Tag Archives: NCO Writing Excellence Program

Recruit the Selfish: Stressing Individual Opportunity in Army Recruiting

By Staff Sgt. Oren Hammerquist

Winner, NCO Writing Excellence Program (January 2017)

The Army should reconsider its target market and implement a campaign emphasizing mutual benefits for both the Army and the recruit. Since its formation, the Army has relied on one medium for Army recruitment above all others: the recruiting poster. With the recent retirement of “Army Strong,” a partially successful marketing strategy, the Army switches to a more dynamic image. This offers the Army a chance to brand itself considering sweeping changes to Army policy (Army University, Blended Retirement Program, etc.).

As this paper looks back at historical campaigns, it will be helpful to divide recruiting posters into categories to aid understanding of the basic impetus behind the associated campaign. Each category is discussed in detail as they arise below. Recruiting posters fall generally into one of three categories: patriotism, negotiation, and functionalism. Under patriotism, you could further divide posters into symbolized, vengeful, or guilty. Negotiation divides loosely into beneficial, tailorable, and civilian. Functionalism applies best to more recent marketing techniques such as television spots, recruiting videos, and various innovative (and not always successful) ideas. However, there is an element of functionalism in posters focusing either on general Soldiering or specific Soldiering.

After looking briefly at historical examples, this paper will consider how best to market the Army in the current landscape. The Army seems poised to move away from slogans and posters in the coming decade. The focus must therefore be on branding rather than marketing in the traditional sense. The most efficient means may be to expand civic involvement rather than increase sales pitches.

Historical Perspectives

Recruiting posters have been a part of Army and civilian culture since the inception of the Army. What may be the first American military recruiting poster seems like a road map to the next 240 years of marketing. The recruiting poster for the Continental Army bears the words “TAKE NOTICE” boldly in the middle.1 We see elements of symbolized patriotism in the prominence of the words “liberties” and “independence” just above center. Likewise, two stars, already becoming key patriotic symbols, lay below center.

The poster uses guilty patriotism by calling to “brave, healthy, able bodied” young men. This implies any reader not interested in joining may not be one of the three. Though this particular poster does not use vengeful patriotism openly, other campaigns of the time likened the current state of governance by England to slavery.2

The Continental Army poster clearly uses beneficial negotiation techniques by clearly listing the pay (twelve whole dollars per year), provided food and uniforms, and opportunity to travel. Though the Continental Army was not broadly tailorable by job (Soldiers had a choice of infantry or artillery), this poster clearly uses civilian negotiation by listing benefits after military service.

Finally, we see functionalism at play prominently on this early poster. The idea of specific functionalism did not exist in the Army then, or was at least highly limited; the MOS is a modern military item. This poster does show general functionalism by prominently displaying Soldiers loading and firing assigned weapons.

Though the nature of these messages changed over the decades and centuries, this poster succinctly explains all strategies used to the present day. Even as we move away from posters and slogans as an Army, these three areas will dominate our image. Later posters tend to be more focused as this paper explains below.

Recruiting for World Wars. Raising an all-volunteer force in the millions was impossible. Still, for obvious reasons, a volunteer is Soldier is better than a draftee when possible. Even with widespread drafts, the Army and its sister services advertised heavily for volunteers. With a few exceptions, recruiting posters in this era relied heavily on patriotism.

The most well-known Army recruiting poster passed beyond marketing and into popular culture: Uncle Sam looking directly into the viewer’s eyes and issuing a challenge. This image originated in World War I, but is usually associated with WWII recruiting efforts.3 Similar is the well-known image of Uncle Sam with hat and jacket removed, sleeves rolled up, and flexing muscular arms as he marches forward for a brawl—a bald eagle surging forward in attack at his shoulder—while the poster orders “Defend Your Country.”4 These two images are pure symbolic patriotism. Uncle Sam is clad always in stars and stripes. In a time with a clearly defined enemy in a force-on-force battle, these images work well.

The Army often used more varied posters to spur recruiting especially during WWI. One well-known poster begs Irishmen to “Avenge the Lusitania,” which is an example of vengeful patriotism.  Another poster offered adventure and travel for artillerymen (specific functionalism and beneficial negotiation). Despite these examples, patriotism dominated this era.

Vietnam. Modern warfare tends toward more asymmetrical conflicts. Strategic planners still look toward Vietnam for lessons learned—good and bad—and those wishing to portray the Army image should also consider lessons learned here as well. Recruiting posters during Vietnam tend to rely heavily on general functionalism as an image. Images of Soldiers with weapon in hand assaulting an enemy dominate this era. In hindsight, this probably was not the best marketing strategy during a largely unpopular war. Images of Soldiers fighting likely exacerbated the public distaste for this conflict caused by unfavorable media coverage. However, patriotic images may not have worked well during this period due to a lack of a clear enemy in the minds of many Americans.

Navy Beats Army? In many ways, the Navy lead the way in marketing during World War II and beyond. WWII posters for Navy carry more vengeful patriotism with messages such as “Smack the Japs.” The Navy also displayed tailorable negotiation by offering specific jobs in posters during WWI and WWII—submariners, machinists, electricians, etc. Following WWII, the Navy immediately began advertising for jobs in electronics while the Army began to advertise general Soldiering skills.

