Military reexamines professional development after 10 years of war

Wednesday - 6/20/2012, 5:11am EDT

Jared Serbu, reporter, Federal News Radio

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As the U.S. withdraws from more than a decade of protracted, high-tempo conflict in the Middle East, the Pentagon is looking for new ways to keep its uniformed leaders motivated and engaged. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said DoD is on a campaign to redefine its approach to professional development.

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been dubbed a "captain's war" because DoD gave relatively junior Army and Marine officers high levels of responsibility as they operated in small units during counterinsurgency missions.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they've had more responsibility than he himself had when he was a colonel, and that dynamic will likely change as the military shifts to a peacetime role.

So Dempsey said the Pentagon is taking a hard look at its approach to career paths in the military.

"We've embarked on a campaign to renew and refresh our understanding of what it means to be in a profession," he told a breakfast in Washington Tuesday sponsored by Government Executive magazine. "Not in an occupation, but in a profession for young men and women today, who, by the way, are pretty good at what they do."

Plan to deploy every two years

Pretty good, Dempsey said, but more easily distracted than his generation. He thinks the crop of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who are now coming into the military and who will continue to serve after the planned U.S. military departure from Afghanistan will need something special to "keep their fires lit" as wars are winding down.

But, he said, they also bring an entrepreneurial spirit, and that the military services need to change their career patterns to accommodate and harness that spirit.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (AP graphic)

"By the time a young man or woman is 35 years old today, they're likely to have had three or four jobs. That doesn't make them nomadic or gypsy-like. What it does make them is inquisitive, it makes them ambitious, and it makes them entrepreneurial. Those are all good things," he said. "So the question — and I don't have the answer — is how we take those qualities and invest them into our personnel policies. That's hard, by the way. Breaking personnel paradigms is the hardest thing I failed to do as the Army chief of staff."

Dempsey said he doesn't want future leaders to develop a garrison mentality, spending all of their time on military bases. The current plan is for military members to deploy in some fashion at least every two years, whether it's for training, an actual military conflict or an engagement mission with another country.

The Army, for example, is developing a model in which its brigade combat teams will organize in such a fashion that they're aligned with a particular region of the world.

"So, you might say that in a particular cycle, this particular brigade will be offered to the commander of U.S. Africa Command. The unit will know that as it forms, and about a year later or so it'll be available," he said. "That will inform their training, it'll inform their leader development and their cultural development. You won't see us deploy an entire brigade to Africa because the continent itself wouldn't want that kind of footprint. But I can certainly see small units supplementing or complementing Special Forces Command so that we can engage, but also develop our people, which for me is actually the greatest benefit of all of that."

Technology to play bigger role

Dempsey said as DoD adjusts to a postwar environment and a leaner budget, technology will play a larger role in how the Pentagon thinks about career paths. Cyber warfare and drone warfare were capabilities that barely existed 10 years ago, he said.

Dempsey said he's not charting a return to the Revolution in Military Affairs, a mindset that he said incorrectly determined during the latter decades of the last century that the military could replace manpower with advanced technology. But he said DoD wants to harness the digitally-connected mindset of the current generation of recruits.

"We've got to find new and creative and innovative ways to train and develop them in a changing fiscal environment," he said. "Hundreds of millions of people here and around the world are linking themselves together in roleplaying games. The point I'm making is that technology will provide a bit of a key for us how to continue to train and develop them."

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report brought to you by United Health Military and Veterans Services. For more defense news, click here.

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