Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Army as a profession

So for those of you who don't know, I'm at a military school right now where I'm learning to be a professional officer.  I now pause for your laughter.

There, all ok?  Good.  It's actually a really good curriculum, and I have learned a lot.  This is apparently a change, because the Captains' Career Course of the past was a "gentleman's course" where everyone passed and no one really learned anything.  Now there are people failing tests and being recycled out of each class, the curriculum is intensive, fast-moving, and (in the case of the Signal Corps) pretty technical.  I am having a blast.

We recently got an assignment to write a couple of pages on the Army as a Profession of Arms.  This concept is getting some serious emphasis from the Chief of Staff of the Army, and has been incorporated into the culture at every level, starting at basic training.  Now big tough captains get to hear about it, and give our two cents.  So what I thought I'd do is, I'm going to publish my essay here.  It's a short read- enjoy!  And tell me what you think.  (Disregard the fact that this is the first essay I have written since literally 2004.)

“I am an expert and I am a professional.” Every Soldier in the Army has said these words, excerpted from the Soldier’s Creed. But are all Soldiers experts and professionals? Is the Army, in fact, a profession? And what does this mean for today’s Army leaders and Soldiers?

The Army White Paper The Profession of Arms states that “The Army is an American Profession of Arms, a vocation comprised of experts certified in the ethical application of land combat power….” (The Profession of Arms [2010], 4). It also asserts, like the Soldier’s Creed, that all Soldiers are professionals. “An American Professional Soldier is an expert, a volunteer certified in the Profession of Arms….” (The Profession of Arms [2010], 4).

            If a profession is “a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification” ("Definition for profession"), the Army certainly qualifies. The Army White Paper also lists several characteristics of professions: produce uniquely expert work requiring years of study and practice, contain a self-policing ethic, and motivate using intrinsic versus extrinsic factors (Combined Arms Center 2010, 2). The Army meets all of these criteria as well. All Soldiers are paid, and require some training and certification before being allowed to perform their duties. The Army also has a very well-established continuing education system for Noncommissioned Officers (NCO), warrant officers, and officers. Soldiers are also indoctrinated with the Army Values from their first day of service, and are taught to maintain and enforce standards and ethics. The Army is absolutely a profession.

            Are all Soldiers professionals, though? Consider civilian professionals—doctors must complete seven years of undergraduate and post-graduate study, followed by four years of residency. Lawyers must complete a seven-year course before earning a juris doctorate. Upon examination of the training received across the spectrum of military personnel, only senior Soldiers receive equivalent amounts of training. All Soldiers must complete Basic Combat Training (BCT), Advanced Individual Training (AIT). NCOs must complete BCT, AIT, and further education as part of the Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES). Warrant officers must complete all NCO requirements, Warrant Officer Candidate School and their basic and advanced courses. Officers must complete a baccalaureate degree, the Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) and specialized training in their branch. Then officers must attend advanced training and education courses at every rank through Colonel. Junior enlisted Soldiers simply do not meet the qualification of a profession—they don’t have time. Only senior NCOs, Warrant Officers, and Officers receive “prolonged training.”

            The Army, then, can be considered a Profession of Arms, but only senior Soldiers, having received advanced training and having gone through the formal education processes of the Army, can be considered professionals. Dr. Kevin M. Bond, in an article published in Joint Forces Quarterly, says that “It does a disservice to the very ideals of professionalism… to declare that by virtue of membership in an organization a person is a professional. More importantly, declaring that all Soldiers are professionals ignores the need to train, educate, and develop Soldiers both professionally and personally.” (Bond 2011, 66). He argues that leaders must focus on Soldier development at all levels and provide opportunities to grow and develop. (Bond 2011, 67) The Army must develop this paradigm further. A Soldier who has gone through 15 weeks of BCT and AIT has not met the requirements of his profession. Leaders must instead think of junior personnel as skilled tradesmen. Once leaders adopt this mindset, they can focus their efforts on developing professionalism through training and education, and truly consider our Soldiers “experts and professionals.”

Bond, Kevin M. “Are We Professionals?” Joint Forces Quarterly 58 (2011), (accessed June 25, 2012).

"Definition for profession - Oxford Dictionaries Online." Oxford Dictionaries Online. (accessed July 2, 2012).
"The Profession of Arms." Army White Paper (2010), (accessed June 25, 2012).

So you wanna be a battery commander?

So you wanna be a company commander?

Company command is a phenomenal opportunity and one of the greatest privileges in any officer’s career.  If done right, it’s the most rewarding , satisfying, frustrating, infuriating job you’ll ever have.  You’ll love it.  But there are some things that you should do before you think about taking that guidon that will set you up for success.

1-      Learn about property.  You are going to be responsible for everything on your property book- learn how to manage it.  Get a PBUSE account and learn to understand everything in every field.  You will hear a lot of people tell you that you don’t have to be a subject matter expert in everything- but you absolutely need to be an expert in your property, as it impacts your wallet.

2-      Learn your unit.  You may be the most technically and tactically proficient Captain in your branch, but that won’t guarantee success in your particular battalion.  You need to learn what the culture is from the top down.  Make sure you get an office call in with your future battalion commander.  While he interviews you, you are also learning about him (or her- I don’t discriminate).  Pay attention to what he           emphasizes during those first conversations.  Ask questions, especially about his priorities.  Also, look around at the staff and the companies.  You can get a fairly accurate assessment of a unit’s command climate by sitting through some meetings or in an office somewhere and just listening.

3-      Read.  Read a lot.  You need to read books on military leadership.  You need to read books on corporate leadership and efficiencies.  You need to read field manuals and training circulars.  Read current events.  Read everything you can.  You owe it to your boss and your Soldiers to educate yourself on your profession.

4-      Take care of your administrative needs well ahead of taking the guidon.  Once you assume command, you will lose about eight hours out of your day.  You won’t have time to focus on closing on a house, getting that surgery, finishing your Master’s degree, or anything other than your troops and your family. 

5-      Set your personal priorities ahead of time.  This is vital.  As a soldier who loves his job, it's really easy to make choices once you're at work that are Army-centric and career-centric, as opposed to Family-centric. It all comes down to how you define yourself. If you define yourself as a Soldier who has a family, then you make your choices in that order- Army first, at the expense (sometimes) of your Family. If you define yourself as a family guy who is a Soldier, then your choices reflect that you value your Family life over your job.  I am absolutely not saying that you should stint on your job- not at all.  But after 20 years or however long you stay in, guess what?  The Army doesn’t care about you not one single bit.  How sad would it be if your family didn’t care about you either because you didn't let them know through your actions and choices you made in your career that they matter and were more important than some alcoholic trooper who married a stripper and so NEEDS YOUR HELP, despite the fact that your son is struggling in fractions or started his first basketball game or whatever?  So make those priorities known at the outset, and be an example of a successful balance between marriage and a military career.

6-      Learn to manage expectations.  Start with your family.  You need to let them know that you are ALWAYS ON CALL and that you might have to miss things.  You also need to let them know that you will do your absolute best not to miss family events.  You also have to be able to do this with your commander- if something isn’t going to get done, let him know why not and what your plan is to accomplish the mission.  Commanders everywhere are results-oriented, and they HATE surprises.  If you can’t give them a heads up, you’re going to have a difficult life.

This should do for a start.  More to follow, especially about balancing your Family and career.  Stay tuned…