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Old 08-26-2007   #1
Patriot
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Default Officer Retention

I wanted to share some of my observations on an issue that has become a major topic for Army leaders – officer retention. In the Army we hear a lot about retaining company grade officer and there have been a number of actions taken over the past few years to mitigate the high demand for company grade officers with their requirements.

These actions include eliminating OER (Officer Evaluation Report) blocking, promotion to captain at 39 months, expanded advanced civil schooling programs, extremely high promotion rates (99%) to captain and major (94-98%) and other proposals, i.e. bonuses for additional years of service.

The last proposal of bonus was generally taken as an insult. The $20,000 proposal for a captain translated into four months of pay, while junior enlisted bonuses sometimes equal their entire annual salary. Most of the captains took the proposal as half hearted from a bureaucracy that doesn’t ask their input nor solicit it. The measly amount of $20,000 was never going to entice any captain on the fence to stay in the Army, but would have been good for captains that had every intention of staying. For those that have made multiple deployments it would have been well earned.

So we’ve essentially created a system that doesn’t eliminate poor performers and promotes almost everyone. The captain’s are smart and they see weak performers getting promoted. Frankly, I’d rather see an unfilled assignment then fill it with a poor performer. I would prefer we protect our officer corps’ quality from weaklings by culling them out as we’ve done in the past.

If we’re serious about retaining company grade officers then let’s give them an incentive like $50,000 tax free or a guarantee of graduate degree of their choice in a school of choice or assignment of choice with Army schools of choice. It’s not about pleasing everyone; it’s about recognizing what’s at stake long term and making an appropriate commitment.

The first who get these options ought to be those officers who have made multiple deployments to combat. The combat issue brings to the surface a secondary topic. There are officers hiding in the Army who have avoided combat deployments. Whether they’re hiding in the training base (TRADOC), institutional, high headquarters, Korea, or some other place is irrelevant. After nearly 6 years of war there are too many officers with 2 or 3 deployments and others with none. Since the promotion rates are so high for captain, major, and lieutenant colonel there is no disincentive for not deploying, so they hide. Combat deployments are NOT about punching tickets, slapping on a right-shoulder patch and some medals or some other non-sense especially after nearly 6 years of war. At some point equity of deployment has to be factored. If someone thinks an officer should not be deployed because he/she is weak then they need to get a job at Wal-Mart and not in the Army. If an officer is afraid to deploy because of family separation or fear of combat Wal-Mart is hiring.

The problems in the company grade ranks will not stop there but will expand into the field grade ranks. As the Army promotes marginal performers to major and lieutenant colonel there is a negative incentive to all officers who see weak mid and senior grade officers. Just as incentives are important to retain company grade officers, the same applies to field grade officers. How much are you willing to provide to keep solidly performing majors and lieutenant colonels past 20 years? Right now the Army offers nothing. There are no incentives, other than the promise of promotion or command and for the vast majority these two incentives will never happen. But the Army needs a deep pool of experienced officers to stay beyond 20 years there is nothing to keep them and they, like the company grade officers, are exiting rapidly.

If we’re fighting a new war with a new modular Army using new tactics, equipment, and a new mindset it’s probably time to develop a new way of rewarding performance and a new way of sustaining the force to actually sustain the force. If the promotion rate to captain is 99% why have a centralized board? If the promotion rate to major is 98% why have a board? Under the current system the first time the Army tell an officer he’s not going to “make it” is the battalion command board in year 16 or 17.
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Old 08-26-2007   #2
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Default concur to all Patriot

Sir,

I agree with all of your points. From my view, as a post command CPT, it has been troubling to see the advancement of a generation of officers with little to no selection process.

The most bothersome was to see peers who lingered on higher level staffs, mostly because lower level units did not want them, due to their lack of talent and potential. Then of course at some point said CPT must be given a command in order for him to attain his branch qualification and facilitate another number for promotion to the next rank.

