Academic journal article Military Review

Officership: The Professional Practice

Academic journal article Military Review

Officership: The Professional Practice

Article excerpt

GIVEN THE INCREASED operations tempo of the past decade, many in the Army family have lost comrades-in-arms, friends, or loved ones. How are we to remember these people's lives, services, and sacrifices? Did these young people, who had lived so little, died so young, and left so much behind, die in vain? How are members of the Army profession and the larger Army family to make meaning of such tragedies and to go on with their lives?

Army officers must have a clear understanding of who they are that goes far deeper than the work they do on a daily basis. Yet, a dominate self-concept as individuals is not held in common and often does not approximate the true meaning of being a commissioned Army officer, with all that a shared professional identity entails.1

Army Officers are shorting themselves of an immense potential of inspiration and satisfaction because of their poorly conceived self-concept, which contributes directly to the dissatisfaction among junior officers and to the shortage of captains and the misutilization of lieutenants. Even if there were no other costs to the Army's effectiveness, having a poorly conceived self-concept is too high a price for the profession to bear.

In fairness, the lack of a commonly held self-- identity is not the fault of younger officers. Since the end of the Persian Gulf war, the Army has focused little on junior officers' professional education and development. The Army's decadelong builddown, increasing operational deployments, and doing more with less has diverted attention elsewhere. The 11 September 2001 attack on America has exasperated this condition. Not surprisingly, during the past decade, study after study, including the Army Training and Leader Development Panel (ATLDP) Officer Study, has documented the erosion of morale and esteem among junior officers and the widening gap of distrust between them and their officer leaders.2

How to Think About Professions

More so than occupations or organizations, professions focus on developing expert knowledge in individual members so they can apply specific expertise in a professional practice. Doctors perfect medical treatments; lawyers apply legal expertise to new cases; and the military develops new technologies and tactics to provide for the common defense. In most cases, professional expertise and practice is essential to the functioning of society and is beyond the average citizen's capabilities. Often, becoming a professional takes years of study and preparation.

Professional success is measured primarily by effectiveness-how well the practitioner succeeds-- rather than by efficacy. Was the patient cured? Was justice served? Was the battle won and the homeland defended? Because of their expert knowledge and the moral obligations inherent in professional practices, professions focus heavily on developing individual members' expertise. A significant part of professional development is learning the ethics of the profession and individual and collective standards of practice. These are the attributes that create and help maintain the necessary trust between the profession and its clients. Western societies generally grant professions a large degree of autonomy to set standards, to police their ranks, and to develop their future members.

Some professions have a less visible, darker side. They compete fiercely for control over arenas or jurisdictions in which they seek to apply their expertise.3 A well-publicized example of such a competition is currently being waged between physicians and HMOs as they battle over the right to make patient-care decisions. Other professions face similar challenges as they seek to gain legitimacy in new fields while retaining decision rights in traditional jurisdictions.

The Army is embroiled in many such competitions today across a variety of jurisdictions, including the non-war jurisdiction (counterdrug operations, peace-- keeping operations, and so on) in which the Army has often resisted, unsuccessfully, to compete; the jurisdiction of unconventional war, in which the Army is currently competing quite well; and the Army's traditional jurisdiction of conventional land warfare where its ability to compete has been compromised by a force structure considered to be too strategically immobile. …

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