The Armed Forces Officer 2017 Edition

While the 2017 version is not as entertaining as the 1950 version, there are still numerous reminders found within The Armed Forces Officer manual published by the National Defense University Press. It is interesting and a little disheartening to me to be finding these lessons this late in my career. As many are aware, young officers either do not want to hear or do not appreciate the professional musings of older officers. Just as I was at that stage, I was more focused on establishing my technical competence vice my leadership abilities. Now that I see the value of the latter I wish I could go back and appreciate the lessons that I am learning today.

  1. …abilities, or the power or skill to do something, are subject to training and improvement. Abilities can be enhanced. Abilities become capabilities or capacities through practice and application.
  2. The officer remains under obligation to extend his or her inherent abilities to their maximum potential.
  3. The military man or woman may be called upon at any time to perform duties under conditions not only of great discomfort, but also of threat of serious injury, loss of limb, or death.
  4. The Nation will bestow on the officer the authority to command his or her fellow citizens. While officers depend on the counsel, technical skill, maturity, and experience of subordinates to translate their orders into action, the ultimate responsibility for mission success or failure resides with the officer in charge.
  5. No other profession holds out to the worthy so certain a reward for intelligence and fidelity, no people on earth so generously and willingly accord to the soldier the most exalted praise for heroic conduct in action, or for long and faithful service, as do the people of the United States; nor does any other people so overwhelmingly cast away those who fail at the critical moment, or who betray their trusts.
  6. “The Honorable Absurdity of the Soldier’s Role” that the soldier’s lot “is inherently and voluntarily a tragic role, an undertaking to offer one’s life, and to assume the right to take the lives of others… The intelligent soldier recognizes that the two undertakings are connected. His warrant to kill is integrally related to his willingness to die.” When one is not willing to go into harm’s way, he or she is not a soldier but a technician of death, or just a technician. A defining moral quality is absent. The military ethic is based on a commitment to disciplined service under conditions of unlimited liability, whether or not one has a military occupational specialty that involves combat.
  7. The profession of arms exists to serve the larger community, to help accomplish its purposes and objectives, and to protect its way of life.
  8. Why the Military is viewed differently by society: They serve at frequent cost to their convenience, comfort, family stability, and often their limbs and lives. It is ultimately because of their willingness to endure hardship and risk life and limb on behalf of the Nation, not the willingness to kill and destroy in the Nation’s name, that members of all the Armed Forces enjoy the respect and gratitude of the American people.
  9. Huntington’s basic thesis was that the military belonged in the ranks of the classic professions, including clergy, medicine, and law. The “distinguishing characteristics of a profession as a special type of vocation…expertise, responsibility, and corporateness.” Experience has shown the importance of a fourth characteristic, a professional ethic and an ethos.
  10. The concern now is not to prove that the military is a profession, but rather to inspire men and women in uniform to reflect the expected characteristics of professionals in their day-to-day activities: to hold themselves and others to uniformly high standards of performance and conduct, lest they lose their discretion in performance that is the acknowledgment of professional status.
  11. A profession has a body of expertise, built over time on a base of practical experience, which yields fundamental principles and abstract knowledge. Professional knowledge has a history, and some knowledge of that history is essential to professional competence.
  12. Harold Lasswell stated “the management of violence involves (1) the organization, equipping, and training of the force; (2) the planning of its activities; and (3) the direction of its operation in and out of combat.”
  13. The organizational and planning skills of Armed Forces officers are often transferrable to nontraditional assignments, and no less valuable than their material contributions. The armed forces great strength lies in our capacity to analyze a problem, plan a solution, and then implement it under pressure.
  14. In exchange for the service that a profession provides, the society grants to members of that profession certain privileges, prerogatives, and powers that it does not extend to the rest of its citizens.
  15. A sense of organic unity and consciousness of themselves as a group apart. There are at least two important dimensions of this corporateness: a shared identity, and the wish to exert control over membership in the profession. The shared identity comes from the culture and ethos of a profession. It reflects a sense of common endeavor and can be manifested in the adoption of distinctive titles and/or distinctive attire, and reciprocal recognition of members.
