The Five Generations in the Military


At any given moment, there are five generations that either serve in uniform or direct and influence military policy, strategy, operations, and tactics. These generations range from seventeen-year-old privates fresh out of high school, to seventy and eighty year-old elected and appointed officials. Leaders in the military should have a basic understanding of this aspect of our military. With that understanding, leaders should formulate ways to ensure communication, understanding, and empathy.

Baby Boomers: To illustrate the wide variety of generations, consider that the current (as of 2019) Commander In Chief is from the baby boomer generation, born in 1946, as is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford, who was born in 1955 the year of the infamous lighting strike on the clock tower in Hill Valley. Don’t expect the baby boomer generation to disappear anytime soon, and the political landscape in Congress and potential 2020 presidential candidates hail from this cohort.

Generation X began with those born in 1964. Most of today’s crops of general officers below the service chief level come from the early parts of this generation. Moreover, this generation includes most senior field grade officers, to include colonels and lieutenant colonels. On the enlisted side, generation X accounts for the current Sergeant Major of the Army, SMA Daily, born in the year of the first moon landing. Generation X is the group that grew up with rotary phones, Atari and 8-bit Nintendo only to transition to smart phones and Wii in adulthood. Further, this may have been the last generation to break up romantic relationships in college because long distance calls were just too expensive.  

Millennials: It may come as a surprise, but many field grade officers and senior non-commissioned officers come from the millennial generation. With birth years beginning in the early 80s, coming of age at the turn of the millennium, and often disparaged by older generations, the millennial generation of service members has been serving a nation at war for their entire adult lives. This is the generation that has been fighting at the tactical level in Iraq and Afghanistan year in and year out with seemingly no end in sight.

Generation Z has begun to infiltrate the ranks of the military and contains the crop of our youngest service members. Just as millennials have been at war for their entire adulthood, many of generation Z has been part of a nation at war for their entire lives. Young men and women serving from this generation are deploying to Afghanistan with no personal memory of the events of September 11th, 2001. Moreover, it is likely that a significant number of service members from this generation will deploy to the same locations their parents of a previous generation have gone.

The Greatest Generation: A part of the military often ignored is the large number of civil servants such as Department of Defense and service civilian employees. Much like the military, there are multiple generations serving their nation in this field, but unlike the military include outliers such as the late Andy Marshall, who hailed from the greatest generation. Mr. Marshall walked the halls of the Pentagon well into his 9th decade.

Each generation has grows up with different experiences and worldviews. This may range from internal values to an understanding and dependence on modern technology. Baby boomers may insist on the necessity of map reading, while millennials invent maps that read to them. Generation X and generation Z have widely different pop-culture references in their language, something to consider when dropping a line during a briefing. Quoting a line from Airplane or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may get a chuckle from a battalion commander, but would miss the mark with a junior NCO or lieutenant.   

Different generations tend to have different takes on the use of technology. Elder generations tend to value verbal communications such as phone calls, while younger generations tend to rely on texting, and direct messaging on social media. Hopefully, fossils such as phone trees have disappeared in favor of group texting apps.

This generational gap vis a vis technology is not a new development. Patton and Eisenhower were criticized for advocating the tank in future warfare. Their elders such as General Herr insisted on the use of horse cavalry well into the lead-up of World War II.

When it comes to values, leaders should understand that what is acceptable and what is offensive changes and evolves over the course of time. For example, in the world of comedy, what was considered offensive years ago were cuss words and other foul language. This language is more acceptable today, however racial and homophobic language is strictly verboten.

-How can leaders bridge generational gaps?

-What can subordinates and leaders do to enable understanding of generational values?

-How can leaders develop an ability to relate to service members two or three generations younger?

-Should the military develop ways to have younger service members train older generations on uses of new technologies? New language? Popular Culture?

A rough guide to each generation; this perspective adds a layer between Generation X and Generation Y

A rough guide to each generation; this perspective adds a layer between Generation X and Generation Y

Three Things That Don't Exist


Growing up I believed in three things. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Every Christmas morning I would wake up and run into the living room and rush to tear open the wrapping paper on my presents. On Easter, I followed a similar ritual, when I came upon my Easter Basket. And as I began to lose my teeth, I would place them under my pillow before bed time expecting the Tooth Fairy to come take it away for the price of one dollar. Today, my kids follow a similar ritual, and despite inflation, the price of a tooth in my family remains one dollar. Supply and demand in the free market.

In my early years as a military officer, I was taught to believe in three things. First, a common operating picture, also known as a COP. Second, a “whole of government approach” to solving international problems. Third, I was taught to be on guard for the strategic corporal. As a field grade officer approaching twenty years of active service, I no longer believe in any of them. Let me explain.


Joint Publication 1-02 defines a COP as “is a single identical display of relevant (operational) information (e.g. position of own troops and enemy troops, position and status of important infrastructure such as bridges, roads, etc.) shared by more than one Command. A COP facilitates collaborative planning and combined execution and assists all echelons to achieve situational awareness.”

A common operational picture is every commander’s dream. Yet to date, none exists. By definition, a COP would be all inclusive, and contain all the information commander’s need to gain an understanding of the battlefield. Further, some commands have developed various forms of a COP. these include a “Sustainment COP,” a “Cyber COP,” and an “Intelligence COP” to name just a few. If you have to qualify what type of COP it is, chances are it’s not a COP.

The all elusive COP is a figment of our imagination.

A Whole of Government Approach

The second ideal that doesn’t exist is a whole of government approach. Students at the staff and war colleges receive lectures and briefs on how the military is one aspect of the elements of national power, and should look to other agencies to assist and lead with our national problem sets. While some agencies have certainly performed their missions well with DoD in support (FEMA in DSCA, State in NEOs, and USAID in FHA), the whole of government approach remains out of reach. Military planners continue to include other government agencies as lines of effort in operational approaches. Other sightings of a whole of government approach appear in staff and war college student papers or in on line discussions that delve into the need for a new Goldwater Nichols Act that brings all agencies together for planning.

