Military

Moral Philosophy as a Force Protection Measure

Moral Philosophy as a Force Protection Measure

Membership in the profession of arms is a tightrope walk. Just warriors manage a delicate balance between respecting human life and taking it. This is no new phenomenon, but instead has been a fact about war from the beginning. We judge Achilles, but not for killing Hector; that was his soldierly duty. There was a hope, though, that even in death, Achilles might honor Hector’s life. This was not to be. In defiling Hector’s body, Achilles dehumanized his enemy and fell to one side of the tightrope.

Against the Tide: A Look at Chinese and Indian Strategies to Become Superpowers

Against the Tide: A Look at Chinese and Indian Strategies to Become Superpowers

While the United States is currently considered the world’s hegemonic power, several other states possess the potential to be superpowers in the making, such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the so-called BRIC countries). Assuming these great powers desire to better their positions, their respective strategies may either propel them into a leading international role or act as a hindrance to their ascent. The examples of China and India, in particular, serve as interesting cases to explore due to their potential to become superpowers as well as their vastly different approaches in world affairs.

#Reviewing Military Leadership Lessons for Public Service

#Reviewing Military Leadership Lessons for Public Service

The new presidential administration includes more veterans in cabinet-level positions than any administration in recent memory, a point that has sparked debate among public policy experts. On one hand, Daniel Benjamin, a professor at Dartmouth College and former official at the State Department, says former military officers in civilian positions is “a matter of deep concern,” because “Generals as a rule believe in hierarchies and taking orders…Generals have one set of skills, and diplomacy is not in the top drawer of that tool kit.”[i] Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) disagrees and contends, “The United States military…produces real leaders, people who know how to solve problems and take a very structured approach in doing so.”[ii] In Military Leadership Lessons for Public Service, Charles Szypszak explores the principles and methods of military leadership and argues they are effective for public service.[iii] Szypszak’s book will be especially valuable to service members who are interested in post-military public service, from the policy-making level to service in city and county governments.

#Reviewing On the Psychology of Military Incompetence

#Reviewing On the Psychology of Military Incompetence

Dixon’s psychology may be dated and his references may be foreign, yet he has much to offer anyone who selects leaders. Dixon himself admits that “it is most difficult to find a suitable prescription for military commanders,” but despite the difficulty, someone must attempt to find one. Fortunately for them, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence is a great place to start.

History's Last Left Hook?

History's Last Left Hook?

One of history’s first large scale “left hooks” took place during the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. The fundamental principles of that ancient conflict can be seen in World Wars I and II, and even Desert Storm: all these “left hooks” share the common principles of surprise, shock, timing, overwhelming force, precision, and deception; they are military envelopments with strategic implications.

What Would Clausewitz Do?

What Would Clausewitz Do?

Several years ago, during a visit to the U.S. Army War College, I was invited to have lunch with some of its instructors. The school teaches Army officers about strategy and its course offerings (“Civil-Military Relations,” “Peace and Stability Operations,” “Irregular Warfare”) reflect that mandate. So, naturally, the lunch discussion focused on strategy, and how to teach it. While I don’t now recall the exact details of that conversation, a statement by one of the war college’s professors has stayed with me. It brought immediate laughter — and unanimous assent. “Just remember,” he said, “that no matter what the question, the answer is always Clausewitz.”

One Year in Paris

Beginning in the summer of 2014, I was provided a unique opportunity to live and work in Paris for one year. From this home base, I was permitted to travel anywhere in Europe and Eurasia that I wished as long as certain provisions were met (the location had to be in my plan and I had to be allowed entry). I recently departed the City of Light. This is what I learned.

During my year in Paris, I was required to meet several objectives, to include familiarizing myself with US government policy and its formulation, learning about US military involvement in Europe and Eurasia, seeking experiences to interact with other national militaries, and increasing my understanding of the European and Eurasian regions through personal study and firsthand experience.

Ultimately, the experience was useful in helping me identify regional trends that I think will shape Europe’s future political and security landscape.

 

View of the Eiffel Tower from the southwest.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the southwest.

