S

HomeHomeAbout UsBrowseBack IssueNews DispatchesSubscribing to Army SustainmentWriting For Army SustainmentContactLinksBottom

Current Issues
Cover of Issue
 

Elements of the Profession of Arms and Their Impact on the Military Logistician

Is military service a profession or an occupation? Is there really a difference? The author argues that there is and that Soldiers definitely are members of a profession.

Following the Vietnam War, the Army suffered from an evident depression, particularly within the officer corps and noncommissioned officer corps, that led to a revamping of our professional institutions and doctrine. Observing this process, the late sociologist Charles Moskos theorized that the decline resulted from the Army seeming to develop the characteristics of a civilian occupation rather than the profession it had always considered itself to be.

The basic distinction between these two concep-tions of the military lies in their relationship to, and legitimization by, American society. Moskos noted that society legitimizes an institution “in terms of norms and values, a purpose transcending individual self-interest in favor of a presumed higher good. Members of a professional institution are often seen as following a calling captured in words like duty, honor, country.” Conversely, an occupational model receives its legitimacy in terms of the marketplace, where supply and demand are paramount and self-interest takes priority over communal interests.1

A generation later, we find similarities as we assess the impacts of a decade of persistent conflict on the all-volunteer Army. Our Army's senior leaders believe that, in adapting to the demands of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to the new strategic realities of the 21st century, we have been so busy that we have not consistently thought through how these challenges have affected the Army as a profession of arms.

The leaders therefore have launched a campaign designed for reflecting on and assessing how well we are policing ourselves both on the battlefield and in garrison, our ability to care for Soldiers and their families, and the broad development of Army professionals. This campaign includes an assessment of our personnel management systems to ensure that they are focusing and capitalizing on the exceptional talents of our junior professionals as well as broadening their skills for future service. The campaign is also assessing our civil-military relations as we interact with and support the Nation and its elected and appointed officials.2

The authors of the Army white paper titled “Army: Profession of Arms” state that an “American Professional Soldier is an expert, a volunteer certified in the Profession of Arms, bonded with comrades in a shared identity and culture of sacrifice and service to the Nation and the Constitution, who adheres to the highest ethical standards and is a steward of the future of the profession.”

In support of this campaign, the purpose of this essay is to offer an opinion on the common definition of a profession, recommend essential components of a profession that are recognized by the military and other professions, and discuss how these components affect the officers, noncommissioned officer, Soldiers, and civilians of the Logistics Corps.

Why Is the Military a Profession?

Much of the initial discussion involving this campaign focuses on whether or not military service is a profession. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines a profession as “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation; a principal calling, vocation, or employment; or the whole body of persons engaged in a calling.” This differs from the dictionary's definition of an occupation, which is “the principal business of one's life: [a] vocation.”

Based on the subtle differences between the definitions of a profession and an occupation, I believe that the dispute regarding the appropriateness of defining the military as a profession revolves around varying levels of academic preparation based on military occupational specialty and rank. The Profession of Arms Campaign glossary defines a profession as “an organization for producing uniquely expert work, not routine or repetitive work.”

Furthermore, I believe that the scope of responsibility involved in executing our duties and serving our client under the Constitution, namely the people of the United States of America, requires extensive preparation and training, which gives military service in the United States the aspects of a profession.

Common agreement on what is and is not a profession is rare. The debate about what constitutes a professional and professionalism has a long history and has generated a large body of material. During medieval times, there were only three professions, which were called “the learned professions.” These learned professions were medicine, law, and the clergy. As professionals, doctors, lawyers, and priests were licensed to carry out socially useful tasks on behalf of the state or the church. Doctors were allowed to intervene in individuals' bodies; lawyers were allowed to regulate the conflicts of rights and obligations among individuals and groups; and priests were allowed to intercede for parishioners to foster their prospects for righteous living and future salvation. The powers to intervene, regulate, and intercede made these jobs “professional” rather than “occupational.”

Despite debate over whether or not military service should be constituted as a profession, a majority of the American public still views military service as such. According to the late political scientist Samuel Huntington, military professional status implies a unique and socially useful expertise (in this case, the management of violence), a moral responsibility to provide and use that expertise on behalf of a society that cannot defend itself, and an organic unity and consciousness of itself as a group apart from laymen.3

Moreover, historian Allan Millett emphasizes “a life-long calling by the practitioners” and notes that “professions are organized to control performance standards and recruitment,” thus using their monopoly of expertise for self-policing of the profession.4 This limited autonomy is another distinct characteristic of a profession versus an occupation.

