Careerism and the Military

At the moment you read this, Your Humble Blogger is on an airboat in the Everglades or somewhere like that, and can’t make a long post.

But here’s a thought that probably deserves some honest discussion, ladies and gentlemen:

Of all the problems in the US military today, the most fundamental and damaging is careerism, and its toxic effect on the troops, the mission, and the service.

Agree? Disagree? Got some examples?

Gators don’t get us, we’ll be back to join in this afternoon.

71 thoughts on “Careerism and the Military

  1. Boat Guy

    Generally agree. Especially with undoing the emphaisis recruiters place on people who are “gonna do 20”. I think the emphasis should rather be on “Do a hitch, serve your country and get exposed to things bigger and more important than yourself”. THEN if it works out, PERHAPS consider staying.
    We need a larger percentage of the population to have served and we also need to get away from being a “jobs program”. My family has served since before there was a Republic – I’m the first to have made a career in the service, and my “career” was largely “accidental”.

    1. Seacoaster

      Agreed, and you described why I think national service is a good idea despite its many drawbacks.

      I think careerism is particularly dangerous because it’s coupled with a crappy personnel system (way too much rotation, turbulence, and focus on the individual vice cohesive building units and teams) and the lure of the MIC after service. Generals should be banned from working for defense companies when they retire.

      1. Boat Guy

        “National Service” – however you’re gonna make it “work” – sure. I’d be interested in ideas. Conscription; nope. I’ve seen that movie; hell, I’ve BEEN in that movie. Bad Idea.

      2. scooby

        GO/FO should be banned (as a condition of receiving their pension) from remunerated employment anywhere, not just defense companies. Every damn one of them I’ve met out in the private sector were fucking useless at anything unrelated to soaking up tax dollars.

    2. Kirk

      Nobody I knew in the military that said “Imma gonna do my twenty…” at the beginning of things actually ever did so, for various and sundry reasons. And, not coincidentally, most of the guys who were making the decision to stick around for the full monty around mid-career were guys who had said they were “not planning on retiring from the Army” earlier on.

      Similarly, an interesting thing about many of the detailed recruiters I knew, the guys who DA selected? Most of us walked in and surrendered, not being recruited at all.

      Why, its almost like the advertising and so forth don’t work the way the geniuses running the show think it does…

        1. Kirk

          Generally, there are two paths into the la-la land of recruiting. One is where you volunteer for it, as an assignment akin to asking to be a drill sergeant, as it is reputed to be “good for your career”, and the other, far more likely one, is that the Department of the Army responds to USAREC’s demands for more detailed recruiters by assessing the various branches of the Army for recruiters. As it isn’t a really popular assignment, guess which accession pipeline is more likely? US Army Recruiting Command being the 800-lb gorilla of the assignments world, it gets what it wants.

          Guy in my class was, I shit you not, a guy who had completed selection for Delta. While he was at selection, he came down on orders for USAREC. Normally, when this happens, it’s an easy fix–They change the orders for Korea, or whatever. In his case, because the branch he belonged to was under the gun, he wound up going out to be a detailed recruiter. Mentioned to me that the most shocking thing in his career was hearing from the guys up at the Delta selection element that they couldn’t do a damn thing to change his assignment, and that they’d be happy to run him through assessment again when he completed his recruiter assignment. Having been in the same room with him when he was cursing out his branch detailer, I had to accept what he was telling us as being at least somewhat credible. Always wondered what happened to that guy–USAREC was not kind to him, with his assignment–If I remember right, he went to Metro DC, because as a SFC, he was financially able to do that job. He was, however, a pasty-white sort of fellow, and I don’t think he was going to fit in where they were sending him.

          Most detailed recruiters hate their lives, and with good reason. It’s a miserable, hateful, and thankless assignment that has you seriously questioning your commitment to the Army. I think I got picked up for it because I volunteered for assignment as a drill sergeant when I was a promotable Sergeant, and they were way overstrength on Sergeant-ranked Drill Sergeants at Fort Leonard Wood at that time. Having raised my hand, well… The branch managers thought one was as good as another. I was actually a miserable failure as a recruiter, although I did learn a good deal in that job. Most of which was actually useless, but… Still.

          There is a great deal of animosity, or, at least, was, between the career recruiters and the detailed guys. The career types would throw you under a bus, both metaphorically and literally. And, frankly, the career recruiters I worked around were mostly lying scumbags, and since they ran the show, well… Guess what? You’re working for some of the most venal, corrupt types in the Army. And, gollygeewhiz, they’re the ones we’re entrusting as the folks that fill the seats, soooo… You start from a false base, with these types running recruiting from top to bottom, and you wonder why the recruits have this alarming tendency to be like one Bradley Manning? Huh. Go figure.

    3. Hognose Post author

      I never thought recruiters cared whether their recruits did 20. The care about getting them through the MEPS, then they need the next kid to make their numbers.

      1. Kirk

        The 20-year career is a sales tool that recruiters are trained to mention, but it’s rarely one ever gotten out of the toolbox in reality.

        Like I said, most guys are saying “I never thought I’d maker a career out of the Army, but here I am…” at their retirement ceremonies.

    1. Sommerbiwak

      Me too!

      When you go to Alaska you pack a bear gun. What do you bring against alligators?

      1. McThag

        You bring the same thing as for bears. A .25 and a “friend” you don’t like.