Commanders, staff officers, leaders, and soldiers should approach any plan that relies on a whole of government approach with a healthy dose of skepticism. Indeed, one can emulate Mark Baum in The Big Short, and insist that there is a zero percent chance of a whole of government approach and solution to a problem.

Moreover, while planning should certainly include and consider other agencies (especially when they are the lead agency for an operation), we should ensure that the military aspect of a plan is well thought out, complete, feasible, and all the other minimum criteria our doctrine demands.

The Strategic Corporal

Like many a young officer I was raised as a lieutenant and captain listening to the myths and legends of the strategic corporal. I once worked for a brigade commander who would walk into the TOC just before night shift to tell us stories about strategic corporals. Like the COP and whole of government approach, I no longer believe in this mythical entity.

The term strategic corporal was originally used by German Generals in the Second World War when describing Hitler behind his back. The reference to the time in the First World War where Hitler served as a corporal in the German Army. The phrase returned in 1999 when General Krulak published "The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War" in Marines Magazine.

Today, the term strategic corporal is most often used when a junior enlisted soldier makes national or international news. More often than not, said news is bad news. Incidents such as Abu Ghraib where junior soldiers tortured and abused detainees serves as an example. While these incidents certainly have strategic effects, the strategic failure is the system that created and put these corporals (and junior soldiers) in a position to do what they did.

Abu Ghraib is not the story of corporals gone wild; it is the story of failed leadership and failed command and control. It is the failure of an institution that failed to properly plan and train for long term detention operations in a combat zone. Other stories of junior enlisted personnel having a strategic effect such as then PFC Manning do not focus on the core of the issue. Manning, Bales, PFC Green and the like should have never been in the positions they were in. Institutions took risk looking for short term gains in an ill conceived method of increasing numbers., And just like sub-prime mortgages, moral waivers backfired. While their actions were morally and legally reprehensible, the strategic failure is with the institution that placed them there.


Any sightings of a strategic corporal are on par with sightings of Big Foot, the Lockness Monster, or aliens featured on old episodes of Unsolved Mysteries. Approach any plan or briefing that uses these phrases or concepts with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The Opinions in this Essay are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect the view or opinion of the United States Army, or the Department of Defense.

Expanding Our Reading Lists


Nobody will ever claim a dearth of reading lists for military officers and leaders. Indeed, every combatant commander maintains one specific to his or her theater. Service chiefs continually refine and publish their own on an annual basis. Every major school that is a part of professional military education such as the Command and Staff Colleges, War Colleges, National Defense University and the Joint Forces Staff College produce reading lists of their own. Further, commanders and staff officers at all levels publish their own as a part of internal leader development programs.

The common thread among these lists is the centrality of military centric subjects. The normal gang of Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and Thucydides is always present. Books on leadership by retired flag officers are often present. The more extensive lists include books on the future of war and its related technologies. Even the famous fast food philosopher Malcolm Gladwell makes his appearances. One category that many of these lists lack is sports. Sports books span the range of related subjects to include leadership, critical thinking, and innovation. I offer the following to expand the thinking and reading lists of military leaders:


The Captain Class by Sam Walker

Best Quote: “the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it”

This is an examination of 16 dynasties of various sports (chosen by the author) with a detailed look at the captains of each team. What the author finds is that the team captain was not always the best or most talented player, nor was it always the player with the alpha type personality. Indeed, talent and leadership are distinct and separate skills. The book provides a nice recognition of quiet leaders who choose to lead by example.

Behind the Bench by Craig Custance

Best Quote: “You never know where you’re getting your best idea. It could be from your rookie player, it could be from your power skating instructor, it could be from the guy who cooks breakfast. You have to be open-minded.”

Behind the Bench is a look at the minds and methods of eleven of the best hockey coaches in the game today. More than a discussion of Xs and Os, Custance takes a unique perspective, and turns a hockey book into a leadership book, similar to what one would find in the business section of the local Barnes and Noble. Custance leadership themes that run throughout the book include the ability to manage talent, the role of luck, and the role of self-reflection, enabling leaders to engage as lifelong students of their profession.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

Best Quote: “Great organization is the trademark of a great organization.”

Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers offers his thought on leadership. Each chapter or section of the book is no longer than two or three pages. Each is an insight into how he ran his organization. Walsh delivers his lessons learned on leading people, and transforming an organization from a rock bottom loser to a championship dynasty.

In terms of leadership, Walsh discusses how he would demand excellence from everyone in his organization. From the star quarterback to maintenance crews, Walsh wanted perfection from everyone. Further, Walsh identifies that the best leaders know when to put feelings aside, and to make decisions that are best for the organization. These types of decisions come often in military leaders careers when handling men and women who don’t perform to expected standards. Leaders must always balance what is best for an individual against what is best for an organization. Ideally, they align, but often enough they do not.


Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL by Michael Lombardi

Best Quote: “although practice doesn’t make perfect, it gets you closer to perfection each time you do”

In what is more of an organizational leadership book, Mike Lombardi leverages his experience with and knowledge of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots to provide the reader lessons in building winning teams and organizations. Some of Lombardi’s observations include caution in how to judge and acquire talent. Indeed, Lombardi uses anecdotes of former track stars who tried and failed to translate their talent to the gridiron. These failures highlight that individuals should be evaluated on multiple factors, and by multiple people.   


