The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. A cliché, yes, but also one way of expressing the motivation behind the departure of alarming numbers of men from the Armed Forces.
Civilian pastures are pain ted in verdant tones by talent hungry personnel managers. Rising business indexes set the hearts of eager men to palpitating. Every one can make a million once he goes back to college and invests a little of Uncle Sam's money and his own time in self-improvement. The vista is so overwhelming that those who intend to stay on this side of the fence have everywhere adopted the defensive against the stampede to civilian life. Instead of selling our own yard and tearing down the fence, we have built the fence higher. Yet there stand the walls of China to pay mute tribute to the folly of such a philosophy. Just as they were inadequate to withstand the hordes trying to get in to China, so will all the walls built of increased pay, better fringe benefits, and other emoluments be inadequate to hold in the Armed Forces an adequate number of career officers and men if we don't try to sell them on the ideological and philosophical value of a military career.
Having talked to a good number of men intent on departing from the service, I am convinced that few have been treated to an adequate sales campaign and that fewer have thought out the whole problem carefully for themselves. Stop and think, if you can, when you last heard a regular in the wardroom try to stem the tide of conversation and turn it in the Navy's favor when the virtues of civilian life were being very efficiently extolled. Or think, if you can, when you have heard anyone give any other reason for getting out of the Navy except "the pay is bad," "the Navy has ships that go to sea," "I have a miserable skipper," or "Congress hates the Navy."
The problem of whether to stay in or get out is probably as old as the Navy. Every officer in the Navy has probably asked at some point whether the struggle was worth while. And as a thousand articles have said recently, this question is being resolved in a manner disappointing and disastrous to the military efficiency of the Defense establishment. From 1950 to 1954 the Army reenlistment rate decreased fivefold, the Navy's decreased to an eighth of its previous rate, and the Marine Corps and Air Force suffered similarly. Applications for retention as regular naval officers by young gentlemen obligated to two and three years active duty have been about one tenth the number desired.
These statistics are grim enough in themselves but have more implications than meet the eye. The most serious of which is the snowballing effect that their publication produces. They generate a "bandwagon" atmosphere. If everyone runs around shouting that everyone is getting out it is pretty hard for the individual to fight the fashion and stay in. Those of us who have decided to stay in become mute, feeling that it is useless to try to stem the tide and never even trying to sell the military—a tragic attitude, for we should be our own best salesmen. The civilian adds to the poor psychological climate by registering stark amazement when brought face to face with a career man. And the poor young officer, watching his friends run off to this and that glamorous pursuit, neglected by those who should be fighting to keep him, and greeted by every civilian with an "of course you're getting out," is in no position to be objective about the whole thing.
Actually he hasn't even been provided with good source material by the military. Thousands of words of testimony before Congressional bodies have belabored compensatory and other dollar benefits. The high cost of housing near military installations, the cost of maintaining two wardrobes, damage incurred to household goods, and other troubles have been described. We read that Communist aviators receive in cold cash buying power about twenty percent more than their American counterparts and enjoy fantastic fringe benefits. We are told that a civil service seaman makes twice as much as a U. S. Navy seaman who is married. Classified ads in newspapers seek to hire truck drivers, carpenters, electricians, and mechanics for $1300 and $1400 a month—for work overseas!
But when you start figuring in what the carpenter has to save per month ($240.00 starting at age 22) to retire at 42, to have the disability coverage of the man in the military, to have the medical protection for his family (insurance companies don't even underwrite the coverage that the Navy family has), to provide the insurance protection that accrues to the military (the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars of insurance) in terms of death gratuities, survivors pensions and social security coverage without deductions, to compensate for the nontaxable portions of the military income (twenty dollars per month for an ensign who is married), to pay for the vacation benefits (very few industries give more than two weeks vacation with pay per year in the first ten years), to pay for recreational facilities (at least forty dollars a month in any urban area to have access to equivalent sources of entertainment), and to make up the difference in cost on such items as laundry, cleaning, hobby shops, cigarettes, gas, oil, correspondence courses, and a host of others—after you have figured in all these things, just dollar-wise, the man in the service is not too badly off.
But then the reply is, "But who is to say how much a month in the trenches, living with dysentery, trench foot, and frostbite is worth." Or "But look at the Chief of Naval Operations. He makes a pittance beside the president of corporations a tenth the size of the Navy."
