A Junior Leader’s Take on Military Life
When someone leaves home for the first time at the age of 17 or 18 to join the military, they never foresee what they are about to face. After 23 years and traveling around the world, I have seen it all. I want to highlight the three most important aspects of military life through a junior leader’s lens: leadership, diversity and family involvement.
If we want to dominate our adversaries and ensure our military is the strongest in the world, we must continue to maintain the smartest and most agile leaders.
Leadership is defined as influencing others by providing direction, motivation and purpose. When I look back on my 23 years of service, I can say without a doubt that I have seen many forms of leadership. The supervisor (giver), egotistic leader (user) and motivator are just some of the types of leaders we have in our ranks.
The supervisor is always there, in front of and behind the scenes of their organization. They spend 23 hours daily to ensure everyone around them is successful. They are smart and willing to sacrifice time with their family in order to see others move up that ladder of success. They spend the majority of their time planning and creating training and programs to benefit their units. These leaders know they will progress in the military based on their hard work and not because they know prominent leaders.
Egotistic leaders make it through the ranks because they know how to work the system and shine only when higher leadership is watching. They have only their own best interest at heart. If you are a liability in their eyes, they will abandon you as a soldier. A great leader seeks knowledge and assists everyone who needs their mentorship and guidance.
The motivator is one who enters a unit to bring excitement and fun and is always trying to please everyone. They try so hard they fail at the most complex mission in the military: leadership. The main reason for their failure is the giver and the user will always drown them out personally and professionally. They tend to leave the military after six to eight years because they are exhausted.
It’s not difficult to classify yourself as one of these leaders. If you find yourself with qualities of all three, you are the leader the military needs, seeks and desires. You have to be well-rounded in order to continue to bring troops to the next level.
When I entered the Army in 1996, I saw more minorities in support branches than in any other branch. Today that has improved, but when I look at the maneuver or maneuver support force, minorities seem to make up less than 3%. I don’t know if it’s fear of failure, if no one want those jobs, or if minorities don’t get the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
Diversity has gotten better over the years, but things are still not equal. I have been to a lot of events during my time in the military. I look across the crowds and see one or two minorities and most of the rest are white males. I blink my eyes to ensure I am not dreaming and this is 2019 and not 1939.
When the system is fair across the board, things will have changed for the better. It’s sad when you look out in the ranks and still see a white-male-dominated workforce. This is true even on the civilian side of the government.
I always want to see people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and races in every environment, but I don’t think this will occur during my lifetime. The most powerful military in the world still can’t get diversity right.
In the Army, you are so busy moving and serving your country that you temporarily forget about serving your family. They will always support your decision to serve the nation. The question is, for how long? They are the ones who sacrifice when it comes to military life. They give up their dreams, education and way of life to travel with you while you achieve yours. Family is the true backbone of the soldier. Family members serve the country as well.
We as soldiers must give family the same respect and rewards we receive from the military. We have to allow them to achieve their education, health and personal goals in exchange for their commitment to us. We should always put them first when we choose our next assignment, get promoted or even enlist. They should get a vote on your career progression. We lean on them so much throughout our careers that we forget to involve them in the most important decisions of our lives. You should remember that every change you make, they go through as well.
Family stays committed even when the military doesn’t; they are the motivation you need when others can’t provide it. Through my time in the military, I have been good and terrible at involving my family in my military decisions. As I count down the days until retirement, I continue to reflect on the many decisions I have made and wish I could change some. At the time, I told my family it was best for my career when it was not good for them. Now, as we all get older, my family has moved on with their lives, and I’m left to complete this military journey alone.
I hope you take the time to love, appreciate and involve your family in everything you do while you continue to serve this great nation.
I always say, it’s not the military that causes you to question your loyalty, commitment and willingness to stay and serve—it’s the people. People shape your decisions. They are the ones who change the rules, regulations and policies.
No one should ever feel as though they can’t serve this country because of poor leadership or because their workplace is not diverse. They should never let their family life struggle while their career soars. As leaders and soldiers, we must find a way to balance all three of these concerns