Most professions serve individual clients. However, in its service to the United States of America, the military serves a collective client. Our actions have a broad impact in both extent and consequences, whether it is the recovery of a community devastated by a natural disaster, support to a friendly nation's security efforts, the defeat of enemy forces, or the defense of our homeland. “Therefore, failure of the military profession would have catastrophic consequences.”5

Professional Education and Certification

Professionals generally begin their professional lives by completing a higher education program in their chosen fields (law, medicine, engineering, and so on). Professional military education (PME) provides the Army's corollary to civilian education programs and complements the training of military officers who have a corresponding civilian profession. PME provides progressive levels of military education that prepare military officers for leadership. It includes various basic-level courses for new and junior officers, command and staff colleges for mid-level officers, and war colleges for senior officers. Similar levels of PME are in place for warrant officers, noncommissioned officers, and Department of the Army civilians.

Although critics would argue that the Army does not have a system to certify its personnel as professionals, I contend that we have, and have had, systems in place to confirm proficiency. Infantrymen and medics are certified as professionals when they obtain the Expert Infantryman Badge and the Expert Field Medical Badge. A generation ago, the Army used a tool called the Skill Qualification Test (SQT) that every Soldier had to take and pass, along with required appropriate levels of PME for officers and noncommissioned officers. All Soldiers, regardless of rank, also had to both pass the Army Physical Fitness Test and qualify with their basic weapon in order to be promoted.

Although the SQT was not perfect, it was an effective means to ensure that Soldiers maintained high professional standards. Some would argue that when the SQT was discontinued in the 1990s, we failed to replace it with a similar system to ensure that we maintained technical proficiency within the force.

Department of the Army civilians, based on their career field, may or may not have to meet certification requirements; such requirements depend on their trade, such as firefighting, healthcare, law, explosive ordnance disposal, acquisition, or engineering. As most direct civilian counterparts to military specialties typically have certification and education standards, we should be able to integrate those standards into our base standards for Soldier qualification. Periodic testing for proficiency will aid Army leaders in ensuring continuous improvement, pride, and a lifetime of learning while enhancing the reputation of the Army to the American people, our Soldiers, civilians, and their families.6

Professional Skills Development

For most professions, education alone is not sufficient to develop full professional capabilities. Neophyte professionals need practice in applying their knowledge before they are prepared to take primary responsibility for performing work in their fields. For example, physicians have a 3-year residency, certified public accountants must work 1 year for a board-approved organization before receiving their licenses, and professional engineers must have at least 4 years of work experience for certification. Requiring some kind of apprenticeship ensures that people who enter a profession have practical experience performing work at a satisfactory level of competence.7 Since they have no formal apprenticeship, Soldiers use a combination of PME, self-development, and unit training to obtain and maintain proficiency in their skill sets.

A key aspect of professionalism is specialized knowledge. This is not specialized knowledge simply obtained from a book. It is an accumulated and ordered knowledge, built up over time by the experience, analysis, and insight of predecessors in the field. It is knowledge that penetrates to the root of the matter and gives its possessor an understanding of not only how things are but also why they are that way. It is also hard-won knowledge that requires time and effort to obtain; therefore, it is knowledge that many people cannot achieve simply because they desire to have it.

The professional is the opposite of the “self-made man.” The professional is a man or woman who is deeply indebted to others from the start. Principal among these others are predecessors in the field who have discovered and synthesized specialized knowledge and who have passed it on.8 Furthermore, the professional is indebted to the community—in our case, the Armed Forces as an institution.

The military professional is therefore obligated to use his knowledge well. Not only is using his knowledge necessary so the Soldier can provide service to his client, namely the people of the United States; it also is partial compensation for the sacrifices of our predecessors who have made our professional education possible. The Soldier also must add to the accumulated knowledge where possible, correcting it, refining it, and generally increasing its depth and breadth.

Such knowledge is powerful, and like many powerful things, it can produce great benefits if used well and great evils if used badly. For this reason, professionals have generally been careful throughout history to share their knowledge only with those personally committed to using it well and to dismiss from their company those who evidence deep flaws in character. This is certainly true of the profession of arms, which in various ways (though sometimes unfairly or unwisely) aggressively filters out candidates for commission or promotion that it considers unworthy, regardless of their mastery of military knowledge.9

Ethics and the Military Profession

Each profession has a code of ethics to ensure that its practitioners behave responsibly. This code states not just what its practitioners actually do but what they should do. Professionals can be ejected from their professional societies or lose their licenses to practice for violating their codes of ethics. Adherence to a recognized code of conduct helps professionals feel that they belong to a well-regarded community, and enforcement of ethics standards helps to maintain a minimum level of conduct.10

The Army white paper on the profession of arms observes that while our professional ethic is built on trust with the American people and between our civilian leaders and junior Soldiers, that ethic cannot be found in any single document. Part of the Profession of Arms Campaign's intent is to correct this doctrinal omission.

