Views on the #Profession from the Professional

Within the Army, THE source for analysis and research on “the profession” comes from Dr. Don Snider. Since he’s not been referenced in The Bridge’s recent series on the #Profession, I thought it would be worth throwing out some of his ideas as an addendum.

The Assertion

First, in his most recent piece on the profession in the Army’s Parameters, Dr. Snider addresses the Army as a profession in our current institutional and strategic context:

The new understanding of modern, competitive professions holds that, contrary to what we might have learned from Huntington’s Soldier and State, the idea that “once a profession, always a profession” is not true. In fact, modern, competitive professions “die” in the sense they might still exist as organizations, but their culture and behavior, and that of their individual members, becomes other than that of a profession.
Applying this fact to the U.S. Army as a military profession, we must recall it is by design an institution of dual character — a bureaucracy and a profession — with constant and intense tensions between them. The Army has only been a military profession for roughly half of its two hundred and forty-year existence. For example, in the early 1970s, after Vietnam, the Army was not a profession mainly because it had expended its corps of non-commissioned officers who were later so instrumental in professionalizing the junior ranks of the new all-volunteer force. A decade later, however, the Army of Desert Shield/Desert Storm was the world’s model of military professionalism.
So, in the case of the Army Profession, to “die” means the institution would duplicate the behavior of a large, government bureaucracy, treating its soldiers and civilians more as bureaucrats than as professionals. As a result, soldiers would be unmotivated by a personal calling to “honorable service,” being instead micro-managed within a centralized, highly-structured organizational culture. Sadly, were this to occur it would be the antithesis of the Army’s current doctrine of mission command within a professional culture.
The current potential for the Army to lose this internal struggle for cultural dominance, and for the profession to die as such, is heightened by ongoing defense reductions. All defense reductions are pernicious toward the military’s professional character. They will, as they have in the past, strongly reinforce the unremitting de-motivations of the Army’s bureaucratic character and undermine the essential professional character, e.g., with highly centralized, impersonal micromanagement for force and personnel cuts, and fiscal resources allocated to “do more with less.”

This relative perspective of a profession, as related to its attributes and actions, is reminiscent of the recent #Profession post by Rooster #299 which argued that, “when engaged in a war (or two), the ivory tower goal of being a ‘profession’ is sacrificed to the operational realities of combat. The military is most like a profession in times of peace (relative as that may be) and least like one when we are engaged in combat.”

Dr. Snider’s solution to the relative nature of professionalism is to ensure our military services imbue those leading from within their ranks with a moral, indeed ethical, routine of behavior:

…the practice of Army professionals is to make discretionary judgments routinely; those judgments are highly moral in nature; such decisions are better made by professionals of high moral character; and such high moral character is only developed and manifested within the “honorable service” of those serving daily in the professional culture and motivations of the Army’s ethic.

The Statement

Another piece by Dr. Snider that should be of interest to this discussion — and still in draft form, so my great thanks to him for letting me share it — is his working statement on the Army’s Ethic within the profession. This is a tool that can be introduced at accession and reinforced throughout a career of service:

The Army Ethic

Our professional Ethic is the set of principles that guide our decisions and actions as we execute the Army’s moral purpose — to defend our Constitution, Nation, and way of life. It remains the sole basis for our mutual trust with the American people, having guided the Army throughout its history of honorable service to the Republic. Today it expresses laws, values, and beliefs deeply embedded within American and Army culture. It motivates and guides the daily actions of all Army professionals — soldiers and Army civilians — those bound together by the Army’s historic and prophetic motto: This We’ll Defend.

Serving under our Ethic we adopt a shared professional identity — Trusted Army Professionals. As such we fulfill three distinctive roles, each imposing its own obligations on us as. We are Honorable Servants, Army Experts, and Stewards of the Profession. To understand these obligations, they are expressed as moral truths or ethical principles. The Army’s Ethic is a principled one, the moral principles applicable to each Army professional at all times. So, by our solemn oath of service we voluntarily incur the extraordinary moral obligation to be:

Trusted Army Professionals

Honorable Servants of the Nation — Professionals of Character:

  • We serve honorably — according to our Ethic — under civilian authority while obeying the laws of the Nation and all legal orders; further, we reject and report illegal or immoral orders or actions.
  • We take pride in our honorable service to the Nation, demonstrating character in all aspects of our duties and lives.
  • In war and peace we recognize the intrinsic dignity and worth of all people, treating them with empathy and respect.
  • We lead by example and demonstrate courage by doing what is right despite risk, uncertainty, and fear; we candidly express our professional judgment to subordinates, peers, and superiors.

Army Experts — Competent Professionals:

  • We advance constantly the expertise of our chosen profession through life-long learning, professional development, and our individual certifications.
  • We do our duty, leading and following with discipline, striving for excellence, putting the needs of others above our own, and accomplishing the mission as a team.
  • We commit to accomplish the mission, accepting it may demand both risking our lives and killing others.

Stewards of the Army Profession — Committed Professionals:

  • We embrace and uphold the Army values and standards of the profession, always accountable to each other and the American people for our decisions and actions.
  • We wisely use the resources entrusted to us, ensuring our Army is well led and well prepared, while caring for soldiers, Army civilians, and families.
  • We continuously strengthen the essential characteristics of the Army Profession, reinforcing our bond of trust with the American people and each other.

The Doctrine

Finally, the Army’s official doctrine (shaped by subject matter experts like Dr. Snider), Army Doctrinal Reference Publication 1, The Army Profession,addresses the defintion and requirements the Army as a profession:

1–3. A profession is a trusted self-policing and relatively autonomous vocation whose members develop and apply expert knowledge as human expertise to render an essential service to society in a particular field. This explanation of a profession has five aspects:
Professions provide a unique and vital service to the society served, one it cannot provide itself.
Professions provide this service by applying expert knowledge and practice.
Professions earn the trust of the society because of effective and ethical application of their expertise.
Professions self-regulate; they police the practice of their members to ensure it is effective and ethical. This includes the responsibility for educating and certifying professionals.
Professions are therefore granted significant autonomy and discretion in their practice of expertise on behalf of the society.

My take-away from this most recent series on The Bridge, and the resources like those detailed aboveis that a profession — and those individuals of which it is composed being labeled professionals — is a very fluid thing. It is more fluid than we care to admit. Wearing a uniform or getting paid to perform a role does not make someone a professional.

Similarly, just because there is an education system that teaches a particular ethos or ethic as a part of a job does not make it a profession. What truly matters is a culture of service, consistent actions that match rhetoric, andefficacy. If you are not effective at what is required for your “client”, you cannot be professional.

After two wars (and dozens of military actions along the periphery) that have seemed to create very little beneficial political or strategic effect for our clients, it makes a “professional” wonder whether we have met the required efficacy of a “profession”…


Some thoughts by Dr. Don Snider


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