Most notable is the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program. While posters targeted at men often displayed ten-inch guns, posters targeted at women showed women in dress uniforms and clearly stated compensation. These are examples of general functionalism and beneficial negotiation.

Making it Look Good. Historically, the Marines are among the most successful meeting recruiting goals. One obvious reason is the relative size of the Marine Corps versus the Army. The Marine Corps also gives less focus historically to the career Marine than the Army (with the pension program for example). Marine recruiting posters and advertisements all seem to have one thing in common: the dress uniform. This creates an easily recognizable symbol across decades but also draws attention away from the dangers of combat. The Marine Corps places a much greater percentage of its members into combat positions than the Army and has far fewer job opportunities. The recruiting success of the Marine Corps illustrates the value of symbols and minimalizing dangers to civilians.

Be All You Can Be. Many older Soldiers grew up hearing this popular slogan, which replaced the unsuccessful and unpopular “This is the Army” campaign of the late 1970’s. The latter stemmed from an ill-conceived attempt to make the Army more honest and whimsical. Though taglines such as “In Europe you’re a Soldier 24 hours a day, but the rest of your time is your own”5 enjoyed ironic popularity, they did little to spur recruitment.

“Be All You Can Be” is an excellent example of negotiation. This campaign led potential recruits to consider what benefits they may gain by joining the military. An increased focus on technology also caused many to view the Army outside of the framework of the Korean and Vietnam wars.6

Just as important to consider is when the campaign enjoyed success. Though it buoyed recruitment through Desert Storm, it also fared well in the height of the Cold War. Like the Vietnam War, this conflict—or perhaps the lack of conflict—was characterized by power structures and issues difficult for civilians to understand. The success of “Be All You Can Be” suggests marketing campaigns should encourage recruits conduct a cost-benefit analysis for military service.

An Army of One. Despite being unpopular with veterans, this slogan launched in the early 2000’s enjoyed early success.7 By 2005, the Army spent more on marketing than all other services (not including Coast Guard) combined.8 Despite these expenditures, the Army consistently missed recruiting goals. In fact, the Army showed zero growth from 2003-2004.9 This caused serious problems for an Army fighting a war on two fronts. It is likely that the rising death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan seriously damaged the Army image during this time; the other services spent less and did not experience the same recruiting shortages including the Marine Corps (also posting heavy combat losses).10 “Army of One” unfortunately involved heavy use of images showing general functionalism; Soldiers in combat uniforms likely had an unfavorable juxtaposition with the rising death toll.

The early popularity of “Army of One” is likely skewed by historical events. “Army of One” launched close to the September 11th attacks. This devastating attack on American soil prompted many to roll up their sleeves and “Defend Your Country” regardless of ad campaigns. Relaxed enlistment standards also skewed statistics of the unpopular slogan.

One indicator of skewed results is the decline in minority enlistments. From 1999-2004 (roughly coinciding with the launch of “Army of One”), recruitment of minorities dropped more than 10%.11 Studies, focusing on Navy recruitment, found that family opinion of military service played an important role in the decision to join, and that Hispanics were among the most heavily affected groups.12 Marketing began to target minorities, but the current slogan still did not meet requirements.

Army Strong. “Army Strong” enjoyed great popularity with veterans. Unfortunately, research showed civilians did not share this enthusiasm. Though the tagline changed, the images associated with the project varied only in an increase in minority representation. The posters still bore images of Soldiers in combat uniforms carrying out combat missions or training. The slogan lasted about ten years and performed well, but research eventually showed that civilians were apathetic to the message. “Army Strong” was retired in 2015. Planners stated they have no intention of replacing it with a new slogan, and intend to focus on a broader, online presence instead.13

Lessons Learned

Symbols. Advertising must use symbols of some sort to be effective. During national crises, flags or the stars and stripes are common. Such symbols are easily recognized by civilians and Soldiers alike. The same rule must apply to symbols used outside of crisis eras. “Army of One” often used symbols such as Airborne badges, night vision goggles, and body armor. Though Soldiers understood these instinctively, they had little meaning to civilians. Frequent pictures of Soldiers bearing rifles in full-battle rattle also did not play well beside the rising death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Propaganda. An internet search for Army recruiting posters often brings the word propaganda alongside images. Though the sites displaying these posters as “propaganda” are often opinionated at best and sometimes skewed towards anti-military sentiment, it is important that we consider if, in fact, Army recruiting is propaganda. Propaganda is the use of symbols—visual or verbal—representing only one side of an issue to convince others to take a specific action on emotional grounds. Simply put, stamping a label of propaganda on recruiting posters is often propaganda itself.

Most advertising uses propaganda to some extent, and the Army is no different. Attempts to completely remove this resulted in the often comically inept strategies of “This Is the Army.” Technically, posters with tattered American flags with slogans such as “Avenge Pearl Harbor” or recruiting based on September 11th are propaganda, but most would agree that given the time this is often appropriate.

Occasionally, military posters are inappropriate propaganda in hindsight. One example is a WWI poster featuring a Gorilla wearing a German helmet and carrying a bloody club with the German word Kultur written across it. In the other arm, he carries a swooning white woman naked to the waist. Across the top are the words “Destroy this mad brute.”14 Though undoubtedly considered appropriate at the time, this bears images that may not cast the Army in the best light for future generations.

