[December 27, 2020] Wilson, a good friend since before the First Grade, called to help him answer a question. His son asked him about starting a military career, and Wilson wanted some advice.
What follows is a general outline of our discussion. Many times, I had given advice on starting a military career to High School students but never have I written something for my leadership blog.
- Never be cynical or fatalistic about a career in the U.S. military. There are plenty of reasons to be suspicious; from political meddling, to societal experimentation with social fads, to a crushing bureaucracy. There are more things to be optimistic about with such a career. But also, remember the military is not a democracy. You don’t get to vote on the mission. You don’t get to choose your task. You still must do the paperwork. And, if you believe you cannot handle the dirty business of standing up to America’s enemies properly, then this is not the place for your career.
- Define what you mean ‘on starting a military career.’ What does it mean to you? Does it mean to seek power and authority over others? Are you seeking money, fame, or celebrity status? To desire a military career, what you should be seeking is competence and excellence. And, to pursue competence and excellence means that you have to know something.
- Learn everything you can possibly learn. To get into a military career requires you to educate yourself on your country’s history, of the military service you desire, of physical, mental, and moral conditioning. It means getting prepared well before you pull the trigger on a decision. That means working in jobs that require taking care of people or customers. In that way, you can begin to understand what responsibility means.
- Develop your character. The military needs people who are competent, careful, truthful, courageous, and forthright to enter into the military sphere so that things don’t degenerate into chaos. Learn to be independent, seek education (both formal and informal), follow the advice of legendary military men and women, discover and strengthen your weaknesses, and know that the path will be long and difficult.
- Be good, at least with people, because that is what the military needs. The military is all about people, understanding them, and being able to motivate and inspire. To do this, you must be honest and articulate, you must be able to develop a vision, be a great networker, experienced, and philosophic.
I’ve seen many people who got into a military career for the wrong reasons. They wanted power over others, the thrill of combat, or the social status of wearing the uniform. To be a puppet of these symbols of the military is not useful in any way. None of these will help you in your career; nothing. If these are the reasons for getting into a military career, my advice is to stay away from it.
The military sometimes solves real-world geopolitical problems. Your part in it will be a long-time coming. So, also be patient if you want a career in the military.