People Ask: Why Did You Stay in the Army?

By | June 24, 2020

[June 24, 2020]  During my 40-year career in the U.S. military, people asked many times why I stayed in the Army.  My response typically went something like this: “I don’t like being told what to do, but I like being part of something bigger than me.”  Frankly, I never really gave the reasons much thought while I was serving.  Looking back on my career, however, I think my intentions were much deeper but also more straightforward to explain.

All humans wish to be free of rules.  But we also like structure in our lives at the same time.  The ‘rules are bad’ versus ‘structure’ seems, at least on the surface, a contradiction.  We love freedom, the idea we can go any place, any time, and with no hindrances.  People have a distaste for rules that inhibit us and crush our free spirit.  Like the old “Signs” song lyrics by Five Man Electrical Band1;  “And the sign said ‘Long-haired freaky people need not apply.’”  Applying for a job, the band lashes out at the restrictive nature of society.

But we also hunger for rules, especially younger people, or at least desire guidelines and for a good reason.  Many are raised today untutored in what was once called “practical wisdom,” which guided previous generations.  Simple things like how to be strong mentally and physically, protect the weak and innocent, fair play, an aversion to violence, reverence to the family and God, and loving one’s country.  Rules and structure help simplify the world and make it more predictable.

Like many of my generation, leaders told us human knowledge of the past was out of date, oppressive, or not relevant.  Surely – we were told – we could re-invent social norms and create a more modern and progressive culture where prejudices, hatred, and discrimination would go away.  Morality could be redefined to mean whatever we wanted it to be.  How convenient?  We were superior to those that came before us.  We were better educated, understood science, and had made significant advances that freed us from restrictions of the past.

But, this only put us adrift in a society; we were without any anchor.  I certainly was adrift.  The Army gave me something that I had hard identifying, partly because I wasn’t looking, and maybe I couldn’t understand it.

The Army cultivated good judgment in me.  I now could ‘see’ the difference in good and evil more clearly.  I could see also that the nihilists’ view that says that nothing matters, that there is no real good, and there are no actual values.  The nihilist view is a bunch of hogwash.  Wisdom is never out of date.  A moral vacuum was created.  And people don’t like vacuums in their lives.  So I joined the Army and stayed there.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

23 thoughts on “People Ask: Why Did You Stay in the Army?

  1. Janna Faulkner

    Wow, nicely written but not exactly what I was thinking the direction you were headed. Yes, there is a contradiction built into all us humans and that also helps explain what motivates us to do better, achieve more, and strengthen ourselves.

  2. Max Foster

    The liberal progressives are saying, IMHO, that the past is not just not valuable but actually harmful in that it oppresses. This is worse than neutral. Therefore, it must be destroyed, else we are not moral peoples. This is a dangerous position because what we do today is shortly in the past. So, I think that the progressives today are eventually going to devour themselves. Just my thinking. But what is important is that they love rules but also attack those same rules. It’s a fundamental contradiction in their thinking.

    1. Scotty Bush

      Ouch, a butt kicking for the neo-Marxist position. Thank you so much Max. Entertaining too.

    2. Billy Kenningston

      Well said and I’m on board with you too. Neo-Marxism or whatever we call it is bad for everyone but has the positive side of allowing folks to believe they are morally better than everyone else without any responsibility or risk.

    3. Sherry Rind

      It saddens me these replies lump together a vast and diverse bunch of people under the labels “Neo-Marxist,” “liberal progressives,” “college student snowflakes, ” etc. Yes, there are a lot of young people who want to abandon the past and its lessons, in which case they could hardly be called Marxist; but young people have always been this way, generation after generation. They’re newly discovering a world of ideas and their ability to make changes. They’re full of enthusiasm but haven’t yet attained wisdom or much practical experience with the world. Why be so critical of our future leaders? Why not listen with open minds to what they have to say and engage with them instead of shutting them down?
      At age 68, I suppose I’m a liberal progressive because I’ve learned that change is inevitable, that you cannot stay still or go backward but must go forward. I believe, like Eleanor Roosevelt, that with our freedom comes responsibility; and I’ve seen many who recognize only the freedom part. That’s not a liberal vs. conservative issue; people of all belief systems are guilty. Just as some of those “liberals” blame the past for current problems, you are blaming them.

