Academic journal article Military Review

An Asset out of You and Me: Communicating What It Truly Means to Be a Soldier

Academic journal article Military Review

An Asset out of You and Me: Communicating What It Truly Means to Be a Soldier

Article excerpt


THE ARMY MUST inform our political leaders and the national media what it means to be a member of the profession of arms. The Army is accountable to the American people who employ and finance it, and the people need to know about an institution and instrument of power with which few of them have direct experience. (1)

When communicating this message as an institution, the Army must decide how and through whom to communicate, and most of all what to communicate. Because the institution must accomplish the task does not necessarily mean that this communication takes place solely or even mainly through conventional institutional mechanisms such as public affairs offices and the military's traditional means of engaging the public, the media, and opinion leaders. Those tools might be efficient and effective in providing the public data such as Army demographics, engagements, and plans, but tired, obsolete, or marginally effective in transmitting "what it means to be a soldier." (2) Still, to accomplish this ongoing task, the Army must unleash all elements, capabilities, and attributes of the force. The organs through which to communicate a message that is both impressionistic ("what it means" is in part a philosophical matter) and specific (this Army in the second decade of this century) must deliver that message--meaning that the message must drive the tactics.

The entire institution must participate in the communication. The "strategic corporal" (whether Abu Ghraib guard or Medal of Honor winner) can be as consequential to the public's comprehension of the Army as the words and acts of generals and sergeants major. (3) The entire Army is on the hook, for better or worse, formally or otherwise, to accomplish this communication. Their charge is not to persuade or to convince but to inform--a liberating task, because it reduces the specter of salesmanship and focuses on portraying a reality that is hard to grasp for those who have not lived it.

The Charge is to Inform

To inform credibly suggests persuading some politicians or journalists of the Army's virtues and strengths, and being confident that the real merits of the Army's story will be compelling. The institution ought to be confident while recognizing that American pluralism, freedom, and skepticism assure that not all will agree--regardless of the message's accuracy, credibility, and neutrality.

We should do the informing not because it might make the Army look good but because it is the least we expect of an Army in a democracy. All public institutions owe accountability to the people and none more so than the nation's primary instrument of war. The Army best reaches the people through the nation's leaders and media--and those organizations cannot learn what it truly means to be a soldier from any source more reliable than the Army itself. Still, it is one thing to embrace the requirement to inform society about the Army's composition, campaigns, and capabilities--and another to tell leaders what it means to be a professional soldier in this young, ambitious, rule-of-law-based democracy, in the 21st century, in an all-volunteer force deployed ceaselessly since crossing the Sava River at Christmas 1995.

We must do so as well because a meaningful bond with society's civilians is essential to reducing the risk that the Army will drift away from the society it defends--due to that society's comfort, ignorance, and complacent certitude in the Army's competence.

The Audience

Political leaders and the national media often share that certitude or complacency. They are the Army's key audiences because they are a primary source of the public's information, In addition, the media are a major source of political leaders' information, and political leaders, particularly those who focus on the military, affect the media's perspective. The national media are especially influential because of their ubiquity, their efficiency in informing large numbers of people, and their increasing concentration. …

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