        I get invited on a lot of trips to the ‘Glades…

  2. LFMayor

    My observation point: I hit my first eaos in 1994 as an e5 with 6 years active duty. A career man was not a detriment by our lingo then.
    Career men, both enlisted and officers were motivated, capable, capable of motivating and great to work for and with. Even the days the job sucked they were in there pulling the oars with you. Leading.
    These career men, who had for whatever personal reasons chosen to stay in the military made it a better place and things hummed along like a spinning top most days
    By 1994 they were getting rarer and the scent on the wind suggested damn near total extinction was ahead. Looking back I see it wasn’t for lack of effort that it didn’t occur.

    Their cousin, in general uniform shape only was a breed that we slang termed Lifers. It was not a term of endearment. These blobs were naturally patient, since anything else required effort, and used this inherent trait to seep upwards in the ranks. Like a titrate coloring test paper, a walking talking stain. Since they were wholly incapable of survival outside the biosphere the military provided they never left. They recognized each other, coalescing into the radioactive piles that killed all life in an ever increasing radius around them.
    I had Carter era survivors tell me it was a good time to exit because they recognized the tune being struck. Many of those men were career, they were assessing whether they could stick it out or if the return on investment was too thin to continue. They could be compared to those species of evergreens whose pine cones only open after a forest fire has ripped through. They keep alive traditions and values that are the true underpinnings of the military and ultimately the nation.

  3. ToastieTheCoastie

    Leave it to Hognose to ask the tough questions. I’m going to say that it is a net bad. As I see it, you have 3 types of careerist in the officer corps and roughly corelates to enlisted men.

    There’s your “good” careerists. Those who are passionate about their service and genuinely dedicate themselves to what they do. How can you grudge them wanting a career? Their energy and love for their duty is an integral part of what makes the military tick. Although I don’t know the man, it sounds like General Mattis is one of these.

    Then we have the “neutral” careerists, the ones who don’t have the drive or imagination to find a civilian job. The O-4/E-7 ranks are filled with the “might as well stick it out for 20 crowd.” Not bad folks, but the whole thing is just a job to them. They don’t bring energy to things.

    Finally, the bad ones, the ruthless weasels who will play the system for their own egos and advancement. We all know the type. They’ll stab any back to get where they’re going. They don’t care about the service as much as advancing. General Petraeus might be one of these from my limited observations.

    Some of the problems of careerism aren’t created just be individuals, but the promotion system as well which often requires very specific box checking for tours to get the job you want longterm. All in all, careerism is a net neutral, as it provides steadiness and continuity to the service while creating inefficiency and other divers idiocies.

    1. ToastieTheCoastie

      Looks like I had changed my mind half way through writing. Oops. I’ll stick with “net neutral”

  4. Torch333

    I guess it all depends on how you define “careerism.” If you mean putting one’s military career, personal advancement and honors ahead of his/her soldiers/sailors/marines/airmen and the military task at hand, then I agree completely. That doesn’t mean a career military person cannot be a good leader, take care of his/her subordinates and be primarily motivated by accomplishing the mission. Of course, a career military person (particularly an officer) has to punch his/her ticket in order to advance, and that requires some schmoozing, back-scratching and politicking – to get the first necessary assignment on the career track and then have good FitReps to keep getting the further necessary assignments. No-one gets a star unless they can handle themselves at cocktail parties. It goes off the rails if personal advancement becomes the prime motivating factor. The whole point of military training is to subordinate self to the good of the unit and the accomplishment of the mission (BTW, great piece on Manning the other day). Enlisted personnel are far from stupid and easily recognize an officer or NCO who puts his/her career ahead of the unit. That has a toxic effect down the ranks,

    Higher ranking officers who spend their time kissing up to the powers that be have caused great problems for the military. Gates’ decision to employ the smallest force possible to accomplish the Iraq invasion – wholeheartedly adopted by most of the planners – contributed greatly to the mess that followed. During the last eight years, officers furthering their careers at the expense of war fighting capability advanced the SJW agenda espoused by Obama, Carter, Mabus, et al. Careerism (as in, “My personal interests are more important than the best interests of the Navy”) also led to the Fat Leonard scandal with the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Even with Gen. Mattis being made SecDef, those careerist officers still populate the Pentagon. We’ll have to see how he deals with them.

    I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate careerism in the military. For some, it starts with the service academies. To get an appointment, the applicant has to kiss up to politicians to get the all-important nomination. After that, there is the political / social engineering that goes into picking the incoming fourth-year class. Admissions officers know that they have to keep the politicians happy by picking a class that reflects the prevailing winds from Washington (after all, those admissions officers have their own careers to think of). The applicants who get an appointment have learned a really good lesson in careerism before they even arrive on campus for I-Day. And once part of the corps of cadets / brigade of midshipmen, etc., they are repeatedly told how “special” and “elite” they are. To be sure, the academies produce many good officers – some of whom make the military their careers. They also produce some who raise careerism to a fine art and others who are out of the military after their minimum commitment and on to jobs on Wall Street or in Washington.

    Sorry for the rant . . . .

  5. SPEMack

    Careerism is bad. It was made worse by the McNamara era changes in personnel. The whole up or out thing was a horrendous idea. I liked leading a platoon. I was good at it. I liked leading a Company, a was fairly good at it. In fact, I ran a LRS Company and a Headquarters and Headquarters Company. And this is after essentially running a Troop as a 1Lt due to some issues at BN level requiring the Troop Commander to play S-3 most of the time. But, and big but here, I was an Article 15 committing, OCS attending, former National Guardsman who didn’t quiet grasp the concept of “silver leaf means shut up and say yes sir.” And as an E-5 I didn’t quit grasp the concept of “star in middle of stripes, can tell you not to wear gray socks”. I had no desire to be a General. I had no real desire to be a Brigade Commander. But I liked fighting, I liked leading men, I liked being just a “ell-tee” but THE “ell-tee” or THE Captain.