And the man who poses these two rebuttals is on the first part of the path to the correct answer. Dollars are not the answer. You can't attach a dollar sign to the kind of responsibility a man in the military is called upon to shoulder. And even if you were able to, public reaction would never sanction legislative recognition of its true worth. The best soldiers in history have more often than not been underpaid, underfed, and overworked. So the answer must lie elsewhere.
Another frequent rebuttal to the financial argument is couched in references to the good old days when father could come back from Panama with ten rooms of furniture and rugs for nothing, and roll out of ship's service with a jewelry store and a new automobile for less than the cost of either in the civilian world, when an officer's wife had a maid and lived in the grand manner. And the man who brings this up has a point. There is a song at the Naval Academy which labels the midshipman as the "spoiled and pampered pet of Uncle Sam." But the spoiling and pampering represented money well spent, and there were no snide journalistic snipings at "the brass" and the various perquisites of their stations in life.
So, although the old adage, "You'll never grow rich in the Navy, but you'll never starve," still stands; even with the latest pay raise, pay isn't, and never will be the answer.
Then comes the question of putting to sea in ships. Wiser men than I, manned with intelligence to aid them in calculated risks and IBM machines to balance commitments against availability, have done everything in their power to meet the need of more ships overseas and at the same time keep more men near their families, and more families where they want to be. Operation GYROSCOPE and the MAGIC CARPET runs are tributes to their efforts. But as long as the nation needs a Navy, the Navy is going to have to send men to sea and away from their families. Even this seemingly hopeless liability has rewards to be found and held up proudly, but no one has done it for the poor man questioning a career. The rejuvenative effect of a break in family routine is never described. The man who rides the Long Island Railroad every morning for years and years and comes home on the same train in the afternoon, and his wife who goes to the same grocer and the same baker for the same length of time, slip in to an insidious rut and frequently cease to appreciate each other. But Navy families know that separations come, and consequently each member can see more clearly the worth of the other. Still another factor that is never mentioned is that a man and his wife can actually come to know each other better while apart. We humans are an inhibited bunch, and there are some ideas that we can't ever put across by means of the spoken word which slide nicely into letters. Whole new planes of mutual ideas can be built up in this way to provide more enjoyment when man and wife come together again.
These two points are brought up because they are illustrative of the fallacy of attacking the enemy in his strongest position. Let's accept them basically as insurmountable but at least amenable to encirclement and neutralization and go to what should be the mainstream of a man's thoughts on life in the military.
No social entity can be held together by materialistic devices alone. A social entity must be bonded by a belief in the ideals which motivated it and by a willingness on the part of each individual to defend those ideals—with personal sacrifice if necessary. If a society is not motivated by a sound ideology and is not willing to defend that ideology at personal loss to the individuals concerned, it will fly apart at the first sign of adversity.
Defending a society is a complex and ever-continuing process, as dynamic and vital in peace as in war. Spiritual and intellectual leadership must be provided, and these in turn must be protected. And yet the clergy has always been underpaid in worldly goods, and teachers have been the constant economic victims of taxpayers associations bent on holding down the real estate taxes. These two categories then are sacrificing themselves to protect our way of life and there are thousands of other underpayed, overworked, volunteer "defenders of the faith" whose jobs could never be rationalized in terms of dollars and cents and whose work would be uninspired if it were so rationalized.
The word volunteer is important in the military also. One of the obligations of a society is to defend itself and its privileges from those who would rob it. Empirically, for the foreseeable future at least, a part of that protection is a sound military posture.
Now a person cannot be forced in to a good physical posture, even with all the trusses and braces in the world, if he doesn't desire to stand up straight. So also, we cannot maintain a sound military posture if it must be braced by the draft and other compulsory devices. The leadership of our military organization must be voluntary. If we are to have ten top-flight leaders twenty years from now, we must have at least a hundred volunteers today. A thousand conscriptions, or even ten thousand conscriptions won't be an adequate substitute, because leadership can't be drafted. A man can be legally coerced into the leader's chair but the very act robs him of the most important tool of leadership—a belief in the cause for which he works.
