-hour shifts, living back with my parents,” Jacoby said. “My life was in shambles.”
Immediately after basic training and advanced individual training, Jacoby found a full-time gig as a mechanic with the Guard. For the next several years, his life situation improved, and his steady work ethic and personality made an impression on a local recruiting manager.
“I knew recruiting was the job I wanted,” said Jacoby, who began a recruiting position in January of this year. “Sometimes the days are long, but it’s something I enjoy doing, because I’m a people person. … Honestly, it’s the best job I’ve had and I’m probably never going back.”
The future of recruiting
Jacoby is an upbeat, hard-working troop, so he doesn’t shy away from putting in the elbow grease required to enlist recruits. But he also believes the digital landscape offers more potential than some of the old-school methods.
“We’re required to make so many phone calls on a regular basis, and I’m lucky to make one appointment out of maybe 50, 60 phone calls,” Jacoby said. “They really don’t hear what you have to say because they’re scrolling on social media and their attention span is about 15 seconds or less. So, like, why not use something they are already using?”
Blessed with a strong sense of humor and a knack for viral videos, Jacoby married his influencer status to his recruiting gig. Under his @sgtknucklehead handle, he boasts more than 700,000 followers and 30 million likes on TikTok and another 50,000 or so followers on Instagram.
“I wanted to make people laugh and show the lighter side of the military and go from there,” Jacoby said. “I made a (military-themed) skit one day, and the skit went viral, and I was like, ‘OK, this is what we’re doing.’”
Jacoby began churning out daily content, mostly short videos that play off the absurdities common to uniformed life. Before long, he was connecting with young people and gathering leads – sometimes beyond his own borders.
“I’m starting to get leads from other states,” said Jacoby, who is quick to point out to potential recruits that he can only enlist those willing to serve in his state. “There’s a guy in Massachusetts who refuses to let anyone else enlist him.”
Now, senior leaders and other recruiters are turning to Jacoby for guidance, hoping to gain some of the digital influence he enjoys.
“You just got to have the patience and you got to be consistent,” Jacoby said. “And you gotta have fun with it. If you’re not having fun doing it, what’s the sense of doing it?”Read comments