  16. A professional ethos is the collective and internal sense of what each member must be as a member of the profession. The ethos, which includes the tribal wisdom and oral tradition handed on from one generation to the next, is the standard-bearer of the profession. An ethos is more about what it means to be a member of that profession that it is about what members of the profession do. Service ethos is the foundation of esprit de corps, the “sense of unity and of fraternity in its routine existence which expresses itself as the force of cohesion in the hour when all ranks are confronted by common danger.”
  17. The man who feels the greatest affection for the service in which he bears arms will work most loyally to make his own unit know a rightful pride in its own worth.
  18. The most basic element of character is moral discipline. Its most essential feature is the inner capacity for restraint- an ability to inhibit oneself in one’s passions, desires, and habits within the boundaries of a moral order. Moral discipline, in many respects is the capacity to say “no”; its function, to inhibit and constrain personal appetites on behalf of the greater good.
  19. “Never for an instant can you divest yourselves of the fact that you are officer. On the athletic field, at the club, in civilian clothes, or even at home on leave, the fact that you are a commissioned officer in the Army imposes a constant obligation to higher standards than might ordinarily seem normal or necessary for your personal guidance. A small dereliction becomes conspicuous, at times notorious, purely by reason of the fact that the individual concerned is a commissioned officer.” General George Marshall
  20. Character development involves training the will as well as the intellect.
  21. Mature adults can be reminded of the values, qualities, characteristics, and virtues that constitute individual or institutional norms or epectations, but whether they choose to act in accordance with the tenets of character, or contrary to them, remains a function of free will- and disposition. In relation to peers who commit various offenses, “They know it is wrong, but they do it anyway.” Their weakness is one of will, not understanding. ONLY FOCUSED INDIVIDUAL EFFORT, REFLECTION, SELF-ASSESSMENT, AND A CONCISOUS EFFORT TO DO BETTER WILL LEAD FORMED ADULTS TO MODIFY THEIR BEHAVIOR.
  22. It is in the superior’s interest to create an environment in which honest communication is the norm, in which discourse is forthright, and mutual expectations for candor are clear to all.
  23. The superior who values the perspective of subordinates must create a space in which it is possible for subordinates to express doubt or disagreement without prejudice, and without the superior fearing a loss of authority and the intermediate distance between levels of responsibility that enables objectivity and enhances authority.
  24. A key element of subordinate success is maintaining a professional demeanor that accepts as an opening premise that the superior commander is guided by good intentions, has greater experience, far wider responsibilities, as well as many sources of information not available to subordinates.
  25. Subordinates must keep in mind that the measure of any specific mission is its contribution to its total effort, not immediate convenience or cost to their particular unit. Sometimes, when confronted with a problematic tasking, a good approach is to offer a better alternative to achieve the same or more productive result, rather than outright rejection of the superior’s immediate vision.
  26. Four basic virtues are central to the character of the Armed Forces Officer: DISCIPLINE, COURAGE, COMPETENCE, and SELF-SACRIFICE.
  27. The Armed Forces officer requires the courage to dare, the courage to endure, the courage to keep one’s head in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, “when everyone around is losing their.” The officer requires the courage to decide and act. Physical courage is sine qua non for the officer, as war is a dangerous business. But equally important is moral courage. This is the courage to speak truth to authority, and the courage to act and then to be accountable.
  28. Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur. “Battle is the ultimate to which the whole life’s labor of an officer should be directed. He may live to the age of retirement without seeing a battle; still, he must always be getting ready for it exactly as if he knew the hour of the day it is to break upon him. And then, whether it come late or early, he must be willing to fight– he must fight.”
  29. Self-sacrifice is a measure of commitment to a cause as opposed to a simple search for martyrdom.
  30. Being a person of virtue and good character is integral to being a professional. It is necessary, but not sufficient.
  31. If the first time an officer things about the ethical aspects of the use of force is in combat, under fire, the outcomes for the officer, the troops, and innocent noncombatants in the area are likely to be more unfortunate than they might otherwise be.