After one year, I am still by no means an expert in European and Eurasian political or security affairs. Yet, I think that I can can comfortably say I am more knowledgeable than before thanks to a combination of travel, practitioner insights, and a graduate degree earned the year prior. Ultimately, the experience was useful in helping me identify regional trends that I think will shape Europe’s future political and security landscape.

To understand Europe as a region, it must be remembered that Europe encompasses many nations that regularly exercise parochial interests. Although, many are hopeful that European nations will continue to move in a direction of greater solidarity. In the mean time, Europe’s main unifying body, the European Union (EU), is effective at creating some governing laws and policies but individual nations still retain a significant amount of autonomy and their national interests often trump the EU’s interests.

Many members fear what the precedent any departure could mean for the future stability and functionality of the union.

People and Money

Some of the issues that will continue to shape regional European political and security landscape are as follows (in no particular order). The recent tensions in Calais over migrants crossing between France and Great Britain are an example of one issue that will haunt Europe as a region for some time to come. Recent horrific tragedies have brought this trend to the forefront of current events. The path and final destination of the migrants and refugees who safely make it to the shores and borders of Europe is creating tension among EU members, especially for those on the southern tier like Spain, France, Italy, and Greece. For now, individual citizens and the larger European nations, like Germany and France, continue to accept migrants and refugees but the EU is struggling to find a viable option to stem the flow and prevent tragedy. A change to the Schengen Area is not out of the realm of possibility.

The stability of the union — whether it be the EU itself or the Euro economic zone — is also contested given the possibility of one member nation’s departure(Great Britain) and one Eurozone nation’s departure (Greece). For now, a “Grec-xit” has been averted and many hope (and just as many doubt) that Greece can turn around its broken bureaucratic and budgetary practices to prevent another scare. Likewise, many EU members fear what the precedent any departure could mean for the future stability and functionality of the union.

How Safe is Europe?

Social and economic issues are not the only regional challenges Europe faces today. Many European nations are faced with questioning their own security. An old foe, Russia, has again reared its head and stomped back into Eastern Europe. After several years of playing nice, the US and NATO were largely caught off guard and had to mount a counter campaign and reverse many policy initiatives aimed at cooperation with Russia and reset. Much of their positive effort was suspended despite expending significant political capital on befriending Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union and prior to the Crimea and Ukraine crises.

Finally, the scourge of conflict in the Middle East continues to worry European nations. Whether it is the threat of terrorism in their cities or the implications of efforts to train, equip, and support various regional and national security and militia forces, no outlook appears promising at this point to deliver stability to the Middle East.

Focus on France

For France, in particular, the US has found itself more often than not aligned with and in support of “our oldest ally’s” efforts to curb terrorism and build stability, especially in Africa and the Middle East. While France’s efforts likely relieve pressure from the US having to go it alone, it is necessary to realize that France’s interests in Africa mostly extend to its former colonies and to those nations with stakes in the French defense industries. So while it is certainly good for US security interests that the French are being proactive (i.e. operational deployments along with active diplomatic efforts), one must recognize that these efforts are limited to specific regions and countries. They are not meant to shape or influence large swathes of the continent. Some (or all) of this constraint is because of the limitations currently imposed on the French military.

French troops guard tourist and culturally sensitive sites in France.

French troops guard tourist and culturally sensitive sites in France.

Due to the January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the government is requiring the military to conduct more domestic operations than originally planned in their budget. This unforeseen operational tempo has largely fallen on the French army causing it to stretch its budget all-the-while placing a higher burden on military personnel, units, and equipment.

Maintaining active sanctions against Russian businesses and some notable figures have been the most high profile efforts.

What is the US Doing?

On the policy front, the US has pushed for European unity on their collective relations with Russia. Thanks in part to Germany’s willingness to stay the course, maintaining active sanctions against Russian businesses and some notable figures have been the most high profile efforts. Sanctioning Russia, however, has proven difficult for many former Soviet bloc (now EU) countries that have maintained historical ties to Russia. Public and political support for Russia still lingers in parts of these nations. Russia’s robust energy network that supplies many European nations has also proven a difficult obstacle to overcome.