    However, that Army’s up and out policy means I couldn’t do that more than once or twice, and with no oakleafs heading my way, I said thanks, took my MSM, and went to greener pastures in a Guard infantry company. Which, coincidentally has more experience in it, both age wise and deployments, than the last infantry unit I was actually in. My three deployments put me towards the bottom.

    An officer who wants to make General has to become viscous in his ticket punching; ruthless in his hunt for choice assignments, and a general all around ass hole. I don’t want to serve with guys like.

    My step father happily commands a regiment and this will be his last gig. He fought in Panama, Gulf War I&II, and Kosovo. He has a shiny chicken, a nice house, and a new truck. He has no desire to put on stars and serve on a joint billet somewhere. I feel that the Army is going to loose a tremendous resource when he leaves.

    As a further aside, Ranger School has become a ticket punch, in my opinion. Guys want the Range tab simply so it states so on their OER. It’s become like an Eagle Required merit badge.

    1. Boat Guy

      Up-or-out IS a problem at every level. I had some good sailors who were happy chipping paint, taking the helm and being sailors. Most of them were “Liberty Risks” too, but once “Turn To” went; they went to WORK, hangovers or no (having the Chief give a needle gun to the more obviously suffering ones was a lesson in life and consequences). I’d rather have most of those guys than the shiny ones you see these days.

    2. Tennessee Budd

      “An officer who wants to make General has to become viscous in his ticket punching…”
      I like that characterization.
      I first thought that it was a typo on your part, but upon reflection I decided you had it about right. A great many of them are oily, slippery bastards, who only care about being able to smoothly evade any real responsibility.

      1. Kirk

        Life-tip #5,002, or so:

        Remember to tip the airboat operator when, and only if, they first return you to the starting point where your car is…

        And, make sure they understand that the tip is only accessible to them via you getting there in one piece–Cash, in these circumstances, is contra-indicated.

        Delivery of tip at any other point in the air-boat experience may lead to your hasty abandonment on random firm ground out in the swamp, which is not survival-enhancing.

  6. Docduracoat

    My secret shooting spot is out there in the Holey Land Wildlife Management Area!
    Me and some of the others Doctors are going out there this Sunday with the slidefire equipped AR’s, some M 14’s, moving targets and a drone
    Come on over to the sound of (simulated) full auto fire And join us!
    We would love to have our favorite blogger visit and shoot with us!

  7. Alan Ward

    Mmmmm, gator steaks, gator kebabs, gator chili…what could possibly go wrong?

    My limited take on careerism is similar to many. Need some careerists to keep the chickenshit billets filled. Really what is needed are war fighters and leaders of men from bottom to the top.
    Macnamara should roast slowly in hell for the up or out abortion.

  8. Kirk

    Y’all knew this was bound to be “triggering” for my, didn’t you…?

    The fact that we’ve morphed the word “career” from something other than a handy term used to describe the arc of one’s service term is a marker that there’s a problem, and that the problem isn’t something that’s right there on the surface.

    Language shifts indicate that underlying truths come to the fore, no matter what weasel words or newly invented terms we come up with. Examine the etymologic history of the terms surrounding mental deficiency, as one example: Moron, imbecile, idiot, and cretin were once all value-neutral clinical terms, used to describe specific points along the spectrum of mental insufficiency. Then, when popular usage shifted those terms from the clinical into “hurtful insults”, the new term was “mentally retarded”. Now? God knows what the “right” way to refer to these unfortunates might be. Whatever you say is going to be an insult…

    Similarly, the term “ni**er” was once essentially a relatively neutral descriptive, followed by “colored”, “negro”, “african-american”, and on and on and on. The freighted use of the term as insult or pejorative today would likely puzzle both black and white Americans of the pre-Civil War era, at least to some degree.

    So, too, the term “careerist”. The meaning it originally had was essentially neutral, being a useful construction to identify the military member who’d become committed enough to the institution to be considered an organic part of it. Unfortunately, as with “retard” and “ni**er”, the term has come to be associated with other meanings, ones that are not at all positive. The question might be asked, why the hell has this happened? When you stop and think about it, what the hell is so bad about the word “retard”, or the term “moron”? Or, for that matter, the ever-dreaded “N-word” itself? They’re just words, right? Why should a term like “mentally retarded” suddenly go from technical term used in clinical settings to unmentionable pejorative, and over the course of only a few generations?

    The root of the issue is language, and our inability to recognize that the language is a tool for thinking with, a series of symbolic shortcuts taken over centuries of imperfect communication between humans. We have this mental image of language being this magical thing that can change reality, when in fact all it is really doing is changing, temporarily, the appearance of things. You note that the terms “Moron”, “Imbecile”, and “Cretin” are being used outside the clinical setting, and in a demeaning way? Well, when you think magically, the solution to that is to change the terms used to describe the moronic, imbecilic, and cretinous to something else, something less offensive, and… Eventually, that term will be coopted to become a demeaning one in the outside world, and Hey! Presto!!, we’re on to yet another magical terminology change…

    One that doesn’t really change the underlying conditions, nor address the real problem.

    You see this a lot with people. I mentioned Proposition 13, I think, maybe yesterday–That was legislation sold on the proposition (literally…) that it would rein in the out-of-control politicians in Sacramento, by reducing the money they had to play with. Nice theory–Now, go look at the way it’s worked out, over the last few decades. California’s politicians have yet to be restrained by the whole thing, went to other sources of money, and are currently spending the state into a bankruptcy that truly boggles the mind. So, Mr. Jarvis, how’d all that work out for you?