In almost all circustances that this happened, the person involved spent barely a year, on paper, in command and their performance was, as expected, less than what is expected of a combat commanders.

Even more troubling was seeing this being done to units that were heading to combat. (Not that I disagree with replacing poor leaders, but rather the requirement to ever have "poor leaders" in the position at all).

I recognize that to some degree it is a numbers game but I think command quality at any level should never be sacrificed. Our soldiers deserve better than that.

Last edited by Dennis; 08-26-2007 at 08:48 PM.
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Old 08-26-2007   #3
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Default On Keeping the Best and Brightest

Cross-posted on the SWJ Blog - On Keeping the Best and Brightest.
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Old 08-26-2007   #4
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Default It's quantitative not qualitative...always has been during war

This argument is nothing new and most of these "fixes" are temporary to keep the numbers at a reasonable level.

I am not sure the numbers support your claim that folks are "hiding out" in TRADOC. I know Fort Benning cleaned house about three years ago and replaced just about every NCO and Officer who didn't have a SSI-FWS on their right shoulder. Granted there are still some officers and NCO's out there who have avoided deployments but I think most of them are in the very senior grades (O-5 and above or E-9), it's hard to find too many O-3 to O-4's and E-4 to E-7's out there without some time in a combat zone. Again, there are probably some who got by with a 120 or 180 day deployment to Kuwait or Qatar but I am not convinced that folks can hide very easily. Especially since the implementation of dwell time, it is automatically annotated at HRC whenever they pull up your records.

This phenomena is nothing new all you have to do is find a Vietnam-era veteran and they will tell you the same stories. During times of war the Army retains and promotes just about everyone. They have to or otherwise people are forced to leave, and how can you justify getting rid of people during a war when your numbers mean everything? The real shame is lack of leaders effectively counseling and developing junior officers. How many times does someone get shuffled around a command because no one wants them? When was the last time an O-5 sat them down and truly laid out what was wrong and gave them guidance and direction to fix it? Of course, there are officers who do this but all too often the case is to shuffle them around staff positions or send them to higher headquarters.

Never fear though...these wars will end some day and then we will draw down and cut budgets. The mass exodus you are looking for will happen if you wait around that long, and that not too far off future will make the Carter years look like the Reagan years in comparison.

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Old 08-26-2007   #5
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Old 08-27-2007   #6
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I am not sure the numbers support your claim that folks are "hiding out" in TRADOC. I know Fort Benning cleaned house about three years ago and replaced just about every NCO and Officer who didn't have a SSI-FWS on their right shoulder. Granted there are still some officers and NCO's out there who have avoided deployments but I think most of them are in the very senior grades (O-5 and above or E-9), it's hard to find too many O-3 to O-4's and E-4 to E-7's out there without some time in a combat zone. Again, there are probably some who got by with a 120 or 180 day deployment to Kuwait or Qatar but I am not convinced that folks can hide very easily. Especially since the implementation of dwell time, it is automatically annotated at HRC whenever they pull up your records.
PT,

Agree somewhat, but my initial shock upon arrival here at Fort Leavenworth was the sheer number of perm party officers (not ILE students, which are about 98% combat vets) without combat patches. Most of them outrank me, but I always want to ask - what hole have you been hiding in?

Branch has said that those with the higest dwell time will absolutely deploy next, so I agree, it will even itself. I have a post command, MAJ friend who never deployed. Commanded in Korea, a second command at Knox, and then AC/RC. He's getting his first downrange deployment early next year..... I guess the system is working. I think many of them, like my friend, simply had jobs that didn't deploy to SWA, and didn't volunteer to head downrange or were locked into other jobs.

I liked the USMC "Every Marine into the Fight" message that went out recently, the Army needs to do the same.
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Old 08-27-2007   #7
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Following Cavguy's note: General: Deploy or risk promotion chances.

Quote:
Marines who have not gone to war should be concerned when promotion time comes around, a top Corps official said.

