warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Improved Relations Between Civilians And Military Is Critical

Phong D. Nguyen |
October 27, 2011 | 9:18 p.m. PDT

Staff Contributor

(U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Robert Couse-Baker, Creative Commons)
(U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Robert Couse-Baker, Creative Commons)
In the United States the military has historically been a prominent and proud institution. For our generation, the events of 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have brought the military to the forefront of our lives. We make signs that say we support our troops, hang up yellow ribbons, and continue to thank our men and women in uniform for their service. Yet for all the public show of support, a disconnect remains between civilians and the military.

Last week, I went to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs as a civilian delegate for a conference on foreign affairs. Among the group that participated, a little less than half were civilians. Everywhere we went, we were continuously referred to as civilians, essentially making it clear we were outsiders in a relatively insular institution. It is not really a surprise: at the Academy, being out of uniform makes you stand out. In fact, the Air Force major who was running the conference stated that the reason for bringing in civilians was to provide a contrast to the prevalent school of thought on foreign affairs at the Academy.

A cadet at my roundtable stated his concern that civilians tended to see military academy students as warmongers, a perception that seems to be pervasive in the civilian world. Spending time with cadets reaffirmed my conviction that those in the military are by no means warmongers. Nearly all of the cadets I spoke to wanted peace just as much as any reasonable person would. They have the same concerns as any other college student. But the major difference is that they wear a uniform.

One of the concerns that civilian students and military cadets share is future employment. For the Academy cadets, the defense budget cuts and the increased use of drones is a major worry, especially since a significant number of cadets want to be pilots. How different is it really from students at civilian universities concerned with high unemployment, a weak job market, and the possibility of being replaced by a cheaper alternative? In short—not very.

There was a particularly poignant moment during a negotiation exercise. After dividing up into groups, it turned out that the majority of the team leaders were civilians. This seemed odd to me, especially considering that there were a number of senior cadets who already had substantial leadership experience. Why was that the case?

“Because in real life, civilians are in charge of the military,” said one senior cadet.

The statement struck me because I realized it was indeed true. No matter what rank a military man achieves, ultimately he must listen to the politicians and decision-makers who shape our foreign policy. The same civilians also decide the size of the defense budget. Decreasing the size of the budget has led to the possibility of cuts in healthcare and education for military personnel. In a profession that pays relatively little, such changes can drastically affect the quality of life of the troops. At the end of the day, civilians control the military and the fate of its service members.

As civilian university students, it is imperative that we work to improve the civilian-military relationship. At some point in the future, we may be those politicians and foreign policy makers that have to make the hard decisions. The War on Terror does not appear to be ending any time soon. As such, civilians must make an effort to truly understand the military’s culture, capabilities, and the concerns of those who put their lives on the line to protect our country.


Best way to find more great content from Neon Tommy?

Or join our email list below to enjoy the weekly Neon Tommy News Highlights.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.