The success of “Be All You Can Be” suggests that though propaganda often works well during times of crisis, it is not the best practice for long term recruitment. The most successful campaigns tend towards negotiation.

Cost-Benefit Analysis. Marketing campaigns for the US Army don’t seek to recruit those coming from military families who plan to join the military from a young age. Rather, the Army must market to those who are undecided or even initially uninterested in military service. The zero growth in the military between 2003-2004 stemmed from the fact that the cost outweighed presented benefits at the time. People are by nature selfish, and successful Army marketing must present a wide variety of personal benefits to military service.

Army University. Free college has been a motivator for military service since the inception of the GI Bill. Rising costs of higher education benefit recruitment, and an emphasis on college benefits helps gain support for service from family members. With the planned accreditation of Army University, recruiting efforts might benefit most from open marketing of free college opportunities for service.

Quality. In 2014, the USAREC Commander MG Batschelet said, “The quality of people willing to serve has been declining rapidly.”15 Up to 80% of walk-in recruits are turned away as ineligible.16 Some are ineligible due to legal or medical concerns, but the primary reason for rejection is obesity. MG Batschelet called the growing obesity epidemic in America “a national security issue.”17

The issues that affect military recruitment affect the quality and health of our citizens at large. Children may “mature out” of petty theft, drug use, or other juvenile delinquencies, but these childhood transgressions may still affect that potential recruit’s ability to get a security clearance. This makes many of the most critical jobs harder to fill. Likewise, healthy eating habits and regular exercise from an early age benefits the country, the Army, and the individual.

When considering approaches to this problem, it is important that campaigns highlight real physical benefit to individuals of good citizenship and good health without seeing to create a shadow Army of future recruits. Aside from raising obvious parental and political concerns, such a formation would draw too many parallels to “Hitler’s Youth.” Properly executed campaigns would garner more support from parents.

Branding. As marketing of the Army brand moves away from catchphrases and posters, it is time to consider how the Army is branded. Already, a group of several hundred retired Generals and Admirals have formed an organization dedicated to exactly the citizenship and health issues above. This organization is Mission: Readiness. Army investment in this program (monetary or personnel), followed by a plug saying “Paid for by the US Army,” is one way to unobtrusively publicize the Army brand while addressing quality concerns for future recruits.

The Army should brand also itself as an organization dedicated to fitness. Campaigns for Soldier athletes enjoyed success during both world wars both in America and Allied countries.18 As the Army attempts to reorganize as a university, an increased and more public emphasis on sports is a logical step. This may further address the intent of the new Blended Retirement Program, which moves the Army away from a career-based organization to an organization more akin to the Marines (who have better recruiting success for focus on temporary rather than career service19).

The Army should expand the Soldier for Life (SFL) program in both directions and cooperate with organizations with similar goals. SFL instructors could give financial planning classes in High Schools, explain education options to young people, or help offer free career planning advice. Instructors need not take any action to recruit at these seminars; such seminars would also be more likely to grow support from family for the decision to join the Army. More public partnerships with organizations such as Mission: Readiness, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or even Boy Scouts of America—perhaps through increased volunteer involvement or unit partnerships—offers cheap and partnerships with the opportunity for great advantage.

Finally, the Army should take part in public campaigns such as Red Ribbon Week, anti-bullying campaigns (with a tagline that almost writes itself), or prevention programs for sexual assault and domestic violence. Many Army programs share aims and methods with civilian programs. Commanders should consider involving young Soldiers in these efforts to make a greater connection with potential recruits than a commander speaking.


As the Army retires “Army Strong,” recruiting planners have a unique opportunity to rebrand the Army and rethink marketing plans. The success of “Be All You Can Be” indicates that an emphasis on individual involvement and opportunity is likely to be most successful. Marketers should consider carefully the symbols used in marketing; like the Marine Corps, the Army should increase the prevalence of Soldiers in dress uniform and decrease the appearance of Soldiers in combat uniforms or with equipment when marketing to civilians. Finally, a subtler marketing campaign focusing on improving quality in the recruiting pool may be the best option to improve support for military service by recruits and family members.


1 “Military Recruitment Across Time: An Historical Analysis of Recruitment Propaganda.” http://www.edliberation.org/talkin-bout/camouflaged/recruitment-history. Camouflaged. Part I. Section E. It is important to note that this reference is highly skewed and unapologetically anti-military.
2 Ibid.
3 “The Most Famous Poster (Memory): American Treasures of the Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress. July 20, 2010. Accessed December 26, 2016. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ treasures/trm015.html.
4 Szoldra, Paul. “The 8 most famous US military recruiting posters of World War II.” We Are The Mighty. May 8, 2015. Accessed December 26, 2016. http://www.wearethemighty.com /articles/world-war-2-recruiting-posters.
5 Evans, Tom. “All We Could Be: How an Advertising Campaign Helped Remake the Army.” The Campaign for the National Museum of the United States Army. January 20, 2015. Accessed December 26, 2016. https://armyhistory.org/all-we-could-be-how-an-advertising-campaign-helped-remake-the-army/.
6 Ibid.
7 Matulich, Erika, Dierdre Dixon, Jacqueline Atkins, Erin Cece, and Stefan Dreschel. “Army of One? Marketing Battle for Recruits.” Journal of Business Cases and Applications 14 (July 2015): 1-9. http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/152322.pdf.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Lilley, Kevin. “Service ditches ‘Army Strong’ for new branding strategy.” Army Times. April 30, 2015. Accessed December 26, 2016. https://www.armytimes.com/story/military/ 2015/04/30/army-strong-advertising-recruiting/26586513/.
14 See note 1.
15 Feeney, Nolan. “Pentagon: 7 in 10 Youths Would Fail to Qualify for Military Service.” Time. June 29, 2014. Accessed December 26, 2016. http://time.com/2938158/youth-fail-to-qualify-military-service/.
16 “80% of Military Recruitments Turned Down.” Military.com. May 14, 2014. Accessed December 26, 2016. http://www.military.com/join-armed-forces/2014/05/14/80-of-military-recruitments-turned-down.html.
17 Ibid.
18 “World War I Recruiting Posters.” The Ultimate History Project. Accessed December 26, 2016. http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/military-maneuvers-world-war-i-recruiting-posters.html.
19 See note 5.