    Same thing with most of these indirect “solutions”, the actual effect is never, ever what you thought you were going to get when you came up with it. Blanket ban on general officers moving over to industry? Hmm. Sounds good–Now, tell me where it can go wrong? Can’t think of any places? No worries; nature will take its course and find these things out for us, as soon as you implement this indirect solution to a problem that really stems more from an utter failure to select for or inculcate strong principles in our officer corps. That’s the real problem–Not that we have officers who are going over to work for industry, which has been a feature of the American scene since we were Americans, but that those officers we have doing this are self-centered, self-interested, venal scumbags in their essence. Having someone like, oh, say COL Lewis, of Lewis Gun fame, go over to civilian life as an industrialist feeding the system isn’t a big deal–He was actually fairly decent about the whole deal, and didn’t take outrageous advantage of the system. Others? Well, they didn’t quite live up to the set standard, now did they?

    Is the answer, in these cases, to throw the baby out with the bath water, or to have the discipline in ourselves to hold the shitty ones accountable?

    That’s where the California electorate screwed up; they chose to use (purportedly, anyway…) the mechanism of Prop. 13 to restrain the government, when they should have been throwing the bums out, wholesale, for malfeasance in office. You see the fruits of this today, in California.

    Careers are not bad, but the term has come to mean something far different than what it did when it started. Analyze why, and you’ll find that this useful term was more-or-less situationally hijacked by people who thought more of themselves than their institution. And, the question then needs to be asked, why the fuck the institution created that situation by rewarding these pissants in the first fucking place. A healthy institution is not going to create the circumstances where such creatures flourish, in the first fucking place.

    The term “career” has morphed into an ideation where people “do good things for their career”, and are rewarded for it. This militates to select people who are not selfless service types, and instead, rewards the self-seeking sociopaths who are only concerned about what’s good for them, personally. This situation is a symptom of deeper-rooted problems with the entire system itself, and those problems stem from deeply rooted definitional issues that we often don’t even think about.

    Example of how this works out, for the Army: Mid-rank Staff Sergeant, a guy who’s been a solid squad leader, gets tracked off the leadership trail by his superiors. Why? Because the silly bastard has taught himself to use a computer effectively, and is a hard worker. So, instead of his bosses “doing what’s right” for his “career”, and leaving him where he has a good chance to get the NCOERs he needs to make SFC, like being an acting platoon sergeant, they stick him where it does the most good for their careers, into jobs where his computer skills make them look good. Poor bastard Staff Sergeant then winds up on the staff track, generating pretty-pretty PowerPoint slides for the battalion commander, and making the schools system work for the Command Sergeant Major. Centralized promotion boards only see “Drone in staff slot…”, and then don’t promote him. Meanwhile, the slugs that the CSM and LTC left out in the line platoons, and who really ain’t all that competent, wind up getting rated in the slots that garner them the promotions…

    Who’d the system just fuck over, there? Was it the guy who only thinks of himself? Or, was it the guy whose ethos is “selfless service”, and who puts his nose to the grindstone to do the best job he can, wherever the Army puts his ass?

    The real problem with careerism isn’t necessarily the careerists; they’re merely responding to the external motivators that the system has put in place. They are like the scorpion in the Aesop’s fable about the Frog and the Scorpion; they’re just doing what comes naturally. They’re not the actual fucking problem, people; the actual fucking problem is the fucking system itself, that looks at the guy who got sidetracked into a staff job because he was smart and adaptable, and says “Oh, he’s not doing what he needs to, in order to get promoted…”, and then doesn’t promote him. Duh.

    What the fuck was he supposed to do, I wonder? Tell his superiors to fuck off? Not do the job he was set at, with pride and skill?

    Careerists aren’t the actual problem; they’re the symptom. The problem is deeper into the culture, further back in the machinery of the military. You want to fix those problems, you’d better be a bit more discerning and careful about what you are doing, and ask yourself what specific perverse incentives already exist, and then figure out how to go about eliminating those before you go on to make more structural changes that probably won’t directly address or fix any of the problems you’re looking at.

    1. Anonymous

      What the fuck was he supposed to do, I wonder? Tell his superiors to fuck off? Not do the job he was set at, with pride and skill?

      Yes. Stop shirking the duty to one’s self. Plot a course out of the dead-end canyon he’s been led into. Act like a human being expected to make the meaning of his life, rather than a part in a machine. If his career gets on a boxcar to a camp, it is more his fault for obeying than the “superior’s” fault for ordering. There is no known solution to the tragedy of the commons; a better approach is for things to have owners who care about them. There is no one better placed to care about a person’s life, than the person living it.

      1. Kirk

        So, as you would have it, the solution is to start behaving like every other cretinous careerist, rather than reform the system so that it actually rewards the guys who do what they’re ordered to do…?

        Not seeing that as a solution, to be honest. You’re suggesting that the solution to careerism as a problem is more of the same, rather than actually attacking the source of the problem, which is the perverse incentives provided by the corrupt promotion system that reward people for being in specific “career-enhancing” jobs, rather than doing the best at whatever task they’re set to by their superiors…

        Methinks a careerist just self-identified, here.

      2. Kirk

        Oh, and here’s a fucking tip for you, douchebag: If you’re in the Army or any other branch of the Armed Services, you emphatically do not have any such thing as a “duty to oneself”. If you think you do, you’re in the wrong fucking trade.

        You have a duty to the nation; a duty to your mission; a duty to your superiors; and a duty to your subordinates. That’s it; a four-fold set. You are a service-man, period–And, the terms “service”, there…? That means you fucking serve. Where you are told, where you are needed, and to the best of your fucking ability–And, if that means you die, you die.

        If you think anything else, you are a part of the problem under discussion.