The Genius of Desperation by Doug Farrar

Best Quote: “great coaches don’t stick with their trademarks on a no-matter-what basis; they constantly go back to the drawing board, finding new ways to set up their personnel for optimal success”

Doug Farrar’s book is a detailed discussion on how football evolved over the decades. His book begins in the early years of the NFL in the 1920s, and takes the reader on a tour of the major innovations through the modern era. Farrar details how specific individuals from Vince Lombardi to Sid Gillman through Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick.

The lessons I take from this book are the similarities in the evolution of warfare and evolution of professional sports. While the nature of both war and football remain constant, the character, or how they are fought and played continually change. This may be from advancements in technology, changes to the rules, or the rise of an individual who thinks on a higher plane. Further, as a nation or team gains a competitive advantage, other nations and teams soon catch up, which leads to further evolution and innovation.

Secondly, The Genius of Desperation chronicles the innovators of football. In this respect, the evolution of the game was dependent upon men who saw the game differently. Again, I see similarities to evolution in military thought. Military history is often traced back through various individuals who saw the world in a different light than everyone else. Evolution in warfare is more than new technologies. It includes new thoughts on how to fight wars. From Alexander the Great, to Fabian, through Napoleon, Jomeni, and Clausewitz to Grant and Sherman, to the modern day thinkers such as Boyd and Warden.

The Games that Changed the Game by Ron Jaworski

Best Quote: “Games aren’t always won by the more talented team; they are won by the team that recognizes favorable match-ups and exploits them”

In this book, the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback takes a deep dive into seven football games that introduced new offensive and defensive concepts to the league. Examples of these concepts include the vertical passing game of Don Coryell and his San Diego Chargers to the defensive ideas of the Bears 46 defense and those implemented by Bill Belichick to defeat some of the greatest offensive teams ever built. The author provides a background of what led to the development of each concept, and how the coaches in each game he highlights came up with their innovations.

The Perfect Pass by American Genius and the Reinvention of Football by S.C. Gwynne

Best Quote:

The Perfect Pass chronicles the rise of Coach Mike Leach and Hal Mumme and their innovative design of the Air Raid Offense. What makes this a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf is the details of how smaller, and on paper less talented teams can overcome the odds and defeat larger, better resourced teams. In a way, using brains and innovative concepts to defeat larger powers is how insurgents from the American Colonies to Vietnam to Afghanistan, and Iraq have fought the world’s superpowers.

The Game by Ken Dryden

Best Quote: “it is the players without the puck who determine where the puck is going, by going there themselves”

This book chronicles the 1978-1979 season of the Montreal Canadians. There is one chapter in particular where the author details how the Soviets came to dominate international hockey. By starting with a clean slate in the 1950s, the Soviets were not tied to the history and traditions of North American (Canadian) hockey. The Soviets developed a game plan that emphasized puck control, creativity, and movement. Moreover, the Soviets trained for the sport year round, as opposed to professional athletes in North America who used the pre-season as method to “get back in shape.” This new style of play shocked the hockey world,evidenced by the Soviet performance in the Super Series.

Ken Dryden

Ken Dryden

Human Performance

Faster, Higher, Stronger by Mark McClusky

Best Quote: “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Faster, Higher, Stronger is about the science of sports. The author examines ways in which athletes are using science and technology to increase their performance at the highest levels. At the top, a mere 1 or 2 percent advantage can separate the world champion from the middle of the pack. More than examine current trends, the author looks at previous fads that are now obsolete. Other interesting points the author makes is that sometime (and we hate to hear it), genes do matter. If you are over 6’ feet tall, you won’t be a world class gymnast no matter how much effort and practice you put in. Conversely, genes alone won’t do, effort and hard work are the trademarks of those who do make it. Finally, the author offers advice to the weekend and amateur athletes in all of us.

Other Cultures and Global Perspectives

How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer

Best Quote: “Soccer isn't the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community's fabric, a repository of traditions.”

 While baseball and football are certainly America’s games, soccer is truly the world’s sport. Foer takes the reader on a tour of various soccer clubs around the world to help explain culture and conflict. His tour includes teams such as the Glasgow Rangers , FC Barcelona, and the Iranian and American national teams. Others include Serbia, Scotland, Brazil, England, Jewish teams, and Ukraine. Foer points out the unique traditions and rivalries of each club to explain aspects of globalization and nationalism.


This list represents a fraction of available books centered on sports that can change our perspectives. My bias towards football and hockey, and more broadly men’s sports clearly come out with these recommendations.

We should never underestimate the role of sports, and its impact on our lives. Within our culture, professional, college, and amateur sports is a multi-billion if not a trillion dollar business. At the individual level, what we learn through sports is applicable in our military profession, and in our broader lives. It provides a way to test resilience and grit. Team and individual sports provide a stage that shows the value of hard work and training often proving that natural talent will only go so far. Recent super bowls have provided the example that the intellectual is just as paramount as the physical. Game planning and innovative concepts can provide an asymmetric advantage to teams and individuals with lesser talent. The field of play often provides us lessons that life is not always fair, and that sometime luck, or the lack thereof can determine winners and losers (Fog, Friction, and Chance if you will).

Adapting to Social Media


Recent conversations and dialogue in which I participated on Twitter includes how leaders, both junior and senior should leverage social media in their military organizations and in their leadership style. This followed a review of LikeWar I wrote for Army Magazine. I offer the following thoughts

1. Military leaders should move away from the broad term “social media.” Social media includes sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest. These sites are distinct and unique in their own ways. They differ in purpose, message delivery, and audiences to name a few. When addressing social media policies or in general conversation, leaders should be specific to the site they are referencing.

2. Commanders should address specific platforms within their command policies. This means more than a single and broad policy memorandum on the subject of social media. Rather, existing command policies should weave in various social media sites. For example, commander’s open door policies should address when or if the commander deems instant messaging on Facebook or Twitter as a part of the policy.