Staff Sgt. Hammerquist is a 14G (Air Battle Management Systems Operator) Section Sergeant currently assigned to the Air Defense and Airspace Management/Regimental Aviation Element (ADAM/RAE), 2d Cavalry Regiment, Rose Barracks, Germany. Staff Sgt. Hammerquist has an Associate’s Degree in General Studies, a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, and a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing.

Toward a Leaner, More Agile Force: The Army in a Time of Fiscal Austerity

By Staff Sgt. Brian C. Darling

Winner, NCO Writing Excellence Program (October 2016)

As the Department of Defense seeks to cut its budget, the overall force structure of the Army will continue to shrink.  The United States military has already attempted to shift its operational focus from the Middle East to the Pacific, to deal with the rising military and economic ambitions of China.  Further, forces have been committed to rotational deployments in Europe in order to dissuade a resurgent Russia from further military aggression against its neighbors.  However, with the rise of the Islamic State and the persistent threat of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the pivot to the Asia-Pacific has been delayed.  Meanwhile, it is still necessary to reduce the size of the Army. This reduction in force could have a detrimental effect on the nation’s ability to project power and to conduct long-term overseas contingency operations.  However, there are several ways that the force may be reduced without affecting mission accomplishment.  Civilian leaders have recommended further augmenting the Active Component with Soldiers from the Army Reserve and National Guard; they have also recommended strategies of offshore balancing and a greater reliance on allies within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in order to further compensate for smaller budgets and reduced manpower.

In 2012, then-Army Chief of Staff General Odierno predicted that the wars of the future would be fought on the hybrid battlefield; Soldiers would engage enemies, state and non-state actors, on land and in cyberspace.1  While the Army would need to continue to be able to fight against the armies of enemy states, Soldiers would need to maintain the counterinsurgency skills honed during the course of the current conflict.  David Kilcullen made a similar argument in his book “Out of the Mountains;” terrorists organizations would no longer be headquartered in rugged rural areas, instead taking over urban terrain.  Odierno also suggested that Soldiers would have to continue to respond to domestic and international disasters and humanitarian crises.  These predictions pre-dated the rise of the Islamic State; ISIS has attempted to reestablish a caliphate in territory formerly held by Iraq and Syria.  They exist as a pseudo-state, funded through oil sales and through currency confiscated as the cities in their territories have fallen.

A major problem regarding manpower becomes evident when one considers basic counterinsurgency theory: the recommended ratio of troops to civilians in counterinsurgency operations is 1:20.  In Baghdad, at the height of the “surge,” the actual ratio was closer to 1:200.  Fundamentally speaking, counterinsurgency warfare is a long-term commitment involving large numbers of forces.  Consideration must also be given to the Army’s missions other than war fighting; in recent years, Soldiers have been called upon to respond to humanitarian crises in Haiti and in Africa.

In order to maintain America’s global strength, the Army will have to continue to incorporate the Reserve Components, the Army Reserve and the National Guard; these teams “have stood shoulder to shoulder with active-duty troops around the globe.”2  Though both components have been battle-tested during the last decade of overseas contingency operations, the Regular Army is already recommending the Reserve Components integrate their training with active units, increase their number of training days, and begin rotational deployments to areas traditionally manned by active duty Soldiers.  This issue has been addressed to some extent by the return of overseas duty for training missions; however, there is a constant need for the Active Component to be backfilled by the Reserve Components.  This higher operational tempo is in addition to placing heavier educational requirements on Soldiers for promotion and continued service; Soldiers will still need to complete their required structured self-development and professional military education in order to be considered for retention and promotion.  Further, the National Guard continues to respond to domestic emergencies and to staff counterdrug operations, even while supporting the active component. The interaction of the National Guard with federal, state, and local police and emergency services necessitates their training in the National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System, placing greater time commitments on Soldiers.  National Guard units also maintain strategic partnerships with allied nations in Europe and in Africa; citizen Soldiers train alongside their counterparts at home and abroad, facilitating the leader development of American allies.

Defense experts have suggested offshore balancing as a possible means of maintaining the power projection capability of the Army, while simultaneously contracting the overall size of the force.  Under this theory, the Army would be withdrawn from any area where there was not an immediate threat, and remain deployed to check rising powers in other areas.  Offshore balancing would require the commitment of the allies of the United States; from the individual Soldier, it would require adaptability, as the mission shifted from operations in the Middle East to areas with a greater potential threat, such as Asia and Eastern Europe.  The first unit to operate would not be the armed forces of the United States, but those of our allies in the region.

