It is fair to say that some of my assumptions have been challenged in the last three weeks. This makes me uncomfortable and, if I’m being honest, that’s a good thing. There were two distinct themes that emerged from the three-week #Profession series and a third observation that was more an omission than a thematic presence but for me may well have been the most important take-away of the series.
As I read the posts in the series, it became apparent that several questions remain about the military profession. Jill Sargent argued that the term “professional” was too broad be of any real value. The tasks performed by members of the military vary widely and the term “profession of arms” simply does not apply to all of them. Steven Foster suggested that the status of professional soldiers was at an inflection point and would require close attention in the years ahead. Mike Denny said that not everyone in the military was a professional, but argued that some clearly were.
As I worked through the first week I struggled to recognize myself in the writing. I was having a bit of a Narcissus moment, where I gazed at my own professional reflection in the river while authors kept throwing stones into the water. By the end of the second week I was rattled and began to seriously ask myself: Am I the professional I thought I was?
It was at this time that Mark Herbert weaved in the next thread of our ongoing discussion: enduring conflict and its impact on the military culture. This was an idea I could get behind. After all, Vietnam introduced conscripts to the calculus of our professional force. That enduring war effort, Mark argued, impacted our culture significantly and had a corrosive result on the professional status of our military. This sounded somewhat familiar to me. I had heard this story before.
If we maintain a volunteer force so that we can go to war with a professional army, but then accept lower standards during conflict, how are we different than the military of Vietnam?
Then an Infantry Captain at Ft. Bragg rolled a boulder into the river by claiming that the military was more professional during times of peace than it was during war. I had to read this a couple of times, but I kept coming away with the same question. If we maintain a volunteer force so that we can go to war with a professional army, but then accept lower standards during conflict, how are we different than the military of Vietnam? I’ve argued against conscription before, but the Infantry Captain got me thinking; if we end up with a less professional force anyway — and if that is ok— then what exactly are we worried about? Is there a necessity to maintaining an all-volunteer professional force?
By the time the second week was over I was resigned to the idea that the military is a profession which employs both skilled workers and true professionals. I knew which side of the line I wanted to be on, but then the professors started to heap cognitive dissonance upon me. Dr. Shanks-Kaurin suggested that the military was not professional in a binary sense, but that we’d be better off to view the military as a group which aspired to professional standards. Shanks-Kaurin then introduced ethics into our debate and made me rather uncomfortable. It was Dr. Johnson’s post on “The Ethical Requirements of the #Profession” that confirmed in my mind that I was not prepared to have a discussion about the ethics of my so-called profession. This was the unspoken part of the series, the elephant in the room that the other authors had not addressed in a serious manner.
I look back over all of my formal military and civilian education and I can clearly see that there is a large hole in my ethical education.
When we started this series it was with a post entitled “The Intersection of #Profession and Ethics” and it seemed that everyone had an opinion about the profession part of the discussion but the ethics question was a bit fuzzy. It was something that as professionals we seemed to be hesitant to address and this gives me pause. I look back over all of my formal military and civilian education and I can clearly see that there is a large hole in my ethical education. I suspect a few of you probably feel the same way. Therein resides both our challenge and opportunity. We know what we need to do.
It has been my absolute pleasure to edit this series. The reason I enjoy continuing this conversation on The Bridge is because many of our “professional” counterparts are interested in having it. I think I have a better idea about where I stand, and where our military stands with respect to this conversation and I urge all of you to pursue a professional standard and think about the ethical requirements that it entails.
THE #PROFESSION SERIES:
- The Intersection of #Profession and Ethics: Redefining the Modern Military
- Why You’re Not #Professionals
- The Military #Profession: Lawyers, Ethics, and the Profession of Arms
- The Army as a #Profession of Arms
- The Army #Profession: From Macro to Micro: How Individual Effort is More Important than Sweeping Initiatives
- #Professionals Know When to Break the Rules
- #Profession Versus Culture: Resiliency and The Gap
- As #Professional as Circumstance Allows
- Questioning Military #Professionalism
- #Professional Warfighters: A Historical Perspective on the so-called “Profession of Arms”
- Ethical Requirements of the #Profession: Obligations of the Professional, the Profession, and the Client
- #Professional Education and the 21st-Century Military
- The Gun Doctor & #Professional Military Character
- Views on the #Profession from the Professional: Some thoughts by Dr. Don Snider
- Thoughts on Our #Profession
- The Rise and Fall of U.S. Naval #Professionalism
- The Military is Not the Sole #Profession on the Battlefield
- #Profession and "New Model Army"
- Confessions of a Struggling #Professional
Tyrell Mayfield is a U.S. Air Force Political Affairs Strategist and a member of the CJCS AFPAK Hands Program. Ty’s interests include strategy, languages, and the intersection of social media and conflict spaces. He serves as the Communications Director for The Strategy Bridge and is writing a book about Kabul. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the USAF, the DoD, or the U.S. Government.
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