  32. Leadership is convincing others to collaborate effectively in a common endeavor.
  33. Taking care of the troops means attending tot their personal needs- physical, mental, and spiritual- and, to a great extent, to their families’ needs as well. It also means treating everyone with dignity and respect.
  34. Individual development means going beyond the immediate requirements of the job and the mission, to helping subordinates grow in their own careers, preparing them for higher rank, for greater responsibility, and most especially for current and future leadership of their own troops. A good leader leads, and a great leader develops other leaders.
  35. Troops obey because they must; they follow because they want to. They obey superiors; they follow leaders. The obvious is worth stating: an officer must be capable of being both a superior and a leader.
  36. Marshall’s core list of leadership attributes from 1950 onward was:
    1. Quite resolution.
    2. The hardihood to take risks.
    3. The will to take full responsibility for decisions.
    4. The readiness to share its rewards with subordinates.
    5. An equal readiness to take the blame, when things go adversely.
    6. The nerve to survive the storm and disappointment and to face toward each new day with the scoresheet wiped clean, neither dwelling on one’s successes nor accepting discouragement from one’s failure.
  37. Rear Admiral Mike Mullen’s core attributes to succeed as a leader: “Truthfulness in everything you do; Trustworthiness to follow direction; Demonstration of a capacity for active listening; and Always do your personal best.” To these he added what he called “the fundamental goals of a good liberal education: courage, judgment, curiosity and imagination.”
  38. Admiral Mullen also encouraged new leaders to do three things:
    1. Learn from their mistakes.
    2. To not be afraid to question their seniors- to stand up for what’s right.
    3. To accept accountability.
  39. Leaders set and enforce standards: “A strictly imposed discipline is not condescending… To allow a soldier to disobey orders is really to insult him. A good man, in any walk of life, knows what he can do, and what he should do. If he fails, he expects the just reward of failure.. A man in authority who lets his subordinates get away with poor performance implies in doing so that they and their actions are of no consequence… Tolerance is not only disliked by the soldier for its implication that his efforts do not matter much, but also because it is to some extent an abnegation of duty by his superior.”
  40. Officers set the example every day by demonstrating their technical knowledge, their physical conditioning, and their professional appearance and deportment, and particularly by exhibiting a positive attitude in the face of adversity.
  41. As a Commanding Officer, you must build trust with those Officers and Sailors under your command. You must build trust through your character and in your actions which demonstrate professional competence, judgment, good sense, and respect for those you lead. This trust can only be built through personal interaction on a daily basis at every level in your chain-of-command. Human interaction remains the dominant factor in leading Sailors.
  42. Accountability involves accepting the consequences for the outcomes of action or inaction in circumstances for which one bears responsibility.
  43. What the civilian ideally should be, military officers MUST be, if they are to fulfill the obligations of subordination and service to which they are committed.
  44. Three traits- VISION, COURAGE, and CHARACTER- will form the essence of effective military leaders in the years ahead.
    1. Vision. The primary function of any leader is to point the way ahead. This requires the ability to “see around corners”- to see something significant about the future that isn’t readily apparent to others.
    2. Courage. It takes courage to lead, and always has. Nothing good happens without risk, and it takes courage to act in the face of uncertainty and risk. And to succeed you must act. Acting is more important than not being wrong.
    3. Character. Character is most important in the leader. People trust men and women of character because they know that they will do the right thing for the organization and not themselves when the going gets tough; and that trust becomes the glue that binds organizations together. Aristotle states that moral goodness (character) is the result of habit. If you do good things repeatedly, you will be a good person.
  45. Fortune favors those that have prepared themselves, mentally and physically, for uncertainty.
  46. As an American Armed Forces officer, one accepts responsibility both for faithful execution of the office, to include a life of continuous study and application, and for the maintenance of a exemplary personal life.
  47. Three primary responsibilities of the military professional:
    1. First, to give his honest, fearless, objective, professional military opinion of what he needs to do the job the nation gives him.
    2. Second, if what he is given is less than the minimum he regards as essential, to give his superiors an honest, fearless, objective opinion of the consequences of these shortages as he sees them from the military viewpoint.
    3. Third and finally, he has the duty, whatever the final decision, to do the utmost with whatever he is furnished.


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