Special: The Military Must Revive Its Warrior Spirit

By William C. Moore. MG USA Retired

The Wall Street Journal

The U.S. military is having a hard time finding and keeping good men. Despite retention bonuses of $60,000 and more, this year the Air Force will again suffer an excessive loss of trained pilots. Naval aviation faces a similar situation. The Army has failed to meet its recruiting goals for many occupational specialties, including some in the combat arms, even with offers of extremely generous incentives. More graduates of our service academies and military colleges are choosing not to pursue a military career. The mainstream media and professional military journals are filled with stories about pervasive low morale affecting the readiness and capabilities of our forces.

The issue is not money, plenty of which has been thrown at the problem. Neither does the problem stem from too many deployments, family separations or lack of so-called quality-of-life programs. Soldiers like to go and do what soldiers are trained to do. They understand that hardships are part of the work they have chosen, and most will tell you that the best "quality of life" program is to keep their aircraft or tanks running and give them the ammunition and fuel so that they can train and deploy. Nor is it the lure of the economy and all the good jobs out there. The willingness to sacrifice is still an attribute of the soldier's life. Military families understand what soldiers really need, and although more money and better housing are important, those are not what drives the soldier to want to "be all he can be."

Part of the problem, in fact, is that many of the current military leaders do not see the real problem. You can't fool the troops; they know that the military as an institution is being eroded. The American military culture, established through two centuries of tradition, is under attack like it has never been before. The warrior is being overtaken by the technologist, and in the pursuit of opportunity for all, the fighting elites are now being targeted as no longer relevant to accomplishing the objectives of war. In fact, war itself is losing its meaning among the current crop of both uniformed and civilian leaders. Few of them fought in any of the "dirty wars," like World War II, Korea or Vietnam, and their vision of U.S. national security regards the possibility of war as a remote one - after all, the U.S. has no "peer competitor" against which to fight a war. The word war has become almost unspeakable. Now it is heard most often in the context of "operations other than war."

To be sure, many such operations are valid applications of U.S. military strength in support of national security objectives. But they do not fulfill what soldiers see as their reason for being. Soldiers see their relevance as warriors being questioned. They are told that the technologists are going to give them an easy way to fight, that "situational awareness" is more important than weapons systems, that simulation is a substitute for field training. Fascination with technology is leading to a silver-bullet mentality and a belief that anyone can be a warrior -- just put the cursor on the target on your computer screen and click the mouse. Despite all the rhetoric about all that is being done for the warrior, those who want to be real warriors feel betrayed. They signed on to be part of the force that clashes with and destroys the enemy. They know the risks of war, but never expected that wanting to be warriors would pose a risk to their military careers.

Military leaders, it seems, have been co-opted by social engineers whose agenda is to promote "equality" rather than to prepare forces for the next war. Anyone can be a warrior if standards are lowered enough, and silver-bullet technology turns warfare into just another video game anyone can "play." This attitude toward the warrior ethos is pervasive and dangerous. There is no question that training standards have been lowered. The Army has discontinued Basic Combat Training for all new soldiers, replacing it with Initial Entry Training, with less-demanding physical standards so as to accommodate women. A change like this bothers the warrior, because he wants to be respected as the best in his business and that doesn't start with norming qualifications and selection to the least common denominator.

No longer do the best-qualified officers necessarily get promoted. The Army's new Officer Personnel Management System, known as OPMS 21, probably removed the last vestige of that "discriminator." The Army now bases promotion on its functional needs rather than picking its best, a system contrary to motivating officers to perform to their very highest ability. And graduation from a service academy no longer affords officers an advantage in appointment to the regular force. This diminishes the motivation to compete for a service academy appointment or earn a distinguished military graduate designation, achievements that should be taken as early indicators of a stronger intent to serve our country. This change sends a very negative message to those who early in life saw Soldiers as their role models and were motivated to apply that extra effort required to enter and remain in a program that formerly provided a regular commission from the start of their careers. Warriors join and stay because they know that they are special and that not everyone can do their jobs.

They are leaving now because their leaders have created an environment that doesn't appreciate them as special -- as an elite that is not open to everyone. Warriors leave because they don't like the lowering of standards, and they are offended at being given the cookie-cutter treatment. They are tired of being told that their unit rituals are outside the behavior "norms" and that in the new workplace some of the traditions of the warrior are now considered "incorrect" conduct. The old airborne and fighter-pilot attitude just doesn't fit anymore, because it is seen as "exclusionary." The ethos of being a warrior is disappearing -- unit esprit built around "bonding" between warriors is now disparaged as an irrelevant concept and one that only serves to rationalize politically incorrect behavior and policies. Toughness and courage are born out of esprit, but that doesn't count for much anymore. We, as a nation, seem to have lost sight of why we "raise, train and maintain" a military force and that one of the basic precepts of the Constitution is to "provide for the common defense."

We've gotten so sophisticated that simple truths and principles are always suspect. Our noble military institutions, culture and life have become the targets of cultural warriors. There is an aura of self-righteousness about their activities -- they are afraid that there is a broadening gap between "society" and the military, that some of us are "extremists" and flaunt it by wearing fancy uniforms, and that if we get "out of touch" we will not be able to serve our country's objectives. Such arrogance. We withstood scorn during the Vietnam War and came back to fight and win the Gulf War. The military has character and strength, and it is going to take a wealth of both to prevail in the attack it is now undergoing.

We need soldiers of courage to stand up for the institution and prevent it from becoming another laboratory for all the "correct" causes that are consuming our society. We need warriors with the strength to say no to those who don't understand the military. It's not about money. It's about preserving the institution that produces the warriors who have always been there when they were called.

Follow Up
This article in context details part of what we are dealing with on the ground in the Recruiting fight.

The "spirit" and the senior leaders's role in the mentorship of this ideals and the promotion of this at the national level is the key important factor in rebuilding the force and retaining quality people.

We have armed our recruiters to the teeth with bonus packages and educational benifits but without the young american's perception of sacrifice and duty to country it's very difficult to attract people to join.

When was the last time we heard or saw national leadership talk about Service, warriors, the GI Bill or the honor of serving in todays ArmedForces.

Today's youth (17-21) have only viewed over the last 6-8 years the very opposite of these ideals. It's very hard for our recruiting force to overcome that. A culture has formed that promotes free education, free training, free money without commitment and character.

We have to take hold of this problem and fix it it. No one is going to do it

for us.

James M. Gill Jr.
Command Group NCOIC(88-90)
11th ACR

Follow Up 2

Having recently attended the Army Science Board outbrief the Chief's #1 concern was recruiting and retention .... his comments were very similiar to those expressed here.  The problem will likely get worse before it gets better.

Brad Tousley
Blackhorse (82-85)
Brave Rifles (86-88)