    2. Mike_C

      >Moron, imbecile, idiot, and cretin were once all value-neutral clinical terms […] Now? God knows what the “right” way to refer to these unfortunates might be.

      I know that was rhetorical, but I think now we’re supposed to say “developmentally delayed.” A mentor and friend once punctured that on morning rounds when a hapless medical student presented [term of art] a new patient: “Mr [Redacted] is a 65-year old developmentally-delayed man who presented with an hour of left-sided chest pain. He …”
      “Stop right there. You said ‘delayed’ about a 65-yo man. Are you implying that he’ll ever get caught up? Like he’ll suddenly have normal cognitive ability when he’s 70?”

      Oh, and your other example? “By-definition-unarmed and automatically-virtuous chronic victim of institutional prejudice” would be the proper term. Which, by the way, removes the capacity for moral agency from the BDUAAVCVOIP and is thus an extremely virulent form of racism.

      1. Kirk

        Give it 20 years, and “developmentally delayed” will be a highly-offensive pejorative…

        Rectification of Names, strikes again.

        The root issue here isn’t the term, it’s that the oh-so-sensitive-to-offense types resent that the general population makes use of the terminology to describe like behavior to like, and that results in perceived offense.

        How you fix that? No idea, but it’s an identifiable syndrome.

    3. staghounds

      How do we adjust things so that “good for the career” and “good for the mission” are the same behaviour?

      I’d submit that having 100% perfect evaluations be the minimum for advancement is an error, and that up or out is crazy.

      1. Kirk

        The fact that the two are not already synonymous might be a clue that we’re doing things wrong.

        “Career-enhancing” jobs as stepping-stones to promotion indicate that the command has lost its shit, when it comes to deciding who should be promoted. This is usually related to a certain laziness and apathy on the part of that command structure, and should be rooted out.

        Eisenhower languished after WWI, career-wise. The fact that he did so, after having put in stalwart performance running things here in the continental US for the training base, and as he was ordered to do, indicates that the people who were running things back then were a bunch of hypocritical dumbasses. He did precisely what he was ordered to do, to the best of his ability, and the reward for that was… Career stagnation? Come again? Talk about perverse incentives being offered.

        This problem isn’t a new one, nor is it rooted in the individual; instead, it is systemic, and flows from shitty upper management/leadership. You take a top junior officer, and then put him into a slot where he’s doing precisely what you need him to, where you need him to, in some unglamorous position that’s critical to the overall success of the mission, and then you reward his ass with nothing, while promoting the glory boys who you chose not to put into that critical position, but instead put where they might wind up expended in combat…? Hmmm. Sounds like a successful strategy to me.

        For y’all sarcasm-impaired types, that-there was some o’ that sarcasm thing…

  9. Patrick

    As an enlisted guardsman I’ve seen my share of officers on the career track and the result has always been the same: soldiers and training falls away to check OER boxes so that these officers can love up and out. Two former commanders put aside all pretense and all but ignored the company in order to focus on pleasing the CG and his G-staff. My current commander went from being a SME officer in an important position providing critical leadership and expertise to a commander who is extremely apathetic to the needs of the company. The focus shifts from those they command to pleasing the G-staff they report to and getting from that staff slot to field grade.

    That doesn’t even cover the senior enlisted playing CYA just to make sure people don’t come down on them for some dumb private doing dumb private things.

  10. Ken

    Reminds me of the book “Once an Eagle”. Is that still on the US Army officers reading list?

      1. Kirk

        You mean he’s not…?

        Holy shit, that’s gonna surprise a bunch of folks I used to work for…

      2. Boat Guy

        Too right, by half. I see a LOT of Massengalesthese days and it’s been a LONG time since i saw a Damon

  11. James

    I was visiting with an astronaut of the Apollo era, and asked “what happened to the NASA that got us to the Moon?” he replied with no hesitation: “Career Ladders, I absolutely hate them”. It forces everyone to put their own advancement interests first. CYA becomes the main focus, rather than working as a team to get something truly remarkable accomplished. He mentioned that “Engineering Ethics” also died when Career Ladders took over NASA. I’m sure there are similarities at the Pentagon.

    1. Kirk

      Goes to my point about the system being at fault, not the careerists. They’re merely responding to the incentive system you set up in the institution; that’s the point of failure.

      You want to get rid of the careerists, stop taking shortcuts like having “career-developing assignments”. Not everybody can get those, and the thing you ought to be looking at is whether or not the guy you’re looking at is doing the best he can in the job/situation he’s in. So what if he’s not a platoon sergeant; if he’s continually being assigned to work in the S3 because “computer skills”, so what? Dude’s doing good work where his superiors assigned him, why are you making a judgment call against him?

      Decisions like that are why we have careerists, not the careerists themselves. They wouldn’t exist, if the institution had the self-discipline to not set up these shortcut judgment chains to promotion; if the system truly valued good leadership, they’d promote based on the men who provably provided such, rather than go by the external markers like “went to Ranger school”.

  12. robroysimmons

    I’d say consult Jerry Pournelle.

    Second the grand strategy of America and its language shift as Kirk notes are in cahoots to give us F-35s and LCSs till the day wheels come off and the rust holes in the bottom of those ships give way for good and the planes’ wings fall off.

  13. Keith

    Consult RAH’s Starship Troopers. The book of course not that abortion of a movie.

    I see careerism being an issue of peace time service. By that I mean not being in a big war like the Civil War or W W II. None of our other wars mobilized the military like those two did. W W I did but we were only involved for a few months and the things you saw in those two wars barely got started. By that I mean the weeding out of the career types you are talking about. The quite professionals come to fore in that kind of a stressful situation. And it has been decades since we were in one. What I see is the valid points you all who have been in are bringing up are inevitable in a military in peace time. And the longer the peace lasts the worst it will get.

