The Military- Personal effectiveness and discipline


Last Monday (3/23/09), on the last day of my Dad’s and my weekend trip to Colorado we visited the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It was somewhat on impulse, it had not been part of the trip itinerary, as far as I was concerned. I did not have expectations for or preconceived thoughts about the visit, I ended up finding it extremely worthwhile. In addition to the stunning natural surroundings, the shock of the crisp air and sprinkling of snow (!!), the presentation of the campus through the visitor center and (inspirational/propaganda/recruiting) video shown there, as well as through the appearance and atmosphere of the campus and centerpiece chapel led to a stimulating, thought provoking and somewhat reaffirming experience for me. The reverie induced by the Grand Marquis may have also had play in my perception.

To be fair and honest, I know very little in the way of substantial fact about the military, its organization or the strengths and weaknesses of the AFA in particular, or the student body of the AFA. All my views and opinions are shaped from my perceptions and what I’ve picked up from people I know and the news and media that I pay attention to.


The AFA is centered around an ideal, with a long history of the process used to achieve that ideal. The “Honor Code”- white glove inspections of students’ rooms- prohibition of keeping “civilian” items in the dorm rooms until after Christmas of the first year in school- uniform- practice with doing that sort of synchronized gun-slinging often seen as part of the public image of the Air Force… The video in the visitors center stated that all students must personally, truly believe in the cause and worth of the process and the institution. Everyone has to work hard, everyone must be able to trust their compatriots, and trust that their compatriots are working hard too.

The AFA is an excellent engineering school, as I understand. Many people are educated there then go on to serve for a few years and eventually end up working in engineering. I would not be surprised if ex-Air Force engineers make excellent “civilian” engineers, I would not be surprised if they exhibit, as a whole, better discipline, better attitude, better communication and trustworthiness than other engineers as a whole.

From this perspective, the military in general and the AFA would seem truly excellent- they would seem to be the place where the young men and women of optimal talent and character would go to work with other similar young people. The military would be a cache of the best of the best.

What’s the rub? I do not believe the military attracts the whole best of the best. I think a huge section of the young population of the US is entirely disinterested, even disenfranchised by the military today. Why?

I don’t think this is new, and I’m sure I’m not the first one to think of arguments like this. I do think it’s disappointing. In some ways, I think the invasive, life controlling sort of regimen present in the military, or in the military academy is something that I would welcome and would imagine would have a positive effect on my life. Sometimes I feel frustrated by my lack of discipline- I hate to realize that I have wasted time listening to crap music, or watching TV shows, when there is more rewarding stuff to be done- I would welcome a system in which I am being held accountable for all my behavior, and everyone else is too. I would truly appreciate being in a community in which people are honorable and don’t try to cheat and get off as easy as possible for the sake of indulging their lazyness or privelege. At UC Davis there are tons of people who do not subscribe to the academic honor ideal- you can just hear it in the way people talk about classes and teachers, plenty of students are shallow and lazy- worried about getting good enough grades and maintaining rolicking social lives. Some people find drive within themselves to work extremely hard academicaly- but for each truly honorable student there’s someone who is only in school for the sake of satisfying their parents and feeding their social life. There is no student body cohesion. That is not to say that there aren’t thousands of people who get world-class educations from institutions like UC Davis, and that’s not to say that the school environment is bad, or doesn’t work for everyone. There are groups on campus that are tightly knit, hardworking, co-trusting, and where you will find members being accountable to each other and taking care of each other. Unless you find that group, you don’t get that comraderie. At the AFA there is a comraderie specifically built out of just being there- at least they way they talk about it, the “Honor Code” and general attitude serves to make everyone part of the group- right out of the box. Unless you are very brilliant, or very lucky, you will probably not find a substance-based group like I’ve been describing at Davis for the first two, or even four years. I realize that plenty of people have social groups that may fill a similar need for them, but I personally don’t find purely social engagements a fraction as energizing or satisfying as actually getting something done- working with others toward a goal, and making it happen.

Since I derive my personal satisfaction so highly from “getting stuff done”, and I was feeling hopelessly ineffective in classes at Davis, I decided to take time out of school- for now, indefinitely. I don’t know where I am going , or via what path. I do feel encouraged, though, to feel like I have this little bit of insight into these institutions and how they do or don’t work, for me and for others. It makes me feel better about my decision to follow my interests, to try to create for myself the sort of honor/trust/effectiveness/hard-work/team-work situation that I know exists. I want to work with others, to work as hard as I can on the facets of a project that I can be most effective with, and trust that they are giving the facets they are responsible for the same sort of attention. I realize that these situations arise most readily in school (grad school?) or on the job (in a really good job)- but I’m willing to give it a shot. I have derived great satisfaction from the contacts I have made and the work I have invested and the stuff I have learned over the battery regulator project- although I hope for some team-work opportunities in the future.

The keys here are knowing other idealistic people who aren’t employed, having some kind of idea that everyone’s into, and of course having the facilities and capital to make it happen. We’ll see. A guy can dream, right?

Posted on March 31, 2009 at 11:00 am by Henry · Permalink
In: Life and Times

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