To foster an overall annual increase in the EU and US economies, the current US administration has pushed to increase trade with the EU in the form of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). In the same vein, the US has urged NATO members to hold fast to (or work up to) spending two percent of their GDP on defense. Yet, many small NATO allies have tended to spend more on niche capabilities like Special Operations Forces than on modernization or mass. On the other hand, those on the “North Eastern flank,” like Poland, have recognized Russia is no longer a docile bear and have begun to modernize and prepare for worst case scenarios.

Where’s the Rub?

Is the US in a position to do anything about these trends? I would argue yes and no. On the security front, the US broke its gaze on the Pacific and realized not all was well in Europe after Russia annexed Crimea and incited (and supported) separatists to break apart Ukraine. This has lead to policy initiatives like the European Reassurance Initiative as well as an increase of US and NATO military operations in Europe. All of this to prove to our NATO allies (and to Russia and the world) that the US has not forgotten about its Article V commitments and that peace and the security of Europe still matters. In addition to these initiatives, the US should provide diplomatic and operational support to its allies and partners who have been more willing as of late to go beyond rhetoric such as aforementioned Poland and France.

Twelve A-10s and about 300 airmen are deploying to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, as part of the Air Force’s first theater security package to Europe. (Photo: Senior Airman Jesse Shipps/Air Force)

Twelve A-10s and about 300 airmen are deploying to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, as part of the Air Force’s first theater security package to Europe. (Photo: Senior Airman Jesse Shipps/Air Force)

On the contrary, the days of the Marshall Plan are long gone. On the social and economic front, the US does not have many uni-lateral options. The US can strongly suggest that Europe listen to its policy recommendations. It can also provide money and programs to support US and allied interests. But at the end of the day, the Europeans must buy in and commit to making their own path. If either the US or EU want to treat the causes of the trends highlighted above and not just the symptoms, the US should chose to lead through multi-lateral coalitions (or empower other European nations to do so).

These are just some of the recent trends spreading across Europe that I noticed during my year in Paris. It is by no means all inclusive and many of the issues and problems that these trends present are extremely complex with no easy solution in sight. Yet, because I was exposed to a wide range of European political and military issues, I think that I emerged more capable of understanding the region and able to contribute regional resolutions.


Jason James is a U.S. Army officer and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School with a Masters Degree in European and Eurasian Security Studies. He is a French speaker and a European and Eurasian specialist. The opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


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#Reviewing No Place to Hide

#Reviewing No Place to Hide

From the first pages of No Place to Hide, I found myself transported back to Iraq. I walked between the rows of sandbags and around the puddles of filth as I made my way through long rows of modular housing units. Eventually I popped out near the courtyard fence, the one that separated the pool area from the palace itself. I shuffled my feet across the wet patio and made my way to the fifty-five gallon drum filled with concrete, mounted at an angle, and pointed the barrel of my empty nine millimeter Beretta pistol into the three inch opening. I pulled back the slide, checked the empty chamber for the one hundredth time, and let it spring back into position. As I made my way into the chow hall to wash my hands again and dry them with something that felt like wet toilet paper, I tried to ignore the dull feeling deep inside.

#Reviewing Ghost Fleet: The Successes (and Shortcomings) of Informed Fiction and Strategy

#Reviewing Ghost Fleet: The Successes (and Shortcomings) of Informed Fiction and Strategy

Ghost Fleet is an enjoyable book. It is a fun book. What’s more, it is an insightful and prescient book, without forcing the reader to ever acknowledge that fact. Sure, it suffers, as many popular works do, with things that literary critics will nitpick over. But if there’s one thing that’s been made abundantly clear to me over the course of reading the work and discussing it with colleagues, it’s that Cole and Singer have accomplished the difficult feat of merging knowledge with storytelling, insight with invention.

What Successful Strategists Read

What Successful Strategists Read

The bottom-line is that there already exists a long list of lists advising strategists on what they should read. At best, the analysis presented here provides one more list to consider. To remain open-minded, hopefully a strategic thinker would never limitthemselves to any list. Nevertheless, the hope is that individuals find the results of this survey valuable as they chart their course of self-study and reflection, wherever that may take them.

