Showing Up is Not Enough

By | December 31, 2019

[December 31, 2019]  I got a call from a senior officer in the U.S. Army Recruiting Command last week.  He wanted to talk about problems with in-coming recruits and, perhaps, I could give him some ideas.  The issues he was starting to see in the Army were difficulties getting new Soldiers to adapt to military life, working long hours, and loyalty, duty, country.1

It was a shock,” he told me, “that [he] had to tell Soldiers that showing up was not enough.”  Soldiers had to do their job and not just expect things to be handed to them.  It was hard being a Soldier and that didn’t seem compatible with their thinking.  A Soldier had to carry a rifle, lots of gear including a helmet, ammunition, food, water, etc.  It was stressful when the weather was not perfect, which was all the time.

Living in tight quarters, around a lot of other people, sharing common toilet facilities, and wearing the same style clothing every day was not being taken well.  Several new Soldiers couldn’t believe that the workday was not 9-to-5 but was often at odd times and many days required long hours under challenging conditions.  There was also the expectation that a Soldier had to stay in excellent physical shape and maintain their weight within military standards.

What surprised this senior officer the most was that the Millennial generation and now the new post-Millennial generations (e.g., Gen Z, iGen) were not very loyal to the United States, the U.S. Army, or their unit.  They were loyal to friends, but most of their friends had been left behind in civilian life and were not with them.  He began to ask questions about “why” they were joining the U.S. Army in the first place.

The answers he was getting surprised even this senior Recruiting Command officer.  One standard answer was that the new Soldiers thought it was “cool” to be thanked for their service.  Some said it was to get the New GI Bill for a college education.  Others said they joined because they had nothing better to do and thought it was “great” to get free stuff.  Work and danger were not part of the equation.

One young man’s mother (who came to his new unit) complained that her son didn’t join the U.S. Army to go to war but to get the educational benefits.  “Going to war is simply not an option for my son,” she said.  It appeared that parents were coaching their adult children that showing up was good enough to succeed.  Sadly, that is not the case.

We spoke for almost an hour.  I’m not so sure I gave my good friend at the Recruiting Command adequate ideas to help, but I did say that I’d been hearing the same thing about High School students.  How this will develop over time is an unknown and there is a fear that the U.S. military will deteriorate as more Millennials and Post-Millennials enter military life.


  1. Rugged individualism is fading in the West. The cultural change is fast apace and those born over the last 25 years are quick to tell you that the world is about them and everyone else is ancient and out of date.
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.

19 thoughts on “Showing Up is Not Enough

  1. Gil Johnson

    Showing up is not good enough because adopting responsibility and telling the truth is what makes it all work!!

  2. Eric Coda

    Hey guys, I got the day off. While the weather is not so good, it will give me more time to goof off and spend time with friends. But after spending an hour doing that (ha ha ha), I’ll be reading more about how to make myself a better leader. Gen. Satterfield’s leadership page is the beginning of today’s journal.

  3. Max Foster

    Almost everyone talking about success talks about showing up. They say that if there’s one thing in common between all the men and women who have been ‘successful’ in the past – those that have discovered, or invented, or achieved something great – it is that they showed up. They got out of bed every day, even if they had to drag themselves up, and went to the laboratory, or office, or racetrack, and climbed whatever mountain they had to, physical or metaphorical, to reach their goal. They were there when it happened (whatever it maybe be).

    1. Jerome Smith

      They weren’t just there when it happened, they made it happen.

    1. Karl J.

      Very interesting but Gen. Satterfield laid the issue out better, in my opinion.

  4. Doc Blackshear

    Interesting that Gen. Satterfield still has contacts with senior leaders in the US Miltiades. That shows that he had a good reputation enough that they would call upon him years after retirement.

  5. Georgie B.

    Great article to end the year 2019. What a wonderful run of truly useful, entertaining, and educational articles this year. Well done, I must say, very well done. I’m glad I found your website, Gen. Satterfield, the lessons learned here are spot-on. I look forward to an even better new year in 2020.

    1. Joe Omerrod

      The new year 2020 will be here in only a few short hours. Happy New Year everyone here at Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. I’m one of the original readers since it began and I must say the improvements and spate of wonderfully entertaining articles has been a godsend to me and my friends.

      1. Mark Evans

        Good to see you referencing us “old” readers. Ha Ha. 😊

        1. Tom Bushmaster

          Mark, I was thinking the same thing. While there are a number of us oldtimers, there are a number of new contributors who have certainly helped add clarity and diversity to the program of leadership blog posts. Thanks. One of them is Max. You there Max?

  6. Army Captain

    You certainly hit a sensitive button in the U.S. Army. I’m sure the other military services are having similar issues.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      The military is not the only organization that is having this problem. Loyalty is a big concern.

    2. Harry Donner

      This is, indeed, very scary for those of us who follow the US military. It was the Obama administration that pushed for stupid social experiments to be carried out in the military. The effects will be long lasting and will hit our ability to deploy a lethal force in a bad way.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Astute observation, Harry and thank you for pointing it out. Few will openly discuss the damage done by Pres Obama on the military and its deleterious impacts. Time will only tell.

      2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

        Spot-on comment that is, unfortunately, accurate and scary.

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