                2.a. This leads into the aspect that Twitter has broken down some of the more formal communication aspects between leaders and subordinates. Junior soldiers can communicate directly with 4-Star commanders without the moving through layers of the chain of command. Conversely, senior leaders can communicate their messages directly to junior soldiers. This leads to questions on what is appropriate, such as

                -Is it appropriate to publically disagree with senior leaders on Twitter?

                -Should senior commanders insert themselves into conversations and threads between more junior leaders and junior soldiers?

                -Should military leaders respond to anonymous accounts? 

                -It is appropriate to retweet overtly political content? Is there a different standard for officers and enlisted in this respect?

                -Does following junior soldiers on Twitter, Facebook, etc…form an accurate perspective on what is happening inside of their respective formations? Is it a skewed perspective? Perhaps it’s just one aspect of understanding morale.

3. Higher level commanders should look at providing guidance on subordinate leaders methods on social media. This could include deciding on the appropriateness of official pages of a unit in contrast to individual personal accounts.

4. The army should explore ways that tactical commanders can use social media to mass effects. This means using the philosophy of mission command to allow platoon, company, and battalion commanders the ability to communicate with friendly and enemy forces, and the local population through social media forums.

-To compliment this, each service should start weaving in social media into its tactical and operational level doctrine. This would mean more than inserting it into public affairs manuals.

5. Senior leaders who have an established reputation should publish their best practices on each social media site. This would help subordinate leaders who are uncomfortable with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites.

6. Presence: One of the sections on the army OER support form is presence. The army should consider expanding the traits of presence from strictly physical to a broader definition that includes virtual presence. Indeed, a leader may influence other soldiers beyond their own formations. This aspect becomes complicated, as a leader who leverages social media sites may work for other leaders who have zero presence.

7. The services should examine how to include use and risk of various social media sites to their professional military education programs.

8. The army should look at social media skills as a basic soldier skill. This goes above and beyond basic OPSEC annual training, but a more detailed skill set on leveraging various social media sites to an individual and unit advantage (and mitigating adversary use of the same platforms).

The issue the military faces now is inconsistency. Some leaders are proficient in their use, others use social media sites for unethical behavior, while others are ignorant or consider use too much of a risk to their professional careers.

Further, it is clear that national level civilian leadership now views sites such as Twitter as a legitimate place to publish their policy guidance. Our current Commander In Chief may be the first to announce policy decision on social media, he won’t be the last. Leaders who express bewilderment on current policy guidance by dismissing tweets are behind the curve. While previous leadership would announce policy in public speeches, current and future leaders will certainly leverage social media to deliver their message.

#Reviewing Football Books

The Genius of Desperation: The Schematic Innovations that Made the Modern NFL by Doug Farrar

Doug Farrar’s book is a detailed discussion on how football evolved over the decades. His book begins in the early years of the NFL in the 1920s, and takes the reader on a tour of the major innovations through the modern era. Farrar details how specific individuals from Vince Lombardi to Sid Gillman through Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick.


The lessons I take from this book are the similarities in the evolution of warfare and evolution of professional sports. While the nature of both war and football remain constant, the character, or how they are fought and played continually change. This may be from advancements in technology, changes to the rules, or the rise of an individual who thinks on a higher plane. Further, as a nation or team gains a competitive advantage, other nations and teams soon catch up, which leads to further evolution and innovation.

Secondly, The Genius of Desperation chronicles the innovators of football. In this respect, the evolution of the game was dependent upon men who saw the game differently. Again, I see similarities to evolution in military thought. Military history is often traced back through various individuals who saw the world in a different light than everyone else. Evolution in warfare is more than new technologies. It includes new thoughts on how to fight wars. From Alexander the Great, to Fabian, through Napoleon, Jomeni, and Clausewitz to Grant and Sherman, to the modern day thinkers such as Boyd and Warden.

Farrar’s book is a worthy edition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in football, sports, or organizational leadership.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

                Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers offers his thought on leadership. Each chapter or section of the book is no longer than two or three pages. Each is an insight into how he ran his organization. Walsh delivers his lessons learned on leading people, and transforming an organization from a rock bottom loser to a championship dynasty.

The Score Takes Care of Itself is more of a business and leadership book than a sports book. The book offers nuggets of wisdom that translate directly to how military leaders run organizations, and how military planners can think about courses of action within tactical, operational, and strategic planning. For example, in talking about planning, Walsh talks about how he became the first NFL coach to script plays. Indeed, thoughtful planning, according to Walsh was a key ingredient of the 49ers dynasty. More than just thinking through the first ten or fifteen plays of a game, Walsh developed plays for a verity of contingencies or scenarios that would arise in a game. This is directly translatable to contingency planning with built in branches and sequels that operational and strategic planners develop in the military.


In terms of leadership, Walsh discusses how he would demand excellence from everyone in his organization. From the star quarterback to maintenance crews, Walsh wanted perfection from everyone. Further, Walsh identifies that the best leaders know when to put feelings aside, and to make decisions that are best for the organization. These types of decisions come often in military leaders careers when handling men and women who don’t perform to expected standards. Leaders must always balance what is best for an individual against what is best for an organization. Ideally, they align, but often enough they do not.

Another aspect to Walsh’s leadership the teaching aspect. Walsh tells us that true leaders double as teachers. Indeed, Walsh was a product of Paul Brown, and then mentored a number of coaches who became a part of the Bill Walsh Coaching Tree. This translates to military leadership too. Every leader in the military is just passing through. We are judged on how well we prepare the next generation of leadership. If follow-on generations of leadership fail spectacularly in the next war, the current generation has only themselves to blame.

Walsh also cautions against leaders ignoring “the bottom 20 percent. Walsh sees that the performance of the bottom 20 percent will also determine success or failure of an organization. The star quarterback and wide receiver are dependent on the offensive guard earning the league minimum, or the back-up running back. Walsh advises leaders to pay attention to this cohort, as there are always times when the bottom 20 percent will be called upon to act in a decisive moment.

