Military service members learn plenty about leadership, physical training, and combat skills while they are in uniform, among many other important lessons. But regardless of whether they are in for four years or 40, there are some things they learn that help them for a lifetime.
1. The small stuff usually doesn’t matter
Just about everyone in the military has heard the phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff.” It’s an important lesson that most appreciate, especially in a combat zone where bullets flying by your head can be a much bigger priority than the argument you just had with a boss, or complaints about breakfast that morning.
“At least I’m not getting shot at,” is certainly a sobering perspective during what others may deem a crisis, like the office coffee maker running out of Joe.
Troops by and large also learn to stick to worrying about their own areas of responsibility — staying in their “lane” — while trusting that others in their unit and their leadership will figure out the rest. Usually, it works out, but even when it doesn’t, service members learn the art of leadership so they can potentially step up.
2. From the lowliest private to the four-star general, every service member learns a thing or two about leadership
Regardless of the service branch, troops are always taught basic leadership skills. Junior soldiers are taught basic competencies and attributes like leading by example, getting results, and building positive relationships with others.
And in Marine Corps boot camp, recruits are required to memorize the 14 Corps leadership traits, such as justice, dependability, tact, integrity, and bearing. All together, the traits are remembered through the mnemonic phrase J-J-D-I-D-T-I-E-B-U-C-K-L-E.
Still, the basic tenets of leadership are just a starting point. As enlisted troops move up in rank they’ll receive mentoring from their seniors and attend formal training. Meanwhile, officers and senior enlisted leaders are expected to attend a number of training sessions on leadership required for them to move up in their career.
And everyone operates under the possibility that combat could mean a leader could be wounded or worse, so every service member learns how step up into the role one to two ranks above theirs. It’s a skill that only gets better with experience.
3. First impressions make a big difference
Before any soldier or Marine is handed a weapon, he or she is handed a uniform and taught how to wear it. Appearance is key in the military — a clear indicator separating the “squared away” types from those who need a little more guidance.
Still, the less than perfect spit-and-polish soldier knows that, at least their weapons’ appearance should always pass inspection.
Although junior troops may complain about having to get a haircut or iron a uniform, the point is often driven home that people care about your appearance, and those first impressions can make a big difference. And that goes for troops inside and outside of uniform.
4. Every military member has the thought of accomplishing the mission ingrained in their psyche, regardless of what it takes
The military may say its people are its greatest asset, and leaders often express genuine care for the troops under their command. But the military’s main priority is always mission accomplishment.
Whether it’s charging up an enemy hill or doing something as simple as maintenance on a Humvee, getting the task at hand finished by the set deadline is always top of mind. Whether in uniform for eight years or 20, military members are always thinking about how to get the job done, which is why many companies are interested in hiring veterans.
5. Integrity goes a long way
Courage is more than bravery on the battlefield. Most troops are taught about the less-well known tenet of moral courage — taking action despite potential risks to career.
Take, for instance, the case of Brig. Gen. William Mitchell, who spoke out about the U.S. need for more investment in air power after World War I. The brass didn’t want to hear it, and he was reprimanded and eventually court-martialed — and yet today he’s considered the father of the U.S. Air Force.
Mitchell, like many others in the military, had integrity, and did the right thing at great risk to his own career. It’s a mantra that continues to be followed by so many military members and veterans.
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