'I am a professional' -- Profession of Arms a vital part of leader development
Staff Sgt. Tobi Nelson, right, a drill sergeant with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, reads instructions to Soldiers in Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, S.C., June 6, 2014. The Profession of Arms concept encourages Soldiers to think of their jobs as a profession.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (July 10, 2014) -- In 2010, the Army revived the discussion on a long-dormant subject -- the Profession of Arms.

Issued at the end of the year by then chief of staff of the Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the "white paper" began a long-term discussion about what it means to be a professional in the armed forces. It was the first time since the end of the Vietnam conflict that the Army had given formal attention to the subject, said Mike Ryan, Fort Jackson's strategic planner.

"We'd been at war for about 10 years at that point," Ryan said. "We have a new generation of combat-trained Soldiers who were headed toward the future. We had Soldiers who, if they were young sergeants, or young lieutenants or captains, all they knew was Afghanistan or Iraq."

He said the big question posed by the white paper was: What does it mean to be a professional in the Army?

"Between the end of Vietnam and 2010, nobody really looked at what it meant to be a professional," he said.

"We've been so busy with everything in theater for the past 13 or 14 years since 9/11, I think it's very easy to forget that (being a Soldier) is a profession," said Col. Michael Graese, Fort Jackson garrison commander. He said the intent of the white paper was "critical" given the transition the Army was anticipating as the military was beginning to withdraw forces from the Middle East.

The white paper launched a year-long campaign that brought together opinions and insight from five major installations, more than a dozen symposiums and a pair of Armywide surveys that sought perspective from thousands of active and reserve service members, as well as the DA civilian corps.

"The first year of 2011, we did two things simultaneously," Ryan said, "The Army and TRADOC put out quarterly questions to get feedback on what it means to be a professional."

On Fort Jackson, Ryan said command posed the question to battalion commanders and sergeants major, drill sergeants, company commanders and young Soldiers and Soldiers in training.

"During that first year, the Army's perspective was just to try and figure this whole thing out," Ryan said. "Then they came up with the Army Professional Campaign."

Complicating the discussion, Graese said, is that the Army has not only changed since the close of the Vietnam conflict, it has changed since 9/11, as well.

"The past 12 years have not been about linear warfare," Graese said. "It changes the focus of the Profession of Arms. The core is our values -- who we are, what we believe in and what it means to be an officer, and NCO or a Soldier. But there are changes that come along that impact how you operate as a profession."

While the Army continues to develop discussion on the nature of the Profession of Arms, discussions prompted by the original white paper lead to the subject being included prominently in Army Doctrine Publication No. 1. In fact, one of the ADP1's four chapters is devoted to the Profession of Arms and outlines the profession as one built on trust, expertise, service and ethics.

"Like everything else in the military, what's old is new again because of the constant turnover we have," Graese said. "Even when you have first-termers who choose to get out of the military, you've got guys who will choose to step up to the next level. We have to constantly reintroduce some of the basics."

Graese said the Profession of Arms is a natural component of Fort Jackson's training mission.

"It complements nicely with the different schools we have, with the Non-Commissioned Officer Educational System and the Officer Educational System," he said. "(Soldiers) get exposed to more strategic operational and strategic thought than they do when they first get in the Army, when it's all very tactical. That turnover forces us to always re-emphasize the things that were done before."

During the first round of development in 2011, Ryan said Fort Jackson took an aggressive approach to leader development. A Profession of Arms monthly luncheon series was created in which the commanding general and battalion commanders discussed topics posed by the white paper.

Since then, he said, the program has grown significantly.

"It's a great opportunity for the commanding general to interact with battalion and brigade commanders," Ryan said. "(Fort Jackson Commanding Maj. Gen. Bradley Becker) wanted to grow it even more, so now we have a lot of civilians in it. It started with just the commanding general and 13 battalion commanders in 2011. Today, it's led by the commanding general and involves between 65 and 70 people."

It's now called the Senior Leader Luncheon Program, and takes place every other month.

"The Profession of Arms is part of the post's strategic plan," Ryan said. "The commander's intent includes a key task from the commanding general to build and maintain a cohesive Fort Jackson team, and to really focus on the Army profession. We try to interject that at all levels, especially at the strategic level and for the post, and say the Army profession is very important."

The goal is not about transforming the Army into a profession, but encouraging Soldiers to think of it as such, Graese said.

"The core of being a Soldier is selfless service," Graese said. "The similarities to other professions are that you have professional organizations, you have formal schooling and certifications. I think it's similar to the field of law, where before you're allowed to practice you have to have certifications. It's the same in the medical field."

Since 2010, these discussions have become more common along the chain of command. Discussions taking place in Washington about the Profession of Arms lead to discussions about the subject among senior leaders at Fort Jackson, who then take these ideas to battalions and units. Soldiers are being exposed to the concept today much earlier than ever before.

"Sometimes it's just a matter of senior leaders thinking about how it applies to what they're doing," Ryan said.

The Profession of Arms is stressed during leader development programs on post, in which related subjects are often used as jumping-off points for dialogue in individual units.

Page last updated Thu July 10th, 2014 at 00:00