This is another book that leaders in all professions can look to as a guide to running small or large organizations.

Do we need Ethical Jedi? No.


In a recent essay, Dr. Pauline Shanks Kaurin presented ideas on enhancing ethics in the military profession. Her essay, “The Ethics Specialist: To Jedi or No,” examined the idea of an ethics specialist at various levels of command. While this idea is certainly intriguing, it would not solve the complex ethical problems military leadership at the tactical, operational, and strategic level face throughout their careers.

To examine where the military should press forward on ethics, an important first step is to take inventory of all the programs, organizations, doctrine, and regulations that are in place vis-a-vis ethics. One can start with the Army’s DA PAM 600-3, or with the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic (CAPE). There are numerous other examples, but I will limit my analysis to counter some of the points made in Dr. Shanks Kaurin’s essay.

Dr. Shanks Kaurin begins her essay by dismissing the role of chaplains and jag officers in providing ethical advice and ethical leadership. I disagree with her based on these points, and strictly from an Army perspective.

While it is true that chaplains “are generally members of a religious/faith community of practice whose role is to provide comfort and pastoral care to the military,” the army insists on other roles. DA PAM 600-3 (dated 26 June 2017). Dr. Shanks Kaurin’s description more closely aligns with the stated purpose of the Chaplain Corps “The Chaplain Corps “whose mission is to provide for the comprehensive religious support to the Army across the spectrum of operations.” However, her description omits the “unique functions performed by chaplain corps. Specifically, “chaplains provide the religious, spiritual, moral and ethical support to the Army in any contingency.” The ethical support is not limited to a faith or religious community.

A second argument Dr. Shanks Kaurin makes for the necessity of an ethics specialist or SME, is to serve as moral exemplars. This is a dangerous road with a slippery slope. The Army rightly expects all leaders to serve as moral exemplars. Again, going back to DA PAM 600-3, multiple branches demand officers that hold the highest morals and ethics. For example, infantry officers must be “Adept at using ethical decision-making to solve complex, dynamic problems.” Ethics is not just for the infantry, The Military Police branch requires officers who continually demonstrate strong character and high ethical standards in order to infuse these traits into their units and Soldiers. Thankfully, the financial management branch requires “Financial managers maintain the highest standards of integrity, and professional ethics.”

Public Affairs officers, who continually communicate messages to the American public understand that “to maintain credibility, Public Affairs professionals must understand journalism ethics and be able to identify when media are not adhering to fair and balanced reporting.” Further, PA Officers attributes include “Applies ethical reasoning to make informed choices and provide counsel to the commander when faced with tough issues and ethical concerns with regards to the ramifications of an organization’s or leadership’s actions.” Ethical advice is not limited to chaplains and lawyers.

More broadly, the Army’s centralized promotion selection process emphasizes ethics and values as key factors in the potential to serve at a higher grade. Three of the top four factors center on ethics and values and are listed as:

(1) Performance.

(2) Embodiment of Army Values.

(3) Professional attributes and ethics.

(4) Integrity and character.

Indeed, maintaining a moral and ethical compass is paramount to how the Army views the selection of leaders at all levels.

Where Dr. Shanks Kaurin is absolutely on target is in her assessment that ethical training and development is paramount for everyone, not just officers or senior leaders. Further, her assessment on emerging technology having an impact on ethics is spot on. The advent of cyberspace and social media has brought to light ethical considerations and dilemmas previous generations of soldiers never contemplated.

There are a number of ethical improvements the army can adopt. First, officer and enlisted professional military education and training should include periods of instruction on ethics. To an extent, the services already include this aspect, evidenced by Dr. Shanks Kaurin’s position as the Stockdale Chair of Ethics at the Naval War College. This type of position should expand to include ethics professors at each respective schoolhouse and center of excellence. Further, the inclusion of these potions would offer the opportunity for an ethics elective at the Command and General Staff College and army War College (as well as JPME II and other joint education).

Second, unit training should encompass ethics. This is more than a PowerPoint presentation during Sergeant’s time training, or random officer professional development sessions with battalion and brigade commanders. Rather, field exercises at the unit level and at the combat training centers should include ethical scenarios. There may be no correct answers to the ethical portion of field exercises, as this would resemble the Kobayashi Maru training exercise depicted in the sci-fi series Star Trek.

Third, joint staffs at combatant commands should integrate an ethical portion into their tier one exercises. More than exercising fictional war scenarios, planners and commanders on joint staffs should develop MESLs that test a staffs ability to make ethical and moral recommendations to joint force commanders.

Add an ethics category to our reading lists

Add an ethics category to our reading lists

Finally, service chiefs and their subordinate flag officers should include articles, essays, and books that focus on the ethical portions of the military profession. Currently, reading lists center on tactics, strategy, military history, and various geographical regions of the world. Ethics should be a topic or category of every leaders reading list.

Dr. Shanks Kaurin’s essay on the Ethics Jedi is an interesting idea. However, it is not the answer to how the army should approach improving ethics at all levels of command. Improvement to ethics must occur across the board and leaders at all levels must be accountable for ethical failures, both of a personal nature and of their respective organizations.

Quarterbacks and Generals


Baseball may be America’s pastime, but football is America’s sport. Indeed, football represents strength and power, the current hallmarks of American foreign policy. George Carlin communicated the football and baseball dichotomy with his famous comedy bit comparing the two sports. The football analogies expand when we look at the archetypes of NFL quarterbacks and general officers.

Military units, just like football teams rely on the cumulative talent and skills of every player on the team. However, generals, like quarterbacks are the face of their organizations and represent the success or failure of their units and teams. With this in mind, I offer a breakdown of the types of officers that we see through the lens of the various types of quarterbacks.