If we as a nation are to divest ourselves of hypocrisy and prove that we believe in ourselves, we must develop our collective sense of social responsibility to the point that from our 165 millions of people we will produce enough individuals to voluntarily teach our youth and nurture our spiritual growth. Because, if we don't train our youth, chaos will be with us in another generation. And if we don't develop spiritually, our materialistic blessings will become shallow, desiccated comfort. And if we don't provide physical protection for the garden in which education and spiritual maturity will grow, our way of life will perish in the weeds of barbarism.
The day has passed when we can sit back and say, "Let George do it." International struggles and tensions, whether they manifest themselves in war, cold war, warm peace, or plain peace, are all encompassing. They are no longer limited to the family feuding of kings and the financial warfare of industrial barons. Only a realization of this principle and a hearty belief that we have something worth hanging on to will shake us away from our self-centered individualism sufficiently to produce a collective sense of social obligation which will produce enough top-caliber men who will stay voluntarily with the service despite loss of pay, officers' clubs, commissaries, and other privileges, despite inexplicable operating procedures and bureaucratic obtuseness, despite unpleasant duty stations and a thousand other irritations. Because, if these men have this conviction, they will know that they must stay with the service if we are to maintain a sound foundation under what we are loud to proclaim as the finest way of life yet generated within man's knowledge.
This collective attitude is hard to come by in an age of plenty. The abstract is always harder to grasp than the tangible, and it becomes more elusive as we surround ourselves with plenty. It becomes harder and harder for a man to see the necessity for a military career for himself as industrial wages and opportunities soar to fantastic heights and the home becomes equipped with two cars, two baths, two TV's, and a host of other sybaritic devices.
But once this attitude is implaced in our ideology, our problems will be solved because then a man in the military can weather the disruptions of family life, tiresome institutional frustrations, and the day by day minutiae and see the grand picture and the true worth of a career.
One should note that the phrase reads "once the attitude is implaced" not "if" the attitude is imp laced." Because if such an attitude isn't a part of our collective psyche we are much closer to George Orwell's 1984 than is comfortable.
But in addition to the necessity for providing enough soldiers and teachers and preachers to support our way of life, we each have a responsibility to our own self-respect. A man must do more than earn his daily bread. Life must be led in such a way that we can look back on it and know we've given all we had to give. The whole Christian philosophy is anchored here, and from this principle stem some of the most valuable psycho-therapeutic tools. The life of the financier is not complete until he has endowed a charity. All of the thousands of lay and civic organizations give active proof of the fact that we realize we must do more than merely sate our own earthly appetites. The man who does no more than put a good roof over his family's head and provide them with good food, school, clothes, and education is not a complete man until he has done something which he feels will make the world a better place. And a man can do no more for his society than to devote his career to that society's protection. The satisfaction gained from the pursuit of this life despite material and emotional inconveniences will enable a man to look himself in the face in peace, knowing that he is doing as much in a lifetime as any man can.
Fully believing this and being reasonably adapted to military life, a man would need no further persuasion to make a career of the Armed Services.
But there are other considerations that are worthy of note because they seem to be almost universally ignored and unanimously unappreciated. These are all dividends for the man who has made his decision on the basis of the first two tenets and should be clinchers for those not quite as altruistic.
First, there is the matter of recognition and of pride in one's work. Industrial psychologists agree that these rank ahead of monetary benefits in holding employees. Hark to the so-called white collar worker in the factory who feels that his station in life is sufficiently better than that of the mill hand to justify his not laying aside the collar and turning to with his brawn rather than his brain (in the present labor market, the unskilled laborer draws more pay than the average clerical employee).
Recognition of the higher echelons in the business world is equally important in the eyes of management as is evidenced by the rigid protocol that governs the distribution of office space, expense accounts, and secretaries. Companies even publish manuals that fix such matters as rigidly as Uniform Regulations differentiate between captain and commander.
And yet when the junior and senior vice president leave the home office and go out into a new town, there is no recognition automatically accorded to either of them. They must sell themselves to a new community. Whereas the man in the Service not only belongs to an organization that purveys a prestige product, but he also is accorded an instant recognition by virtue of the fact that he wears the uniform. He has "arrived" as soon as he does arrive in a new community because he is a known quantity to the people. This is so despite all the journalistic snipings at the military in recent years. It doesn't take him years to become a pillar of the community because the community is ready to accept him as such on arrival.