      1. Randy Goodman

        Great comment, Sherry. I also believe too many of our young, less mature, folks lack mentorship and coaching. Too many of us (less young – ha ha) – I’ll call us mature – are afraid of the youth and their energy. So, we don’t help them with our wisdom.

      2. Big Al

        Well said, and welcome to the leadership forums. Too many are often quick to criticize but slow to reason.

  3. Valkerie

    Excellent article General Satterfield. Enjoyed it but I had to read it a couple of times to get what you were saying.

  4. Jonathan B.

    Gen. Satterfield, thanks for helping expose the neo-Marxist and progressive ideology of the left. They believe that everything modern is, by definition and by morality (I think that is the right word), better than anything from the past. So all human knowledge that is not scientific is old fashioned and worthless – actually worse than worthless – since the think it is bad for us. No surprise to any of us that the past is a compilation of great wisdom. Ignore the past at your own peril.

  5. Danny Burkholder

    We do hunger for rules and drawing this from the college crowd is apt and spot on. College snowflakes want structure but don’t want rules that “scare” them. Ha Ha Ha Ha ….. etc. The college of today is a Kindergarten. Let’s not forget that while we pay enormous sums to get an education there.

    1. Xerxes I

      The coronavirus is giving colleges and universities a run for their money. I think the virus is exposing the weakness of them to all of us.

    2. Dennis Mathes

      And those who think otherwise are deluding themselves.

  6. Georgie M.

    I picked up on the idea that the Army (and I assume any American military service) helps install ‘good judgment’ in any member. Or, I guess, that service member will not last very long. Good article for my leadership rucksack. Thanks for helping get Wednesday hump day off to a great start.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Good comment, Georgie. Yes, good judgment is something that is not easy to come by in the civilian world. I found this out the hard way when I learned you cannot trust a lot of civilians. I would much rather be around military personnel or Christians. Either way you are more likely to hear the truth from them instead of some underhanded talk that is misleading or lying or both.

  7. Maureen S. Sullivan

    Nice article and a bit philosophical but I won’t hold that against you Gen. Satterfield. LOL. Keep up the great works.

  8. Kenny Foster

    Wow, I never gave this much thought. Someone once said that if we are all equal humans then we cannot be free (because it has to be forced) but if we are not equal then we are free. This means that rules and regulations have to be in place for FORCE us into something that we might not want to be but that is better for everyone that way.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Very good point Kenny. This is a dialectic that I keep hearing about or is it “cognitive dissonance?” Either way, I was impressed with the contradictions that reside in all of us as shown inside Gen Satterfield.

      1. Lady Hawk

        Yes, Willie. We don’t like rules applied to us but to others, maybe, it’s okay. This is not a good position to hold logically but just emotionally.

      2. Dead Pool Guy

        I don’t know either but I can see this in myself now. Never gave it a second thought. Maybe by recognizing this and having the thinking ability that we all have, we can be better leaders, family members, and community assets.

  9. JT Patterson

    Very interesting and a bit too much philosophical for my plate but thanks for the insights.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Hmmmmm, I was thinking something also along the same lines. Sometimes I wonder if Gen. Satterfield is beginning to change the way he looks at the world or his method of telling us his story. Either way, I’m okay with it. This change up gives some depth to the website.

    2. Shawn C. Stolarz

      Yep, but I still one of his biggest fans. IMO, the work being done here over the past several years has helped more junior leaders than anything I’ve seen. ?

      1. Harry B. Donner

        I agree with you Shawn. Thanks!!!

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