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32

OCTOBER 2015

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

W

hen colleagues first

approached me to

suggest I write for this

issue of

The Foreign

Service Journal

about

my military background

and how it affected

my Foreign Service

career, I was reluctant.

But as I reflected on the subject, I decided I could offer some

observations that might prove useful to the new generation of

Foreign Service personnel who, for the most part, have never

done military service or had much contact with members of the

armed forces.

THE VALUE OF MILITARY TRAINING

FOR DIPLOMATS:

A Personal Story

Understanding our military, its role and its importance in interagency decision-making,

should be a high priority for diplomats—especially for those beginning their careers.

BY GEORGE M . STAPL ES

George M. Staples served from 1981 to 2007 as a Foreign

Service officer after spending eight years in the Air Force

and two years in the private sector. His diplomatic assign-

ments included posts in Central and South America, the

Caribbean, the Middle East and Africa, and at NATO, where he was the

diplomatic adviser to Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)

General James Jones. He served as ambassador to Rwanda, Cameroon

and Equatorial Guinea. Ambassador Staples’ last assignment was as

director general of the Foreign Service. He now teaches and consults at

the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of International Diplo-

macy and Commerce.

I graduated from college in 1970 with a political science

degree—and as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force follow-

ing three years in the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

It was not until later, though, that I realized just how much that

training I’d received, both in AFROTC and during my eight years

as an Air Force officer, would benefit me throughout my State

Department career.

Leadership and Motivation

Many people have the impression, probably from TV and

the movies, that the military services are hierarchal organiza-

tions run by senior officers who give orders to subordinates who

immediately say “Yes, sir!” and then salute and do as they’ve

been told. Nothing could be farther from the truth, however.

While orders or directives are expected to be followed once a

decision has been made, military leaders at all levels are encour-

aged throughout their careers to lead by example, seek the input

from everyone assigned to work on a project, recognize when

a decision isn’t producing the expected results, and have the

courage to bury the ego and correct course. These expectations

place a premium on developing strong interpersonal skills, and

finding ways to acknowledge and reward individuals to generate

unit pride and build teamwork.

Military officers begin from the start of their basic training to

read about and study principles of leadership from both military

and civilian sources. In my college ROTC program the guest

FOCUS

ON CIV-MIL RELATIONS