(H/T Reach 364)
We in the milblog community are avid readers, as evidenced by the plethora of posts about reading lists (to include a list of reading lists here at WOI). Indeed, the Army has long recognized the value of reading for professional development, with the Chief of Staff of the Army publishing an annual reading list for soldiers of all ranks. Certainly, looking at the great minds in the US Army--General Petraeus, Brig. Gen. McMaster, Col. McFarland, Col. Mansoor, Lt. Col. Nagl, etc--we can see the positive effects of a lifetime of reading and learning.
Recently, a few officers at the US Army's Company Command forum--a secure website where company commanders discuss work-related issues--have created a reading list for new platoon leaders and company commanders, which is receiving quite a bit of attention within the Army and also from our sister services as well. These officers implemented a reading program within their unit, forcing new leaders to get in the books and learn lessons from military leaders from generations past.
Nevertheless, as much as I like to read, and as much as I believe in professional reading programs, I've never been forced to read a book--aside from Army manuals and FAA regulations--in nearly eight years in the Army. In fact, when I got to my first unit, my company commander flat-out stated that he would never assign a book report to platoon leaders because he--and I quote--"hated to read".
Part of the reason I was never assigned a book to read revolved around the fact that, as a new lieutenant, I was expected to spend most of my time reading my aircraft operator's manual, my unit's standard operating procedures, and other technical and regulatory works. In all honesty, there simply wasn't enough time to read for pleasure. Plus, reading Army manuals will pretty much kill your desire to read, anyway.
The operational tempo of the Army, with its year abroad followed by a year at home, is such that precious home time is often so full of training exercises, equipment fielding and the like, that we don't want to take away an officer's little remaining free time with assigned reading. Not to mention, a lot of commanders are not avid readers themselves, and, if they do assign books, they are often books from the PX, many of which have little intellectual value, and are often the military equivalent of dime-store novels or Harlequin romances.
Even in professional military education, I've found that the reading requirement was generally waived or pencil-whipped. Strangely enough, though, some odd circumstances came together during my time in the Aviation Captains' Career Course that spurred me to start reading at an even more voracious rate.
The first was the fact that I knew that the Army was not going to teach me to fight in the 21st Century counterinsurgency environment. While there is valid debate as to how much counterinsurgency theory we should be teaching, it's safe to say that, if we're fighting insurgencies in two different wars, we ought not spend most of our time discussing Soviet BMP-2s and Division Tactical Groups. That, coupled with a strange new shift in tactics which was then called "The Surge", spurred me to start reading as much as I could about counterinsurgency.
The second such influence came through an unlikely source--the one and only Tucker Max. Yes, that Tucker Max--the guy that insults vacuous sluts, beats up sporting mascots, and fornicates with the vertically-challenged. Well, Tucker Max also has a reading list of some really good books, such as Thucydides, Homer and the like. Tucker introduced his readers to an author named Robert Greene, who wrote a series of books about Power, War and Seduction. From Robert Greene, I found references to all sorts of great books on strategy--Lawrence, Boyd, Machiavelli, you name it. I committed myself to reading as much as I could. After all, what else was I going to do in lower Alabama?
(Ed note: Okay, one of my fellow classmates can comment into a few other extracurricular activities, but that's neither here nor there. Suffice to say, my moral depravity really knows no bounds.)
While it is difficult to establish a reading program in peacetime, it's relatively simple to implement one during deployments. Troops can get quite bored, particularly when bad weather rolls in. Plus, reading is a much more productive alternative to playing XBox360 for hours on end.
Focus: Does anyone else have a similar experience with military reading programs?