The Tom Brady GOAT Division. After winning five Super Bowls (as of 2018), appearing in 8, winning a dozen division titles, and three most valuable player (MVP) awards, Tom Brady is generally regarded at the greatest quarterback of all time. There are a handful of American generals that fall into this category. This includes Generals George Washington, U.S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and George Marshal. 

The Peyton Manning Division. This is the category of hall of fame caliber generals who fall just short of falling into the greatest of all time arguments. Generals in the Peyton Manning Division include Nathaniel Greene, Phillip Sheridan and George Patton.

The Dan Marino Division. Dan Marino was the most prolific passer of his time. Marino put up passing statistics that nobody would match until the character and rules of football changed. Marino won a ton of games in regular season, but alas never won a Super Bowl. The military equivalent to this division are generals who win tactical level battles, but fail to turn their tactical success into operational or strategic victory. Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee fit this mold.

The Joe Flacco Division. This division is reserved for generals who, like Joe Flacco can’t decide if they are elite, run of the mill, or not so good. Flacco had an amazing playoff run back in 2012, but has since been about average since. It is a clear case of regression to the mean, yet the debate continues. I put generals such as Mark W. Clark in this division. He had his great victory in Italy (despite Monte Casino), which would be overshadowed by the Normandy invasion.

The Trent Dilfer Division. In 2000, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. In 2001, Dilfer was playing for the Seattle Seahawks. Deservedly or not, Dilfer earned the reputation as a game manager. Game mangers are quarterbacks are those who succeed thanks to other aspects of the team. A strong defense or rushing attack enables game managers to rack up victories in despite having average talent. There are general officers and senior leaders who succeed in large thanks to the supporting team around them. They may have a strong staff, a terrific XO, or phenomenal NCOs that make up for their many faults.

The Alex Smith Division. Some quarterbacks succeed by the design of the system they play in. Alex Smith, over the course of his career has succeeded due to coaches designing offenses that fit his skill set. Scharnhorst, the creator of the Prussian Staff designed a system that did not rely on individual talent. Indeed, the lesson Scharnhorst learned from the Napoleonic Wars was that Prussia could not afford to wait for a version of Napoleon to rise in the ranks. Scharnhorst then created the Prussian General Staff system along with the famous Kriegsacademie. In the modern era, the United States follows this mold, creating dozens of GOFOs every year through our system of assignments and professional education. In reality, everyone who rises to the top of the ranks can be replaced by the next cohort of officers.

The Ryan Leaf Division. Ryan Leaf was a star in college. Looking back, it’s comical that in 1998 people debated whether he should be drafted ahead of Peyton Manning. Ryan Leaf was unable to handle the pressure and commitments of life in the National Football League. In short order, Leaf would find himself out of football and serving time for numerous drug related offenses. Just like professional sports, there are men and women who are selected for battalion and brigade command or promote to general officer, but were clearly not ready. Some not only should have never promoted to GOFO, but belong in jail for their respective ethical and moral lapses. Former brigadier general (now retired lieutenant colonel) Sinclair falls into this category. One can find dozens of other examples that often appear on the front page of Army, Navy, and Air Force Times.   

The Frank Reich / Nick Foles Division.  In the early 1990s, Frank Reich was a back up to Jim Kelly on the Buffalo Bills. In the 1993 playoffs, Reich led the Bills to a 32-point comeback against the Houston Oilers, the largest comeback in NFL history. More recently, in 2017, Nick Foles took over the play calling from Carsen Weintz to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl victory. Back-up quarterbacks rarely have the skill set of the starting quarterback, but must be prepared to step in at any time. Not every general officer gets the chance to command. Many spend their time as J-Code or G-Code directors and assistant directors. However, their work in these key positions is paramount to the success of their respective organization. When called upon to lead in the commander’s absence, they step up to the plate. Think about Brig. Gen. McAuliffe in his role as assistant division commander of the 101st in World War II as an example of a GOFO in this division.

The Mark Fitzpatrick Division. These are the generals that show up to an organization with the intent to make some serious and much needed change. Everyone in the command is excited after some early success, but give up hope after the general leaves for a more senior position after only nine months. 


The Gary Kubiak Division. Gary Kubiak was a long-term back-up under John Elway. He never achieved fame as a quarterback at the tactical level, but used his time as a backup to enhance his thinking and coaching abilities. Later in life, Kubiak would win a Super Bowl as head coach of the Denver Broncos. This goes to show that some people perform better at the operational and strategic level rather than the tactical level. Colin Powell never commanded a division, and Eisenhower did not command above battalion.

The Warren Moon / Joe Montana Division. Both of these quarterbacks had hall of fame careers. They put up statistics unmatched in their respective eras. However, critical to their success was the offensive system they led. Warren Moon played in the Run and Shoot Offense, Montana in the West Coast Offense. Over the years, our military produced numerous systems generals who could succeed in one type of warfare but could not prove their worth in others. Some do very well in maneuver warfare, but fail in a counterinsurgency environment. The talents required in one do not always apply to another. Further, as General Petraeus discovered, what works in Iraq does not translate to success in Afghanistan.    

The Vince Young Division. Vince Young earned the Heisman and won a national championship while playing for Texas. However, his professional success would never match what he acheived in college (Ditto for his Rose Bowl opponent Matt Leinart). These are the generals that succeeded at the lower ranks, and enjoyed some success as junior general officers, but failed spectacularly at the highest level of command. Think General Hooker at Chancellorsville, or Westmoreland in Vietnam.