“I guarantee you ... if you have a six- to seven-year war and you don’t get to the war zone, you needn’t wonder what’s going to happen when it’s time for promotion,” said Lt. Gen. Ronald Coleman, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs in Quantico, Va.

Coleman spoke at a Marine Corps Association meeting here Wednesday, where he told an audience of mainly retired and active-duty Marines that leathernecks who haven’t deployed to a combat zone need to find a way to get to the fight.

“If I’m on the promotion board, I’m going to make a note of that,” he said.
While some Marines have served three, four and, in some cases, five tours in Iraq, 40,000 still have not deployed, Coleman said. Some of those Marines are in the pipeline, including those making the transition from boot camp to infantry battalions.

In January, Commandant Gen. James Conway announced his plans to rearrange assignments so that every Marine is given the chance to go to war. At the time of his announcement, titled “Every Marine Into the Fight,” some 66,000 Marines — a third of the force — had not deployed.
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Old 08-27-2007   #8
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...
. . .
. . .
Never fear though...these wars will end some day and then we will draw down and cut budgets. The mass exodus you are looking for will happen if you wait around that long, and that not too far off future will make the Carter years look like the Reagan years in comparison.
PT
Could happen, I suppose. As a survivor of Eisnhower's cuts and one who was in Florida, DC and Korea during the Carter years, I sure hope we do the absorbtion of cuts in funds better the next time than we did those two times...
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Old 08-27-2007   #9
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The working percentage for active duty US Army personnel who have NOT deployed to either OIF or OEF is 40 percent. There was a USA Today article a few months ago about the phenomenon, but it didn't go below the surface of the factoid to explain why this was so.

For those of us who, after two or more deployments, have met many of our peers -- some of whom were promoted over us -- without combat patches, this figure seems about right.

Perhaps they're all on permanent profile.
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Old 08-27-2007   #10
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The working percentage for active duty US Army personnel who have NOT deployed to either OIF or OEF is 40 percent. There was a USA Today article a few months ago about the phenomenon, but it didn't go below the surface of the factoid to explain why this was so.

For those of us who, after two or more deployments, have met many of our peers -- some of whom were promoted over us -- without combat patches, this figure seems about right.

Perhaps they're all on permanent profile.
A slide from Armor branch on HRC Website (as of Jan 07 - AKO Login Required) indicated that 72% of officers in Ranks CPT-COL in Armor have combat experience. Lowest YG's were 91-94 and 1980-84. That is the demographic that would have been in AC/RC, recruiting, or post command jobs during the first years of OIF. YG's 95 and later are tracking above 90% combat experience - the ranks where officers serve as PL's, XO's, and Commanders since 2003.

The skew of high experience in the 1984-1990 YG's is most likely because Desert Storm experience is counted, and the high density of BN/BDE CDR's, XO's, and S3's in those YG's in the 2003-2007 period. I haven't seen data posted on whether the combat experiencewas OEF, OIF, DS, Panama, or Grenada.

I imagine Armor Branch's trend is typical for other combat branches.
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Old 08-27-2007   #11
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As a reservist, I have volunteered to deploy repeatedly, only to be stone-walled by apathetic bureaucrats in uniform. I'd like one more promotion, and without a deployment, my chances are getting slimmer. I'll echo Cavguy that for some, maybe many of the folks that haven't deployed, it isn't for lack of trying. Frankly, I'm to the point where if I hear one more person complaining about a lack of volunteers in the reserves, I'll give an answer that is candid beyond professionalism...

Oh, BTW- According to LTG Caldwell, Commander Combined Arms Center and Ft. Leavenworth, the current class of CGSC at Ft. Leavenworth is 75% combat veterans as opposed to the fraction of one percent when he went through the course.
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Old 08-27-2007   #12
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CavGuy, you forced me to boldly go where I've never gone before. Who knew?

