Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Best and Brightest

Earlier this week, I posted shameless plugs regarding my present business ventures. I closed with a two-fold moral. There is actually a third related moral to that post. To those of you with current or recent military service to your credit the third moral is MOTO (mastery of the obvious). Unfortunately, my experience over the last few years has been that the vast majority of American citizens haven't the slightest inkling of the quality of the force that has been keeping the wolf away from the door recently. I see voluminous evidence of this every day as I deal with the private sector, and an inordinate amount of my time is spent educating business leaders regarding the quality of the young men and women leaving the US military after 4 to 30 years of honorable service to their great nation. There are a lot of nearly universally held misconceptions out there, many born in the Vietnam War era and come of age in the current day, mountains of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

The first misconception that must be dispelled is the idea that the US military is an all volunteer force made up of young men and women who have no other vocational option. The US military is not an all "volunteer" force. It is an all "recruited" force. And therein lies the quality difference not grasped by most. US military recruiters screen hundreds of young men and women to find one qualified for enlisted service. The truth is the vast majority of young Americans are DISQUALIFIED for enlisted service due to educational and aptitude (read: trainable) deficiencies, as well as physical (fighting wars is a physical business, even in the age of smart bombs) and moral (police record) factors.

Once a recruiter screens a young person as qualified for enlistment, that recruiter must sell the young person on the idea of delaying going to college in order to serve his or her country (and thereby gain some discipline, maturity, and money to make for a more successful college matriculation). Frankly, most young men and women who join today never even considered enlisting until approached by a recruiter. Conversely, nearly every young person who walks into a recruiting office of his own volition is not qualified for military service--no matter how sincerely he wants to serve his nation.

Thankfully, the old days of a judge telling a young man that he either enlist in the Marine Corps or go to jail are long gone. In fact, if a judge does tell a young man that, the Marine Corps (or any other service) is legally prohibited from enlisting him. If a young person has unpaid traffic tickets, he is ineligible for enlistment. If he tests positive on a mandatory drug test, he is ineligible for enlistment. The list of disqualifying factors is stupefyingly long. Waivers are given, to be sure, but they are not easy to come by and must be approved by authorities far up the chain of command from the recruiter.

The screening process to enlist is very thorough and possesses several sets of high quality filters. However, enlisting is only 1/3 of the screening process a young person goes through during his or her US military experience. The next third is basic training. But, even before a recruit boards the bus for boot camp, and during an up to one year delay between enlistment and start of basic training, the recruit is continuously screened by his recruiter and prepared for entry level training success. An average of 20% of all recruits who enter the Delayed Enlistment Program don't honor their commitment and refuse to go to basic training. They are not forced to go--that's the "volunteer" part of the process. An average of 15% of all recruits fail to complete basic training, for a variety of reasons. So, a total of nearly 1/3 of those high quality, cream of the American crop, young citizens who initially qualified for and agreed to serve their nation as a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, don't make the cut to actually serve in an active duty, Guard, or reserve unit.

The final 1/3 of the screening process occurs over the duration of the first enlistment. More than 10% of the young men and women who honored their commitment to serve and successfully completed basic training, fail to serve their first enlistment honorably and are released before completing their first tour of duty.

The whole point to this narrative is this: The young American coming out of the military after 4 years' honorable service to his nation is of inestimable value to virtually any private or public sector endeavor. He is mature, disciplined, and trainable. He is punctual, industrious, and possesses a level of initiative and sense of responsibility rare in his population cohort. He is a finisher. He is a team-player, steeped in the necessity and righteousness of equal opportunity and the respect for diversity. Give him some training and responsibility and he will run circles around everyone else in your organization--I see this in action nearly everywhere we place a transitioning military member.

I won't even start to make the case that he's been laying his promising young life on the line for the rights, privileges, and liberties you and I take for granted and enjoy every day, and deserves, therefore, every consideration and benefit of the doubt we can possibly give him.
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