Military Readiness: 'Careerism' in the SF Community?

Despite recent allegations, the strenuous reviews necessary to advance ranks and billets serves us well.

Charles Paige · Dec. 13, 2017

“Careerism” is a dirty word in any context. It references a person in management who is no longer effective — motivated to maintain their status primarily to obtain pension and retirement benefits. Self-serving careerists are a drain on an organization and tend to make their subordinates miserable. However, in military command positions, the consequences of substandard leadership can be lethal. All of us who have career service in the military have crossed paths with careerists.

A recent post on this topic that circulated through the special operations community accused senior Army Special Forces leaders of exactly that. Titled “Careerism, Cronyism, and Malfeasance in SWCS: The End of SF Capability,” the post bemoans the erosion — if not outright elimination — of standards throughout the schoolhouse pipeline that produces the Army’s legendary Green Berets. While the author does a good job citing examples that support his argument that standards aren’t being maintained, he does not provide sufficient evidence tying his charges to careerism.

Unfortunately, some of today’s military analysts have taken a page from the mainstream media and are resorting to ad hominem attacks that malign character and motives rather than conceding that folks with honorable intentions could arrive at different policy solutions. While there most assuredly are careerists in the military chain of command in each service branch, they are relatively rare exceptions because of, in most cases, the strenuous reviews necessary to advance ranks and billets. It’s even rarer that multiple careerist officers and senior enlisted leaders are found in a single command at the same time, as the author alleges. It’s possible, but not likely.

Sensational careerism accusations may generate some additional interest at first, but they put the focus on the individuals rather than the real issues, and seldom result in changes to processes and policies. Worst case, unsubstantiated overuse of pejorative terms eventually leads the consumers of such posts to ignore the author’s arguments altogether.

Erosion of standards, particularly in a force as critical to today’s fight as our Special Forces units, is a serious issue. The examples cited in recent posts resonate because it’s easy even for folks outside the community to see the connection between the standards and the skills and abilities we believe these soldiers require. Even so, there are possible explanations other than careerism that would lead SF senior leaders to direct these changes. The most plausible of those is that the combined pressure of maintaining an exceptionally high operational tempo (OPTEMPO) along with mandates to increase the size of the Regiment (in hopes of reducing OPTEMPO) led senior leaders to conclude that the risk associated with adjusting standards posed less danger to the organization — and to our national military objectives — than continuing to chew up and spit out the same limited pool of operators.

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