Another partial solution to this problem is for the United States to rely more heavily on alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  The Army, in turn, must be able to function in a joint, multinational environment.  This means having clear rules of engagement for all parties involved, creating an equal partnership between American Soldiers and those of our allies.  Budget woes and the pivot to the Asia-Pacific are making it clear that other NATO partners need to be more involved in providing security in the European theater of operations. In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt wrote to advocate for the adoption of offshore balancing; this grand strategy requires partners and allies to be the first line in their own defense.  The authors address the smaller commitments of resources of America’s NATO allies.
Within NATO, for example, the United States accounts for 46 percent of the alliance’s aggregate GDP yet contributes about 75 percent of its military spending.3

Andrew Krepinevich, Jr., president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, is a former Army officer, historian, and counterinsurgency expert; he also writes of an increasing reliance on our NATO allies.  However, Krepinevich notes that “Each spends on defense less than half of what the United States does as a percentage of their GDPs, and in real dollars, they spend only one-quarter as much combined.”4

As the Army continues to downsize, a greater amount of stress will be placed upon the Soldiers serving in the ranks.  However, the Army has always maintained a degree of flexibility during previous instances of fiscal austerity, and that flexibility has not been lost. The Army is a learning organization as well, taking into consideration the lessons of its past; Krepinevich, quoting British physicist Ernest Rutherford, wrote in a recent article regarding military austerity, “We haven’t got the money, so we’ve got to think.”5  Where the Active Component will have to rely more heavily on the Reserve Components in order to accomplish the Army’s mission, this reliance presents an opportunity for the Reserve Components to further hone the strategic edge developed through years of rotations in support of overseas contingency operations. As Soldiers are required to become parts of joint elements, they also develop valuable skills and may, on occasion, be able to attend joint leadership training.  A recent article in Army Times detailed the graduation of the first Air Force Chief Master Sergeant from the Army’s Ranger School; it is not hard to imagine an environment where an Army Medic would be able to train with colleagues who are Navy Corpsmen or Air Force Pararescue Noncommissioned Officers. Finally, where Soldiers have been training with allied forces for years on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, as the Army becomes more reliant on strategic partnerships, Soldiers will have occasion to work closely with their international colleagues.

A smaller Army will mean that more operations will have to be conducted in a joint environment.  Airmen, Marines, and Sailors – members of services facing their own drawdowns – will have to take the place of Soldiers in formations and on the battlefield.  This will mean more joint leadership billets for Noncommissioned Officers; a Sergeant will have to be competent enough to lead a team that might consist of a Marine Corporal, an Airman, a Petty Officer, or any combination of the three.  A Command Sergeant Major will need to be able to interact with his peers from the sister services as well; the Noncommissioned Officer Support Channel in such an environment might include a Senior Chief Petty Officer or a Chief Master Sergeant.  The joint education system has recently included professional military education for senior noncommissioned officers in anticipation of joint leadership billets.

As the size of the force continues to contract, the importance of the role of the Noncommissioned Officer will continue to expand.  The corps will need to adapt, maintaining the status of recognized subject matter expert, trainer, mentor, and coach, while further including the overall role of leader of Soldiers. In some cases, Noncommissioned Officers will need to assume the responsibilities of those billets formerly staffed by Commissioned Officers.  The Noncommissioned Officer Education System is already incorporating changes at the strategic level to align senior NCO professional education with Field Grade Officer leader development.  The NCO must continue to be the example the junior enlisted Soldier strives to emulate.

Junior enlisted Soldiers will have opportunities to lead and to advance as well.  Much has been written in recent years about the “strategic corporal” who leads complex operations on a hybrid battlefield during the “three block war”.  Whether the Department of Defense chooses to pursue a strategy of offshore balancing or of relying more heavily on the allies of the United States, the individual Soldier will be expected to become proficient in the skills associated with their military occupational specialty and with the tasks common to every Soldier.  In a joint environment, the Soldier will be expected to be able to teach these tasks to members of the sister services; in an international environment, the Soldier will need to demonstrate proficiency to Soldiers of allied forces.

During this period of fiscal constraint, the Army will continue to reduce its force accordingly.  It is possible that the reduction could be a detriment to readiness; however, by continuing to augment the forces of the Active Component with Soldiers from the Reserve components, the readiness of the Army may be maintained.  Rotational deployments and strategic partnership programs will contribute to the experience and tactical capability of the individual Soldier.  Further, by developing the joint force and relying more on the efforts of allied forces, it is possible that the Army of the future will be a leaner, more agile force, led by seasoned, experienced stewards of the profession of arms.


1 Odierno, Raymond T. “The US Army in a Time of Transition: Building a Flexible Force.” Foreign Affairs (2012): 7-11.
2 Ibid, 7.
3 Mearsheimer, John J., and Stephen M. Walt. “The Case for Offshore Balancing.” Foreign Affairs 95.4 (2016): 22.
4 Krepinevich Jr, Andrew F. “Strategy in a time of austerity: Why the pentagon should focus on assuring access.” Foreign Aff. 91 (2012): 58.
5 Ibid, 58.

