This is going to end my career

I’m a new subscriber to the Jumo Brief. In the most recent newsletter, Brennan recounts a time he left his flight jacket in his office and thought it would end his career.

Of course, it didn’t end my career. It didn’t even matter a week later. I was just a dumb lieutenant doing dumb lieutenant things. But it didn’t feel like it at the time.

Jumo Brief

This is such a common thought in the Army. Some miniscule mistake is going to be the thing that ends it all.

I’ve thought that before, and I know most others have.

When I actually think back on it, I can’t really think of any specific instances where this was true. In fact, the opposite is mostly true. I see plenty of leaders making small mistakes and things working out okay.

A mistake is made, there may be some consequence (or not), and learning occurs (hopefully).

Of course, there is a difference between small mistakes (forgetting a flight jacket) and catastrophic mistakes – the types of things that gets people hurt or killed, due to negligence.

A lot of mental energy is wasted in the Army worrying about small mistakes and their potential to be the thing that derails a career. The more I reflect on it though, the more I realize I haven’t actually seen it much.

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Company grade work versus field grade work

I’m really enjoying this series on broadening over at FTGN.

I had a friend who was just promoted to LTC say: ‚ÄúI just pinned two weeks ago‚Ķ.when I turned in work as a major, people said ‚ÄúThis is incredible,‚ÄĚ but now they look at the same quality of work and say ‚ÄėSeriously?‚Äô‚ÄĚ

The Responsibility of Preparedness: Choosing Broadening Assignments That Will Make You a Better Officer – From the Green Notebook

I’m becoming more interested in understanding the traits that distinguish good company grade officers (Lieutenants and Captains) from field grade officers (Majors and Lieutenant Colonels). I’ve heard it said that if you do the things that made you successful as a Captain when you’re a Major, you’ll distinguish yourself as the best Captain in your unit.

Yikes.

The linked post discusses how choosing a good broadening assignement can help build out some of those skills to better prepare you for the next job.

Consistent through the post was the important role of mentors in this regard. Mentors (to include those in your chain of command) will likely have a better idea of what you need to work on than you will.

It’s rare (in my experience) to see officers who want to take that OC/T assignment at Fort Irwin or Fort Polk – but that really might be the absolute best thing based on their current skill set and development needs. When choosing assigments, we all tend to focus on what we want versus what we need. Mentors can help cut through that.

Looking forward to the rest of the posts. Check it out.

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Twitch Plays Army Career!


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.

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The Officer Separation Board and the Junior Officer Exodus

“Also, how I distrust neat designs of life that are drawn upon half-sheets of note paper.”
The Waves

The line above is from the play-poem The Waves by Virginia Woolf. It is one among many great lines, but that one reminded me of something I had written about before, which is the dismal realization that a successful military career fits neatly on a single sheet of paper or PowerPoint slide. That is to say, a military career places you on a rail cart that has very few deviations along the way. One can predict with reasonable certainty, the next twenty years. In order to stay on that rail cart, you simply have to outperform most of your peers and make zero mistakes.

For twenty years.

The fallout from this summer’s Officer Separation Board is pretty much over, as far as I can tell. A few articles were written about it, the most prominent, I think, the back and forth that occurred on The Best Defense in, uh, defense of or against MAJ Slider.

And it looks like there will likely be more “force shaping” events, like Officer Separation Boards, in the future.

It creates an additional consideration for junior officers whose initial service commitments usually expire within 4-to-6 years of joining. Part of the equation of whether to “get out” or “stay in” will likely be where they think they’ll stack up in a potential, possibly fictional, future Officer Separation Board – something I’m sure the group that just went through it didn’t think they’d ever have to face – especially not during wartime. Not only will the junior officer have to weigh things like job satisfaction, benefits, and service when considering whether to get out or stay in, but how he or she thinks¬†they stand when everybody¬†is considered for separation and someone has to go.

A majority of those who were cut had something derogatory in their file, as seems to be the case with MAJ Slider. Getting promoted and moving along the rail cart is no promise of suddenly having that rail cart kicked over by Uncle Sam if the need to reduce numbers comes along.

Future OSBs may not have the luxury of cutting the low-hanging fruit (derogatory marks on file). Cuts might need to be made much deeper, especially if the force reductions become more severe.

Back to the pondering junior officer, the calculus that goes into whether to stay in or get out not only considers if you’ve messed up, but includes a calculation as to whether you can maintain zero-defects and glowing reviews indefinitely. Otherwise, the axe may be inching nearer.

Among military circles, the military “brain drain” or junior officer exodus has been a recurring topic of discussion. To a junior officer trying to determine if it makes sense to stay in for a full career, the prospect of future OSBs will surely factor into that decision making practice, likely tipping the decision towards getting out.

I’m of the mind that military service is just that – service – and there should be no hard and fast expectations of what one is “owed” in terms of future employment. That said, it would be foolish to ignore the things going on in the background and making the best decision possible given all of the relevant facts, with a little bit of voodoo and reading the tea leaves when appropriate.

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One picture that captures exactly why Junior Officers are getting out of the Army

Infantry Career Progression

There is something terribly off-putting about looking at a slide and seeing the next 30 years of your life mapped out for you. Yes, there are options. But the options are all very, very linear. And you can’t even access those pre-planned options if you don’t maintain a spotless, best-of-the-best record. Make a few mistakes, and everything you did before can be wiped out in an instant.

This, more than anything else, is why I think junior officers choose to get out. Pursuing a non-linear career path that results in the potential of failing to progress leads some of us to say “nah, nevermind.”

That’s it.

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