The Best Defense

That Marine captain assesses your advice

Our Marine captain who asked for career advice writes to summarize the incoming he got from youse:

After Tom posted my previous email on Friday, I was taken aback with the sheer volume of great emails and blog comments on the matter (at last count, 25 emails and 23 comments). I suspect I am not the only Best Defense reader in this position, so I've compiled some of the general trends of advice that I've received.

As a first point, almost EVERYONE recommended taking time off to decompress and relax before beginning school or work (or at least no one recommended against taking time off). Most valuable were the comments from former officers who jumped immediately from their July EAS into an August start for work or school and found it miserable. The general consensus seems to be that anyone separating from the military should take two to three months before jumping into the civilian world to allow for a clean mental and spiritual break. The recommendations for how to use this time included international travel, bike trips, road trips, spending time with family, reading, introspection, and anything else that was difficult to accomplish while on active duty.

After the consensus on taking some time off, the advice on internships split roughly 50/50 between an internship in government and the private sector. This split was interesting and unexpected, both because I never mentioned any interest in the private sector (although I am interested, as the business school admission may have indicated) and because I would have expected advice from Best Defense readers to skew more towards the DOD than it did. Several emails recommended specifically against any government internships, if for no other reason than to allow for a cleaner transition from active duty to civilian life. For those who did recommend an internship in the public sector, Congress was the clear favorite, with the Senate specifically mentioned as a better option than the House. Some responses implied that these positions were very difficult to obtain and that a clearance would not transfer, while others said the exact opposite. I'm not sure who is correct, so maybe someone with more experience on Capitol Hill can provide some commentary.


The Best Defense

Was Powell an 'affirmative action' general, as a conservative blogger charges?

That's the accusation being made by some unhappy with Powell's endorsement of Obama.

Look, I have been critical of General Powell. I think he was overrated as a general. No one could be as good as people held him out to be. He bears part (but not most) of the responsibility for the botched ending of the 1991 Gulf War. We didn't need to go to Baghdad, but we certainly should not have given Saddam Hussein the victory he thought he won by taking on the Americans and their allies and surviving. Also, I think Powell was a disaster as a secretary of State, because he paved the way for the invasion of Iraq with a speech at the U.N. that we know to be almost entirely wrong in its assertions. He will spend the rest of his life apologizing for that.

But it is a calumny to call him an affirmative action general. I have looked closely at Powell's career, and I think he was a very clever, energetic, ambitious man, much like Eisenhower. But I don't think presidents choose their national security advisors or Joint Chiefs chairmen as affirmative action moves.

What is most striking to me is the similarity between Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf. Both were from the New York area, both were commissioned in the late 1950s, and both served two tours in Vietnam, one as an advisor, and then one with the Americal (cq) Division. The difference between the two is not their skin color, but that Powell understood better how Washington works. 

So, a Washington general? Certainly. But an affirmative action general? Unfair and inaccurate.