#Reviewing Lessons from the Gun Doctor

#Reviewing Lessons from the Gun Doctor

Armstrong is able to return a spotlight on Admiral William Sims, an innovative naval leader often overshadowed by the subject of Armstrong’s first book, Alfred Thayer Mahan. Armstrong shares the story of how a young Lieutenant redefined the Navy’s approach to warfare by applying lessons learned from others to his own crew and reporting the improved results up his chain of command and to anyone who would listen, including the President of the United States and naval enthusiast, Theodore Roosevelt.

In Defense of Programs: Surviving The Drawdown

In Defense of Programs: Surviving The Drawdown

The drawdown is upon us. Both the base budget and the overseas contingency operation funding lines are getting smaller. This is forcing Department of Defense (DoD) components to make hard decisions on which programs they want to fund. These hard decisions are informed and influenced by the efforts of strategists, cost assessors, budgeters, congressional affairs personnel, program evaluators, and others who do similar work. If DoD components want to survive, and possibly thrive during a drawdown, they need to invest in and reward the work of strategists, cost assessors, budgeters, congressional affairs personnel, and program evaluators as they are DoD’s Program Defenders.

The True Meaning of Memorial Day

The True Meaning of Memorial Day

Most vets appreciate being thanked for their service, but if it happens on Memorial Day, there are many that will tell you to be thankful instead for those that never made it home. Memorial Day, celebrated at the end of May every year, is meant to remember them, our comrades-in-arms, that gave the ultimate sacrifice. After 20 years in uniform, Memorial Day means more to me (and many veterans like me) than it might to other Americans.

#Profession and 'New Model Army'

In an attempt to procrastinate from writing my thesis, I recently read Adam Roberts’ New Model ArmyIt is a sci-fi story centred on the narrative of an unnamed protagonist who deserted from the British Army but is now a member of a ‘New Model Army’ (NMA) called ‘Pantegral.’ The Pantegral NMA is an amorphous group organised around democratic ideals (for example, its members vote for courses of tactical action during a battle) and use a wiki for communication and coordination. In a sense it is a ‘crowd sourced’ army based on the equality of its members; all of whom have a vote about how the NMA is run and how battles are fought. The story is set in a dystopian future where secessionist Scotland is at war with the rest of Britain and hires the NMA as its armed force. Here’s an extract from the book that gives a flavour for what NMA is all about:

Lets say our eight thousand men, coordinating themselves via their wikis, voting on a dozen on-the-hoof strategic propositions, utliizing their collective cleverness and experience (instead of suppressing it under the lid of feudal command) — that our eight thousand, because they had drawn on all eight thousand as a tactical resource as well as a fighting force — had thoroughly defeated an army three times our size. Let’s say they had a dozen armoured- and tank-cars; and air support; and bigger guns, and better and more weapons. But let’s say that they were all trained only to do what they were told, and their whole system depending upon the military feudalism of a traditional army, made them markedly less flexible; and that each soldier could only do one thing where we could do many things. Anyway, we beat them.

The underlying assumption in the novel was that the NMA consisted of anyone that wanted to fight and that the wiki was practically a ‘deus ex machina’ that suddenly made the amorphous mass an ‘army’ that had the skills and knowledge to take it to the British and win. On the other hand, the British Army was considered ‘feudal’ and inflexible by comparison; and that these very characteristics were what made it less effective on the battlefield than the NMA.

The book painted an interesting backdrop against which all the articles within the #Profession series can be examined, and enables the extrapolation of the fundamental prerequisites to becoming a ‘profession’. There were three key themes about professionalism that leaped out at me while I was reading the book:

  1. ‘Fighter’ versus ‘Professional.’
  2. Professionalism and accountability.
  3. Pendulum of professionalism.

‘Fighter’ versus ‘Professional’

 Mike Denny’s article discusses the issue of when a ‘fighter’ becomes a ‘professional.’ He argues that a soldier’s ability to make autonomous decisions, based on extensive knowledge and experience, is what separates the ‘mere fighter’ from the ‘professional.’ A fighter requires some validation or direction from others to proceed with a course of action, while the professional has the confidence to make a decision on their own that is relevant to their assessment of the situation. Based on this assessment, the NMA does not have any professionals because decisions are made by the ‘hive mind’ in the context where quantity (number of votes) trumps quality of decision. The NMA soldier cannot act alone, despite being able to ‘do many things.’