Staff Sgt. Brian Darling is a Paralegal Noncommissioned Officer currently assigned to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, New Jersey Army National Guard. Darling has recently completed the requirements for a Master’s Degree in Public Service Leadership and has a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies.  He is a recent graduate of the 27D3O Advanced Leader Course at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School. While writing his thesis, Darling studied the work of Andrew Krepinevich, Jr., and became familiar with the budget cuts that were pending for the Army as it withdrew from its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This article considers some of the strategies proposed by civilian leaders in the defense sector, then seeks to answer the questions of how the drawdown will effect readiness and the challenges reduced manning will place upon the Noncommissioned Officers and junior enlisted Soldiers serving during this time of tightened purse strings. The author hopes to make the readers aware of the importance of good fiscal stewardship while stressing that the agile, all volunteer Army is fully capable of overcoming these challenges.

Educational Shifts within the United States Army: Changing the Perception of Education at the Unit Level

By Staff Sgt. Adam E. Wahl

Winner, NCO Writing Excellence Program (July 2016)

The United States Army is on the doorstep of many significant changes as we transform from a large force, operating at a high tempo, to a smaller force that is prepared to fight on the battlefields of tomorrow; a critical aspect to how we make this transition will find its roots in education.  The debate between civilian versus military educational systems should instead seek answers on how we can best integrate these systems as a two-pronged approach to learning.  Leaders at all levels must overcome challenges in funding, time and mission requirements to set all of their subordinates on a path that will ensure their success as well as those around them.  According to government data , only six percent of our enlisted force has completed a bachelor’s degree.  By fiscal year 2025 the Army should strive to have a rate much closer to the national average of thirty four percent.

While most believe that a post-secondary education is a critical component to long-term success both in the military and in the civilian world, views differ significantly on which route is best to obtain this education and how it would be best put to use.  As members of the military, we find ourselves in a unique position to obtain, at no cost to us, civilian education that will ensure our competiveness both in and out of uniform.  Far too many of the Soldiers in our ranks fail to take advantage of the benefits afforded to them.  The responsibility for this failure starts and ends with the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps.

One needs to look no further than the NCO Creed to find the importance of “remaining tactically and technically proficient.”  We, as Soldiers, are also reminded of the importance of education when it comes time to review our own, or rate a subordinate Soldier’s duty performance.  Over the course of the last fifteen years, a demanding operational tempo has shifted focus away from traditional education as our force required low-density MOS training to ensure battlefield success in the multiple areas of operation, around the globe, that the United States Army has found itself in.  As our Army transitions yet again, leaders must make education a priority.

The diversity that is found in the United States Army is an important part of who we are as an organization.  With Service Members from every walk of life, it is important to make mention that not each one is perfectly suited for the rigors involved with obtaining a bachelor’s degree.  Recognizing long-term goals as well as strengths, weaknesses and areas of interest should be the responsibility of every First Line Leader.  How can we ask a First Line Leader to develop an education plan, when he or she holds little value in education?  Regardless of academic aptitude, a variety of educational opportunities exist for us to take advantage of.  It is our responsibility to make subordinates aware of these opportunities.

Many Soldiers enter active military service as an alternative to the traditional educational path of entering college immediately upon graduating from high school.  It takes these Service Members very little time to get out of a proper education-focused mindset.  By the time these Soldiers are in the NCOES pipeline, their academic ability has diminished to a level that is not compatible with the higher education standards of their peers in the civilian sector.  By the time these Soldiers approach their ETS, the likelihood that they will continue with education after separation is very low.  In fact, a Pew Research study  concluded that veterans without a college degree are statistically more likely to encounter difficulties when they transition.  This cycle must be broken early in their military career.  As fiscal resources continue to be scarce, the downsizing of the military is sure to catch many soon-to-be separated Soldiers, without the skillsets necessary to flourish in the civilian world.

Many career Soldiers elect to delay starting their education until the later portion of their careers.  Civilian education is too often viewed as a tool to transition to the civilian world rather than a potential force-multiplier within the Army.  When Soldiers do not place a priority on furthering their education while still wearing the uniform, the Army is losing out on having these educated soldiers in their ranks.

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor  Statistics puts the national unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree at almost 2.8 percent.  Those whose education consists of only a high school diploma average 5.4 percent.  Likewise, the difference in earning power is significant; the median weekly wage jumps from $678 to $1137 as a result of obtaining a four year degree.  Over a lifetime of working, this difference is staggering.  Civilians have the unfortunate necessity of analyzing the cost versus benefit for obtaining a degree.  As members of the military, our only cost is our time.  Soldiers are their own worst enemies when it comes time to elect to make that sacrifice.

With the standard retirement age in the United States currently at sixty five, most working adults will spend forty five years in the workforce.  Even if a Service Member spends a full twenty year career in uniform, it is likely that a second career will be needed to sustain a livable wage that will provide a more comfortable lifestyle.  The fact that the unemployment rate for veterans in 2015  stood at 5.8 percent speaks to the need for educational reform within the military. Focusing on civilian education during a Soldier’s military career will result in more post-military career opportunities and a much higher overall earning potential.

