Tactical

Army leaders want soldiers to write about the issues facing the force

The Army is reviving its focus on professional writing, encouraging all ranks to contribute throughout their careers to the ongoing discourse on soldiering and how the service can adapt to changing times.

As one of his priorities, in September Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George announced The Harding Project, which is aimed at reinvesting in professional military writing and fostering discussion and debate on a variety of military topics.

Last week at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, senior leaders such as Gen. Gary Brito, head of Army Training and Doctrine Command, Lt. Gen. Milford Beagle, commander of the Army’s Combined Arms Center, and dozens of experts in military writing and study, met to evaluate the state of professional writing in the service, lay out goals to improve the effort and determine what gaps exist between the two.

Some of that will include filling out the editorial staff of the various branch magazines and journals, opening up online access to various publication archives and using websites such as The Harding Project’s host, The Modern War Institute at West Point.

In an article co-authored by George, Brito and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer that was published on MWI in September, they noted that the service needs a diversity of opinions during this current inter-war period.

The “inter-war period” reference calls back to the namesake of the new project, Maj. Edwin “Forrest” Harding, who was selected as editor of the Infantry Journal in 1934. The major managed to more than double the journal’s circulation in four years, pushing “critical debates over changing tactics and technology before America joined World War II,” wrote Zachary Griffiths and Theo Lipsky on the MWI website.

George and Brito noted the decline in articles and issues for the once-robust branch magazines in recent decades. Most of the publications have declined in output and readership and failed to adapt to modern demands of rapid online publishing, interactive tools and digital access to archives, Griffiths and Lipsky noted.

Brito said he remembered learning about his own field, infantry, but also recalled reading articles and branch magazines covering other parts of the Army such as artillery.

The general wrote early on as a captain but looks back on an article of his that was published in Infantry Magazine on managing combat stress as a battalion commander. The piece was published following his own combat deployment in the early 2000s as a battalion commander.

Beagle told Army Times on Thursday that a “crucible point” in his Army career came when he was accepted to the School of Advanced Military Studies, which pushed him to improve his writing.

And that served him far more than passing his classes, he said.

“Good writing is clear thinking,” Beagle said. “And clear thinking is also disciplined thinking. How disciplined can you be to get your thinking on paper in a succinct and precise way for others to digest and understand what you’re saying?”

Brito offered a tip he’s used over the years — write down those ideas, problems and challenges as they happen. Keeping a notebook, smartphone or even a dry erase board near your workstation will help capture thoughts that could develop into solutions for problems a soldier faces in their day-to-day work.

“Capture that at the moment so you can come back and research it,” Brito said.

That kind of written discourse is about exchanging ideas, delivering new perspectives, and “fundamentally, it’s about learning from your peers,” Beagle said.

There are some bragging rights involved, too.

George and Brito highlighted recognition efforts in their September article. The project will recognize three impactful articles each month, awarding the authors with a pen, coin and personal note of congratulations.

The first such soldiers honored in the initial rollout included 1st Lt. Mara Tazartus for her article “Lessons Learned in Company Team Engagement Are Development” in Armor Magazine and Sgt. 1st Class Leyton Summerlin for his article “Standardizing Excellence” in Infantry Magazine.

Those examples, from a junior officer and enlisted soldiers, highlight the diversifying of opinions senior leaders are seeking, Beagle said.

“It is absolutely critical to have that diversity of thinking and perspectives,” Beagle said. “Good writing, good thinking, doesn’t really have a rank.”

In the Chief’s December picks, Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse Clark’s article “Assessing the Climate in your Organization: A CSM’s Perspective,” in Infantry Magazine, Lt. Col. Jay Ireland and Maj. Ryan Van Wie’s article “Task Organizing the Combined Arms Battalion for Success in Eastern Europe,” in Military Review and Maj. Ryan Cornell-d’Echert’s “Good Leaders Ask Better Questions” in the Green Notebook, took home the monthly honors.

Brito noted that it can be challenging, and he understands that some might be hesitant about “sticking your chin out there.” But if a budding writer is confident in the topic and can provide a relevant perspective that can help other soldiers learn, then it’s worth helping their peers and their profession.

Beagle agreed that writing isn’t easy. It’s hard to put out ideas that might be shot down or challenged. But the feedback, even if critical, “will absolutely make them better at the end of the day,” he said.

“Writing is hard, we all know that, but you have to practice and continue to work at it,” Beagle said.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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