Document created: 3 June 04
Air University Review, September-October 1971
Colonel Arthur R. Moore, Jr.
is the matter with today’s junior officers? Why do they keep pushing against
the system? Why is there a “generation gap” in the U.S. Air Force? What are we
teaching these kids? These are questions all commanders are asking or being
Officer School (SOS) is in a unique position to seek answers to this questions.
Why? Because junior officers are our business, our only business. We educate,
evaluate, and attempt to challenge about 2400 officers each year—officers whom
you send to us, and who return to you 14 weeks later. As
supervisors, you and I both feel a need and a responsibility to
understand these officers. Therefore, in these few pages, I intend to address
some of these more provocative questions in hopes of making the Air Force a
better place for you and for the junior officers of your command.
begin, what is the matter with junior officers today? After observing several
thousand students at SOS, I must say simply—nothing. Nothing is the matter
with today’s new breed. They are the best educated, most eager and dynamic
group of men any air force has had anytime, anywhere. SOS classes have included
pilots who have earned the Medal of Honor, blue suit scientists who have probed
the edges of the unknown, missilemen who operate systems you and I thought only
Buck Rogers could operate not too many years ago, women of the Air Force eager
to secure a place in today’s and tomorrow’s Air Force second to none, and
officers from every career field and every major command in the Air Force.
officers are being taught some of the same problem-solving techniques that were
taught at the Squadron Officer Course (SOC) (predecessor to SOS) 18 years
ago. They are being challenged mentally and physically by a number of the field
leadership exercises that you may remember if you attended the SOC of the early
fifties. Today’s students are making many of the same mistakes that 50,000
other SOS students made before them, but they are also doing some of the same
things correctly. This is not to say that our curriculum and methodology have
been standing still. The requirements of the Air Force have changed in the last
two decades, and the school has changed to meet those new requirements.
During this calendar year, for example, our management curriculum has been completely revised to insure that our graduates are prepared to use today’s techniques on today’s problems. We give our students a chance to study and work with such management techniques as systems analysis, probabilities and statistics, and network analysis. We teach the Air Force concept of managing men, money, and materiel, and we challenge the students to demonstrate their understanding by participating in case studies of Air Force problems. The management-techniques case study in particular gives the students a chance to integrate the techniques they have studied so as to “game” a weapon system decision. The students can compare their results with the actual Air Force decision, since the case study is based on an existing weapon system.
things have remained the same over the years. We still attempt to make every
graduate a more effective communicator by requiring him to write and speak in
“real world” service situations. Every student must complete nine writing
assignments directly related to the needs of the Air Force—letters, OER’S,
message rewrites, etc. We teach a standardized approach to the art of
writing which stresses clarity, conciseness, and directness. Some students
improve greatly, some improve only slightly, and some need to improve very
little; but they are all more effective writers when they leave. So too are the
students more effective speakers when they leave. The speech program, which
emphasizes formal and informal briefings, prepares the SOS student to operate
effectively in the day-to-day working environment of the briefing scene. Group
discussions and logical-thinking exercises are still other means of improving
communicative skills, and these are heavily emphasized at SOS. Through the
annual surveys, commanders of our alumni have reported that SOS graduates write
better, speak better, and are more effective communicators than junior officers
who have not taken the SOS course. Improved effectiveness in communication seems
to be the most readily discernible characteristic of the SOS graduate.
was once believed that leadership traits are inborn, but now we know that
leadership can be taught and learned. We use small groups of 12 to 14 men in
seminar workshops so that each man can see, feel, and try the principles,
attributes, and techniques of leadership which we teach. Each student’s
leadership ability is described to him by both his peers and the faculty so that
he can better understand his potential and his limitations. We encourage the
students to try new leadership techniques. Some succeed, some fail, but all learn
from their efforts. Human relations, the foundation of leadership, is taught
from the lecture platform, in the seminar rooms, and on the athletic field. Some
of our students are effective leaders when they arrive at SOS; most are more
effective leaders when they leave. A small percentage of our students find that
other people are just not responsive to their style of leadership. These
students are also given descriptive feedback about their leadership efforts,
which gives them a better idea of their abilities and shortcomings. Difficulties
which he encounters at SOS, early in his career, can motivate the officer
either to master the techniques of leadership or, in some exceptional cases, to
look for another career. In either case the Air Force, the country, and the
individual will benefit by the experience. It is a much-needed benefit.
world has changed rapidly and significantly during the last twenty years. A
veritable explosion of information has increased the visibility of international
affairs, and it has cast a spotlight on the military. Fully 10 percent of our
curriculum is devoted to examining the world, the nation, and the military
system. SOS is the only opportunity 75 percent of our students will have to
learn the why, what, and how of national power, international relations, and
ideological conflict. Our graduates have a better understanding of the world and
their role in it. Our curriculum does not certify the SOS graduate as an expert
in international relations, but he is able to explain to others, and to himself,
why the Air Force and the nation are involved in the arena of international
summary, the graduate of SOS is a more effective communicator, a somewhat
improved leader, a trained manager, and a more knowledgeable military officer.
You have sent us a fine young officer, and we have returned to you a
better-informed, more capable man. Perhaps that statement suggests my answer to
two of my original questions: “What is the matter with today’s junior
officers?” and “What are we teaching these kids?” We at Squadron Officer
School are convinced that there is nothing the matter with today’s officers or
with what we are teaching them. Having told you what we do to make him
more effective, I would like to consider what senior officers generally can do
to make our junior officers more effective.
It has been popular during recent years to characterize the differences between generations as a gap. The very word “gap” makes one envision a clear break, a bottomless chasm across which we must build bridges to communicate.
believe that there is no such thing as a “generation gap.” Yet, I also
believe that I am different from the junior officers I encounter. They do push
against the system, they wear different clothes, they demand a challenging task,
and they think more of the future than of the past. They are different from me now,
but they are not so different from what I was when I was their age. I wore
different clothes, I pressed the limits of the system, I demanded a challenging
task, and I thought more of the future than the past.
and think about yourself when you were a junior officer. If you’re from my
year group, you participated in a war and were present at the beginning of our
Air Force. We had challenging tasks, and we had boring ones. We surely looked
and acted different than our seniors. We groused about an army that was rooted
in the past and couldn’t see the future as clearly as we. Thus it seems that
junior officers are not such strange animals as we previously believed. They are
really a mirror that lets us look back into our past, and, believe me, we are a
lens that lets them look into the future. Though we and they see through the
glass but darkly, I hope that by telling of some things we have observed at
Squadron Officer School, I may help clarify your image of the junior officer and
also his image of you.
James Ferguson, former Commander of the Air Force Systems Command, once said,
particularly for the benefit of other general officers and colonels, that
. . . if our junior officers have a problem, then we have a problem. And it may very well be our predominant problem: in a very meaningful sense, these young officers are our responsibility, and we have a strong obligation to the Air Force for their training and development. Because, sooner than we like to think, they are going to be the Air Force. . . To develop this new Air Force generation, then, requires that we communicate very seriously with those who are junior to us. We’ve got to find out what they’re thinking and feeling—and why.
SOS, we have tried to find out what they’re thinking, and we have asked them
Since we get an excellent cross section of Air Force junior officers three times a year, it seemed logical that SOS could provide useful information on the career motivation of junior officers. In order to tap the talent and experience of each class, I asked the school staff to develop the Career Motivation Program. The program, which began in June 1969, continues in-being today.
SOS Career Motivation Program consists of a council of faculty members which
studies each class, using questionnaires and seminar discussions. The results to
date have benefitted SOS and the Air Force. The data collected here have been
provided to the Military Personnel Center and members of the staff at
survey results indicate that SOS students are career-oriented and satisfied with
their jobs; that they like Air Force people and enjoy the travel opportunities
which the Air Force provides. The survey results also show that junior officers
are dissatisfied with poor leadership, bureaucratic inflexibility, and
assignment uncertainty. The seminar discussions provided further support of
these conclusions and allowed the students to further define areas of
satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
the Career Motivation Seminars the students have indicated that their jobs
allowed them to be creative, make decisions, and meet challenges. Both they and
their wives are pleased with Air Force life in general and with Air Force people
in particular. Our students tell us that they desire better leadership, a better
rating system, and more career progression visibility. These results support to
some degree the contention of Dr. David Whitsett, management consultant and
provocative lecturer in the management area, who contends that the Air Force
must provide interesting, challenging, and satisfying jobs if it desires to
retain and motivate its junior officers. The students consider the quality of
their jobs—not security, pay, or fringe benefits—to be of prime importance.
They are quick to point out, however, that the latter items could become
important factors if their needs for security went unsatisfied. To quote
Lieutenant General R. J. Dixon, Deputy Chief of Staff/Personnel: “. . .
they insist on satisfying, self-fulfilling jobs.”
of the most satisfying “spin-offs” of our seminar program has been the
junior/senior officer interface. Since the inception of our seminars we have
invited Air War College (AWC) students and Air University (AU) senior
officers to participate with our students and faculty. The exchange of ideas
between junior and senior officers has been a revelation to both groups. The
students have been favorably impressed with the open-minded, sincere interest
displayed by their leaders, and the senior officers have been impressed with the
quality and depth of today’s junior officers. One AU general officer
enjoyed the exchange so much that he expressed a desire to return later for more
discussion with his seminar. Another senior officer said the seminar was “. .
. the most refreshing and rewarding experience of my career. I want to come back
intend to have those senior officers back again as we continue to search out
answers to the questions, “What motivates or demotivates junior officers, and
why?” I would suggest that you, as commanders and leaders of junior officers,
use a direct “face-to-face” communication channel such as we have used. I
have noted during the past few years that our students pick as their most
effective leaders those officers who actively seek out personal contacts with
the young officers. Try our approach. I think that both you and your
subordinates will benefit from it.
the Commandant of an Air University school, I assure you that I don’t propose
to tell you how to run your organization. Such an attempt would be presumptuous,
but I feel that here at SOS we have practiced some techniques and approaches
that have worked for us, and I want you to know what they are. Why? Because you,
as a group, have an opportunity to affect a great many more officers for a
longer period of time than we can with our limited enrollment and short-duration
course. I hope you will consider these suggestions, adapt them to your own
particular needs, and accrue the benefits I believe will result.
at SOS we challenge our students both mentally and physically. We tell our
students that very few of them will fail the course and very few of them will be
distinguished graduates. We tell them that, for most of them, the real reward
they will gain will be satisfaction—satisfaction for having tested and
exceeded what they had thought were mental and physical barriers. For example,
we tell our students what effective writing and speaking should be, and then we
let them apply what we have taught them. We compare their performance against an
unwavering standard of excellence. We know some students have more ability than
others, and we know some may never reach the highest level of communicative
ability. We have found that by demanding excellence from all our students, every
student improves—the best improve a little, the average improve much more, and
the weak improve the most.
students—your junior officers—don’t rebel against the criticism we give
their efforts; they welcome it. Students have complained that they have not been
critiqued enough, rather than too much. We have found that students oftentimes
grade their writing and speaking assignments lower than the instructor would
have. How do we manage to convince the student to seek out criticism and develop
the ability to criticize himself? It’s relatively simple. We let him know we
are trying to help him be a more effective officer. We don’t
criticize only what the student did wrong; we tell him what he did right, and
how he can correct his mistakes. We have found over the years that our
students are constantly searching for an honest, constructive evaluation of
their ability. Often they tell us that this is the first time during their
career that someone tried to help them improve.
personally feel that many of you have tried to help junior officers improve, but
perhaps because of the manner in which advice or criticism was offered, it was
not recognized or accepted. Ask yourself, “Have I made certain my subordinates
understood that I was trying to make them a better officer, pilot, missileman,
etc.?” You can’t assume that your subordinates know this, but you can assume
that, if they know you care about them as individuals, they will outperform any
standards you have set. You are probably asking yourself, “How can I convince
my subordinates I’m trying to help them?” We have found some techniques very
effective. I hope they can work for you.