Professional Military Education has undergone significant changes in recent years.  Leaders, at all levels, recognize the importance of continuing to develop our internal education systems.  Early in FM 6-22 , the premise behind leader development is addressed.  “Leader development is achieved through the life-long synthesis of the knowledge, skills, and experiences gained through the training and education opportunities in the institutional, operational, and self-development domains.”  The force needs to take a much more serious look at this concept and diligently develop a plan that encompasses this theory.

In the fall of 2015, the Army took significant steps to overhaul the Professional Military Education System, otherwise known as PME.  The changes that were implemented are exactly what the PME needs to legitimize itself with academic institutions that cater to military members.  Class rankings, GPA, and a renewed focus on writing will show all Soldiers that the Army does place an importance on furthering one’s education, and it also has high expectations of its Soldiers’ academic performance that are in line with the historical standards of the larger institution.  Additionally, these changes will also help prepare junior Enlisted Members for the civilian academic arena.

The Select, Train, Educate, and Promote (STEP) program sends a very clear message to everyone that education will no longer take a back seat when it comes to promotion and career development.  As of February, 2016, fourteen thousand Soldiers throughout the Army had yet to complete their required NCOES to be eligible for promotion.  According to CSM David Davenport, the Senior Enlisted Soldier for TRADOC, many of these Soldiers simply are not ready to attend these schools.  He goes on to say that unit level leaders must do more to prepare soldiers for the challenges that they will face when they arrive at training .

One way to reduce the backlog at PME courses is to waive some requirements for those Service Members who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree. The Army could still utilize STEP, but should allow promotion for those who have civilian education credentials.  A twenty four month waiver process would allow these Soldiers ample time to complete the requirements of the Professional Military Education System.  These Service Members would also stand greater odds of success because they are familiar with types of challenges that will be encountered in their upcoming NCOES course.

Furthermore, the Army could institute civilian educational requirements for Enlisted Soldiers.  By requiring all leaders with a pay grade of E-8 and above to have a bachelor’s degree, the Army would align itself more closely with the educational requirements of the civilian world.  It would be realistic to ascertain that the quality of leadership would improve by these senior leaders developing themselves by furthering their education outside of military doctrine.

The best way for NCO’s to drive change in how education is viewed is to start at the lowest level.  First Line Leaders should, during the Soldier’s initial counseling upon arrival at their new unit, articulate the expectation that furthering one’s education, in one way or another, is a requirement of the organization.  Leaders should be tasked with helping a soldier to develop and implement an education plan.  Quarterly counseling should follow and progress will be closely monitored.  Leaders should also be evaluated on how their subordinates perform academically and on the progress that they make throughout the rating period.

The gap between civilian education and PME can best be bridged with an overhaul to how the American Council on Education assigns credit recommendations on the Joint Services Transcript, or JST.  Army leadership should continue to work with this organization to diversify the category of credits, thus making them more transferable to common degree programs.  This will encourage Soldiers to have their JST evaluated by local schools and take steps towards pursing their degree.  A recent Rand Corporation study  suggests that only fifty seven percent of Service Members attempt to transfer credits earned in the military to outside academic institutions.  Forty seven percent of those that did, were not satisfied with the number of credits that were awarded.

The Army should also encourage education by offering an Army War College style education to Enlisted Members who have a desire to pursue a graduate degree.  This can be used in conjunction with the current STEP system for NCOES.  Other lessons learned from the Officer Corps can be utilized to encourage education amongst Enlisted Soldiers.  It is common for Senior Officers to require reading, discussion and report writing for subordinate Officers.  NCO’s should incorporate this style of learning via Company-level NCODP.

A common theme exists with Enlisted Soldiers who fail to take advantage of educational opportunities.  Typically, these Soldiers cite the lack of free time to complete college level studies.  This obstacle can be tackled at the lowest level of Army leadership.  A top-down approach to encouraging education starts with allowing Soldiers who are pursuing a certain credit threshold to be relieved of some additional duties which are counterproductive to their studies. If an increased focus on academics can be achieved without compromising military objectives, it is the responsibility of the leadership to encourage its Soldiers to develop themselves by furthering their education.

The GoArmyEd Portal, which Soldiers at all levels utilize to request tuition assistance and track degree progress is in desperate need of an over-haul.  The system is antiquated and very cumbersome to use.  The customer support staff has difficulty assisting in even the most basic functions, as the approval process for courses is typically done at the state or installation level.  Upgrading this system will show the force that the Army is serious about making enrollment as easy as possible.

When debating the merits of civilian versus military education, it is important to recognize the different purposes behind each form of education.  Military education largely exists to meet current operational requirements of the force.  Recent changes in PME have done a fantastic job in fostering a climate of educational excellence.  Continued development and monitoring of the PME changes will be required to ensure that Service Members are benefiting from this exposure to education.

When Service Members rely solely on the PME system to fulfill their educational needs, they risk not being properly prepared for reintegration into the civilian job market.  No matter how long an individual Soldier serves within the ranks of the Army, civilian education will set the stage for increased earning power and a higher standard of living throughout one’s life.  At every level of leadership within the Army’s ranks, lies the responsibility to assist subordinates with developing and implementing an educational plan that will ensure long-term success.  By changing the mentality on how education is viewed, the Army can make the two-pronged approach to education a reality and will be better prepared to accomplish the mission and provide for the welfare of all Soldiers.