Pride in one's work has become more difficult in civilian life as the years have gone by. The inexorable rules of economics and technology have done away with craftsmen and replaced them with button pushers. But the man in the Navy will always have much more than a button to push. Pride in its most justifiable form comes continuously from seeing men mature under good leadership, from seeing these men directed in maintaining and training a combatant ship, from learning new situations in a minimum of time, and from knowing one's work and training will save lives and money and property. Very few business executives have the extensive opportunities to influence their employees' lives that accrue to the Service executive. And look at the number of retired naval officers who step into positions of responsibility in civilian life because they are recognized as talented, capable men. But in addition to enjoying a reputation as capable men, men in the military can be justifiably proud of circumstances in which they work. An officer does honorable work in a clean, honorable atmosphere. He need not, in fact, must not stoop to devious and questionable practices to increase his position. The question of whether or not to turn a fast buck by legally correct but morally wrong methods need never confront him. And finally, to bolster his pride he has in back of him almost two hundred years of honorable tradition (the word tradition is poison to some people, but it is a good thing as long as it does not become a fetish).
The next intangible asset of the man in the military is a strong feeling of belonging, identification with a dynamically motivated, cohesive group. Most people are basically gregarious and preponderantly extrovert. There are very few complete individualists in the world. In some men this need for identification is fulfilled by business completely. However, in the civilian world there are very few men who find this sufficient and almost every man belongs to the vestry of his church, or the Lions, or the Elks, or the Bar association, or the Masons, or the Grange, or one of thousands of other fraternal or lay organizations, all of which substantiate by their existence the need for belonging. The Navy or the Army or any other branch of the Service satisfies this need infinitely more than any civic organization. Note how many lay orders simulate the military uniform in an attempt to get closer to the spirit that invests the military fraternity. The man in the Navy doesn't have to wait until the town fathers have decided he's an asset before he can get in to the club. He can walk in when he arrives (and will probably know someone when he gets inside). And in many instances even the local civilian clubs are ready to take him in just because he is a naval officer.
And the friends you make in the service are the best in the world. I have yet to meet with any acquaintance who has gone back to civilian life and found as compatible and satisfying a group of people with whom to work as he had in the Navy.
Finally, on the subject of identification, the cause for which one works is a strong determinant of the cohesiveness of any group. Needless to say the cause for which the Navy exists, namely the preservation of the state, is as fundamental and important as any cause save that of the Church.
Another psychological need of man is better satisfied by the Navy life than by a great many other careers. That is the need to draw satisfaction from one's work on a day to day basis. There is no job that so constantly imposes responsibility on the individual as does the Service life. Now much has been said about the taking away of responsibility from officers and petty officers, and there is a certain amount of rationalization in these accusations by men who don't want to take on the responsibility. The man who cares, if he could physically stand it, could work 24 hours a day and still not accomplish all that needs to be done. The junior officer has a tremendous opportunity to shape and mold the lives of his men for good or bad, and just to exert a favorable influence on them is a full time job. As a man moves up the chain of command, he then must work with and on his junior officers. And it is a real challenge just to keep abreast of the technological revolution as it effects the Navy and to see that we are ready to extract as much from the machines as they have been built to give. The man who can't derive satisfaction from working in these directions will never find satisfaction in any work.
Another asset of the military man is often labeled as a liability and rather neatly illustrates my point that we have been unnecessarily on the defensive in trying to keep our officers and men. Many people moan and groan about change. "I get settled into a job and two years hence I'm routed out and sent on my way." Industrial psychologists say that every man suffers from occupational wanderlust and that at a certain point in a man's life, and maybe even at several points, he suffers from a grand disillusionment. Some even strike out all over again, but the majority of these become drifters. Others stick to their guns and get over it, but some are permanently frustrated and become victims of chronic ennui. The man in the Service has the opportunity to shift from one horizon to the other. If personality clashes arise in one spot, one knows that there will be another spot in a finite length of time. But the cynic asks, "Won't that personality clash cost a man his next promotion?" That of course depends upon the junior and how successful he can be in sublimating his resentment. In any event, it is safe to say that it will result in no more, and probably less, damage than in a comparable civilian situation.