at SOS we work hard at learning everything we can about our students. They turn
in an autobiography the first day they arrive here at the school. We read these
autobiographies to evaluate each student’s writing ability, and, more
important, to learn as much as we can about his background. We memorize all the
students’ names so that when we first meet we can address them by name. The
work involved is worth it when on the first day of class a student freezes in
the hall as a faculty member passes him and says, “Good morning, Dave.” It
is only a small gesture, but it helps us let the students know that we respect
them as individuals.
the names of hundreds of students is only half the problem; we also try to make
their wives feel welcome, too. We insist that our section commanders be married
because their wives play an important role in bringing the wives of students
into the school activities. Every section, wing, and division at SOS
makes sure that the student wives are welcomed, considered, and challenged
during their brief stay at SOS. During the first weeks of school the wives
attend formal and informal receptions and coffees. Members of the faculty
prepare a two-hour presentation on SOS activities so that the wives can better
understand what their husbands are going to be doing during the next 14 weeks.
Throughout the course, evenings are set aside to brief the wives on the Air
Force medical, personnel, and promotion systems. Most of the wives report that
this is the first time they have received this kind of briefing. The wives also
plan and conduct luncheons, with the assistance of wives of the faculty. The
wives in every section make colorful outfits to wear to sports functions, where
they join in the evaluation process by “critiquing” their husbands, the
other team, and the referees.
believe that an officer’s wife can be the deciding factor in his decision to
make the Air Force a career. We try to let the girls know we care, and I believe
they do care when on graduation day they leave with a smile on their faces and
tears in their eyes. If we can establish close bonds in 14 weeks, I am sure that
you and your wives can do much more during the years an officer is under your
command. With all the emphasis on an all-volunteer force, we sometimes forget
that perhaps the most important thing we can do to keep our people costs us
nothing except time.
other thing we have found is that young officers respect the U.S. Air Force and
desire to learn more about its history. We have a program to tell them some of
the things their chosen service has done. One of the most popular voluntary
programs in our curriculum is the lunch-hour film series, during which we show
the students what happened at Ploesti, Korea, and Vietnam. We show films about
great military leaders, hoping that our students can learn from their successes
and failures. We are proud of our Air Force, and we let it show. We are also
proud of our heritage, and we let that show too. The fact that young officers
are interested in our heritage can be best understood when you see a student
gazing at a wall of heroes” that has on it the picture and story of every USAF
Medal of Honor winner. These officers admire you for what you have done.
There is no “generation gap” when a 25-year-old student watches a
25-year-old film showing a 25-year-old pilot strapping on a “jug” (P-47).
These men are standing now where you stood then, and they want and need your
help to stand some day where you stand now.
your people help by teaching them to help themselves. Don’t tell them exactly
how everything is to be done. Let them try to solve their own problems. When you
give a man a task, don’t answer his questions on how to do it. Instead, ask
him questions that will enable him to find the right answer. We have found that
if we tell a man what to do, he learns how well we understand the problem. On
the other hand, if we ask probing questions, the man learns how well he understands
the prob1em. The latter course sometimes takes longer and does not solve the
problem as efficiently as the former, but it helps the man become more
effective, and in today’s Air Force any other course is second-best.
is not easy to turn away from a situation where you know exactly what should be
done. It is not easy here at SOS in the seminar room or on the athletic
field; and I know from personal experience that it is more difficult in an
operational situation where you are responsible for accomplishing the mission.
Remember, your job is similar to that of an instructor pilot who must constantly
expose himself to a student pilot’s mistakes if that student is ever going to
learn to fly.
most effective leaders in the history of the Air Force have made their
subordinates lead. You and I are where we are today because our seniors gave us
opportunities to succeed or to fail. Give your young officers these same
opportunities. You won’t be disappointed and they will welcome the challenge.
Squadron Officer School
Colonel Arthur R. Moore, Jr. (USMA; M.S., George Washington University), is Commandant, Squadron Officer School, Air University. A command pilot and navigator, he has held operational positions at SAC headquarters and in several bomb wings. He was one of the first twelve officers assigned to the initial staff and faculty of the Air Force Academy. He is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Naval War College, and Air War College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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