In the civilian sector, professional training tends to be in the direction of technical thinking, which means that it tends to emphasize heavily the development of particular skill sets as well as the ability to estimate costs and outcomes from proposed courses of action. However crucial these skills are, it is a mistake of the first magnitude to believe that technical thinking is the whole of practical thinking or that it is the essence of professionalism. Instead, it is an indispensable first step that must be completed by ethical thinking.11

However, technical skills without moral insight are directionless and therefore dangerous. The amoral professional, to say nothing of the immoral professional, is a mercenary, and I argue is not a professional at all; rather, he is a technician, valued for his skill but not for his judgment. The increasing demands in all professional areas for technical competence place considerable pressure on formation programs. Technical training tends to crowd less immediately useful subjects out of the limited amount of time available. We observe this in medical schools, law schools, business schools, and probably in our service academies as well.12 As a result, we must work to balance the technical training (or science of warfare) with the proper moral foundation (or art of leadership).

Robert G. Kennedy argues that the essence of professional excellence lies in the integrated ability to achieve and protect concrete human goods. Each professional area serves a distinct good or set of goods that contribute to the common good of a community or society. For example, the physician seeks the human good of life and health. Sound professional judgment will permit the physician to identify threats to health and to determine how best to respond to those threats. In making this determination, he must have in mind the health of the whole patient and not merely the proper functioning of this organ or that system. The physician, in other words, must be able to judge correctly that some treatments, while effective in dealing with certain symptoms, may aggravate others and leave the patient in poorer health than before treatment began.13

Similarly, the military professional must be able to judge, for example, that certain tactical choices, while quite effective in accomplishing a particular mission, might not really further the cause of restoring a just peace. A technician sees the immediate objective; the professional must be mindful of the final goal. In order to think in this way—in order to be fully practical—the military professional (like any other professional) must be educated in ethics, which moves his attention beyond efficiency and effectiveness to real issues of good and bad.14 A democracy deserves no less than this from its military officers. As such, codifying and documenting our professional Army ethic is an essential component of this Profession of Arms Campaign.

Professionalism

A final aspect that distinguishes the American profession of arms is the professionalism of its officers and noncommissioned officers. Both are given considerable authority early in their careers. Both are expected to exercise initiative to identify and resolve unforeseen circumstances. Both are developed through a series of schools that equip them for greater responsibilities as they are promoted. This combination of professional development and experience in making decisions within general guidelines (rather than rigid rules) develops flexible and self-aware leaders. It has resulted in an agile institution able to conduct decentralized operations and obtain extraordinary results.15

Professions require their members to keep their professional education current. Ongoing professional education maintains or improves members' knowledge and skills after they begin professional practice. Professional development requirements tend to be strongest in professions where a body of technical knowledge is rapidly changing. Medicine is perhaps the most notable example because of the constant improvements in drugs, therapies, medical equipment, and diagnosis and treatment procedures.

After a professional's initial education and skills development are complete, this additional education requirement helps to ensure that a professional maintains a minimum competency throughout his career.

If we as military logisticians look at ourselves as an important component of the profession of arms, we must continue to maintain our personal and professional competencies. Creating an individual development plan, supporting timely subordinate attendance at PME schooling, and contributing to maintaining a body of knowledge (such as writing professionally or providing feedback to the institutional Army) are all methods of maintaining competency.

Logistics-specific development opportunities, such as licensing in a trade, participation in training with industry programs, and participation in professional organizations such as SOLE–the International Society of Logistics, allow Army sustainers to obtain and integrate knowledge from other supply-chain practitioners into Army doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures where applicable. Ultimately, this supports a ready and relevant Logistics Corps that is technically astute, tactically proficient, and ready for the challenges of an uncertain future.

Major Eric A. McCoy is the executive officer of the 125th Brigade Support Battalion, 3d Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. A distinguished military graduate of Morgan State University, he also holds an M.S. degree in administration from Central Michigan University and an M.S. degree in policy management from Georgetown University. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff Officer Course.

1. Charles C. Moskos, “Institutional and Occupational Trends in Armed Forces,” in Charles C. Moskos and Frank R. Wood (eds.), The Military: More Than Just A Job?, Pergamon-Brassey’s International Defense Publishers, London, 1998, p. 16.

2.“Army: Profession of Arms,” Center for the Army Profession and Ethic, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, October 2010.

3. Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, Belknap Press, Boston, 1957, pp. 11–18.

4. Allan R. Millett, “Military Professionalism and Officership in America,” Mershon Center Briefing Paper No. 2, Ohio State University, May 1977, p. 3.

5. Field Manual 1, The Army, Department of the Army, 2005.

6. Major Paul Edwards, blog entry, January 2011, “Keeping the Profession of Arms Professional.” <http://tradoclive.dodlive.mil/2011/02/01/keeping-the-profession-of-arms-professional/>.

7. Robert G. Kennedy, “Why Military Officers Must Have Training in Ethics,” 2000, International Society for Military Ethics, <http://isme.tamu.edu/JSCOPE00/Kennedy00.html>. 

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

15. Field Manual 1.

 


Google
WWW Army Sustainment