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Institutional Inertia, Benign Neglect Hold Back Young Officers

January 26, 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman
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New military officers and young people entering the service may face a variety of internal challenges that hold back their careers and deny the service the benefit of their ideas. These challenges range from outmoded thinking among some individuals to a structure that dampens the type of innovation that is desperately needed as the military morphs to fulfill new missions. A West 2012 panel on the issues confronting junior warfighters featured suggested solutions amid firsthand stories from four young officers. Lt. Benjamin Kohlmann, USN, an F/A-18 instructor pilot with VMFAT-101, related that many young people are doing great things in the field, but then when they return to garrison, they are unable to continue to do so. "You can get relegated to the corner or getting coffee," he said. All the panelists agreed that young service members can bring with them new ideas that generate innovations badly needed in the service. Lt. Kohlmann said that the Navy may have brought upon itself the problem of a growing gap between civilians and military personnel. He called for a return to sending junior officers to college campuses instead of just defense-based schools, because these future leaders will be exposed to great ideas from people with different ways of thinking. Capt. Autumn D. Swinford, USMC, a Marine officer instructor at the University of Missouri NROTC, warned that young people entering the service from NROTC face the possibility that 40 percent of them will not be offered career assignments. They are aware of budget cuts, and they are concerned about what it means for a future in the military, she said. The captain also related a personal story of how she lost out on a choice assignment while she was deployed to Southwest Asia. A superior officer denied her an assignment for which she was well suited by saying that she was too much of a distraction-"she turns too many heads when she walks into a room," she quoted him as saying. Capt. Swinford added that she felt this was a failure on the part of that leader, not of the service. Nonetheless, that attitude can be construed as institutional if it is not countered actively.

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