- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Longtime grasshoppers know that I think that few subjects are as important for the U.S. military as personnel policy.
So I was glad to see a thoughtful article in the September issue of ARMY magazine on the subject by James Jay Carafano. “America’s military works best when how the military manages personnel matches how America runs,” he begins. That’s a thought I’ve seen expressed before, but never so succinctly.
“Throughout the 20th century, a military career didn’t look much different from a career at General Motors or AT&T,” he continues. “But the workers and professions of 21st century America are quite different, and our military services should reflect that reality.” I think he is spot on here. The way the military manages its people increasingly looks anachronistic, and that should cause concern.
To my surprise, Carafano, who generally is conservative, also notes that, “The more diverse the workforce, the more important it is to emphasize the common bond that holds soldiers together: the profession of selfless service to our nation.” I think he is right on this. How to do so requires some thought. But I’d also add that the military is not the only such selfless profession — I’d add teachers, police officers, firefighters, many nurses, and doctors.
Near the end, however, I think Carafano goes off the rails when he says, “Diversity is not an element of combat power.” I think this is incorrect both tactically and strategically. As Grant noted in his memoirs, the diversity of his soldiers brought needed civilian skills into the Union Army, especially when working with railroads and canals. And on the strategic level, it is good that the military looks as diverse as America. It might be dangerous, for example, if Army officers were all white southerners.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense