The word “mandatory,” by definition and implication, conveys a sense of importance and value. Use of the word “mandatory” therefore imbues any subsequent word with a mandate of completion. At the same time, there is also hope that the word won’t just be frivolously thrown about.
I can’t honestly tell you when the term “mandatory training” gained common usage in the military, but it has made a slow creep from a few well-intentioned classes to a painfully bloated construct that could now easily fill the entirety of a drill weekend.
These classes have become so cumbersome for the modern warfighter that a 2012 study found the military devotes more than 17.2 million hours each year to training not directly related to a service member’s ability to do his or her job. That’s more than 8,200 warfighters spending every work hour of the year doing nothing other than what is now considered mandatory training.
This rightfully garnered the attention of new U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and U.S. Army Secretary Mark Esper soon after they assumed their positions.
Don’t misunderstand me — there is a reason for many of these classes. Sexual harassment, substance abuse, suicide and many of the other issues addressed by these classes are intolerable in a voluntary fighting force, which should and must be held to a standard high above our civilian counterparts.
America has long been considered as one of the brightest beacons of hope, prosperity and unity in a world too often darkened by the actions of vile and immoral peoples. Our nation is becoming increasingly dependent upon the men and women of our armed services to serve as the sole representatives of a code that begins with the three brilliant words, “We the People.” With the many threats to our nation’s security and reputation, every incident of military misconduct must be considered as a threat to the very foundation of freedom and equality.
But the question must be asked, “Can classes prevent these offenses, or is there a better way?” Maybe it’s naivety or my base belief that most military members are inherently good, but I don’t believe a class, book or standard operating procedure could prevent evil-doers from doing evil. Certainly this is a far larger question than my simple mind could ever answer, which is why I applaud the secretaries for their mandate to study policies that could be altered to focus more of the warfighters’ time on the art and science of warfighting.
Those responsible for deciding the fate of mandatory training will look at the pros and cons, but must focus on the larger question: How does an organization as large as the U.S. Defense Department prevent behaviors that would be considered embarrassments to our nation?
Is the solution mandatory training, no training at all, some strange concoction of personal accountability and training? I wouldn’t be a good warrant officer if I simply espoused an issue only to leave it without some form of solution.
We, the military, must be proficient and current on all threats that endanger our nation. We must be fluent with those threats to limit information leakage, curtail sexual harassment, prevent suicides and address all the other issues we face. We must assume the heavy burden to be better than the average American, and we must live the core values that our oaths demand of us. No course can force us to assume this undertaking; we must first believe in those values, make them non-negotiable parts of our very souls and be that beacon of hope for the world.
If we each became personally accountable for those difficult tasks, there would be no need for mandatory training because we would never relive events such as the Tailhook or Abu Ghraib prison scandals.
Now I leave it to the smart folks to solve the difficult social math problem of how to make each U.S. military member hold him or herself accountable for all of that. Good luck…
“How did you find the mess hall if it wasn’t in this book?” - Lt. Daniel Kaffee, A Few Good Men RWI