- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jason Fritz
Best Defense guest respondent
When my copy of the January-March 2013 issue of The CAVALRY & ARMOR Journal (the U.S. Cavalry and Armor Association version of ARMOR Magazine) arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, I was also a bit puzzled by the article titled "How to Eat Steak with a Knife and Fork!" Not only because the title motif "How to Eat X with Y" has become quite tired, but because I expected it to be the beginning of an onslaught of "Armor Rulz!" articles in future issues. Of course, reading the article you can see that it is not a paean to maneuver warfare but rather is only a plug for three schools offered by the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, written by the commander of those schools.
To me the biggest issue was not that ARMOR ran an article about "core competencies," but rather that the publishers used valuable space in a branch journal to advertise schools that officers and NCOs should be going to anyway. I do not share Tom’s lament on the tactical focus of ARMOR as it is a journal for armor units, which are by definition brigades and below and therefore tactical formations. But his post brings up a prevalent problem: the demise of the branch journals.
Anyone who subscribes to their branch journal has probably noticed this decline. Articles are becoming repetitive. Issues are becoming thinner. I certainly can’t think of a single article in the past two years in ARMOR from which I felt I learned something. In the case of ARMOR, which was first published in 1888, this demise is ill-timed. For the first time in over a generation our armor force has extensive and varied combat experience and we should not lose these lessons. And this is true for every branch. In an introduction to the Association version of the issue that Tom linked to earlier in the week, MG (R) Terry Tucker, former chief of Armor and current president of the U.S. Cavalry & Armor Association, wrote:
I would like to take a moment to thank all who contribute to this Magazine and participate in the important discussion of our Mounted Force. However, as important as it is for our contributors to submit articles based on history, "tactics, techniques and procedures," or personal experience, our mission challenges us to exchange critical thought among our members. I believe we too often fall short in this area in our Cavalry and Armor Journal and in ARMOR Magazine. We want discussion, differing opinions, and even heated debate when appropriate.
Branch journals may not be Foreign Affairs, Parameters, or even PRISM, but they are and have been the primary outlet for professionals at the tactical level to disseminate, discuss, and debate their tradecraft. Theirs being such a focused audience, you won’t find academics rushing to get published. That leaves it to those of us who have been there and done it to keep these forums alive; you don’t know who needs to know what you know or what doors writing will open for you. I wrote one article for ARMOR in 2008 while I was still in the Army. In addition to earning a free year’s subscription to the magazine, this article played a significant role in my securing my first job out of the Army. The article, titled "Measuring Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare," has been the publication prospective employers have invariably asked about first because they recognize ARMOR and because they are interested in the topic. Recognizing this success, I shouldn’t have stopped at one article — something I intend to fix this year.
If you are a commander in the force, find a way to incentivize your officers and NCOs to write for their journal — prospective writers need to know that writing is valued in their organization. Whether you are a commander or not, submit articles to your branch’s journal (make sure you abide by their submission criteria). Get your good ideas and your name out there and put it in print. Branch journals provide an opportunity for you to influence your community, work on your writing skills, and maybe help someone who needs the information or idea you’re holding on to.