The Joy of Officership

Article excerpt

"Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give."

- Eleanor Roosevelt

RECENTLY, SEVERAL ARTICLES about "toxic leadership" within the officer corps appeared in Military Review, Army, and the Military Times. Toxic leadership is certainly real. I am not dismissing it as an important issue, but we need some additional dialogue to balance the previous rhetoric about the topic. The subtle, yet significant dimension of military officership is as important today as it has ever been in our nation's history and desperately needs some highlighting.

Being an Officer

Being an officer can be fun, and I strongly argue that it should be. Not fun in the way golfing or swimming are, but fun in the more profound sense of accomplishing something wholesome and good. Being in a joyous profession is important for several reasons. First, people do not like jobs that make them unhappy. Second, job performance correlates positively with job satisfaction. Happy workers are effective, productive workers. Third, jobs viewed as fun and rewarding entice the best and brightest to the profession. There should be no doubt that our nation's military officer corps has always tried to recruit America's finest young men and women to join it, and highlighting the joy of officership is essential to keeping this trend alive.

As a recent military officer retiree, I have come to believe that my profession does not do a good enough job of promoting the joy of officership to those whom we serve and those willing to serve. I want everyone to know I loved being an armed forces officer. Yes, there was separation; yes, there was hardship; and yes, there were disappointments. However, each morning when I woke up and put on the uniform, I was proud to be an officer. The profession I proudly served brought me years and years of pure joy!

Distinguished Army combat commander and Desert Storm hero General Fredrick Franks shared the joy he experienced being an officer in the following words:

I make no apologies about my pride in our nation, our Army, and our Soldiers. From that day in July 1955, when I proudly put on the fatigue shirt with "U.S. Army" over the pocket and took my place in the line with my West Point classmates, I was excited every day to be an American Soldier. I loved the Army. I loved soldiering. I loved the cause we served.1

Being an officer should be joyous. Officers should celebrate having the daily privilege to serve the people, the platoon, the ship, the wing, the regiment, and the nation they love. This should not be negotiable. To be an exceptional officer, one must not only be competent, brave, loyal, and trustworthy, but also the exemplar of spirit and optimism. In a recent teleconference with the Class of 2012 at West Point, 1st Cavalry Division's commander, Major General Daniel B. Allyn, emphasized the importance of an officer's responsibility to motivate and inspire his soldiers. Speaking from Afghanistan, General Allyn said, "You must be the one to liftthem up when they are down." He suggested the cadets he was speaking to must embody the spirit of hope and optimism and bluntly stated, "Everyday for the past 30 years I have loved being an Army officer."

The very next day, General Raymond T. Odierno, the new Chief of Staffof the Army, told over 1,000 seniors that he thought he would be a "five and dive" guy, but he loved being an officer and that was an important reason why he stayed.

Joy in the Profession

So where does the joy of officership come from?

The story of officer happiness starts with the oath. Officers in the profession of arms swear allegiance to serve the noblest of causes. Both ethical and legal codes require them to be exceptional moral agents in the conduct of their duty. The United States Constitution sets forth the enduring values that frame the professional military ethic, and Title 10 of the United States Code (Army, section 3583) requires "all commanding officers and others in authority in the Army to show in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination; and to guard against and suppress all dissolute and immoral practices, and to correct, according to the laws and regulations of the Army, all persons who are guilty of them. …