    The US military started to go back to the pre war standards after W W II. This was driven by Truman and his Sec Def. The shock of Korea and China’s civil war going to the CCP and the Soviet Union caused the US military to basically go to a war time footing. That remained in place, not that there wasn’t any careerism, but the perceived threat gave focus.

    Then the Wall came down and the threat just evaporated. And there was all the talk of a ‘peace dividend’. And what you are all talking about was inevitable IMHO.

    Keep your powder dry and your faith in God.

    1. Kirk

      Careerism has been a major problem in conflicts, too.

      Lots of “ring-knockers” were out there during the WWII and Korean War era, getting their “tickets punched”, and I remember a lot of old-timers talking about that as a problem with a lot of Vietnam-era officers and enlisted.

      The base cause of this issue is the system, which is perceived to reward people for specific assignments and duties, rather than saying “Oh, hey… You got stuck in a stateside assignment…? Kinda like Dwight Eisenhower did, in WWI? Did you do a really good job at that thankless task? Good; we’re gonna promote you, and that douche-canoe who went to France and spent his time hiding in a chateau behind the front won’t be promoted…”.

      1. 11B-Mailclerk

        Sadly, the “careerists” seem to be the ones who get to modify the system, naturally in the way that best rewards careerists.

        1. Kirk

          Institutional capture is a real thing, and the problem does not get solved by creating “more of the same”–Which, I fear, is precisely what we have been doing across the board in our institutions. It’s not just a military problem, or in government alone. Corporations have this same problem, across the board.

          Fixing it? You have to change the entire paradigm of how we organize, and that’s going to take some fundamental shifts in culture, attitude, and how we develop solutions to problems in our society.

          My thoughts on this are still in a state of flux; I’m leaning towards the need for some new way of approaching organization itself, one that throws out the current hierarchy/bureaucracy techniques for something far more fluid and flexible. Administration, however, is an issue. I think we need to start looking at different ways to do things, and see what happens when we try them out on a small scale, evolving big-picture solutions out of smaller components that actually work. You want to disable time-serving hacks and careerists, you have to do what you do with anything else you want to exterminate–Destroy the environment they live in, which is the hierarchical bureaucracy.

          1. Anonymous

            I’m the same commenter you speculated was a careerist, above. Humans who view themselves as indentured servants to other humans is the part of the problem which is easier to fix. Politicians only have power because you obey them. Stop obeying stupid orders which you believe will damage the mission you care about.

            This conversation reminds me of German Jews handcuffed in the boxcars, complaining that Hitler should have protected them instead of scapegoating them. Well of course government “should” have protected them, but complaining once in the boxcar is not a reform method that works. Compare that with alleged gun owners in Connecticut in 2013, who declined to obey the demand to register their guns. That reform method worked great. The bad chain of events was avoided at low cost.

            If you are willing to get on the boxcar, Darwinism will evolve some human predator who commands you to get on it. The ecological niche for Hitler only exists because you, by your own considered choices, have placed yourself in the niche for German Jew.

          2. Kirk

            @ the individual afraid to identify himself (although, already self-identifying),

            The situations you are trying to make equivalent are nowhere near such a thing. Instead, you are rationalizing your own attitude, in order to comfort whatever vestige of integrity your personality might have left.

            A military force, particularly one serving a supposed constitutional republic, cannot actually continue to persist so long as that military consists of self-aggrandizing, self-interested parasites on the body politic; down that road lies what happens in South American nations, where the military is subordinate only to itself. The man who says “I will do only that which is in my self-interest…” is the man who finds it all too easy to slip the surly bonds of responsibility and duty to nation, making himself a Hugo Chavez or other prototypical militaristic dictator. That fact alone is why the principles of selfless service are etched into the precepts we are supposed to live by–That, and obedience to civil authority.

            Men of your stripe have no business in service of the Republic, because you self-confessedly do not care for it–You wear a uniform for yourself, and yourself alone. As such, you have no business calling yourself a soldier of any sort, being a pale imitation of one. Were you honest with yourself and others, you would not sign yourself as “Anonymous”, you would sign your posts “Parasite”. I rather hope you have never worn a uniform of any kind, but knowing the way our sadly diminished armed forces select personnel, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you had.

            You, sir, are what is wrong with our military, from top to bottom, enlisted, commissioned, and civilian employee.

          3. Steve M.

            Kirk,

            Have you ever read Henry Ford’s autobiography? He had some good ideas for running his factories and promoting individuals. He was very much against titles and offices. He thought that giving people titles and offices created a situation where productivity and leadership fell apart. It seems Ford would be very much against the faulty culture we see in the military and business worlds. If you haven’t read it yet, I think you might enjoy it.

          4. Anonymous

            Most reform occurs in response to external pressure from competitors. However, by definition government bans competition with itself. The decline in relative performance starts immediately when the corrective feedback loop of competition is halted. This is a fundamental flaw of government. Government doesn’t have to reform the weaknesses revealed by competitors, it can merely murder the competitor. Disable reform for long enough, and performance decays to the Osprey, F-35, and Zumwalt. Millennium Challenge showed a carrier group loses to fishing boats with missiles. Perhaps the next defeat will come from a Windows virus, and it won’t be a simulation or a test.

            Yes, Minister and Dilbert are documentaries, learn from them. Pournelle Republicanism and Starship Troopers are not even science fiction, they are fantasy; discard them. Perhaps you should consider changing the entire paradigm of how we organize, which will take some fundamental shifts in culture, attitude, and how we develop solutions to problems in our society. Consider leaning towards some new way of approaching organization itself, one that throws out the current hierarchy/bureaucracy techniques for something far more fluid and flexible. Destroy the environment time-serving hacks live in, which is the hierarchical bureaucracy.