Clausewitz and Football


Any serious discussion of strategy necessarily begins with Carl Von Clausewitz. Indeed, Clausewitz along with his western contemporaries identify with a western and American way of war. While eastern concepts of warfare focus on defeating an adversary through deception, and winning without fighting,[i] Clausewitz and western theories of war recognize the inevitability of battle. Eventually military forces will fight on the battlefield and influence the outcome of war to the advantage of one side. Football, unlike Weiqi or Go, follows the western way of war. While the eastern way of war highlights winning without bloodshed as the highest form of skill, the western way emphasizes violence. Teams or armies meet on the field to determine the outcome.

            In his seminal work On War, Clausewitz compared war to a wrestling contest where two opponents grappled and maneuvered to get the other to submit. Had he been a 21st Century American, and not a 19th Century Prussian, Clausewitz would have made the football analogy in lieu of wrestling. The analogy works as in war, one does not plan or fight against an inanimate object. Rather, one plans and fights against a living and thinking adversary. Clausewitz termed this reciprocal action.[ii] Both military leaders and football coaches and players must constantly adapt to conditions on the battlefield and football field respectively. 

            Relying on the weakness, incompetence, or lack of preparation of an enemy team or force is a quick path to failure. No matter how well prepared a team may have been on the practice field, or in the gym, there is an adversary doing the same thing. Adversaries plan to win, put in time at the gym, and adjust their game plan on every series. Success belongs to those who can stay one-step ahead. In a similar vein, understanding that adversaries adapt leads to the wisdom of never underestimating an opponent. A head coach may watch all the game film he wants, but there is another head coach on the other sideline developing a strategy of his own. Perhaps it is a trick play, or the exposure of a weakness on a team that never knew it existed.

            Identifying an opponent’s source of strength and exploiting an opponent’s weakness stems of the Clausewitzian concept of the center of gravity. A center of gravity, according to Clausewitz is the “the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point which all our energies should be directed.”[iii] American military doctrine defines it as “the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act.”[iv] Military planners spend countless hours analyzing and identifying enemy COGs. Further, military planners devise strategies and plans to expose and attack what they believe are an enemy’s center of gravity.[v] Witness the opening strike in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, where the U.S. Air Force attempted (and failed) to kill Saddam Hussain on the opening night of the war. Planners believed Hussain was the Center of Gravity of the Iraqi Government. As the war evolved into an insurgency, the center of gravity switched to the will and support of the population.

            Football games and the game planning beforehand use the same center of gravity concepts found in U.S. military doctrine. Coaches and teams continually attempt to identify what an opposing team does best, and take that capability away. Indeed, this concept is central to coaching great Bill Belichick’s coaching philosophy.[vi] This can be done through pressure on the quarterback or overloading an area of the field with defenders to take away parts of the run game. On offense, teams look to limit the opponents best pass rushers through blocking schemes, or expose weak pass coverage by continually passing in the direction of a lesser talented cornerbacks.

            Clausewitz defined war and broke it down into its sub-units for the great captains of history. The old Prussian’s thoughts on fog, friction, and chance are among the most useful takeaways from his Magnum Opus. Fog is the uncertainty in war, friction is the countless minor incidents that make the simple very difficult, and chance is the unpredictable circumstances that consistently occur in war.[vii] This concept easily translates to the gridiron. The outcome of a football game and war are dependent on the interplay of skill and luck.

            The fog in a football game is the uncertainty of an opposing teams play call, or when a quarterback is blindsided during the chaos of blitzing safeties. We see friction when a head coach’s headset loses communications with the quarterback, or when a referee makes a bad call. And we see chance when a 70-yard scoring play gets called back due to a holding penalty on the opposite side of the field, wholly unrelated to the play. We see chance in who is sitting on the injured reserve list. Each game, indeed each play (not to mention off-field events) has the potential to eliminate the essential players of a team.

            Football can bring in all three elements of fog, friction, and chance, often on the same play. In this sense, football offers a glimpse into complexity. A missed block or coverage assignment can lead to a sack and fumble or a 90-yard touchdown. On the other hand, a blown coverage may have zero impact on the game if the quarterback overthrows, or simply fails to recognize an open receiver. The outcome of every play and every game is dependent on the interaction of all 22 players on the field, and like war, uncertain in outcome.

[i] Sun Zsu. 2007. The Art of War. Filiquarian Publishing. Las Vegas NV.

[ii] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 3.

[iii] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 595-596.

[iv] Joint Publication 5-0: Joint Planning. 16 June 2017. Washington, DC: The Joint Staff. Pg GL-6.

[v] In U.S. military doctrine, a Center of Gravity contains subordinate elements of Critical Capabilities, Critical Requirements, and Critical Vulnerabilities. After identifying an enemy and friendly COG, planners look for these elements to attack the enemy COG and protect their own COG.

[vi] Ron Jaworski. 2010. The Games that Changed the Game. ESPN books. New York.

[vii] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 6.

Evolution in Thought; Football and War


A revolution in military affairs (RMA) is “the transformation of a military establishment’s strategies, doctrines, training, education, organization, equipment, and operations and tactics to achieve decisive military results in fundamentally new ways.”[i] Military history provides multiple examples of these RMAs. These examples include the development and use of the English Armies six-foot-long bow and the use of gun powder artillery in the 14th Century. The French use of levee en masse[ii] during the Napoleonic Wars, the German development of combined arms in the form of blitzkrieg during the Second World War, and the advent of nuclear weapons provide further examples.[iii] More recently, the development of precision guided munitions enables by military capabilities in space, stealth technology, and unmanned and autonomous systems serve as modern day examples.   

The concept of a revolution in military affairs easily translates to football. The past 70 years witnessed the development of new offensive and defensive systems (operations and tactics) that transformed the character of the game. These transformations began with the development and implementation of the forward pass, whose first large scale use enabled the Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School coached by Pop Warner to defeat the University of Pennsylvania in 1907. Six years later, in 1913, the forward pass helped Notre Dame defeat highly favored Army.[iv]

Other offensive innovations throughout the years include the West coast Offense, the Run-and-Shoot, the K-Gun Offense, and the read-option employed by the Super Bowl winning 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. Nevertheless, football has a lesson to teach concerning rapid changes that provide an advantage to one side of the field. Opponents quickly adapt to counter, or limit the advantages posed by new schemes.

