The Foreign Service Journal, November 2011

N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 15 M y father was a colonel in the U.S. Army, so I grew up with the military. How- ever, it wasn’t until I was seconded from the Foreign Service to the fac- ulty of the United States Military Academy at West Point that I began to comprehend what the U.S. Army was really about. By that time I had already served as the political/military adviser for South Asia and had been in the Foreign Service for 17 years. The lessons I learned at West Point were driven home for me when I served on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq that shared its base with the 82nd Airborne Division. In the course of my duties, I worked side by side with officers and enlisted person- nel from the 82nd, and we went on missions together. These experiences brought home to me the idea that the Foreign Serv- ice can learn a lot from the military and should consider adopting some of its attitudes, culture and organization. Of course, every organization has its own culture and attitudes, and the unique values and practices associated with the Foreign Service are a prod- uct of its history and the tasks it un- dertakes. These are very different from those of the armed forces. However, this should not prevent the Foreign Service from borrowing ideas that are applicable and bring good results. No organization is static, and the most successful ones change and evolve. There is no reason why the Foreign Service cannot do the same. Here are some basic ideas and con- cepts I saw applied in the military that could benefit the Foreign Service. Esprit de Corps The U.S. Army emphasizes esprit de corps as an essential element. (In- deed, it would not be able to function without it.) That concept centers on a collective identity based on pride and professionalism. Army personnel are taught that they are colleagues and must rely on each other because they share a common identity and profes- sion. The Army is a middle-class profes- sion. Most of its members do not come from American elites. In that sense, it is a meritocracy. Military personnel are taught that while they cannot expect large mone- tary benefits, their profession confers status in and of itself. This is a non- material reward whose value is incal- culable. Army members gain prestige not from what they bring into the or- ganization, but from their perform- ance once they are inside. Any element that fosters cliques or separation or unduly emphasizes an internal hierarchy, with “in” groups and “out” groups, is discouraged. Re- ligious, regional, political, ethnic and class differences are not part of the work environment. In Iraq, I served with soldiers from all backgrounds, including recent im- migrants, many of whom did not speak English as their mother tongue. And I worked every day with a Na- tional Guard unit, the “T for Texas” Division, which was proud to be an al- most totally Hispanic unit. Even so, the Army treated everyone the same. The emphasis was on integrating everyone into a cohesive unit. Similarly, the social base of the Army is broad. Elites are largely ab- sent, and personnel come from a wide variety of social backgrounds. In that sense, the Army is representative of the general American population. I have never heard esprit de corps mentioned in the Foreign Service context. Instead, the Foreign Service emphasizes individuality over colle- giality, exclusivity over inclusiveness. This is a hangover from its earlier his- tory, when its membership was largely Why the Foreign Service Should Be More Like the Army B Y J ON P. D ORSCHNER S PEAKING O UT Our organization can learn a lot from the military, and should consider adopting some of its attitudes and practices.