I can't see if there is any way to drill the numbers down further, to see if the combat patches came from earlier expeditionary campaigns or not, but I would imagine that for most of us in the combat arms of a certain generation it doesn't really matter: We hit Panama or Desert Storm (check), then Restore Hope (double check), then either Kosovo/Bosnia or Haiti before at least two deployments to OIF (double check) or OEF (not yet).

As one might obviously realize, these were unescorted tours, so the wives weren't hiding out at the Osan O-club after spending the paycheck at the PX grocery.

I don't really mind doing the unescorted tours because I signed the contract and expected as much. It's particularly annoying to hear National Guard officers and senior non-commissioned officers kvetch about being sent anywhere, considering most of their units hadn't seen combat since the Battle of the Bulge.

I think a combat deployment every 60 years or so is OK.

But it's also fair to say that the current optempo has been destabilizing for an Army (and its officer corps) that is increasingly married, unlike for previous wars.

Not seeing one's spouse for two out of the past three years can be bad for morale, as are the inevitable scourges of divorce, child custody battles, et al, that radiate from the deployment like so many ripples in a besplashed pond.
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Old 08-27-2007   #13
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But it's also fair to say that the current optempo has been destabilizing for an Army (and its officer corps) that is increasingly married, unlike for previous wars.

Not seeing one's spouse for two out of the past three years can be bad for morale, as are the inevitable scourges of divorce, child custody battles, et al, that radiate from the deployment like so many ripples in a besplashed pond.
Agreed. The discussion made me think of the branch brief from Armor, so I thought it may be relevant. And as stated earlier, I like the USMC message because it doesn't belittle those who haven't been, but makes clear that they should start finding a way.....

Ref the deployments, I hear you. I spent four of my six years in Germany (2001-2007) either deployed (OIF x2, KFOR) or deployed for training aka "Grafenfels") The family separation is hard, and doesn't help a marriage ..... Not to mention even the single guys who desire a life.

Welcome to the board. Make sure you introduce yourself in the appropriate thread, if you haven't already.
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Old 08-27-2007   #14
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Oh, BTW- According to LTG Caldwell, Commander Combined Arms Center and Ft. Leavenworth, the current class of CGSC at Ft. Leavenworth is 75% combat veterans as opposed to the fraction of one percent when he went through the course.
I actually thought it would be higher now - interesting. I don't know if he was counting cross-service and foreign officers in the percentage though.

Thanks for the info.
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Old 08-27-2007   #15
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Two Council Related Threads...

* Army Offers Officers Incentives
* Army Development of Junior Leaders
As was pointed out, we've done allot of thinking over this subject. I read Patriot's piece, and thought about it for the last couple of days.

Its one of these things where you know you have to have more qualified people to achieve the solution - which is to grow the officer corps to meet the OPTEMPO of the Long War, but at the same time you can't keep the people you want to keep because you can't grow qualified people fast enough to reduce the burden, and we are unwilling to go try something else besides incremental approaches toward retention.

We have a two-fold problem. Keeping what we have & growing more of it.

I think the solution may be one in the same. If you show the people currently serving that their worth means a great deal to the state by an investment strategy that speaks for itself, and is on par with the hardships they and their families endure for the freedom of their countrymen and their countryman's families enjoy, then perhaps they will continue to volunteer and deny themselves and their families the life that other Americans lead.

Once you have convinced the ones you already have, who are already risking all in the service of their nation, it stands to reason word will get out, and enough others will volunteer to meet our expanding needs.

I'd also submit that today's (and tomorrow's) battlefield, while as dangerous as any in its own way, requires a much broader, more mature and diverse skill set, with the ability to provide the type of innovation and creativity that private enterprise and OGAs covet, and are willing and capable of paying for. Companies have strategies for attracting and retaining talent that appeal to both the individual and their families. In some ways we do too, but our strategies are more inline with our requirements of the 1990s. Our need for the best and brightest have grown with our commitments, while our incentives and recognition of changing demographics have not kept pace.