Also under the heading of change as an asset falls the favorite recruiting slogan, "Join the Navy and see the World." This phrase is so commonplace that its value is not appreciated. Extremely few civilians have both the time and the money to do the travelling that falls to the Navy man and, in a great many cases, to his family. I am not just talking about wide expanses of water. Not only does the Navy man visit spots that would cost a mint to visit as a civilian but he also gets to live in a great many of them and that is infinitely more valuable than "staying in Frisco tonight, hit L.A. tomorrow, Las Vegas the next day," to quote a typical tourist card sent home. Within the States themselves he lives in the North and the South and the West. He becomes a better citizen because of this, and his country means more to him. Even if he doesn't like any part of the country as well as his original home, he at least has satisfied himself that the grass is greenest on his own side of the fence.
But let us exploit another line of thought, the matter of broadening one's outlook on life—the process of becoming a cosmopolitan as opposed to the provincial. No matter where a man is, or what he does, if he wants to stay narrow-minded he will stay that way. Some of our most provincial citizens come from the largest cities whereas some of our most enlightened and sophisticated philosophers have had nothing but bucolic roots. However, if a man is interested in improving his mental perspective, there is no place better than the Navy. The senior officer today must have a working knowledge of economics, politics, law, diplomacy, management, technology, and the arts, to mention but a few, in order to be able to properly harness the organization placed in his charge and lead it to its ultimate goal. He must be an astute observer of human nature, which is a fascinating pursuit in itself, in order to work his men most effectively. He must be able to meet and deal with all strata and classifications, and, to do this, he must be an expert in humanity. In that the Navy is a noble calling and draws strength from spiritual support, he must appreciate the various religions and be religious himself. And because the tools of our profession and the techniques of handling them have changed more-in ten years than in two hundred before that, and because they promise more rapid changes ahead, he must practice mental flexibility and work at banishing dogmatism and pedantry from his mentality. And the man that realizes all these things, and does something about them, will have a broad outlook and a rational, mature philosophy.
These then are some of the commodities that the Navy has to sell; a means of meeting one's social responsibility, a means of building one's self-respect, a means of satisfying one's need for recognition, pride in work and identification, a means of providing daily satisfaction, a means for providing stimulation through change and the necessity for broadening one's outlook. In most cases, the Navy has a product of better quality, in each instance, than any other concern in the country. But it probably has the worst sales force in the world. I have already referred to the statistics, and they have been talked about and been written about to the point that, when you do run into a man who is making the Navy a career, you are ready to embrace him on the spot.
This situation exists at a time when we need a dedicated cadre of regulars to back up our national policies more than we ever have before; at a time when there is more international tension than ever before; at a time when there is more apocalyptic ammunition in the hands of international henchmen than there ever has been before; and at a time when we are blessed with a material well-being as no nation in recorded history ever has been blessed.
Yet this appalling attrition in Service personnel exists when it costs more and takes longer to train a man than ever before and at a time when we are rapidly reaching the point at which industry can supply the machines but we can't provide the men to run them.
Why does this situation exist? There are two big reasons, both of which have been implied in this article.
In the first place, as we nationally have increased our material blessings we have not commensurately increased our collective sense of social obligation. Too many Americans have forgotten the old axiom that with privilege goes responsibility, and that if we neglect our responsibility, the privileges are apt to vanish in the smoke of a nuclear holocaust.
In the second place, we in the Navy have allowed our critics to astigmatize our vision to the extent that we have ceased in a great many instances to believe in ourselves. And when we cease to believe in ourselves we can't sell our way of life to those coming up behind us.
What is to be done? Evangelism is tremendously successful in the churches and is just as appropriate in the military. Evangelism is an obligation on the part of every communicant of every church, as a reading of certain passages of the Bible will show. It should also be an obligation on the part of every career man in the Navy. If we can believe these tenets ourselves and go out and sell them, all the rest of the materialistic problems will resolve themselves in the good order of time, and our recruiting problems will cease to exist.
A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy with the Class of 1946, Lieutenant Gardner served in the USS Idaho (BB-42) as junior division officer in gunnery, and as Engineer Officer in the USS Competent (AM-316). He served a year in the Office of Chief of Naval Operations, and then went on to flight school, getting his wings in 1950. Following a tour in the Atlantic and Mediterranean with VA-45, he was an instructor at the CIC school in Glenview for two years. Lieutenant Gardner has recently reported for duty in the USS Forrestal.