Dedication to learning the art (and craft?) of war is imperative.

Our Pantegral protagonist also criticises the British Army for being feudal and inflexible. However this ignores the concept of ‘mission command’ that is central to the command and control paradigm of many modern military forces. Originally conceived as an enabler for seizing the intiative versus set piece battles, ‘mission command’ (auftrakstaktik for the purists) relies on professionalism and trust — junior leaders must understand commander’s intent and have the expertise and experience to know when to seize the initiative rather than wait to receive an order to take action[1]. Sometimes, as Denny argued, it might just require breaking some rules! As many of the authors in the #Profession Series pointed out, merely joining the military does not make one a ‘professional;’ in the same way that being able to fix some dodgy plumbing based only on YouTube DIY videos does not entitle you to call yourself a ‘plumber.’ Dedication to learning the art (and craft?) of war is imperative. I doubt that such an ethos exists within a Wikipedia/Google-powered NMA.

In order to have accountability, there must be an identifiable entity that has made a decision and, if necessary, against whom some remedial or punitive action can be taken…

Professionalism and Accountability

Many contributors to the #Professional discussion also highlighted the ethical aspects of professionalism. Dr. Rebecca Johnson discussed the obligation to serve someone other than the people who purport to be part of the profession (no self-licking ice cream cones here) and the need to maintain the trust of ‘the people;’ which implies some measure of accountability to ‘the people.’ In order to have accountability, there must be an identifiable entity that has made a decision and, if necessary, against whom some remedial or punitive action can be taken in relation to the decision made.

The NMA narrator derides the ‘feudal’ nature of the British forces. This attitude seems founded on the hierarchical, rank based and seemingly inflexible command and control structure in conventional military forces. This is subsequently compared with the flat organisational structure of the NMA, where all members are regarded as ‘equals.’ This may be good for fostering a sense of belonging and unity, but does little to enhance professionalism. The flat organisational model of the NMA, coupled with the ‘everyone is equal’ culture results in the diffusion of responsibility for the course of action selected. When the primary criteria for a decision is majority rule, holding the decision-makers to account becomes difficult.

As my drill sergeant was fond of reminding my course during our initial training course, ‘you may be defending democracy, but this [the military] is not a bloody democracy!’ The reason is clear — professional organisations require a hierarchical structure through which values and standards are enforced; ‘the knowledge’ passed on; and direction given. Accountability for decisions is relatively clear in the profession of arms — the commander may bask in the glory; but must also bear the burden of any criticism.

Pendulum of Professionalism

Various arguments were made throughout the #Profession series about the relative nature of professionalism. Roster#299 argued that ‘[t]he military is a profession that adjusts its level of professionalism according to how much it is being used;’ with military forces generally being more like a profession in times of relative peace and less like a profession in times of war. This is consistent with the view proposed by Dr. Don Snider (via Nathan Finney) that professions can ‘die;’ and that merely ‘[w]earing a uniform or getting paid to perform a role does not make someone a professional.’ Angry Staff Officer goes further by saying that ‘just giving a man a gun and pointing him towards the enemy does not make him a soldier’. Based on these criteria, members of the NMA are not professionals — they wear a uniform, get paid, and fight some battles. You might as well hire some Halo cosplayers [2]! You won’t get much warfighting professionalism for your buck.

An individual is inducted into a profession after an assessment of skills and knowledge that are central to the profession (call it basic training). This is just the beginning of a long professional journey along a road that never ends — unless you chose to stop (ie retire or are dismissed). The professional may ‘die’ along the way if they do not make the effort to invest in maintaining and improving the skills and knowledge fundamental to the profession of arms. Dr Simon Anglim emphasises the importance of continuing education in maintaining standards within a profession.

…small bands of fighters have, at times, overcome larger and better equipped forces.