U. S. Census Bureau. (2015). Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015.  Accessed June 29, 2016. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p20-578.pdf

Morin, R. (2011). The Difficult Transition from Military to Civilian Life.  Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends.  Accessed June 29, 2016. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/12/08/the-difficult-transition-from-military-to-civilian-life/

U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (2016). Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment.  Accessed June 28, 2016. http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_001.htm

U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (2015). News Release- Employment Situation for Veterans 2015.  Accessed June 29, 2016 http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/vet.pdf

Headquarters, Department of the Army. (2015). Leadership Development (FM 6-22). Accessed June 28, 2016. http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/fm6_22.pdf

Tan, M. (2016). Army reduces PME backlog, but classroom vacancies remain an issue.  The Army Times.  Accessed June 28, 2016. http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/careers/army/enlisted/2016/02/17/army-reduces-pme-backlog-but-classroom-vacancies-remain-issue/80520380/

Li, J. (2010). How Military Veterans Are Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Adapting to Life in College.  Rand Corporation Research Brief.  Accessed June 27, 2016. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9560/index1.html

Staff Sgt. Wahl is a Recruiting and Retention NCO with the MN ARNG Recruiting and Retention Battalion. He has been assigned as a production recruiter for the past 7 years. Wahl previously deployed to Taji, Iraq in 2004 and Kosovo in 2007-2008. He is currently a student at the University of Minnesota, where he is studying corporate tax accounting with a projected graduation date of May 2018.  His life-long passion for learning spawned an interest in Soldier development as it relates to education. Many soon-to-be separated Soldiers are not prepared academically for reintegration into the civilian world. This paper aims to raise awareness, at the unit level, about educational opportunities for Soldiers.

NCO Writing Excellence Program aims to tune up communication skills

NCO Journal

The Army’s evolving operating environment demands that noncommissioned officers hone their critical and creative thinking skills and communicate clearly and effectively. This has led the Army to make writing a priority; with Army leaders, such as Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, speaking out about its importance. Because communication is an essential element of mission command, the Army has increased the importance of writing in the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development System by integrating writing evaluations into the curriculum as well as using writing software to help strengthen the skill. The Army has also initiated writing programs to encourage writing among both commissioned and noncommissioned officers. The Army Press NCO Writing Excellence Program offers NCOs the opportunity to enhance their writing skills, plus have the chance to win an award.

“NCOs need to be able to communicate effectively verbally and in writing,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Reitmeier, the Army’s Mission Command Center of Excellence sergeant major. “This is a critical skill and supports one of the principles of mission command, ‘Create Shared Understanding.’

“As NCOs progress through their careers, their tasks become more complex and take an increased intellect,” Reitmeier said. “We are also required to communicate with large populations of Soldiers who have varied levels of education and knowledge. This requires a leader who can communicate effectively and intellectually verbally and in writing.”

The NCO Writing Excellence Program is a competition that will help NCOs to do just that. The contest challenges all noncommissioned officers across the active-duty Army, Army Reserve and National Guard to communicate clearly and articulately about a thought-provoking theme. Besides enhancing their skills, NCOs could win an encased commemorative Army University coin designed specifically for the program as well as a personal note from the Army University Provost. The winning essay will also be published in the NCO Journal. Submission guidelines can be found at http://armypress.dodlive.mil/nco-writing-excellence-program/.

In April, Master Sgt. Jorge Rivera, Sgt. 1st class Edrena R. Roberts and Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Rance were announced as winners of the NCO Writing Excellence Program’s first competition.

Top-level Army leaders consider writing skills vital to effectively leading today.

Pictured are both sides of Army University's Army Press coin for noncommissioned officer writing excellence. The winner of the program's competition each quarter will receive this encased coin and a personal note from the Army University Provost, Brig. Gen. John S. Kem. (Photo by Master Sgt. Gary Qualls, Jr. / NCO Journal)
Pictured are both sides of Army University’s Army Press coin for noncommissioned officer writing excellence. The winner of the program’s competition each quarter will receive this encased coin and a personal note from the Army University Provost, Brig. Gen. John S. Kem. (Photo by Master Sgt. Gary Qualls, Jr. / NCO Journal)

“In today’s operating environment, it is assured that the role of the NCO will be as critical as ever in our Army’s ability to operate and win the wars of tomorrow. No longer will the NCO be singularly concerned with the kinetic aspects of training, developing and leading Soldiers. Enhancing our NCO Corps’ reading, research and writing skills is absolutely critical to developing the type of agile, adaptable NCO who can lead in a complex world,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.

Besides the demand for NCOs to possess solid communication skills in order to effectively do their job, their ability to demonstrate these attributes is a direct reflection on the NCO Corps. Moreover, this level of professionalism not only affects the present, but also the future.

“As noncommissioned officers, we rarely put pen to paper to share our experiences – and it is a huge void in the Army book. The NCO Writing Excellence Program is meant to help with this and drive our NCOs to build their credentials and reputation,” said Army University Command Sgt. Maj. Michael H. Clowser.

Writing competitions are a quarterly event in the NCO Writing Excellence Program that have a different theme every quarter. The theme for essay submissions this quarter is: How important is a college education to Soldiers in the enlisted ranks? Is a college education more important than a military education? Why? How? The deadline for submissions for this quarter is July 1, 2016. Email submissions to usarmy.leavenworth.tradoc.mbx.army-press@mail.mil