Don't Give Up the Fight

by Colonel (Retired) Wes Martin

During the Second World War, a popular American tune gave encouragement to our embattled nation: "If we have to take a licking, carry on and quit your kicking, but don't give up the ship". During the darkest hours of Pearl Harbor, Corregidor, and Kasserine Pass, Americans refused to "give up the ship". Instead, this nation bonded together with a synergetic effort that Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini could never conquer. Through determination to fight together, American armed forces turned early defeats into final victories.

Leading the American military to victory were commanders like Marshall, Nimitz, Eisenhower, Doolittle, Bradley, Patton, Arnold, Puller and scores of others who were already in the ranks and available to answer freedom's call. As the nation was able to call upon commanders to lead the victories, it was also ready to rally Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines to win battles. Victories and defeats are always decided in the combat readiness and fighting spirit of the individual warriors. The leaders were willing to give of themselves, as were the junior officers, non-commissioned officers, and junior enlisted.

As the last major military power to enter the war, America made a powerful impact. Until the Allies gained the offensive, the outcome of this war was uncertain. At the end of the war, Americans knew had they not answered humanity's call, the world would have been left in despair. Recognition of this fact also brought realization of responsibility that would remain. Americans knew they now had a protecting role to fill. No matter how desperate the moment, they could never yield this responsibility.

In a distinctive way, that American awakening was captured in the 1946 Christmas classic, "It's A Wonderful Life." The movie's main character, was played by real life war hero Jimmy Stewart. His character, George Bailey, always gave to others and asked nothing in return. As a boy, George lost his hearing in one ear while saving his brother from drowning. Later, as a combat pilot, George's brother saved a shipload of sailors from a Kamikaze attack. George further sacrificed his own potential wealth by standing in the way of a self-serving opportunist.

Through his work and dedication to those around him, George created a positive environment for his family and community. Then in a twist of events not of his own creation, George was overcome by depression and wished he had never been born. Through the intervention an angel, he was allowed to see what life would have been without his presence. If George had not been there to save his brother, his brother would not have been there to save the shipload of sailors. If George had not been there to lead and protect the community, it would have been destroyed from within. George Bailey reflected America's determination to never give up the fight.

Unfortunately, three generations later, members of the same military from whose ranks came the great leaders and warriors of World War II are giving up the fight. Highly professional and dedicated people have been departing the ranks for several years and creating vacancies to be filled by the wrong people.

This is not the first time senior officer and enlisted ranks were infiltrated by substandard supervisors. In the late 1970s the trend was management instead of leadership, which produces the idea of "getting by" rather than make positive improvements. Then came the 1980s. Due to the lack of a periodic "reduction in force", the military build-up of the Reagan administration, a significant increase in pay, and the lack of a long-term military conflict which would have sent self-serving officers and NCOs scurrying for shelter, the armed forces became a haven for those who couldn't make it in the civilian sector.

By the time the 1990s came, these parasites were able to fit very well into the "Me Decade". Because lack of accountability had become an ever increasing problem, they were allowed to progress through the ranks, be rendered nice evaluations, passed on to someone else, and rewarded with a twenty-year retirements.

It finally came to a head. Because of the immense scandals in the mid-to-late nineties, and court-martials of senior officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), the U.S. military active components did perform a lot of self-cleansing.

Unfortunately, that self-cleansing has proven not be have been permanent. Especially in the Army and Marines, between 2003 and 2012, there was exodus of too many outstanding junior enlisted and officers. They were forced to choose between "being there" for their families or continual deployments to combat. Family life and warrior fatigue took a toll. Once again, vacancies created by loss of the professionals left openings for substandard officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) to fulfill.

Today's service-members are tomorrow's military leaders. To properly develop, they require professional and self-sacrificing leadership. Every person is affected in one form or another by those they follow. Professional leaders produce professional subordinates. Self-serving supervisors produce either subordinates in their own images, or ones strong enough to develop on their own, recognizing what they do not wish to become. In the past decade, self-serving supervisors have cause the American military to lose more professional members than all the combined wars since the second half of the twentieth century.

When professionals leave, the military has its own abundance of self-serving opportunists ready to take the places of the professionals. Because these substitutes can't make it in the civilian sector, they have nowhere else to go. A vacancy made by a disenchanted professional assures a sub-standard officer or NCO an unearned meal ticket and an undeserved retirement. Without a professional military composed of members dedicated to something far greater than themselves, a tragic sacrifice will one day be made. Presently, that price is being paid in national embarrassments every time a corrupt individual is exposed. It is also being paid by the lack of quality developmental mentoring and training rendered to young soldiers. In future battles the price of such shortfalls will be the blood and lives of these soldiers. Like George Bailey who was there to save his brother, professionals must remain to train and develop today's service members for the day they are called on to achieve victory with minimal casualties.

Unlike equipment and resources, the loss of professionals cannot be quickly made right by Congress increasing the budget. The Halseys, Bradleys, Arnolds, and Pullers were a product of many decades of development. The same expectation must be made for the professionals who fight the battles and deliver the victories planned by the commanders. The long-term survivability of the military, and in turn this nation, is dependent upon the ever-standing, numerous presences of professional service-members.

As basic as the aforementioned is, too many officers and NCOs either do not comprehend or do not care about the message. For those who use the system for their own personal gain, their attitude is understandable. These individuals are the problem. No form of cancer has ever been known to cure itself. The cure is going to have to come from those who follow the principles of Duty, Honor, Country – and from those who refused to give up the fight.

In our world of rapid change, we must be ever ready to answer freedom's call. Future conflicts are not going to afford us time to clean up our ranks and become combat deployable. Response time will be very limited. As proven by 9-11, not since the days of the New England Minutemen will we need to respond on such short notice. We must have professional leaders and warriors already in place. Unlike George Bailey, we will not have an opportunity to see what would have become of the military in our absence and then wish ourselves back into its ranks. We have only the chance to do what is right with a singular passing of time.

For ourselves and for our ancestors who led the way, we cannot give up the freedom for which they fought and died. For our descendants we must maintain this nation. Our nation was built by overcoming incredible difficulty and overwhelming odds. As a nation, we have fought and defeated many adversaries. It is unfortunate that our greatest adversaries today are self-serving officers and NCOs. Yet we cannot turn our backs and walk away. To do so makes us no better than those who are undermining our national defense. Every time a professional remains in the ranks, one less position is available to a self-serving opportunist. Every time a professional mentors a young soldier, that soldier's chance for future battlefield success grows. Every time a professional forces a self-serving officer or NCO to leave the ranks, the greater the chance becomes for retaining another professional. To every professional service member, the call must be heard and answered – never give up the fight!