Are Military Kids Cursed With the 'Warrior Gene'?

A U.S. Marine assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response Africa helps a child into a protective vest during a gear demonstration. (U.S. Marine Corps/Taylor W. Cooper)
A U.S. Marine assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response Africa helps a child into a protective vest during a gear demonstration. (U.S. Marine Corps/Taylor W. Cooper)

"Julliard did not prepare me for this," my friend Sarah told me a few weeks ago.

She, a former ballet dancer who once performed with some of the world's top dance companies, had just dropped her son off for the Army's Basic Training course in Fort Benning, Georgia.

He, a smiling, tow-headed boy I used to babysit, planned to roll straight into Airborne School before trying out for Special Forces.

He called a few days later and told his mom that, while checking in for Basic Training, he'd had a conversation with a young man whose father had been an Army Ranger. Sarah's son said he laughed a little when he acknowledged to his new friend that both of his parents had been ballet dancers.

Julliard-trained ballet dancers.

His dad danced with Rudolf Nureyev.

If there is a so-called "Warrior Gene," you'd think Sarah's son was probably lacking it. And yet, he's at Fort Benning now, aiming to be all he can be.


I've talked to Sarah several times lately, helping her translate the acronyms and make sense of a world that's very different than the one she's known. She is extremely proud of her son -- but this is not a life path she ever imagined for him.

I'm proud of him, too. But I'm also enjoying his trajectory because it confirms for me that genetics are not destiny.

Take my family. My husband is the third-generation soldier in his family, all with the exact same name, to jump out of airplanes for the Army. And before that, each generation of his family has boasted battlefield heroes ... and in between the battles, they've also boasted some pirates. We've even done some genealogy research that links my husband to Robert the Bruce.

And my side isn't really slacking, either. In addition to the many in my family line who have donned military uniforms and fought for God and country, I was a national sparring champion in Tae Kwon Do in my teens and I trained to be a professional boxer when I was in my 20s.

If there is a warrior gene, it seems likely that my kids are probably carriers.

And that bothers me, not because I don't want them to serve in the military -- I'd be proud if any of my kids chose that path -- but because this study links the so-called Warrior Gene to an increased likelihood of boys joining gangs. And committing crimes. And having higher than average levels of depression -- all paths I don't want for my children.

It's a doubly scary proposition considering there were those pirates in my husband's family tree.

So are genetics destiny?

Maybe. Maybe not.

What I do know is that the Warrior Gene has nothing to do with being a warrior.

A little more research tells us that the nickname (the official name, Monoamine Oxidase A, is nowhere near as catchy) was poorly chosen. A better name would have been the Violent Criminal Gene.

The scientists who discovered the Warrior Gene don't seem to know much about actual warriors. They seem to think that warriors fight because they are angry. The gene, they say, is responsible for creating short fuses. It's why some people fly into fits of rage after very little provocation.

I know plenty of people like that, but none of them are warriors.

In fact, to be successful on the battlefield, one needs a cool head, not a hot one. And I can tell you from my own experience that a competitive fighter is much more likely to feel respect for an opponent than rage or hate. If you fight out of anger, you'll be too exhausted to last more than a couple of rounds.

So my children may indeed have inherited genes from my husband and me that will make them inclined toward the military, or toward aggressive sports. They may also have inherited our artistic inclinations or our ineptitude with math (but I'm hoping that bad-at-math gene will skip a generation). Whatever they got from us, they'll get to decide what do with it.

Sarah's son clearly inherited his superior athletic abilities from his parents but, instead of following his folks to Julliard, he took those talents to Fort Benning.

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