These days, it seems like most of my open-minded, dynamic, and forward thinking fellow officers and friends are looking to either terminate their service or enter the special operations community through one capacity or another.  We’ve all done the big army gig, taken our platoons, signed for millions of dollars of equipment , worked in combat theatres, have honorably served the system to the best of our abilities…and now are looking for something more…We find the big army too awkward, cumbersome, and resource intensive.  Our superiors are too close-minded, risk-averse, institutionalized, and career-oriented for out tastes.  While many of us have no shortage of good ideas, novel approaches, and new methods for solving our nation’s problems, many of them just don’t seem to fit with the large, bureaucratically driven institution we find ourselves serving.   While we have certainly benefited from our service, established our careers much younger than many of our peers, received advanced educations with most expenses paid by our government, traveled to places we would never had experienced otherwise, and made more new friends and connections all over the world than we can ever count, the organization just doesn’t seem to fit anymore with our long term plans, our ambitions, and our desires for a better world.  We were always the dreamers, the visionaries, the believers in something much greater than ourselves, and the same reasons that attracted us to military service in the first place seem to be the ones that are now forcing us closer and closer towards the door…

The army, of course, sees this as a growing problem as of course any organization would at the time it finds itself losing its best and brightest minds.  Yet, when taken into the context of our world at this point in human history our exodus can be seen as nothing other than a natural movement of talent from where it was once needed to where it must go in accordance with future demands.  The army itself is a declining organization in terms of global importance and global impact.  While there will always be a need for a ready reserve of conventional, hard-power military units—and competent, professional officers leading them—to achieve results in whatever security vacuums we may find in the coming decades, the army post-2014 will surely find itself with a much deserved decrease in operational tempo and troop commitments throughout the world.  Large scale deployments with regular combat units will soon be the exception rather than the rule for US strategy in favor of smaller, lighter-footprint approaches where regional expertise and operational flexibility are in much greater demand than brute combat power…

Indeed if we have learned anything from the past ten years of constant war it is that while our military was certainly capable of deploying and sustaining large numbers of forces in foreign lands, our civilian capacities and civilian organizations proved entirely insufficient and ill-prepared for the demands of building nations and societies out of the rubble of years of major conflict and poor governance.  As a matter of necessity, our military was forced to fill in the gaps as best it could and while it did a very admirable job given the circumstances, soldiers still cannot be turned into statesmen, engineers, economists, and judges overnight…regardless of how many resources we decide to throw at them…

And so, as many of us chose to leave the service or continue our careers among the ranks of special forces, civil affairs, psychological operations, or information support operations—mostly due to the fact that we have already put in the initial investment and these fields provide the easiest transition and training for our future roles in the civilian sector—our army can only come to the conclusion that, after years of being the most important instrument of US policy, its relevance relative to other services is on the decline.   Absent a major conflict in the near to not-so-distant future we are approaching an era where our major ground combat units are virtually obsolete.  We are all realizing through our own personal experiences and interactions with our peers and friends, that the impact we can have is limited by the organizational problems inherent with using soldiers and large combat formations for purposes other than high-intensity conflict.  While the military has learned and adapted a great deal through its years of conflict, it is still an ill-designed tool for the slow-paced, methodical work of creating functioning societies in strange parts of the world.  And in the end, we tend to spend more resources simply sustaining our footprint than actually accomplishing the mission and facilitating an end to the conflicts in which we find ourselves.  Throw in the establishment of a “target rich environment” for forces of instability within our operating environments and you may begin to question whether we are really producing any more real security than we consume.

The fact that we can even think that conventional military forces are growing obsolete speaks volumes in itself for the progress our societies have made in recent years.  Our world sees far less wars and casualties of violence than the world of our parents only thirty years before and if the trends are allowed to continue, we can realistically picture a much more stable and peaceful world for our children.  While there will always be conflict somewhere and there will always be a need for security forces to protect the innocent in various parts of the world, most of our operations are likely to simply be acts of mopping up residual ethnic and civil conflicts as we allow their societies to access the core of a more developed, peaceful global society.

True soldiers, it’s been said, do not serve any governments, armies, or rulers…they serve only the times.  Governments come and go with election cycles and various other forms removal from power.  Armies are raised for various purposes, change, and disappear over time.  And rulers and leaders only last as long as their tenures allow them.  In the end, the only constant in our calling is the change in the times.  Today’s enemy can be tomorrow friend.  Today’s peaceful society can erupt into violence.  And today’s ideologies and paradigms can fall to new ideas, new perspectives, and new realities.  Thus, we serve our people and ourselves–whether we continue to wear a uniform to work or not–the best way we know how, but must remain unafraid to change when our conceptions fail to measure up to our realities.

Today, the times are certainly changing in favor of a more dynamic, free-thinking, and active civilian sector of our government and it is us who choose to leave the military service during the coming decade who will surely fulfill a great part of the core of this need.  Along with our fellow citizens who through other roads and other life choices have come to a similar point in their own time we will build the team necessary to achieve the world we dream of for our children.  While our armies will always need to be staffed and manned by professional soldiers for the moments when they are needed, our civilian organizations desperately need now the intellectually flexible, experience grounded, free thinkers and professional citizens that our armies have produced in this time.

So, as we look at a great future decline in our hard-military organizations, let’s take pride at a great future expansion in our civilian capabilities now battle-hardened and ready to meet the demands of an increasingly complex and interconnected world.  We are the people who have chosen to lead and who will one day lead our societies to levels unimagined by even our most optimistic predecessors.  Let’s just not forget who we are, where we came from, or why we signed up for this gig in the first place.  Here’s to the renaissance men and women of our armed forces.  I can’t wait for the awesome and interesting days ahead.  Never stop evolving.

Cheers to working our children out of a job…soon we’ll be able to “mission accomplished” on this one…



18 SEP 2011, 2340 AST, Orgun-E, Paktika, Afghanistan


About briangdonnelly

I'm pretty much a random traveler and free thinker. Right now I live and work with the Army in North Carolina. I grew up in Missouri but am from the northeast US and have traveled a lot with the Army and life in general so I can't say I really have a "home" except where I chose to catch a few hours or rack each day. Overall, life is pretty awesome and I'm looking forward to changing the world. Hit me up if you care... Peace, Brian
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