[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.
- 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. https://www.theleadermaker.com/leadership-and-rugged-individualism/