Just as one nation transforms the character of their military and warfighting, other nations will respond with changes to counter said advantages. In football, rapid changes in offensive concepts drove changes to defensive systems. One example is Buddy Ryan’s ferocious 46 defense.[v] This was defensive system employed by both the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens, two of the greatest defenses of all time. A second example of defensive innovation is the zone blitz, designed to counter the Run-and-Shoot.  

The constant evolution and innovation swaying back and forth between offense and defense is similar to how the United States, and in large measure, the West thinks about military innovation. One side develops a new technology, weapon, or tactic, and the other side develops a counter technology to offset any tactical, operational, or strategic advantage. Indeed, this continual back and forth resembles chess more so than Eastern culture type games such as Wei. Teams consistently try to stay one-step ahead, on the field and off.[vi] Promises of technology or ideas that will change the nature of warfare and provide one nation a permanent advantage are often noting more than a fantasy.  

The U.S. military looks for advantages in more ways than technology alone. Improvements to training method and physical fitness are a cornerstone to combat preparedness. Changes to the football occur off the field too. Long gone are the days when professional athletes use training camp and the pre-season to get in shape. The advancement of fitness methods and technologies allow players to train throughout the year. Coinciding with fitness training is new understanding of diet combined with the use of supplements. The Steelers Dynasty of the 1970s had zero players over 300 pounds.[vii] Today, 300 pounds is the minimum weight to play as a lineman in the NFL.

From a military strategist perspective, the American military can learn a ton through the study on how the game of football evolved and transformed from the forward pass through today’s run pass option designs. The evolution in the game informs us how a culture rewards innovative thinkers whose concepts come into fruition on the football field.

[i] Michael Keane. 2005. Dictionary of Modern Strategy and Tactics. Naval Institute Press. Annapolis, MD.

[ii] Levee en masse is the practice of universal conscription. First established in 1793, this method enabled France to fight 14 armies, an unheard of number at the time.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Jim Morrison. 2010. “The Early History of Football’s Forward Pass.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed 23 October 2018. (

[v] The 46 defense was named for the jersey number of Chicago Bears safety Doug Plank, and has nothing to do with the number of linemen, linebackers, or defensive backs on the field.

[vi] Ron Jaworski. 2010. The Games that Changed the Game. Random House Inc. New York. 

[vii] According to Pro Football Reference, the heaviest player on the 1976 Steelers was Joe Greene, who stood 6’4” and weighed 275 pounds. Compare to the 2018 New England Patriots Left Tackle, Trent Brown who stand 6”8” and weighs 380 pounds. (

Thoughts on the NY Times At War Discussion


25 September, 2018

This evening I had the pleasure to sit in the audience of the NY Times A Generation At War panel. This included author C.J. Chivers, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Bonnie Carroll, and Steve Schmidt of the New York Times. The discussion ranged from the disconnect between civilians and military veterans to sharing experiences with PTSD, to thoughts on the current Authorization for the Use of Force, and bringing back a draft. There were parts of the discussion I agreed with, others I disagreed with, and other parts gave me a new perspective. Here are my thoughts:

We are all influenced by our experience, but we should never be captured by our experience. As the panel talked, it was clear that they viewed their own experience with war and their views as though every veteran has a similar experience. This was clear when Chivers spoke about his early field reporting focused strictly in lower tactical level units.

Another example occurred when Senator Duckworth talked about how her promotion to Major was held up because the position was filled by another officer back in the States. She then commented that this was how it worked in the military. While this is true for the National Guard, it is not true for active duty.

Each of the panel members spoke fondly of a return to the draft, or some form of national service, although Chivers was more reserved. I could not disagree more. To me, one of the greatest freedoms we have as Americans is the freedom not to serve. Forced patriotism is phony patriotism. On the positive side, Senator Duckworth had the quote of the night when discussing the divide between the civilian population and the military. “More people in our country will argue about NFL athlete than why we are in Afghanistan, and when we will be leaving.”

Multiple times the members of the panel talked about the “two wars we have been fighting.” Of course they meant Afghanistan and Iraq, with the common perception that we have been fighting these two wars for 17 years now, all under the same AUMF. At this point, I think anyone who uses says “two wars” is low balling it. Besides Iraq and Afghanistan, we have been killing people all over the Middle East and North Africa. This includes Libya, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, as well as Afghanistan, and Iraq. Moreover, we can divide combat in Iraq to two or three separate and distinct wars. We should be honest in our language and talk about the 7-10 wars we are fighting.

The panel ended with a question and answer session. None of the questions came from an active duty military member, which was a pleasant surprise. One member was a former CIA member who asked how the country should honor the service of those who serve/fight overseas but in a different capacity (CIA, USAID, State, etc..). There was no clear answer, but general agreement that we should do more.

An international relations student at George Washington asked about the concept of our foreign military sales (FMS) program. The question was a bit naive, as were the answers, which all focused on the idea that we should end these programs. No thought was given to the assumptions of 1) if we end FMS, other nations such as China, or Russia will happily step in to fill the void and 2) we gain leverage over nations should they turn against U.S. interests. In the latter, the US can end the sales of items such as spare parts, and upgrades to electronic systems, putting said nation at a military disadvantage.

Finally, one young women began her question with a short anecdote about her father. She began to cry while asking her question. Although I can’t recall the actual question, she brought attention to how war affects entire families, not just the service member. Whether it’s the prolonged deployments, or dealing with PTSD, the wives, husbands, daughters, and sons all bear the load of these wars.