US Army

Professionalism

As I mentioned before, I picked up a scholarly political science tome for some light reading during the next op. The book is nearly as hefty as its full title--Samuel P. Huntington's The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations comes in at 466 pages before the endnotes or index. The text is often just as dense and exciting as the title. In short, if you're reading this book, it's either a labor of love or assigned reading.

Once upon a time, I earned a BA in Political Science. This was an accident more than anything else. I was trying to get the university's ROTC program to pay for my education and then give me a commission after school, and the PoliSci major coordinated nicely with my ROTC courses--plus they were in the building next door. Fortunately, the ROTC program decided in its infinite wisdom that I was unlikely to make a good officer, and I ended up with the degree but not the financial aid (or commission). It's better this way.

In any case, constitutional law and the structure and function of our government are subjects near to my heart [Hey, some people collect beanie babies, alright?], and the proper role of the military in that structure and function is another. Combine these things with this tome's massive weight, and it was an obvious choice for bringing along on an extended mission.

As it happens, I finished it long before we ever saw the mission--we still haven't seen the mission, actually--but it will provide food for thought for a while yet.

The first part of the book deals with definitions and historical background: the military as a profession, the rise of professional militaries in western societies, and the military mind. Professor Huntington immediately got on my bad side by focusing the concept of "military professional" entirely in terms of commissioned officers. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I know a lot of officers who couldn't lead a Soldier to a bar. In my oh-so-vast experience, the NCO corps (e.g. the sergeant, whatever the number his stripes) runs the Army and is the safekeeper of whatever professionalism we corporately possess. The author has this to say about enlisted men on page 8:
[quote]The phrases "professional army" and "professional soldier" have obscured the difference between the career enlisted man who is professional in the sense of one who works for monetary gain and the career officer who is professional in the very different sense of one who pursues a "higher calling" in the service of society.[/quote]
And again on page 18:
[quote]The enlisted men subordinate to the officer corps are a part of the organization bureaucracy but not of the professional bureaucracy. The enlisted personnel have neither the intellectual skills nor the professional responsibility of the officer. They are specialists in the application of violence not the management of violence. Their vocation is a trade not a profession.[/quote]Huh. So we're in it for the money, and not possibly for the service of society? Huh. And he snides the reserve component--even the officers--because part-time means part-professional: "The reservist only temporarily assumes professional responsibility. His principal functions in society lie elsewhere. As a result, his motivations, values, and behavior frequently differ greatly from those of the career professional" (p. 17).

I will agree that I personally do not possess the "professional responsiblity" of an officer; I am definitely a specialist in the application of violence. I may put that on a business card, in fact. But I'm only an E-4; I'm not even eligible for Sergeant until I go at least two weeks without committing a war crime. [Just kidding--the policy is four weeks.] Try telling Top (hi, Top!) that the officers are really running the show here--then run like hell in a weaving motion. You might make it.

As for part-time status impairing professionalism, I will readily admit that it is difficult to train to "expert" status on "one weekend a month." I think he errs greatly in projecting different motivations and values on the part-time serviceman, however; I take great exception to it, in fact. I serve in the Army because I love my nation, even though her people frequently piss me off. I work a regular job (when I do) to pay the bills. If at all possible, I will stay in uniform (at a significant pay cut from civilian employment) to keep serving my country when I return home. Not everyone sees it that way, of course, but many people in my unit have given up substantial income--some, their jobs--in order to come to Afghanistan when their country called.

So why is my perception of professionalism and officership so at odds with Huntington's? Maybe the officers of my era are not professional. Maybe the NCOs of his era were not professional. And maybe it's a matter of definition. How does he define a professional? [emphases added]

  • "The professional man is an expert with specialized knowledge and skill in a significant field of human endeavor." (p. 8)
  • "The professional man is a practicing expert, working in a social context, and performing a service. . . which is essential to the functioning of society. . . This social responsibility distinguishes the professional man from other experts with only intellectual skills." (p. 9)
  • "The members of a profession share a sense of organic unity and consciousness of themselves as a group apart from laymen. This collective sense has its origins in the lengthy discipline and training necessary for professional competence, the common bond of work, and the sharing of a unique social responsibility." (p. 10)

Fair enough. Per Huntington, the military officer's expertise is in "the direction, operation, and control of a human organization whose primary function is the application of violence" (p. 11). His motivations are "a technical love for his craft and the sense of social obligation to utilize this craft for the benefit of society" (p. 15). His collective sense, or the "corporate character of officership," derives from the associations and the professional bureaucracy of the commissioned world, which "rests upon the priority of the hierarchy of rank over the hierarchy of office" (p. 17).

I've restated the principal definitions of these terms and how Huntington sees the commissioned officer corps as fulfilling these terms. Now tell me: how does an experienced NCO, wily in the ways of the Army and war, fail to meet any of them?

To be sure, there are NCOs out there--even with 17 or 19 years in service--who are in it for the steady (if not glorious) paycheck, and who will be cashing out when they reach 20. But I know there are also officers out there who are counting the days until the end of their service obligations when they can do the same sorts of work in the civilian world for five times as much money. Which ones are professional by Huntington's definition? As far as I can tell, neither enlisted nor commissioned automagically grants this status--or denies it.

Maybe the disconnect is a function of time--this book is "a classic work," meaning that it was originally published in 1957. My Army has gone through several massive transforming events over the intervening half century--Vietnam, the Reagan buildup, the end of the Cold War, Desert Shield/Storm, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the rest of the War on Terror. Today's enlisted man is not the ignorant mercenary that Huntington dismissed--if he ever was. But I think he does an injustice to the enlisted men of that era, as well.

