What is the incentive to write in the military?

Originally published in 2016.

I’m working on a longer piece about the important role veterans have in getting their voice out there in the age of social media, and this thought popped into my mind this morning on the way to work: what is the incentive to write in the military?

I’ve never been actively prodded to write inside of the military. There aren’t any obvious professional incentives – no awards or bonuses, it doesn’t go on your ERB/ORB. In fact, there seems to be greater professional risk in writing for an external audience than there is reward.

I know why I write. It’s how I get ideas out. I also enjoy communicating to a larger audience outside of my bubble.

When I came back in the Army in 2011, I was a little concerned about whether I would have to stop writing or severely curtail it. I reached out to some military writers, and one (very accomplished officer) offered this warning:

Even so, today’s Army does not value intellectually rigorous scholarship from serving officers. General Petraeus succeeded despite, rather than because of, his intellectual credentials; note how few officers are following his path to flag rank. Advancement to that level relies on patronage relationships within one or more of the Army’s “communities” – airborne, armored cav, SOF, etc. There is no patron and no community for intellectual rigorous soldier-scholars, and few of them make it past LTC or COL.

It was a fair – and spooky – warning. I do think things like the Military Writers Guild might be changing this dynamic, but only time will tell.

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Four Years of Carrying the Gun

Center for junior officers bathroom machine gun
IMG_5499

Today is the fourth anniversary of Carrying the Gun.

Top posts:
1. Why We Need West Point: Painfully Written by an OCS Guy
2. Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff. Seriously, stop.
3. Army Myths: The .50 cal will kill/harm/maim even if you miss

Top search terms:
1. plexiglass boards army (see this post)
2. combat infantry badge (see this post)
3. how to make a map board army (see this post)

Anniversaries are a pretty good time for reflection. I’m surprised that I’ve managed to keep the blog going, and the readership growing along with it. Every now and then I wonder if it is worth continuing, and I always come back to the idea that it is, because if nothing else, it allows me to work out thoughts and ideas in a way I just wouldn’t if I weren’t writing.

While I don’t go around telling everyone I know I have a blog, I’m still surprised when people I know approach me and tell me they liked something I wrote. It’s always best when they say they thought one way on a subject, but now see it another way as a result of something I put up here.

Outside of the blog, I wrote a piece on the problem with Lieutenant’s who write that was published on the Company Command and Platoon Leader blog. I wrote it while in Afghanistan, and less than 24 hours of it being posted, some of the superior officers and NCOs I was working with found it, printed it, and were passing it around a small camp in Jalalabad. It was a kind of surreal moment, sitting there, watching a grizzled NCO read something I wrote in an operations center. He liked it, though.

I also published a piece in Military Review, Operational Resilience in the Infantry Rifle Platoon. For anyone who is wondering, publishing there is a very long process. I think I submitted the piece in October or November of 2014 and it didn’t publish until May-June 2015. It was a good experience though, and the editing process was painful (but useful).

Also, the Military Writers Guild launched, which is a consortium of military writers. I’m a proud member and glad to be a part of a community inside the military that is working towards expressing and sharing ideas.

There’s been an explosion of conglomerate military writing sites that sprung up over the past year(s), like Task & Purpose and We Are The Mighty, among others. Those sites provide a great outlet for military and veterans to get their thoughts down and out there, but don’t necessarily want to manage their own blog.

The lone blog seems to be a dying species. As I’ve written about before, I’ve never been very interested in documenting the day-to-day of what I do, for a bunch of reasons, but I do it sometimes, and I think it adds more character to a blog than listicles and clickbait.

Here’s to another year.

@dongomezjr