By Major Chase Spears, US Army
On Friday Michael Weimer became the 17th Sergeant Major of the Army. He assumed the role in a time of significant strain on the force due to turbulent political factors, a service component seemingly unsure of how to position itself in the post Global War on Terrorism era, and a steady drumbeat of institutional scandals.
Being the Sergeant Major of the Army is a tough role on a good day, but that is not the kind of day in which Weimer enters the office.
In the final days of my military career, I offer some thoughts on how our newest top Sergeant Major can steward the position to help restore a sense of stability to the force.
First, take input from beyond the echo chamber.
In recent years top Army officials have largely disregarded voices from significant portions of the population, claiming a desire to ‘look like America.’ Instead of preserving the trust of all Americans, they merely traded sympathies from one segment of the public to another.
One cannot gather an accurate social pulse by excluding the worldview of half the nation. Focus on people and standards, rather than intersectional self-identities.
Second, social media channels are only one avenue for keeping your fingers on force sentiment.
An hour on Twitter does not replace an hour walking the motorpool. Too many among us fell for a deception that all soldiers are on Twitter, and thus every military leader should “get on the bus” with them, and engage at whatever level the most junior user would want.
This #miltwitter grouping is plagued by military-affiliated social revolutionaries, and has become a place of disrespect and hostility within the ranks, “a circular firing squad in a cone of silence, where everybody is just taking each other out.”[i]
The behavior among this grouping of mostly U.S. Army members degrades military professionalism, and has repeatedly drawn the Army unnecessarily into negative news cycles.
Let your online presence be a reflection of your leadership, rather than a place to be pulled from your purpose.
Third, avoid being drawn into social activism in your official capacity.
Social and political movements come and go. Yet too many senior military officials have recently been caught up in them, some even launching informational counter fires against political commentators.
It had been understood in the age of Huntingtonian thought that the military stayed out of socio-political fights, opting instead to be more a ‘dignified’ element of governmental structure.[ii]
However, we have watched as prominent voices among the #miltwitter grouping call for installation commanders to ban channels such as Fox News over its critique of progressive military policy.
Many among them label politically inconvenient facts as disinformation, and malign, through tantrums of ad hominem, those who share such data.
Army Regulations prohibit such behavior, those rules are rarely enforced when it comes to online expression. Polls show an alarming drop in favorable public sentiment in the military, partly in response to such behavior.
No amount of marketing campaigns will reverse that trend. Only a change in actions can bridge the widening divide. Social stability requires a sense of principled permanence from the military.
In a storm-tossed sea, be a lighthouse firmly anchored upon a solid foundation.
Fourth, be discriminate with whom you associate.
There has been a trend of senior military officials who give platform, and even preference in future duty assignments, to connections made on social channels.
There seems to be a belief that because a particular soldier is loud and fits a popular narrative, that person is a useful influencer to align with. Those self-imagined stars inevitably prove unhelpful. Yet senior-leader endorsements of them remain a matter of record.
Train our NCOs to avoid this trap. Perhaps they will gain influence with their officers to do likewise.
Fifth, surround yourself with competent, mature, respectable public affairs counsel.
Anyone who employs an antagonistic approach, and who would advocate for the same with your official channels, is telling you that he or she is unqualified to offer sound counsel. Keep this point at the forefront of your thinking throughout your tenure. Apply it with all your courtiers.
Sixth, define what words like readiness and lethality actually mean.
These, among others, have become nothing more than pieces of value terminology: vague, meaningless words that tie to human emotions to make people feel pressured to agree with whatever idea you tie to them.
Senior officials attach them to every imaginable policy change, regardless of the relevant facts. Then the force echoes, because no one wants to be accused of inhibiting readiness or lethality.
This practice dumbs the military mind and distracts from actual combat training. Push the Army to produce legitimate definitions, and then discipline the force to use those terms in proper setting and context.
Finally, issue an apology on behalf of the Army for its participation in DoD’s unlawful and unscientific COVID shot requirement, and the particularly heartless way in which the Army prosecuted it.
In that one move, your legacy will be secured as one of the good guys and endear you forever in the hearts of the most principled men and women remaining in uniform.
Your job is a hard one. It may often feel lonely, as responsibility is isolating.
Cheap praise will be in constant supply from people who want to be close to power.
In contrast, being a steady hand on the wheel is hard, and often not recognized until long after encouragement would have been comforting.
We do not need more characters who want to be transformational, but leaders who can rightly be called reformational.
I ask that you use your influence to be a rising tide that elevates everything within your reach and restore dignity to the office you now hold.
The force needs it. The nation needs it.
I pray you lead well.
MAJ Chase Spears will soon retire from the U.S. Army after serving a 20 year career in public affairs both as an enlisted soldier and officer. He recently completed a transition fellowship as Chief of Staff to Kansas State House Representative Pat Proctor and is a doctoral candidate at Kansas State University. His opinions are his own and should not be construed to be those of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, U.S. Government, nor any other affiliated agencies.
[i] Qtd. in Mark Vielledent, Social Media in the Post-Digital Era: U.S. Army Senior Leaders’ Perceived Risk, doctoral dissertation (Gainesville, 2022), 124