Years of war, continuous combat deployments, and ongoing manpower reductions have stressed the Army. A mission-first culture coupled with unending pressing priorities have prevented the Army from first learning and then reflecting on the lessons of the past 14 years.
Advances in tactics, technology, and the ever-changing composition of the force require acknowledgement and contemplation. One thing, however, remains constant: the Army, as a profession of arms, provides a unique service of national defense to the American people and each soldier, as a professional, commits to service and training in support of that objective.
Defining the Army as a Profession
Before we can define the Army as a profession, we must first define what a profession is. Defining a profession is a field of study, but for the sake of brevity we’ll use a four-part definition:
- Professions produce uniquely expert work
- Professionals require years of study and practice
- Professions earn the trust of their clients through their ethic
- Professions motivate through inspirational and intrinsic factors (U.S. Army 2010, 2)
The Army’s uniquely expert work is national defense and the exercise of land power in support of national objectives. Additionally, the structure of our government and armed forces acknowledges this expert knowledge. So how does the Army achieve this trust?
First, it has career-long education and training courses that cover both the enlisted and officer corps. Additionally, even young soldiers must be considered aspiring professionals due to their commitment to training and service in the profession of arms. We place enormous responsibility on our young soldiers, such as the M240B gunner firing on the support-by-fire for an infantry assault or the intelligence analyst given a Top Secret clearance and expected to evaluate national secrets. In return we charge these young soldiers to provide expert work in their assigned duty and in accordance with their training. As soldiers learn and grow, their body of expert knowledge increases in both breadth and depth, and the level of responsibility grows. After all, a physician does not have the same knowledge as the orthopedic surgeon and even together they lack the knowledge that a Dean of a Medical School may have regarding Healthcare. Yet all three belong to the same profession and are considered professionals.
The American people place great trust in the Army, allowing us to regulate our own ranks through our ethic. Without this great trust in our self-policing ethic, the Army could not be termed a profession; similar say, to medical boards. The self-policing ethic is demonstrated by the Army’s administering of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well as our ability to impose other, non-judicial, punishments. Additionally, the Army governs itself with administrative actions, such as bars to re-enlistment, reduction boards and involuntary separations. Less formal actions govern our everyday actions. In categories that range from haircuts, uniform standards, and training quality, the Army is self-policing and governed with little to no outside interference. The U.S. Supreme Court itself has traditionally given the military a much wider latitude to restrict Constitutional rights in the name of military necessity. Furthermore, even when the Army is called to task by outside agencies, such as Congress, the media, or the American people, we are trusted to conduct our own investigations and punish the offenders ourselves.
Lastly, the Army is unarguably defined as a profession by the use of intrinsic rewards to motivate our professionals. Service to the nation is stressed in the Soldier’s Creed and duties to fellow soldiers are espoused in the Warrior Ethos. These commitments are drilled into soldiers from their first day of training and reinforced through professional education throughout their career. Soldiers are rewarded for outstanding performance using selective Army schools such as Pathfinder School or Ranger School. The soldier’s thirst for knowledge is what makes these schools their own reward and other Soldiers respect and value the knowledge gained at these schools.
Defining the Army Professional
A member of the Army does not simply become an Army professional overnight. The Army professional, as a member of the Profession of Arms, is bound to uphold two great commitments. The first is commitment in service of the American people. Our government derives its authority from the will of the people and through this we receive our mandate to uphold and preserve the Constitution. The second commitment of the Army professional is to his or her fellow soldiers. The lethality of our profession demands that we care for and trust in the soldiers to our left and right. Taken together, these two commitments define the Army professional.
Our commitment to service to the American people is the bedrock upon which the character of the Army professional is built. This commitment acknowledges that all power in the government is derived from the will of the people, that through this will the Constitution was written and that our loyalty extends from the Constitution to the lawfully elected and appointed civilian representatives of the American people. Our loyalty to the American people governs our conduct as well. The Army professional has a duty to serve honorably and represent the American people such that we do not bring shame upon our nation through misconduct. The people have granted us a burden of sacred trust that we must not violate, even in the most trying circumstances of combat.
The second commitment that defines an Army professional is directly related to combat and the unique lethality of the profession of arms. This commitment to our fellow soldiers demands study and training in order that our subordinates, peers, and superiors trust in our skill and judgment to navigate stressful, and often lethal, situations. This lethality imposes a moral obligation on the Army professional to be well trained and competent. To use my earlier example, even while training for a Live Fire Exercise (LFX), Soldiers must trust that the machine gunners have the training, competence and professionalism to expertly place their cone of fire in order to lead the assault force across the objective, suppressing the enemy while still allowing the advance of friendly forces. One might even say we stake our very lives on their professionalism. The Army professional must recognize that soldiers are the most precious resource of the Army and that their lives are not to be needlessly wasted. This commitment is directly related to the first in that the American people trust the Army professional with their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives and expect that we will bring them through combat as safely as possible.
That the Army is a profession is undeniable. The Army provides a unique service of national defense to the American people, provides educated and trained professionals, is trusted by the American people with a self-policing ethic, and relies on the intrinsic rewards of service to motivate Army professionals. These Army professionals are defined by their commitment to selfless service to the American people and their duty to honor the service and sacrifices of their fellow soldiers. These are the expectations required of an Army professional, without which our service cannot retain the trust of our employers, the American people.
Montana Gent is a West Point graduate and an Infantry captain currently stationed at Ft. Bragg. He has previously served in the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii and deployed to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012. He occasionally writes about the military and current events, but prefers backpacking. You’ll most often find him in the woods and mountains of North Carolina and the surrounding states every chance he gets.
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