The other day on Forbes Ben Stein was asked why we might have a tax increase and what we might do with it - he replied we should pay our military more, they are inadequately compensated for the job they do. I almost fell out of my chair - here is a well known financial guru on Fox, who the first answer out of the chute - is compensate the military adequately for the job they do! If he gets it, if that is his first answer out of all the things he could have said, why shouldn't legislators understand as well? Why would Stiller say that?

The first requirement for a civilization is security, without it, leisure time, art, economy,etc. will all fall to the barbarians. Our problem with officer retention should not be considered solely a problem which the military must fix, its far more important. It is a national problem. Its atrophy effects far more then just the uniformed services.

This does not necessarily mean a pay raise only, the plan would have to be holistic as mentioned before, and must appeal to the families as the demographics suggest - but a serious pay raise would immediately make the point about how much the nation values the services of its military.
Regards, Rob

Last edited by Rob Thornton; 08-28-2007 at 11:44 AM. Reason: Changed Stiller to Stein :-)
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Old 08-27-2007   #16
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. . . growing more of it. . .

I think the solution may be one in the same. If you show the people currently serving that their worth means a great deal to the state by an investment strategy that speaks for itself, and is on par with the hardships they and their families endure for the freedom of their countrymen and their countryman's families enjoy, then perhaps they will continue to volunteer and deny themselves and their families the life that other Americans lead.

Once you have convinced the ones you already have, who are already risking all in the service of their nation, it stands to reason word will get out, and enough others will volunteer to meet our expanding needs.

. . .

The first requirement for a civilization is security, without it, leisure time, art, economy,etc. will all fall to the barbarians. Our problem with officer retention should not be considered solely a problem which the military must fix, its far more important. It is a national problem. Its atrophy effects far more then just the uniformed services.

This does not necessarily mean a pay raise only, the plan would have to be holistic as mentioned before, and must appeal to the families as the demographics suggest - but a serious pay raise would immediately make the point about how much the nation values the services of its military.
Regards, Rob
I can't speak to retaining current officers, but as far as attracting new officers with the skill sets I think you're referring to, I'm not sure the money will cut it. There's something deeper, more generational.

I'm sure this has been discussed elsewhere so I'll keep it short, but at least from my perspective at Cornell, there is very little you could reasonably offer a lot of today's college students to become military officers. ROTC numbers are down, I am (so far, anyway) the only Cornell junior applying for Marine Corps PLC, and I know of almost no one who would entertain the idea. It's partly the fact that there's a war going on, but part of it is that lingering attitude of the military being no place for a young, educated, ambitious man (or woman). And as false as you guys may know this to be, I don't see additional money, whether in salary or bonus form, making the difference.

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Old 08-27-2007   #17
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Hi Matt,
Thanks for making a decision to serve!

Quote:
I can't speak to retaining current officers, but as far as attracting new officers with the skill sets I think you're referring to, I'm not sure the money will cut it. There's something deeper, more generational.

It's partly the fact that there's a war going on, but part of it is that lingering attitude of the military being no place for a young, educated, ambitious man (or woman). And as false as you guys may know this to be, I don't see additional money, whether in salary or bonus form, making the difference.
I agree with you. I also agree with the your observation about youth, ambition and talent. What I am trying to say though is you have to change that sentiment, and you have to break down how you do that. It is probably not mono-causal since we are dealing with people's perceptions. I do think the first step in changing perceptions is by demonstrating the value you place on something. How do we do that in our society? When we really want to demonstrate how much something or somebody means to us, we sacrifice. How much does an education at the best University cost & why do people value it? How much does the best mechanic in town cost and why are people willing to pay him? How about food, automobiles, or anything else in our society? All of those things have some type of value and worth that translates and appeals to the general public. No matter if we are talking services or goods, we place value on things.

