During World War II a popular American tune gave encouragement to our embattled nation. "If we have to take a licking, carry on and quit your kicking, but don't give up the ship." During the darkest hours of Pearl Harbor, Corregidor, and Kasserine Pass, Americans refused to "give up the ship." Instead, they bonded together with a synergistic effort that Hirohito, Hitler, and Mussolini could never conquer. Through determination to fight together, American armed forces turned early defeats into final victories. American warriors stopped the Japanese at Midway, slammed the Germans at El Guettar, and began the European offensive by stripping the Italians of Sicily.

Leading the American military victory were commanders like Marshall, Nimitz, Eisenhower, Doolittle, Bradley, Patton, and scores of others who were already in the ranks and available to answer freedom's call. Just as the nation was able to call upon commanders to lead the victories, it was also able to rally the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to win the battles. Victories and defeats are always decided in the combat readiness and fighting spirit of the individual warriors. The leaders were willing to give of themselves, as were the junior officers, NCOs, and junior enlisted.

America, fresh from victory over the Axis powers, had reason to take pride in its World War II role. As the last major military power to enter the war, America made a powerful impact. With American involvement the allies took the fight to Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo. At the end of the war, Americans knew if they had not answered humanity's call, the world would have been left in despair. Recognition of this fact also brought realization of a responsibility that would remain. Americans knew they had a protecting role to fulfill. No matter how desperate the moment, they could never yield this responsibility.

In a distinctive way, that American awakening was captured in the 1948 Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, the movie's main character, was played by real-life war hero Jimmy Stewart. George always gave to others and asked nothing in return. As a boy, George lost hearing in one ear while saving his brother from drowning. Later, as combat pilot, George's brother saved a shipload of sailors from a Kamikaze attack. George sacrificed his own potential wealth by standing in the way of a self-serving opportunist. Though his work and dedication to those around him, George created a positive environment for his family and community. Then in a twist of events not of his own creation, George was overcome by depression and wished he had never been born. Through the eyes of an angel, he was allowed to see what life would have been without his presence. If George had not been there to save his brother, his brother would not have been there to save the shipload of sailors. If George had not been there to lead and protect the community, the community would have been destroyed from within. George Bailey portrayed America's determination to never give up the fight.

Unfortunately, decades later, members of the same military from whose ranks came the great leaders and warriors of World War II are giving up the fight. Membership is decreasing at an alarming rate. Many factors are ascribed for this problem. Blame is often cast to lack of resources and equipment. The military has often suffered in this arena. No battlefield commander who sustained long-term engagement with the enemy ever felt his resources were adequate. Battlefield resources of World War II were limited, but like George Bailey, our fathers kept pushing forward. Blame is also rendered to the civilian economy, as being too strong. The claim is that service members are able to better market their skills outside the ranks. This is true for pilots and nuclear engineers, but not for themajority of the ranks. Furthermore, compared to today, the officers and NCOs of the 1940s earned far less money than their civilian counterparts. However, again like George Bailey, they were more concerned with responsibility than financial gain.

In truth, today's biggest problem is lack of professionalism by too many current members. In the late 1970s the trend was for management instead of leadership. Then came the 1980s. When not motivated to a higher standard, the American military reflects the civilian sector. American military supervisors were able to fit into the "me" decade. Due to lack of a "reduction-in-force" since the early seventies, the military build-up of the Reagan administration, a significant increase in pay, and the lack of long-term military conflict which would send self-serving officers and NCOs scurrying for shelter; the armed forces became a haven for those who couldn't make it in the civilian sector. Unfortunately, they didn't make it in the military either. Meanwhile, lack of accountability was becoming an ever increasing problem. These individuals were allowed to progress through the ranks, given nice evaluations, and passed on to someone else. The cutbacks in the 1990s only added to the problem. By offering outstanding voluntary separation benefits, too many outstanding service members took the incentives. Countless self-serving officers and NCOs, who had no were else to go, remained. A lot of money was paid to get the wrong people to leave the ranks.

Today's service members are tomorrow's leaders. To properly develop, they require professional and self-sacrificing leadership. Every person is affected in one form or another by those these follow. Professional leaders produce professional subordinates. Self-serving supervisors produce either subordinates in their own image or one strong enough to develop on their own, recognizing what they do not wish to become. In the past decade self-serving supervisors have cause the American military to lose more professional members than all combined wars in the past one hundred years.

When professionals leave, the military has an abundance of self-serving opportunists ready to fill the vacancies. These substitutes, unable to make it in the civilian sector, have nowhere else to go. A vacancy made by a professional assures a sub-standard officer or NCO an unearned meal ticket and an undeserved retirement. Without a professional military composed of members dedicated to something far greater than themselves, a great sacrifice will one day be made. Presently, that price is being paid in national embarrassments every time a corrupt individual is exposed. It is also being paid by lack of quality developmental mentoring and training rendered to young soldiers. In future battles, the price of shortfalls will be the blood and lives of these soldiers. Like George Bailey, there to save his brother, professionals must remain to train and develop today's service menbers for the day they are called on to achieve victory with minimal casualties.

Unlike equipment and resources, the loss of professionals cannot be quickly made right by Congress increasing the budget. The Halseys, Bradleys, and Pattons were a product of many decades of development. The same expectation must be made for the professionals who fight the battles and deliver the victories planned by admirals and generals. The long-term survivability of the military, and in turn this nation, is dependent upon the ever-standing, numerous presences of individual warriors.

As basic as the aforementioned is, too many officers and NCOs either do not comprehend or do not care about the message. For those who use the system for their own personal gain, their attitude is understandable. These individuals are the problem. No form of cancer has ever been known to cure itself. The cure is going to have to come from those who follow the principles of Duty, Honor, Country - and from those who refuse to give up the fight.

In an unstable world of rapid change, we must be ever ready to answer freedom's call. Future conflicts won't afford us time to clean up our ranks and become combat deployable. Response time will be very limited. Not since the days of colonial Minutemen have we had to be able to respond on such short notice. We must have professional leaders and warriors already in place. Unlike George Bailey, we are not going to get an opportunity to see what would have become of the military in our absence and then wish ourselves back into its ranks. We only have the chance of passing time to do what is right.

For our ancestors who lead the way, we cannot give up the freedom which they fought and died to give to us. For our descendants who follow, we must maintain this nation in the best condition possible. For ourselves, we must preserve our way of life. Our nation was built by overcoming difficulty and defeating overwhelming odds. As a nation, we have fought and defeated many adversaries. It is unfortunate that our greatest adversaries today are the self-serving officers and NCOs who use their positions for personal gain. Yet, we have no right to turn our backs and walk away. To do so makes us no better than those who are undermining national defense. Every time a professional remains in the ranks, one less position is available to a self-serving opportunist. Every time a professional mentors a young service member, that individual's chance for battlefield survival grows. Every time a professional forces a self-serving officer or NCO to leave the ranks, the greater the chance for retaining another professional. To every professional service member, the call must be heard and answered - never give up the fight!

©2021 Wes Martin