A Personal Perspective on Military Writing

The impact of writing in the military has increased dramatically over the course of my short time serving. While it can be said that monographs have been a part of many different military programs (i.e. Strategic Arts and Military Studies, non-Army Military Professional Education Programs, War College, etc), there seemed to be little expectation for officers in the modern “operational” Army to write. In fact, those that did write stood out as unique.

I had the amazing opportunity to command a Light Cavalry Troop in a tropical paradise (with the obligatory deployment thrown in). As I was finishing up Troop Command and getting ready to attend grad school, I had a conversation with an outstanding leader whom I view as a mentor. He told me that grad school was an opportunity to build my academic credentials. While he didn’t elaborate on specifics, I took that to mean that I needed to do well in classes, write academic-type research papers, and generally do different things than I had done in the previous 8 years of my career (He also said to treat it like a job. After all, the Army was paying me to attend grad school and I would be a failure if I didn’t capitalize on it. Very good advice, but a subject for a different conversation). Looking back, I think this made me assume that I could only write something worth reading and discussing when I had the opportunity to step back from the operational Army and become an “academic.” I never seriously considered that I had anything worthwhile to write about from those previous years of experience.

Fast forward 5 years and the expectations have completely changed. On this deployment, professional writing is encouraged and expected. In fact, there was even a discussion on the appropriate level of publication (branch-specific journal, Military Review, etc) based on rank and experience to demonstrate the scope of knowledge and ability to see beyond your sphere of influence. These discussions, and the recommendations made out of them, are a demonstration of the increased importance of writing.

One of the best examples of this shift in thinking can be seen in the publications recommended by the chain of command. The revamping of Military Review, the recognized utility and discussions created by sites like Small Wars Journal and War Council, and the ease of entry (and high quality) of publications on Medium (The Pendulum, War is Boring, Beyond the Objective, etc) have created numerous avenues for sharing information and creating discussions. The relevance of these discussions is seen in how these sites are now accepted and widely read. Over the past 3 months I’ve seen an article written by an officer I’ve worked with (Officer Expecations: The Foundations of a Professional Officer) used as a counseling tool for junior officers. This is but one of hundreds of professional articles, opinion pieces, and discussions I’ve seen on social media from Leaders and mentors over that same time.

Most importantly for me, this environment has created an opportunity for others like myself to be comfortable providing our opinions and experiences. I’m looking forward to doing so in the future…and hopefully learning the rules of using “optional tags.”