Sound Off: Should the Military Be More Than a Jobs Training Program?



Last month at a Brookings Institution event, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called out the military for not doing more to prepare its men and women to succeed in a market economy. 

To quote Mr. Bernanke: “If you go into the military at age 18—versus an identical person who stays in the private sector and takes a private sector job—10 years later, if you leave the military, your skills and wages are probably not going to be as quite as high on average as the private-sector person.”

Army veteran Scott Beauchamp offers a reply today at The Atlantic, asserting that the military offers a powerful antidote to the cult of shareholder value. The American workplace can’t put a dollar value on honor and camaraderie, so it’s no surprise to Beauchamp that some vets feel uncomfortable in a world that champions the bottom line above everything else. Go read the whole thing and come back. We’ll still be here.

For anyone who doesn’t what to dive too deep into the author’s college-level philosophy musings, here’s Beauchamp’s personal view and his answer to civilian colleagues’ question about why he joined the military:

“Would your coworkers die for you?” Intense, to be sure, but the question illuminates the different mental and moral frameworks we were operating under. I joined the infantry specifically because I wanted a role in the military that didn’t have a civilian counterpart (unlike, say, becoming a medic or cook) precisely because I wanted to experience the intensity of purpose and camaraderie that simply doesn’t exist within the framework of our civilian economy.

Bernanke approaches the military strictly from a economic perspective: he sees better job training (or at least “better” in the sense that veterans would more easily plug into civilian jobs) as a way to justify the high cost of the military to taxpayers. Concepts like honor and service don’t readily translate to a spreadsheet.

This demands an intense discussion, one that gets at the heart of what it means to be an American. Should business take more cues from military culture?  Should the civilian economy champion service, commitment and honor alongside profit and shareholder value? Or should we adapt our armed forces training to make sure our military’s end product (veterans) is more useful to and more easily employed by the business community? Sound off!

  • Marine64

    Goes to show that Ben and others of his ilk, have absolutely no clue about the qualify of training provided by the military. He probably can’t believe that an 18 year can take apart and rebuilt a jet or helo engine. Can’t fully dismantle a tracked vehicle, or built a computer network. Or that after 4 years, they are at least a decade in front of their civilian counterpart.

    Those who climb the rank ladder manage more personnel and facilities at a younger age than anyone in the civilian community. When I was a 1st Lt, I had 87 high tech Marines in my charge doing aircraft maintenance on F-4 aircraft. As a senior major/LtCol – there were over 240 in my charge who kept an entire Marine Aircraft Group at a high mission readiness status and worked hand in hand with those at the squadron level. My senior staff NCOs were leaders, trainers, organizers, and expert managers who got the job done, day in an day out. This applies across the 4 DOD services and the Coast Guard.

    Problem is, people like Ben cannot believe that people can be THAT good at their job and refuse to hire them so that it can be proven. It is outrageous bias against the military members. Those companies that recognize the above and hire veterans learn quickly their business excels due to the people they hire. Maybe the so-called will someday get a grip and actually become smart business people instead of naysayers.

    • Dgala

      BINGO! Great comment.

      • Leon Suchorski

        When I was in, the part of my gear that related to civilian life, was the flight data recorders. No civilian aircraft had that yet, and I was the best that the Marines had on that gear. One time, our outfit went to Key West, and I was called down after 2 weeks. ALL of the systems were down, AND the test bench was down also. So I had no solid point to start with. But in 3 days time, with me having the lowest priority to work on the aircraft, I walked into TOP’s office and handed him some paperwork. I told him that the bench was up, I had three aircraft flying, and the rest were all parts on order. They had 15 guys down there, and could not spare even one to do what I did?

  • Guest

    Ah, wisdom from the myopic Ben Bernanke; he who still doesn’t understand economics. Did Bernanke ever serve in the military? Did Bernanke ever volunteer his services to any organization for the general welfare? Does Bernanke help out at his church? Does he even go to church?
    What possible authority does he have to advise anyone about anything, given his dismal performance in the federal banking racket?