Going back to the scenario at the start of this post, our Pantegral protagonist emphasised that a small NMA force defeated a much larger (three times bigger), and better equipped element of the British Army. This scenario is reminiscent of some real world experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan — small bands of fighters have, at times, overcome larger and better equipped forces. Any attempt to identify one causal factor leading to the defeat of the larger force is difficult, but I might humbly posit a possible consideration: the larger, better equipped force is in professional decline. Perhaps the force is no longer dedicated to understanding and studying warfare (its width, depth and context: Michael Howard).

Perhaps the key to avoiding such defeat in the future is to invest in those leaders who have dedicated themselves to understanding the profession of arms (strategy / military history), and who are unrelenting in their pursuit of self-improvement. These individuals will be the touchstones for maintaining the professionalism of military forces, as they lead soldiers/sailors/airmen who many not be as dedicated to the profession, into an unforgiving and binary environment characterised by life or death; victory or defeat.


The Proprietor of ‘Carl’s Cantina’ is an Australian military officer who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Proprietor is an Associate Member of the Military Writers Guild and is currently writing a thesis on Australian civil-military relations. The opinions expressed are hers alone and do not reflect those of the Australian Defence Force.


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Notes:

[1] I thought I’d throw in the German term for the purist strategist, just as I’d throw in a Latin term for the purist lawyers! For a discussion on auftragstaktikand its modern utility, see John T. Nelsen II, ‘Auftragstaktik: A Case for Decentralised Battle’ Parameters, September 1987.

[2] As the proud owner of a partially constructed (and therefore not yet vetted by the 501st Legion) Stormtrooper outfit, I just want to make it clear that I have nothing against cosplayers!

So You Don't Have a Mentor

A Few Thoughts for Walking the Lonely Road

The time has come to take the next step in your career. Behind you lies a string of accomplishments and a legacy that would be the envy of any leader (or not). In front of you the destination is clearly visible in the distance. But the road ahead is narrow, winding, and shrouded in uncertainty. Courageously you step off into the unknown, walking the path of your future where you have never tread before. You have an idea of where you want to go. You have a road map and maybe you have taken a swing at planning the trip yourself. But do you have a guide? Do you have a mentor?

Sometimes the answer is an emphatic NO, or worse, the more ambiguous NOT REALLY. It’s not your fault, just a condition of the circumstances you find yourself in. Perhaps your primary sounding board has moved on to another post. Maybe their new job keeps them from staying in touch, and they are not the sort who reaches out. Or you may have taken the near-heretical step of switching branches, leaving the service, or choosing the Harvard Strategist Program over a berth with Project Warrior. You feel lost, uncertain, and alone. So what are you going to do about it?

Self-pity is a backwards step on the road to the future. Focus instead on self development and actively seeking a mentor are positive steps that will jump start your journey.

If the answer is to sulk and drag your feet, then it could be that no amount of mentoring can get you to where you want to go. How many qualified leaders simply give up and either A) get out of the military spouting anti-service rhetoric, or B) stay in simply for the pay all the while filling a valuable Modified Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE) slot and taking no action to improve themselves or the organization? The first thing to do is make a decision to not be like so many who have squandered their potential in an endless cycle of melancholy. Self-pity is a backwards step on the road to the future. Focus instead on self development and actively seeking a mentor are positive steps that will jump start your journey.

Startups.Co.Uk/Andy Chew

Startups.Co.Uk/Andy Chew

You do not know what you do not know, but there are resources to help light the way—start reading. Reading will sharpen your mind and prepare you for almost anything. The resources for reading in the digital age are truly tremendous. Ideas on what to read can come from an all encompassing source, such as the Chief of Staff’s reading list or from a more focused venue such as the Basic Strategic Arts Program’s reading list, or a series on a particular part of history. Then of course there are the ever applicable doctrinal and conceptual publications that many claim to read but few follow through with. If all that is too much, there is always the option to read something relevant once a week that would still put you ahead. Pick works that are relevant to your profession and your career desires, and maybe a few works purely for pleasure, and plow in with gusto.