          5. John M.

            @Anonymous:

            If you think the forces of freedom won a victory over the forces of not-freedom in Connecticut in 2013, then you are playing checkers against an enemy that is beating you badly at chess.

            -John M.

  14. rotorhd

    I’ve had this discussion with many over the years and I believe it is the system. HRC is severally antiquated and probably still uses punch card computers for assignments. The “up and out” system is too rigid to allow flexibility.

    As a Avn RLO (Real Live Officer) as the Warrants call us, the career requires us to jump hoops and God forbid if you miss one. From the start, I had zero illusions of making O5-higher. Over the years, I’ve been counseled that “this staff billet (crappy job) would be good for your career”. Personally, I think Careerists become “Generalists” and not “Experts.” That is, few ever really get good at their jobs and few ever stay in their jobs that long, 6-9-12-18 months? There is the constant moving and an aimless shuffle to “ticket punch.” It is gaming the system. I have a question for some of you smart guys. Does this happen in SOF commands and units too? Has the bureaucracy invaded SOCOM?

    When the Army grew in numbers and units, there was already a shortage of mid-grade O’s. You know, the ones that do the bureaucracy grunt work. So, Big Green HRC accelerated promotions of the O5’s, then O4’s, and then O3’s. Gradually I observed the experience level decreasing over time. I do not think this degradation was good.

    When I was “voluntold” and cross-leveled for a non-flying Iraq tour, my BN Cdr asked me about my 2 PL’s and wanted to know who should take the company. I replied that “they, although great PL’s, had only recently finished flight school and had only been PL’s for approx 6-9 months. They needed more time to be PL’s. They would be great CO Cdr’s in the future but needed more time and experience.” It didn’t matter. The Big Green bureaucracy rolls on, effectively or ineffectively.

    As an example of buffoonery, 7-8 years ago there was a angry white paper written by a disgusted 2LT, titled “Why I’m REFRADing from the Army”. In the paper, he describes taking Arabic all 4 years at the Point, graduates with high marks in Arabic, Branches Infantry, completes Ranger school and is assigned by HRC to an Inf Bde going to Afghan. He appeals to his CO Cdr, BN Cdr, BDE Cdr and numerous personnel in HRC to be assigned to a unit heading to Iraq. He even finds several LT’s willing to swap but it is to no avail. One of his Cdr’s even quips “they all speak that stuff over there anyway.” He saluted smartly and deployed to Afghan. The Big Green rolls……

    “Drain the swamp” and “make America great again!”

    My 2 cents….

  15. Cap'n Mike

    As soon as I saw
    45 Replies
    I figured Kirk was going pretty good.

    I cant help but remember a book I read years ago, called “A Canticle for Leibowitz”
    Hundreds of years in the future, after a Nuclear Apocalypse, the writings of a long dead Military Engineer had been preserved, studied and had taken on a religious quality like the Bible, the Koran or the Torah.
    Future Generations would be very fortunate if those writings were yours Kirk.

  16. gavin

    Each and every problem within the military is first and foremost a leadership problem. Lack of it, not enough of it, or none around. Careerism? An imprecise word to describe poor leadership.

    gavin

  17. Tom Stone

    I’d like to see the rectification of names applied to the terms “Liberal” and Conservative”. When I was young people Like Tom Paine and Tom Jefferson were considered Liberals.
    And people like Goldwater were considered Conservative.
    These days the terms are essentially meaningless.

    1. Kirk

      The key to all that is to look at who has taken control of the language, in regards to those definitions. The left is the responsible party, in terms of this fundamental pollution of the intellectual commons. The so-called “dialectic” process has been mostly performed by the left-wing philosophers and propagandists, who’ve been granted the control by default. It is far past the time it was taken back from them, but we lack real intellectual combatants in this cause, being as most of us on the so-called “right” here in the US are more pragmatic types than we are intellectual theorists.

      The things that have baffled me, down the years, is just how thoroughly they’ve performed this moral and linguistic ju-jitsu–How the hell is it that we’re now describing the Nazis as being “right-wing”, when they were avowedly socialist in inception and conduct? What’re they “right-wing” to? The Communists? That’s about the only way you could describe them that way, because there’s barely enough room between the two to insert a pry bar.

      The whole set of definitional issues you’re bringing up here are things we need to be bringing up, and pointing out–How on God’s green earth is it possible for some freak like Hillary Clinton to proudly say she’s a “Progressive”, when you look back at the things those people actually espoused, like eugenics and mass sterilizations for the “unfit”?

      It’s enough to make you suspect that the destruction of our education system and collective memories have been a deliberate thing, in order to cover up the misdeeds of these people. How is it possible that the woman who is singularly responsible for what amounts to a genocide of blacks is held up as some secular saint, when you look at things? Since the legalization of abortion, something like 35 million blacks have been aborted in the US. Think about that–There would be close to 18% of the population that was black, according to some numbers I’ve seen, instead of the 12-13% we actually have today. And, Margaret Sanger is a hero to these people… Anyone who’s read her writing really has to wonder how the hell that can possibly be the case, but then, nobody does.

  18. Steve M.

    The issues being described in these comments are not unique to the military. They are pervasive in the power industry as well, which may be due to the industry’s relationship with the Navy. That being said a lot of these problems seem to lie with the human element. As previously discussed, the military won’t give you good character if you don’t have it already. That stuff needs to be taught before somebody joins the military or the workforce.

