Why “An Army of None”? It’s Generational!

In a 2013 article “An Army of None”, Tim Kane did a masterful job of highlighting research, reports, and recommendations about the unusual number of young Army officers who were resigning — a loss that will affect America’s future.

Kane let us know that the departures were not caused by the fact that the U.S. has a volunteer army nor that we are engaged in wars nor that the young officers were unqualified.

Kane eliminated, one by one, all reasons, given so far, why young Army officers left in such droves.

The real reason, however, was really rather simple: those in charge, Baby Boomers (born from 1943 to 1960), expected Generation X officers (born from 1961 to 1981) to be younger versions of themselves and act accordingly.

But Xers’ complex values, attitudes, and lifestyles were created by the historic events that occurred during their generation’s formative years. For example, Xers, children of divorce, one-parent families, and latchkey lives, value their home lives as much as they value their professional lives.

Major Dick Hewett, on the fast track to becoming a top military office, was asked to submit a preference for one of 16 important assignments. He listed serving in South Korea as his last choice as it would have been hard on his family — his wife, two preschool boys, and a baby on the way. He was given the South Korean assignment.

Requesting and being refused another option, Major Hewitt resigned. Why? In the eyes of the Army, a refusal of this type would take him off the path to advancement.

Military or other, all need to understand when they are in the middle of generational shifts. Just as America adjusted to the unique generational values, attitudes, and values of Baby Boomers, the U.S. Army needed to adjust to Generation X. At that time, the U.S. Air Force seemed to understand the concept of generational characteristics better than the Army — and their retention rate showed it.

Now, the U.S. Marine Corps is reaching out to young women of the Millennial Generation (born from 1982 to 2000). Millennials, aka Generation Y, are the first generation of women to fully reap the benefits of Title IX, federal legislation mandating that institutions receiving federal money offer boys and girls the same access to sports. Millennial women have participated in sports from an early age and see themselves as physically strong and capable of leading in all things military.

But, the U.S. Army still doesn’t get it. They don’t understand the generational characteristics that now motivate Millennials.

Those in charge of the branches of the military will succeed with Millennials, in holding on to the best and the brightest, only if they know that generational shifts mean generational differences. Military branches that adapt, succeed.