  • CDOG

    Really? My time in the military, gave me a mental “step above” with leadership and technical skills. In fact, upon returning to civilian life, I had to tame my frustration with the civilian workforce, who displayed laziness and a lack in attention to fine details. It’s self-centered clowns like this who are ruining our country and extracting the core values.

  • Jim

    Why is Ben Bernanke still around! If it wasn’t for the highly trained military he would be given his opinion instead of giving it. I believe the civilian business world should be taking notes on how the military recruits and trains not the other way around. Everyone out of high school should be required to serve at least 2 years, bet there would be alot less welfare recipients sitting around getting free phones and healthcare and alot more productivity in the civilian workforce. All the employers I have had welcomed the fact that I served because they knew that they were getting an asset instead of a liability!

  • Navyjag907

    We do value honor, sacrifice, courage, and commitment. If in the civilian workplace these things aren’t values, that’s not a military problem. It just indicates that in some areas, the values are skewed. Growing up, I lived on Army posts where the values were as I described them. But I also saw many civilians who lived their lives with these same values and for whom cheating was anathema. My paternal grandfather owned a store and was renowned in his little community for his honesty. That was the norm and the exceptions, the cheaters etc., were looked down on. Money was extremely important in those days because it was so hard to make and there wasn’t much of it but it certainly wasn’t the only value.//I think Bernanke’s comments reflect current society where money is the bottom line in most human conduct and nothing is of value unless you can quantify it in dollars. But he’s a badly educated man if he doesn’t realize how different the military is and, apparently, he doesn’t. The answer is not to ensure that what we teach and train for translates into civilian skills because if we do that we’ll sure as hell lose the net war. I think the answer is that the military shouldn’t be worried about post-service employment. If that is a problem, then some other agency besides the Army or its sister services should deal with it. Bernanke assessment that our training is only of value if a civilian employer says so is so wide of the mark that he ought to be embarrassed.

  • KenLand

    The military core mission is to defeat enemies of this nation. We cant realistically turn into a Junior College.

  • senior

    Bottom line..,…millitary builds leaders young…..wall st builds more money hawks like himself.

  • VetJobFinder

    I am a disabled military veteran who works in the civilan sector now trying to assist other disabled veterans with finding suitable employment. I truly believe that veterans are far more ahead of the civilian workers than many employers think. Sure they try to write many veterans off as being “crazy” however, I believe this is just a misunderstanding between the veteran and employer because veterans may not stand for the lack of values, respect, or hard work that is evident in a lot of civilian sectors/workplaces. We, as veterans will work smarter/harder than any civilian and they view a lot of us as a threat. What may take them 4 years to learn we can almost master in as little as 8 weeks. Civilian jobs should model there training after the military not the other way around!

  • Leon Suchorski

    And then there was the time that we were expecting all hell to break loose. So the Air Force was flying everything out of Nam, but us Marines were just making everything ready to go on a second’s notice. We had a bird come in with a radio gripe, and my buddy and I were up to service that gripe. We told Maintenance Control that we were taking a gamble that it was the radio, so we needed the radio out as quick as possible. Normally, nothing happens until a bird is refueled and parked, because of the danger of a spark and fire. But we were all willing to risk it to get the job done. So, the seat shop pulled the back seat while the bird was in the pits, and we jumped right on it to change the radio. That was the problem all right, so we gave the bird back to the seat shop, and they finished just as they were parking the bird. Not 5 minutes later we had incoming, and a rocket hit that bird, and it existed no more. When my buddy realized that we wetre supposed to be working on that bird when it was hit(if we had done things in normal order), he just lost it all over the place. All that I could do was to grab him and hold him, and keep telling him that everything was okay, until he calmed down. Would civilians take all of those risks, just to do the job? I think not.