By Amanda Huffman
Contributing Writer

The world is changing. Each generation is so different from the last. People who join the military today view work, time with family, and work-life balance differently than past generations. The military is struggling to recruit this new generation known as Gen Z. Besides the ways Gen Z look at work, they are seeing negative stories in the news about public leadership failures, military sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress, and more. Gen Z began in 1997 and doesn’t truly remember a time when the U.S. military hasn’t been at war. And with tensions on the rise in the Middle East the future is uncertain. 

These are huge issues and need to be addressed. As a military spouse and military Veteran, I have been watching to see what changes the military is making. Specifically, I am looking to see what is being done to address the concerns of this new generation. To say I’m disappointed in what I’ve seen would be an understatement. 

I truly believe the military offers many good things to young people. I wrote a book, A Girl’s Guide to Military Service, to help high school girls considering military service build a strong foundation of service. My own experience in the military wasn’t perfect but it changed my life for the better. However, the military seems to be diminishing real concerns, especially from the veteran community, and holding fast to tradition instead of seeing where changes can be made. 

In her new book, Military Culture Shift, Corie Weather highlights the friction that exists among the various generations that are currently serving. Currently, the military is led by older Gen X.  Most Baby Boomers are already retired from service, but they still play a  dominant role in the military community since they are still active in civilian roles, often in high levels of leadership. Younger Gen X and older Millennials make up a majority of the Field Grade Officer Corps and much of the senior enlisted ranks. The rest of the military is made up of Millennials and Gen Z, who are currently joining the military. 

Not only does each generation see things differently, they also communicate differently. While Boomers often view questions as a show of disrespect, Millennials and Gen Z see questions as an important part of the communication process. These differences can cause friction when each group misinterprets what the other is saying or doing. 

Military Culture Shift: The impact of war, money, and generational perspective on morale, retention, and leadership by Corie Weathers, published by Elva Resa Publishing

One of the top issues I see is the lack of work-life balance amid the stress of military life. While the pandemic had many negative aspects, one positive aspect was that it showed the military that the mission could get done in new and different ways. Some jobs could be done remotely. At my husband’s base, for example, many jobs can be done remotely and have continued to be done remotely for at least a few days a week ever since the pandemic.  

Remote work provides flexibility for families and servicemembers. But now that COVID is over, there is a push to take that flexibility away from servicemembers. I have heard from several different leaders that there is a push to bring people back to base every day. For what reason? I haven’t gotten a clear answer, but it feels as though the response is “because that’s how we did it before.” 

In my opinion, the world has changed, and taking back the flexibility offered to servicemembers is a huge step back. If the mission wasn’t being done, then I would understand. But often leaders don’t even know that people are not in person until they find out when trying to plan commander’s calls or Christmas parties. I have even heard of some leaders not even waiting to see what the situation is like, they demand new work schedules the moment they take command. 

I believe most leaders truly care about their people and are working to take care of servicemembers and their families. Leaders are not failing as a whole, but it happens often enough that it is having an effect on how people view the military. There have been many laws passed in the wake of Vanessa Guillen’s death, but there are still people who try to use loopholes to bypass these laws and not hold leaders accountable. While this often does not make national news, it does happen and affects the morale. 

I have also heard stories on my podcast Women of the Military and from my friends who are either servicemembers or military spouses who have shared their disappointment when leaders have failed them. 

In the past few weeks, I have seen a few posts on social media about how Veterans need to tell their story. But the push also has a narrative that highlights only the positive. The top brass is encouraging Veterans to share their positive experiences of the military, not the negative ones. They want Veterans to encourage the next generation to join. The Army’s attempt to bring back the slogan Be All You Can Be backfired because it brought back memories of hopes and dreams for what joining the military would be like for Gen Z’s parents and how the reality often didn’t match. 

The more I look at what the military is doing, the more concerned I am for the future. Will the military make the changes needed to continue making it able to protect America? Only time will tell. 

Amanda is a military veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer who served on a combat deployment with the Army in Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career in the Space Force. Amanda is the host of the Women of the Military podcast. There she shares the stories of women who have served or are serving in the military. The podcast has over 200 episodes and over 100K downloads. Amanda is also an author and has published two books. Her first book, Women of the Military tells the stories of 28 military women who served in the military. Her second book, A Girl’s Guide to Military Serviceis the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Winner for Teen Non Fiction. It is a guide for high school girls considering military service to help them build a strong foundation for their future career. She also works as a freelance writer and has been featured in a number of military publications including The War, Military Families Magazine, Clearance Jobs, Military Spouse Magazine, and more. 

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