    The power industry at one time was considered part of the civil service and critical for national defense. Now, not so much. I just wish they would tell our enemies.

    1. Haxo Angmark

      actually, the most important issue in the military today is at a tangent to careerism: networking of the higher ranks by male and female sodomites. This is also true in other ‘Murkan institutions: education, religious, political, judicial, etc.

  19. Badger

    Stories from any of us could fill volumes. The atmosphere that leads to & continues to foster careerism, as our Blog host defined, can be changed. Starting at the top-most leadership levels, 2 & 3-star decisions that indicate expediency but lack of character, moral courage, whatever you call it, need to have an outcome of They.Are.Gone. Granted, this requires a virtual coup de main in terms of replacing the MOST senior leadership. But, make no mistake, it must start from the top.

    I once served in a place where such integrity existed – and it took awhile, several months really, to feel the change (most welcome at my mid-NCO level). Ultimately, the source was a Corps CG. I know what the BS feels like; fortunately I also know what right looks like and he ended what was a frustrating period for me & a bunch of other NCO’s and 1LTs/CPTs. The cherry on top is a funny thing. Those who can set that example are remarkably more apt to listen to input coming from the other direction because they are secure in their own skin.

    But first the Pied Piper Confection Co. truck going down the street that sells the self-licking ice cream cone has to get taken out; HEAT would do it. Collateral? Pshaw. You don’t want the kids standing around the back who would buy that ice cream anyway, so go large. (Note to self: find a ‘FOOM!’ graphic to rip off.)

  20. Stacy0311

    Halfway through year 31, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a careerist. I’ve taken jobs that I thought were interesting and challenging. And it’s probably about to bite me in the ass when the promotion board meets later this year. But it’s been a fun and interesting run. I’ve got to work with some amazing people, go to some great, average and not so great places. And I’ve got some good stories out of it. I also like to think that I managed to be a bullshit filter for people who worked with/for me over the years.

    In that 31 years I have experienced the check-the-block/punch-the-ticket types and I try to have minimal interactions with them as much as possible. I have also seen the up or out system force out some really great people.

  21. RostislavDDD

    General M.I. Dragomirov (1830-1905)
    “Ambition for an officer – as dick, do not to have badly, show people feel ashamed! “.
    The officer putting the interests of his career above duty to the country, trouble of all armies of the world.
    The main cause for dips of the effectiveness of the Soviet army, said Kirk earlier.

  22. CJ

    Your most difficult problem will be the people. In the military, they mostly divide themselves into four major categories: There are the ‘me-firsters,’ the ‘me-tooers,’ the ‘deadwood,’ and the ‘dedicated.’ You are among the minority, the ‘dedicated.’ Stick with them, search them out, and work hard to be worthy of their company. You won’t be popular with a lot of your bosses who act dedicated but really aren’t, and that can make life difficult at times. Beware of the ‘deadwood.’ Most of them mean well, and, in their own way, try hard, are loyal, and are even useful. But too often they’ll botch things up and get you and your outfit into trouble.

    Watch out of the ‘me-tooers.’ These guys will tell you whatever they think you want to hear. They borrow thoughts and ideas from others and present them to you as though they were their own. They are the opportunists who look for every avenue to advance themselves, without sticking their own necks out. They ride someone’s coattails and try to make themselves indispensible to the boss. Believe me, they are not to be trusted. You don’t want yes-men around you, but you can’t always avoid them.

    The worst and most dangerous are the ‘me-firsters.’ most of them are intelligent and totally ruthless. They use the service for their own gain and will not hesitate to stick a knife in your back at the slightest indication you might stand in their way. They seem arrogant, but don’t be fooled. They are really completely lacking in true self-confidence.

    –General Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz to Robin Olds (excerpt from Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds)

    1. Seacoaster

      A cousin of Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord’s taxonomy of German officers:

      “I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.”

  23. Max

    In my experience of the extremes: Lifer=Full time DC IRS prick, Part time Reserve Officer dick! Excellent pension, I’m sure. Karma will get even. Real Soldiers= First Sergeants Meadows and Flora. Honor to have served with them and miss them! The absolute best examples of the real deal!

  24. ebd10

    My meager service took place during the early 80’s in an Army that was still reeling from the Carter Era. Vietnam was long over and Reagan had our enemies outgunned, outsmarted, and surrounded. I served in the 1st Ranger Battalion during this time and that unit was infested by ticket punchers and the politically astute. My observation of the careerists are thus: Careerists care for their careers. Every move, comment, inspection, and action is carefully gauged towards making them look good on their OER. At the time, budgets were the altar upon which careers were sacrificed or saved. Therefore, pesky things like Annual Rifle Qualification were eliminated to save money.

    My own Company Commander and his XO made it their mission to drive long-serving NCO’s out of the Army, either through disciplinary action or ridiculously strict adherence to regulation. (Including one Mess SGT who began his career as a cook at 5th SF HQ in Nha Trang) I witnessed several of their attempts to accomplish this and watched as in every case, the NCO’s in question outsmarted and outmaneuvered them long enough to gain reassignment to a unit more attuned to their considerable talents.

    This kind of destructive behavior did little to enhance the effectiveness of the unit, but it had a profound effect on morale. NCO’s were hesitant to do anything risky, or even just the standard Infantry tasks, for fear of getting a blemish on their record. Officers looked for opportunities to stab others in the back as a way of making themselves look better. Junior officers were obsequious little toadies that were more akin to Frankenstein’s Igor than hard-charging Infantry types. Ultimately, the entire unit spent their duty time walking on eggshells, living in fear, and calculating their next move.

    I served my time and left the Army. No way did I want to spend 20 years waiting for the stabbing pain in my back.

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