To be fair, there is a certain mercenary element of modern recruiting that I have never liked, embodied by the Soldier who joins "for college money" and little else. As I stated at the beginning of this musing, I sought out ROTC at least partially for a commission (read: job) and a free education. It's one of the reasons that I'm glad (in retrospect) that it didn't work out. But as one of my Basic drill sergeants told us when we showed up, it doesn't matter why we thought we signed up--we were in the Army to destroy the enemies of our nation.

This is why they try to brainwash us with the Army values--loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage. Sometimes it sticks, sometimes it doesn't. But for the Soldier who truly makes those ideals his own; spends his career making himself tactically and technically proficient; learns to lead, train, and manage the Soldiers beneath him while instilling those values in the next generation by example--you can't tell me that he is not a true professional just because his rank involves black stripes instead of shiny bars.

There is what I consider to be unprofessional behavior within my own National Guard unit. There is similarly unprofessional behavior I have witnessed on the part of regular Army personnel with whom we've worked in the field. I have seen childish, clueless senior NCOs more concerned with uniform regulations than fighting the enemy, and I have seen competent, decisive officers focused on the war effort. What I have not seen is a correlation between professionalism and active/reserve status, nor between professionalism and commissioned/enlisted status.

I do an unkindness to Professor Huntington because his book has a lot of valuable things to say regarding the frictions of a professional military outlook in a fundamentally liberal society, for example, which I may address at a later date. I'm sure officers love this book and it's probably on a lot of professional development reading lists. But the author has inadvertantly--and fifty years after the fact--struck a nerve with this particular enlisted reserve component Soldier who would like to see the NCO corps get proper recognition for its countless professional representatives in the United States Army.

Sig

In Kandahar again... still.

Did I do this once before?

In Kandahar again.

You know what that means.

Infantry graduation day

Via Blackfive.net, one of the better graduation speeches that you'll ever read. Or see--there's a link to a video.

Sig

Loading up

So we've been getting ready to go out again. Mostly this consists of running around to collect small bits of information for people who don't really need it but must have it for a spreadsheet that someone else wants. In the meantime, we will be leaving in a very short time and we know absolutely nothing about the mission, the unit we'll be with, the equipment we'll need--hell, even where we're going. I know the name of a fire base and that's it.

This is frustrating. What do we bring? Are we even going to be a mounted (e.g. Humvees) mission? If we're going to be on foot all of the time, we don't really need the SAW, and I could save myself about 35 pounds of gear and take my M16. Not to mention the extra armor I wouldn't be wearing.

[Armor vs. mobility is a delicate balance. If I'm in the turret, I'm not moving a whole lot anyway, and I lean toward the armor. On foot... Yeah. I feel like I really ought to have a horse and lance instead of a SAW.]

OK, I get that even an intelligence unit won't know what the enemy is doing until we start working. But why can't we even know what we're doing?

Blah. This is why they pay me so much. Or why they should.

I've been buying a few odds and ends at the PX to make my life easier, but mostly I've been looking for stuff to read. I have picked up a few at the PX, but also have been scouring the MWR [morale, welfare, recreation] places here for good donated books, which can be surprisingly rare if your tastes are anything like mine. I picked up and read Neil Gaiman's Stardust, am most of the way through LTG Moore's We Were Soldiers Once ...And Young, and have a half dozen others on the pile. Among them are some books that Dad sent--some I'd read before (and will happily do so again) and some are entirely new but highly recommended.

I'm a big fan of non-fiction, particularly of the political, historical, and military persuasions, but it's always so freaking expensive. I picked up a "definitive work" on Stalin's purges at an MWR of all places, and another one at the PX--name escapes me completely--about the proper relationship between the soldier and the state. Actually, that phrase might pop up in the title. It was by someone famous and stuffy.

I spent a few hours yesterday digging around DLI's LingNet for Russian study materials (copied to thumb drive), and requested a CD-ROM that they had compiled of some listening and reading comprehension stuff. I also looked into taking some college math through some distance education program--the only thing I need to finish out my AA in Russian from DLI--though that will wait until I'm in a more stable location.

[Yes, I already have a BA, but hey--free AA. I'm game. Maybe I can get a master's for the hat trick.]

Last but not least, I ordered a few books of Rudyard Kipling yesterday--one a collected poetry volume, the other a miscellaneous collection. I'm still waiting and hoping for the C.S. Lewis book I ordered (a collection of 5 or 6 of his nonfiction books) two months ago--we've had packages delayed longer, so it could happen.

Also, I bought a Game Boy Advance game. Because you can't think heavy thoughts all the time--sometimes you just gotta kill stuff.

Now the important question: where are these going to fit in my ruck?

Sig

The 40-4-40 Rule

A quick summary of life on the ridgeline during Operation Mountain Thrust.

The Adventures of SPC Postal

"You say he had POSTAL and RAGE nametapes, once flicked his knife open and shut for three hours straight, and named his hand grenades, but you didn't suspect anything?"

After Action Review

A wise LT once said, "Stabbing your instructors is not an approved method of classroom criticism. The Army tends to prefer AARs." Fine, sir. We'll do it your way.

The whole squad

Normally, I try to avoid the tendency to just endlessly repost stuff from milblogs; I think there's enough of that going around already without "me too" posts. However, this one from Blackfive was too good. In sum, an entire squad of combat engineers in Iraq re-enlisted together. That's just cool. I can't find the article elsewhere (from a non-sub site; Google News doesn't yet have it), but it's quoted heavily at the original link.

Sig

OPSEC on teh intarweb

In which Sig ponders a Powerpoint presentation on the dangers of teh intarweb.

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