10 Things We Need To Understand About Military Millennials

A future armored reconnaissance specialist in the active component Army gets his first taste of a nutritious MRE during lunch on Future Soldier day at the Reserve Center in Asheville, N.C., Feb. 20, 2016.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton

Editor’s Note: This article by Christopher Manganaro originally appeared on The Military Leader, a blog by Drew Steadman that provides leader development resources and insight for leaders of all professions.

Millennials have received a bad rap. The press and others believe millennials want something for nothing and have no work ethic. This myth has led many to believe that they cannot take criticism or lack the intestinal fortitude to serve in the Army. Like many generations before them, each have come with their own quirks and nuances. The Army magnifies these quirks, and unless properly identified and actioned, we risk dismissing the very leaders we are training to replace us one day.

Related: Why Are So Few Millennials Willing To Join The Military? »

The actual timeframe for when the millennial generation is widely debated and by no means standardized. Most things associated with millennials will not conform to a standard and that is okay. Just because they don’t think or act like you is no reason to shove them into a corner or push them out of the Army. As an all-volunteer Army fighting the longest wars to date in Afghanistan and Iraq, we cannot afford to dismiss an entire generation of leaders because they don’t think like us.

Here are 10 characteristics of military millennials that leaders need to understand as they engage and lead them:

  1. They are mostly in the rank window of E5/E6 and O2/O3.
  2. They joined the military after 9/11 and see the world through a lens that includes terrorism.
  3. They are the most technologically connected, but least socially communal group of people.
  4. Millennials understand that Russia and China are known for their recent Olympic games, not for being a “threat” we need to train to fight against.
  5. They are typically not interested in staying at one job for too long.
  6. They find it highly unlikely we will engage in another ground war similar to Desert Storm and more accepting of the type of war found in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
  7. They’re stuck between “being ready” for the next war and finding purpose in their everyday actions.
  8. Millennials have lived the predictable life of the “patch chart,” which helped families, friends and civilian employers, for Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, prepare and ramp up for combat.
  9. They find it hard to believe we are not doing more about Syria, ISIS or other transnational threats that we see every day on TV and the Internet.
  10. They do better knowing the “why” behind things and receiving accolades from their supervisors.

The most misunderstood characteristic of millennials is the question they commonly ask, “Why?”  The word why can cause Generation X leaders to leap out of their chairs and harken back to the days when you didn’t ask that question and just did as you were told.

The military millennial is not trying to sound disrespectful, but rather gain a deeper understanding by discovering the root cause for the action. And not everything has to come with a “Why?”

Taking a hill, returning fire against an enemy ambush, are both examples of actions that don’t require subordinate buy-in and discussion. The problem arises when leaders treat every action as a “take the hill” moment and don’t allow the millennial junior leader the ability to provide their input or inquire why the specific action needs to be done a certain way. Remember, these leaders grew up in the counterinsurgency conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan and a simple action like “disarm the local militia” is extremely complex and requires constructive thinking. Asking “Why?” aides them in building their approach.

Generation Xers can shorten the gap between themselves and the millennials through an enhanced leader development program. Ditch the slide presentations and Gettysburg “staff rides” in favor of watching TED Talks, blog reading and publishing, and most importantly, sharing meals and experiences together. Here are some more ideas.

Millennials are well connected and grew up with technology. They thrive on using tools and resources they can access from their computers and smart phones. They also yearn to be brought out of their “comfort zone” through personal engagement sessions that break the barriers between generations.

Millennials are the future of the Army. Their characteristics make them who they are, and also shape the decisions and career paths they take. Stop defaulting to “let me tell you how the Army was before 9/11” or even worse “we need to go back to basics.” You will only alienate the generation that will one day replace you.

This article, “Misunderstanding Military Millennials,” originally appeared on The Military Leader.

More articles from The Military Leader:

(Associated Press/Tom Williams)

Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician and retired Navy rear admiral who had a short run as the nominee for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2018, now plans to run for a seat in Congress.

Read More Show Less

The Pentagon will implement an "operational pause" on the training of foreign students inside the United States as the military undergoes a review of screening procedures, according to senior defense officials.

Read More Show Less
In this Nov 24, 2009, file photo, a University of Phoenix billboard is shown in Chandler, Ariz. The University of Phoenix for-profit college and its parent company will pay $50 million and cancel $141 million in student debt to settle allegations of deceptive advertisement brought by the Federal Trade Commission. (AP Photo/Matt York)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The University of Phoenix, which is owned by Apollo Education Group, has agreed to pay $191 million to settle charges that it falsely advertised close ties with major U.S. companies that could lead to jobs for students, the Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday.

The University of Phoenix will pay $50 million to the FTC to return to consumers and cancel $141 million in student debt.

Some of the advertisements targeted military and Hispanic students, the FTC said.

Read More Show Less
Shane Reynolds, UCF Research Associate demonstrates an AR/VR system to train soldiers and Marines on how to improve their ability to detect improvised explosive devices. (Orlando Sentinel/Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda)

As UCF research associate Shane Reynolds guides his avatar over a virtual minefield using his iPad, small beeps and whistles reveal the location of the scourge of the modern war zone: Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs. He must take his time to sweep every last inch of the playing field to make sure his character doesn't miss any of the often-deadly bombs.

Despite his slow pace, Reynolds makes a small misstep and with a kaboom! a bomb blows up his player, graphically scattering body parts.

Read More Show Less
US Navy

The Navy has posthumously awarded aviator and aircrewman wings to three sailors killed in last week's shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

"The selfless acts of heroism displayed by these young Sailors the morning of Dec. 6 are nothing short of incredible," Chief of Naval Air Training Rear Adm. Daniel Dwyer said in a statement.

Read More Show Less