By "One Gone Cat"
Best Defense guest columnist
I thought of offering to write an essay for you that gave my own reasons or that made my own arguments for how the officer corps can be improved to retain the best and the brightest, but thinking about it just made me angry. It made me angry because I knew it would not make any difference, just as the countless opinion pieces written by disgruntled junior officers and NCOs or concerned senior officers and NCOs won't make any difference. The military is too inflexible, the senior officers are too comfortable with the status quo, human resources command believes too strongly in whatever crazy algorithm they have determining entry assignments, and the civilian leadership is too intimidated by a bunch of men who just lost two wars to force a change.
Writing about my experience won't make a difference because senior leaders will look at it and say that it's an anomaly, or that I don't have the ability yet to see the big picture, or that I cannot reflect and see how things actually work very well, or maybe that I got the career I deserved based on my abilities. I understand that they cannot understand me, because I don't understand them.
Sorry for the rant. I had to get it out there. You seem like the right person to send it to, since my mentors wouldn't appreciate the tone very much. It probably figures that a bunch of guys trained in an Army that didn't want to admit it lost Vietnam are pretty schooled in the art of self-delusion. But I became an Army officer because I wanted to be among the best, not because I wanted to be part of a group so adept at making excuses and criticizing anyone who doesn't want to stay in for the glorious pension at the end of the rainbow of mediocrity.
"One Gone Cat" is, for a bit longer, a U.S. Army officer. But guess what? The views presented here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Army or the Defense Department.
Was it Normandy? Blenheim? Waterloo? Goose Green? No to all.
Perhaps Naseby or Culloden? No again. El Alamein? Nope.
It was, indeed, Imphal and Kohima, the turning point in the fighting in South Asia during World War II. Now, I'm a Burma theater fan as much as the next guy. But this still surprised me. I wonder why they picked that. It wasn't just because President Obama's grandfather served there. Perhaps it was the ever-growing reputation of General Slim?
(HT to PL who had to read the original article upside down)
Richard Haass is a pretty smart guy, but he let someone talk him into this headline: ‘The Irony of American Strategy.'
Like, gag me with a spoon. Cute? Maybe. But I think that headline could only be written by someone who had not lost someone in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 12 years.
Actually the article isn't bad, although it leans heavily on the weak thought that 10 years ago the United States got deeply involved in the Middle East when it didn't need to, but now when it wants to get out, it can't. That strikes me more as an op-ed (or blog post) than a full-blown Foreign Affairs thumbsucker.
The other day a couple of commenters discussing innovation in the military mentioned one change (fwiw, the company-level intelligence cell) as a big reason why "we won in Iraq."
Hmm, I thought: Did we actually win that war? I am not sure. It doesn't feel like it. Yes, we got out with our shirts on. But win?
I thought about this again when I read this thoughtful comment by Lt. Gen. James Dubik in the May issue of ARMY magazine:
America is confusing "withdrawing from a war" with "ending a war." The two are very different. A war ends when strategic objectives are met or an enemy is defeated and recognizes its defeat. In Iraq, the war continues -- albeit at a level that the Iraqi security forces are, so far, able to handle and the Iraqi government can manage.
There is no question, I think, that catching one of the Boston bombers alive was a good thing. Even so, this note, from a smart Special Operator, gave me pause:
... the cops did not approach this well. It was a strategic mistake to shut down the city, but then they did a cordon and search model on homes in the area by getting everyone out by gunpoint. For one guy, not one with a nuke, or a bio weapon, or anything like that and took people out of their homes by gunpoint. Poor decision.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
By "A Happy Camper"
Best Defense guest columnist
I am an Army captain with five years of service, married to a brilliant young woman.
Ideally, we would live downtown in a vibrant metropolis where we can walk or take public transit everywhere; my work would involve developing some sort of deep technical expertise in furtherance of national security, and my wife would be able to climb the ladder of her own lucrative career. Of course we'd also like to retain my current salary relative to our cost of living, my 30 days of annual leave, numerous four-day weekends, paid-for educational opportunities, as well as the option to collect a pension and virtually free healthcare for life after just 20 years.
Although reality falls short of our dreams, it's still pretty good. My wife got into teaching after we married because of its "portability," and the Army, to its credit, paid for her certification program through MyCAA. Teaching pays less than she might have earned otherwise with her education, and there will be frustrations as we move around (transferring her license, gaps in employment, leaving before vesting in any retirement plan), but she was hired immediately by the school district here and given good opportunities for professional development. As for my own work, I hope to find some greater depth and specialization by moving into a certain functional area. We can't put down roots in a big city yet, but I can choose to attend graduate school in one, and we could be assigned to Washington, DC at some point. Finally, when I add up the total compensation for 20 years of service -- salary, pension (assuming we survive to average life expectancy), healthcare, undergraduate, graduate, and professional education -- it comes to about $5 million (adjusted to 2013 dollars). That's $250,000 per year in uniform, with several of those years spent as a student in flight school, CCC, ILE, graduate school, etc.
I believe that I'd be competitive for civilian jobs with my STEM degree from a top-50 university, and many complaints about the Army definitely resonate with me, but it seems unrealistic to expect a much better deal than we're already getting. So for now I'm one junior officer that actually plans to stay in. That said, I value my marriage above all else; if my wife gave me an ultimatum because she wanted a high-powered career in big law or finance, or because she couldn't handle another deployment, I would choose to leave too.
A major in the 101st Airborne suggests that we do a reading list of modern military books that are not about the American military experience (and not the usual classics). Three of his suggestions are The Dambusters, Defeat into Victory , and Churchill's Generals.
To that start, I'd add Keegan's Face of Battle and Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace. What else? I'll allow histories, memoirs, novels, and poetry.
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
I've been seeing a lot of blimpish comments about how today's younger officers need to pull up their socks and adjust. But a major difference is that wives 50 years ago typically didn't arrive at Camp Swampy with a huge law school debt.
I am a lawyer married to my high school sweetheart whose dream was always to join the military. I've known about his Army aspirations almost as long as I've known him and he has known about my dream to become a lawyer. I just never dreamed it would be this difficult to find any kind of work that requires a degree. I even was hired to work for JAG the summer between law school years as a GS 7. Now that I actually have a degree and a license, I cannot even get an interview for ANY federal job, let alone a legal one. I am not whining, because I chose this life when I chose my husband. But, it's a sad state of affairs for anyone who graduates with a law degree from a top school in the top 15 percent of her class to have to settle for an $8 an hour receptionist position. I wouldn't lose as much sleep over it if I wasn't over $200K in debt from law school.
I'm incredibly proud of my husband's career and accomplishments. He loves serving our country and I have loved supporting him through training and two deployments. But our future is uncertain, and everyday I pray that I find an opportunity that will give me a chance at a professional life of my own. I have sacrificed and invested in my own future as well and I just want to put my skills to use and earn a living.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.