WASHINGTON, DC—One of the truly remarkable things about the United States military is the way in which it so strikingly encapsulates two very different yet very central aspects of the American identity: diversity of individuals and shared values of the group. The U.S. armed forces draw recruits from every corner of the country, from every racial and ethnic group, every type of upbringing and political background. And yet, serving military members all take the same oath to defend and uphold the country’s Constitution, all place service above self for the period of time in which they choose to wear the uniform (and often beyond). While veterans share a special bond that unites them across geography and time, anyone who has served in the military likewise can (and will, if you’re buying the beer) tell you countless stories of the unique and diverse characters and perspectives they encountered amongst their comrades in arms.
Members of the Military Leadership Circle—whose work constitutes the entirety of this special edition of—share not only their military service, but also a common desire to reach outside of their organizations in order to grow, learn, and share the perspectives they have developed from their military experiences. MLC members are selected based on, among other things, their stated desire to participate in the effort to “bridge the civil-military divide”. Through MLC programming, members engage with and learn from successful leaders in a broad array of fields. In doing so, they develop ideas for how to apply private-sector solutions to security and organizational challenges, and in turn they provide insights on military life and leadership that are often lacking in high-level interactions focused on societal issues that are not explicitly military in nature.
As one might guess, that type of self-selection and intense experience further bonds MLC members in their shared value set. But of course, it also ignites the imaginations of some very talented—and very different—people. The articles featured in this special edition reflect, in an impressive way, just how much a diverse group with a shared purpose has to offer.
Some of the writing here features straight-forward delivery of ideas for dealing with very practical and contemporary problems: the three-article series on military talent management, with works by Santhosh Shivashankar, Kevin Bemel, and myself, not only neatly guides the reader through a series of recommendations to change personnel policy, but does so in logical order from initial recruitment and entry through active service and post-military life.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, another of Bemel’s pieces and a contribution from J.B. Brindle tackle much thornier philosophical topics.
Brindle reflects on “just how much the challenges of the military lifestyle can shift an individual down Maslow’s hierarchy”, connecting a compelling personal narrative with a profound observation about society’s relationship to the military (“the nation writ large no longer fights at all”) before ultimately concluding with an unequivocal call for truly fundamental change. Bemel’s thoughtful piece delves into the impact of military service on individuals’ perceptions of meaning in life (“service members benefit from the strong sense of purpose and mission instilled in them…. But the military mission does not carry over to civilian life”), ultimately concluding with a timeless message in which one hears faint echoes of Victor Frankl.
There are also articles in which MLC authors point to the impacts of emerging trends and technologies, drawing attention to issues that may not otherwise have entered readers’ minds. Thomas Higginbotham eloquently advocates for the use of probabilistic modeling and force alterations that improve agility: “the principle that organizational structure affects adaptive capacity is pertinent”, he writes, leading into his compelling conclusion. David Escobar applies a similar approach in advocating for an update of educational systems to better prepare for emerging technological realities: “adaptation will involve overcoming the oddly stubborn reality that there is still a reliance on Industrial Age culture despite the fact that we long ago entered the Information Age”. In keeping with that very theme, Shivashankar discusses an emerging reality that is not widely understood: “it’s likely true that genetic modification will constitute one of the most important developments of the near future for everyone on the planet”. His writing on the topic is elucidating, and his concluding question is likely to stick in many readers’ minds for some time to come (as it has in mine).
This collection of essays truly embodies the MLC’s purpose: in good faith, diverse contributors with a common purpose have taken a hard look at a host of topics, and have done their best to advocate for collective understanding to effectively confront our challenges. It’s been an honor to serve as the editor of this project, just as it has been to call each of these authors my friend. There are often no easy solutions for our current or coming predicaments, but authors such as these and initiatives such as the MLC remind us that the work—the thought, the writing, the building of bridges across divides of understanding—is always worth doing. But of course, as Higginbotham noted in his piece on gender disparities, we “must do so without negativity, but rather with humility and grace”.