Photo by Spc. Cody W. Torkelson

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on the blog, “The Military Leader.”

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Photo by Pfc. Bethany L. Little

If war drives innovation, institutions smother it. Over the last decade, battlefield ideas and the urgency of persistent threats have led to improvements in armor, equipment, and weaponry, but a personnel system that predates the conflict continues to promote risk aversion and treat individuals as interchangeable pieces. This system frustrates many within and outside of the military. As a future leader, perhaps you’ve considered taking your talents elsewhere, but you believe in the mission of military service and want to take advantage of your talents within, instead of outside, this system.

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AP Photo/The Boston Herald, Chitose Suzuki

If “support for the troops” or “honoring our veterans” was enough to get elected, the halls of Congress would be crawling with vets in 5.11 pants. However, what we are witnessing after 13 years of conflict is a “dramatically diminishing number of veterans in Congress.” There are several reasons for this decline, and it is unlikely we will return to a time when most members of Congress have a military background. For every example of a successful veteran election campaign, there are several more that floundered in the polls. In 2006, the Democratic Party put forward 55 veteran candidates to challenge incumbents. Only four won and only one is still in Congress. If you thought war was ugly, remember that it’s just an extension of politics by other means.

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