The Next Generation Warfighters Ray Kimball | April 28, 2008 I have a dirty little secret - I'm at least two "generations" apart from the majority of the force. I came into the Army at a time when we were trying to figure out just what we were supposed to do in a post-Cold War World. I vividly remember several of my instructors being given a severance package to leave the Army early, an idea that seems inconceivable in this age of the retention incentive. We cut our teeth on numerous training center rotations, and figured that sooner or later, someone would come along to fight. When Bosnia and Kosovo came along, we muttered about how this was no way to treat an Army, and trudged our way through the Balkan mud. The next generation were the young lieutenants and privates who came in around the turn of the century, who walked into the force expecting endless peacekeeping rotations in far-away lands (or, if they believed campaign rhetoric, a more "humble" foreign policy) and got 9/11 instead. The War on Terror upended all of our expectations, and completely changed the world of this second generation. For these folks, there was no "normal" Army - just an ever-changing set of circumstances that eventually led them to the sands of Iraq. Finally, there is the current generation - the folks who entered after 2003, and have known only the grinding hamster wheel of endless deployments. Careers used to be measured in frequent moves between duty stations and educational courses - now they get measured in the short intervals between combat tours. With no apparent end to the demands on them, the current generation has mostly resigned itself to a long stretch of fighting, a paradigm shift that is going to have a huge impact on how they view themselves, their Army, and their country. Recognizing that crystal balls are notoriously rusty, what follows is my prediction of how this current generation is going to view things for the next decade or so: They'll be tough to scare. Men and women who have run the alleyways of Sadr City, gone house-to-house in Fallujah, or stood lonely watch in the Korengal Valley aren't likely to fear much else. The worries of when the cable is going to come back on or whether Joanie gets the lead in the school play just aren't going to seem as pressing. And forget about trying to frighten them with ominous consequences of career-ending actions - any such attempt is likely to be met with a derisive snort and a reply of "What are you going to do, cut my hair and send me to Iraq?" They won't be impressed by rank. The soldiers of the current force will have seen their leaders, both military and civilian, make public pronouncements that turned out to be completely, utterly wrong. They'll have seen the best-intentioned promises of those same leaders get overcome by events and shattered beyond repair. They'll watch the revolving door of the defense industry, as officers retire and get rehired as contractors or consultants, at twice the price. And they'll try to figure out exactly what they have in common with these gray-haired dinosaurs who use terms like "Quarterly Training Brief" and "Green-Amber-Red cycles." They're going to be far more family-oriented. For those whose marriages survive the frequent deployments, family time will be sacrosanct. Sure, they'll work late hours to do pre-deployment training or make sure that their subordinates get taken care of. But come in on Saturday to change the font on revision 4 of the latest briefing slides? Not likely. And you can forget about all the fancy dining-outs, formal balls, and holiday socials - these will increasingly be viewed as one more command performance among many, to be avoided whenever possible and tolerated when absolutely necessary. They will not view the Army as a career. They'll look at the field grades and senior NCOs in their unit who are agonizing about whether or not to take that command or first sergeant position and ask, why should I put myself through that? Or, as one junior officer put it on a posting recently: We joined to be platoon leaders. Our perception (which I believe to be accurate) is that the time between Platoon Leader and Battalion Commander is largely spent contriving PowerPoint slides and sitting at a desk. This seems like a tremendous waste of time with no apparent benefit to the Army...Most of our current crop of junior officers were most likely motivated to join in large part in response to 9/11. They had no intention of becoming General or even Field Grade officers. They wanted to get into the fight and do their part and then go back to their lives. They will be heavily isolated from the society they serve. The current generation will hold equal parts of scorn for politicians of both parties and media outlets of all stripes. Fairly or unfairly, they'll hold similar contempt for citizens of a nation who went shopping while the soldiers went to war. They'll turn inward, seeking the trust and understanding of their fellow veterans over the company of those unknowns outside the front gate. In the next ten years, America's Army is going to change more drastically than at any other time in the history of this nation. Are you ready for that? ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ray Kimball is a Major in the US Army whose operational experience includes counterdrug operations on the Mexican border, peacekeeping in the Balkans, and high-intensity combat in Iraq. He is a Founding Member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the nation's first and largest group dedicated to Troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the United States Army or the Department of Defense.