I was talking with an officer the other day who is getting out of the Army. The conversation drifted into his reasons for getting out and the much-hyped “junior officer exodus.” One of his major complaints is something I’ve written about before, which is how demoralizing it can be to see your entire career neatly captured on a single PowerPoint slide.
While we agreed that there are many opportunities along the path, the officer doesn’t necessarily have much agency over the direction. I likened it to the way NASA communicates with the Mars Rover. They send a signal which takes about 20 minutes to get to Mars, and then the rover executes the command given the signal’s parameters. My friend agreed with the analogy, but added that in the case of the junior officer, there are more forces than just NASA inputting commands to move the rover along.
It was a good point. Through grit and determination an officer can get on the rails of a desired career path. But along the way, other forces are going to have input on where that path goes. “Needs of the Army” always comes first, and those needs can change on a dime.
I thought that a better analogy would be the “Twitch Plays” phenomenon. Twitch is a streaming service popular among gamers who broadcast their gaming activities. One of the chief draws is the chat room option which allows viewers to interact with the streamer while he’s playing the game. As a stunt, people have experiments in collaborative gaming through a Twitch stream and the chat room, where each person can input a command to control the game.
When thousands of people try to control a game at the same time, progress can be extremely difficult.
It took almost 40 straight days of gaming to complete Pokemon Red last year, which is still extremely impressive when you consider how chaotic it can be.
While navigating an Army career isn’t as insane as a Twitch Plays event, it does help frame how frustrating it can be for a junior officer trying to accomplish one thing when other forces are inputting their own commands.
It’s also easy to say “well that’s the Army, tough,” but it is exactly that rationale that leads junior officers who desire more agency over their careers to leave the service.