So I'd ask you how you change the attitude of your peers? How do you convince the bright & ambitious young men and women of Cornell, that a career in the uniformed service is something they not only should do to safeguard their freedoms, but something they want to do because it will fulfill both their moral sensibilities and their more physical ones such as providing a standard of living for them and their families which is comparable to the many other vocations their abilities might secure?

Best Regards, Rob
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Old 08-27-2007   #18
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Default what's the Marine take on this right now?

Out of curiousity, what is the situation with the marine's in regards to mid-level officer retention?
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Old 08-28-2007   #19
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Out of curiousity, what is the situation with the marine's in regards to mid-level officer retention?
Can't speak personally to the retention levels or bonuses, but the Marines are behind the curve with respect to civilian graduate education. If I get a chance to get a sponsored Master's, it'll most likely be as a Major. Or I can try to squeeze it in on my own time and expense during a B-billet. Hard to admit, but I'm looking at my Army peers with some envy.

The official story is that any officer shortages are localized within particular grade/MOS combinations, not systemic as the Army's situation is. The following document outlines nothing as extensive as the Army has - incentive pay is limited to the aviation community (I recall hearing that they brought up helo incentives up to par with jets - there was previously a 2-3x disparity)
http://hqinet001.hqmc.usmc.mil/p&r/c...0Retention.pdf
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Old 08-28-2007   #20
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Hi Matt,

So I'd ask you how you change the attitude of your peers? How do you convince the bright & ambitious young men and women of Cornell, that a career in the uniformed service is something they not only should do to safeguard their freedoms, but something they want to do because it will fulfill both their moral sensibilities and their more physical ones such as providing a standard of living for them and their families which is comparable to the many other vocations their abilities might secure?

Best Regards, Rob
Having done recruiting at the other Ivy that starts with a C, you have to hit all those wickets, simply because of the level of ignorance that exists. Especially at elite universities, very few students know anyone in the military, so the first thing you have to do is clear the slate and set realistic expectations.
-No, you won't make comparable private sector pay, but you'll make comparable public service pay and the difference isn't drastic. Explaining BAH helps dampen the shock of putting a $26,000 base pay against, say, $60k + bonus as a first year analyst at a top firm.
-There is room for disagreement, particularly on ethical issues. The question "what if you get an order you disagree with" often comes up. It's not as though in the private sector, you can disobey your boss without consequences. But where we've gotten a black eye have been instances where no one stood up and said "this is wrong" - tied into the fact that William Calley was a college dropout.

To sell the military as not just something they can do but something they should do, we've hit on the role of college-educated officers as a moral compass. After all, our mandatory Contemporary Civilization course (a 1-year intro to western political philosophies), had its origins in a WWI course called "war studies" for cadets. Its purpose "rested on the fundamental principle that in the long run man's accomplishment can rise no higher than his ideals, and that an understanding of the worth of the cause for which one is fighting is a powerful weapon in the hands of an intelligent man. Indeed, I've come to appreciate the value of the class much more after commissioning, and have looked back on those works to reinforce my belief in and ability to explain why we're in this current fight. As Robert Kaplan puts it,
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A frustrated warrior class, always kept in check by liberal-minded officers, is the sign of a healthy democracy.
Especially in a time when most people question our foreign policy, the "serving to defend" argument fails to carry water. Instead, we've refashioned it as a "shaping foreign policy at the ground level" argument. We will be overseas, and not necessarily for the right reasons - but you can do more good and have more influence as a JO interacting with foreigners than as a desk jockey at some other institution.

Ultimately, though, these young minds full of mush still have to adapt to a Martial lifestyle - one that is often alien to folks imagining themselves in a suit behind a desk somewhere. When your friends and family are aghast at such an idea, it's a lot of inertia to overcome.

I have to say I'm disheartened at hearing about the strains the military places on families. I didn't fully appreciate it when I joined and while it wouldn't have changed my decision, it would have given me some pause.
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