Dear Hagel: Do We Have A Future In the Military?

Has the shutdown made you wonder whether the military is the best place for your family? You’ve got Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel worrying about it.

At a recent private meeting with enlisted troops, one of them told Hagel that his wife wanted to know if their family had a future in the military.

"Do we have a future? What is the future for me as an E-5," Hagel was asked.

I was hoping that Hagel heard the guy use the magic words "my wife."  I hope he heard the unspoken part of the E-5's question—the part you wouldn’t actually say to the Secretary of Defense. I bet it was something more along the lines of:

Dude, I’m not asking for myself. I think I want to stay in the military because I can’t imagine doing any of the things I see my high school friends on Facebook doing. The thought of doing the same job as my brother-in-law makes me want to lie down and take a nap for 14 years.

But I gotta sell this military thing to my wife every day. I gotta convince her that all that I am asking her to do is going to be worth it for us.

She is reading the news about all those cuts and she thinks it does not look good. She thinks I can work as hard as I want but that I still might get passed over.  But that is all big picture stuff. What she cares about is the little picture. Our picture.

I can sell her on it if it looks good for the family. But as the kids get older, it gets harder to move them. The more I’m gone, the less she likes it. She worries.

I’m not asking for any promises, but can’t you give me something here?

In real life, Hagel said he just did not have a good answer for the soldier. He said it was partly because the agreement in Congress that ended the shutdown "did not remove the shadow of uncertainty that has been cast over our department."

But I wish he had said something else to that E-5. Instead of the political thing, I wish he had told the guy four really important things military couples really need to keep in mind during a historical period like this.

This has happened before. After periods of war, there is always a period of slashing the military. This is going to be bad, but not as bad as after the Korean war. As an E-5 ambitious enough to want to stay in the military, you will have big decisions coming up in the next few years.  Look to your monitor or detailer for the numbers on your year group.  How many people have your MOS?  How many are we saying we need to keep.  What are your chances? Keep a clear head and weigh all your options.

Keep talking to your wife. One thing we know for sure about the decision to stay in the military is that your wife (or your husband or partner) is the single biggest influence on your decision. Talk with her about the things that matter most to you about this work and which benefits really matter. What is happening that really does affect you?

Make yourself undeniable. We live in a hard economy inside and outside the military. Promotion has never been easy. Competition is tough all over. Yet there is always room for good people who keep trying to get better at what they do. Big forces may be moving on the outside, but your efforts do matter.

Thank you for serving. You are the backbone of our fighting force. The United States cannot afford to have you leave. Yes, in the coming years we are going to work you hard. We are going to deploy you often. We need you. And I won’t forget that.

But that isn’t what was actually said. Which is a problem in our public life. All the really important conversations don’t happen in front of microphones. All the important conversations happen behind closed doors, across kitchen tables and in the silence of our own heads. Show Full Article

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