Writing is a way to record your personal experiences and leave a record of your thoughts and emotions on a variety of topics while practicing a craft of vital importance.

Writing is a way to record your personal experiences and leave a record of your thoughts and emotions on a variety of topics while practicing a craft of vital importance. To write, you simply have to sit down at a keyboard or pick up paper and pen. Do not hesitate to seek out ways to put your writing out there for review and critique by society. Medium.com is, of course, a great place to self-publish and invite the feedback of others. Forums such as the Military Writer’s Guild or the Veteran’s Writing Project are terrific ways to have your writing assessed, critiqued, and presented in a low-threat environment. Some avenues for professional publication with a strong potential for professional feedback and notice are Armed Forces Journal or your service magazine. There are numerous writing competitions to choose from, such as the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center or U.S. Naval Institute’s annual writing competitions, where you can possibly be published in a professional journal and earn a little extra cash. Regardless of your venue, be sure to edit your writing, and invite others to assist — learn your weaknesses and polish your technique. It matters not however if your writing is never published — the sheer act of writing is itself a panacea.

Seek a mentor in unorthodox ways. Learn to reach out to others — sometimes the best advice comes from someone you interact with everyday but have never looked to for guidance. Go to lunch with people in your office. Host a low-key gathering at your home or at a popular watering hole. Invite your friends, but do not hesitate to invite acquaintances or more experienced individuals you do not know personally. A mentor does not have to be your supervisor, or someone you once worked for. It can easily be a subordinate or peer who has their own unique insight and experiences. Mentorship should transcend professional boundaries. Do not waste the opportunity to pick the brain of the sergeant major with 25 years of experience, or the specialist with a master’s degree. Even if they do not have direct knowledge of your career path, they can provide unique perspectives that will enrich your own journey.

Keep your service records, résumé, and curriculum vitae up to date and ready to present.

A mentor does not even have to be someone you have met in person. Just as the internet is an invaluable tool for reading and writing, it is infinitely useful for reaching out to others. Believe it or not, you can connect with someone on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Scrub your profile(s), make sure it is professional and an embodiment of the image you want to present to the world. Keep your service records, résumé, and curriculum vitae up to date and ready to present. If you are intimidated about reaching out, ask others to assist you. The military is a small place and odds are you know someone who knows someone who can make an introduction. You may not hear back right away because exceptional mentors are usually exceptional workers and leaders, and are likely very busy. But do not be discouraged, the best mentors realize that part of their duty is to be good stewards of the profession. If you take the time to reach out to them, they will respond to you in kind.

As you seek and find your mentor(s) do not be so focused on yourself that you neglect opportunities to mentor others. Like someone who grew up never knowing a parent and vows to be a better parent themselves, you can be a better mentor to others. There are subordinates and peers who maybe in the same situation as you — full of talent but lacking a direction or facing a new career path all alone. Reach out to them, foster their growth, encourage their self development. You will be surprised how much you learn yourself from being a mentor.

As you take the next step in your career, do not be discouraged if you lack a mentor. It is a temporary malady if you wish it to be so. Use the time for reflection, self improvement, and increasing your value to your profession. Reach out to likely mentors — the worst anyone can do is say no, and you will be better for the attempt. Be a mentor to others and leave your organization better than you found it. Your time need not be wasted, and your journey need not be lonely. So you don’t have a mentor — do something about it.


Nathan Wike is an officer in the U.S. Army, and an associate member of the Military Writer’s Guild. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


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Asking the Right Questions

A Junior Officer's Perspective On Making the Most of Professional Development

Australian Army Major Claire O’Neill recently published a compelling article charging junior officers to take the reins of their professional development. As I read the article, in the background the movie I, Robot was playing and something stood out to me with regard to this subject. Will Smith is on the hunt for a scientist’s murderer; with a holographic recording of this scientist to guide him. This hologram would prompt Smith to ask questions that would help him uncover further clues. Every time Smith would ask such a question the hologram would respond with “That, Detective is the right question.”

