[July 12, 2019] Just last week, I was talking to several U.S. Army Privates stationed in Hawaii. Both were in the service about a year but wanted to tell me the difficulties in learning about how to be better soldiers. Like the old advertisement, they wanted to be all you can be. What they did not know was that military wisdom is there for the taking.
The chain of command is designed to provide sage advice to all members. A formal mentorship program is also alive and well in all military services. NCOs and Officers are graded in their annual evaluations on how well their subordinates meet specific educational goals and mission requirements. Every incentive is there for more senior soldiers to pass along their hard-earned wisdom.
This was not always the case. In the recent past, the stovepiping of key lessons and advice was common. Why share this information, the thinking went, when a leader is competing against other leaders for faster promotions and better assignments. While today that may exist to some extent, this old method of passing along knowledge has fallen by the wayside. Today, any leader that is not proactive in educating his or her soldiers will not last long.
I suggested they realign their strategy to become better soldiers. There are some well-known methods; getting in great physical shape, volunteering for extra duties, studying military history, etc. But there are also parts of the military, especially in its culture, that is not found in books or even as common sense. For example, taking college coursework in their time off will show commitment and motivation for self-improvement; military leaders like that.
My advice was … just ask. They should ask leaders in their chain of command what they think is the best way to become a better soldier. Starting at the lowest level in the chain, they could request advice on how to get in better physical shape, be looked upon as highly reliable, be the “go to” person for a particular subject, etc. Other leaders outside their chain can also be asked. The solution, however, in each case, was to ask specific questions on how to make themselves better. The final step is to do it.
I find that young people today (and that applies to young folks in the military) are reluctant to ask for advice. They would rather “do it on their own” rather than get nuggets of wisdom from those who’ve gone before them. Others have suggested the same to me. Once they break free of this constraint, the world will open up for them, and they will begin to see greater opportunities everywhere.