As I read O’Neill’s charge to junior officers, myself included, I felt daunted by it. I’ve had the privilege of serving my country for a little less than four years, but am still unaware of the vast amount of opportunities afforded to military members to further their professional development. Furthermore, it would be incorrect if I said I knew where to even begin looking for them. After posting some thoughts on twitter in response to the article and the conversation that ensued; I began thinking about what the “right questions” should be for young officers.

As the former Director of Operations of my squadron once told me, the most dangerous thing you can hear from a lieutenant is “in my experience”. It is true statement about young officers yet standing in contrast in every unit are officers that have that experience. These are our senior captains to lieutenant colonels who fill those vital first line leadership positions and have the most influence over young officers’ development. Yet due to the current operational tempo and the ever increasing amount of taskings from above, I see my leadership’s time and resources being eaten away; leaving little time for mentorship or professional development. So what are the right questions we can ask to open that door and how do we follow through to make us more educated and informed junior officers?

What’s your background?

Unless the officer in question is your squadron or battalion commander, chances are they don’t come with a published biography of their military career. Due to the vast amount of schools, assignments, fellowships, staff positions or other career options, officers can have a varied and unique background. Some of those opportunities are easily identifiable by the presence of an Air Force Weapons School patch or an Army Ranger tab, but programs such as the Olmstead Scholars, SASS, or SAMS fellowships are not. The easiest way to find out is by asking a simple question such as “what’s your background?” or “what was your last assignment?” These questions allow the respondent an open platform to tell you about their career, where they have been and what they have done. I have yet to meet a military member that doesn’t have a condensed timeline of their career memorized. This simple question allows one to learn about the unique opportunities or maybe just personal perspectives, which are often the most powerful. Whether you learn about a new opportunity or just about their previous assignment, you walk away from the conversation with more knowledge than you started with.

How did you get to that opportunity?

Once you have found out about a program, it’s important to figure out how you can set yourself up for such an opportunity. There are usually prerequisites or preferred experience that is needed to make one competitive. Figuring out these things can allow us to advocate at the appropriate time for special training or the next assignment; this is one of my biggest takeaways from Major O’Neill’s post. Commanders can have hundreds of people assigned to them and it is not possible for them to know the ambitions or goals of every member of their command.

What if you aren’t interested in that opportunity? One day some of us (junior officers) will be those squadron/battalion commanders and as such handed the responsibility of leading and grooming the next generation of military leaders. Leaders have the responsibility to place members where they not only will personally flourish but advance the military as a whole. Many of these special assignments or schools have been developed over time to produce officers with specialized knowledge and skills that makes our military force as a whole better. U.S. citizens have spent millions of dollars and years of time investing in military members, I can think of no worse outcome than squandering an officer’s talents due to the ignorance of opportunities that would develop them further.

How did the opportunity benefit you?

This question has a two part answer first it allows you to learn what the person learned from it and secondly show what further opportunities opened up. How a particular opportunity affected a person or what they learned from it should be the ultimate goal of these questions. Professional military education should not be a box we just look to check, nor should we look for the most prestigious box. We should evaluate our goals and how we can use this experience to benefit the military. Furthermore, understanding what opportunities opened up or closed because of it is also important. There are many opportunities out there that I would jump at the chance to attend however they wouldn’t line up with my own goals for my future in the military. We have a finite time in the military to take advantage of and therefore need to be aware of how taking a one to three year assignment will affect us upon in the future.

In closing, for junior officers, our own career development is our responsibility first and foremost. It is incumbent upon us to seek out those opportunities and figure out how to make them happen. We all know that this isn’t a democracy and unfortunately we always don’t get a vote in such matters, however, I firmly believe that being proactive and advocating for our own career development can make a difference. Otherwise, we just become one of thousands of boats freely being tossed around in an ocean of the personnel system; grab a paddle and start rowing towards where you want to be.

To senior officers and leaders, we need your guidance; tell us about your experiences. Professional development is a two way street, there are dozens of other questions I would like to ask but haven’t thought of yet. Help. Fostering that dialogue whether through in-depth briefings or over lunch will pay dividends by creating educated junior officers with long term goals that they can work towards obtaining.


Dan Ryan is an U.S. Air Force officer. He is an Associate Member of the Military Writers Guild. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Air Force.


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