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Open Email to Gen. Casey

September 6, 2010

This post is part of a series entitled “My Old Writing: Let Me Show You It.”

As referenced in my previous post, I spoke with General George Casey in 2007 during a Brookings event on maintaining quality in the force (transcript and video available here. I get chatty around 59:06.) Afterward, we struck up a short email conversation:

Dear General Casey,

My sincere thanks for your briefing at Brookings this morning, particularly for your response to my question regarding military recruiting from Ivy Leagues and other elite schools. I agree completely with your response that there needs to be a national call to service – but I also believe that military service is a distinct type of national service that has a very different impact, both on the individual and on society more broadly, than service in the Peace Corps or in AmeriCorps.

You spoke about offering officers a menu of options for broadening their experiences to improve their ability to lead in the increasingly complex situations we’re seeing; why not supplement that by taking advantage of elite graduates who have already had many of those broadening experiences through study abroad programs, internships with a variety of organizations, and complex senior theses on modern security issues? These individuals are, by and large, not enlisting upon graduation, and it seems like a worthwhile group to think about increasing recruitment from. Our most trusted political voices on military matters are, sensibly, those with military experience; I worry that in 20 or 30 years from now, when my generation assumes political leadership roles, we will not have the necessary experience to understand our national security needs in a military way.

I would, of course, be happy to discuss this at greater length; it’s an issue I’ve grappled with at length without coming to solid conclusions, but I feel like it bears some thought. Many thanks again for your thoughtful and timely briefing, and for your consideration of my questions. I wish you the best in your efforts to transform an already excellent organization.

Warm regards,



Diana, thanks for your question and your thoughts.  Would welcome  your further thoughts on recruiting on ivy league campuses and on the propensity of those students to come in the service after graduation.


Dear General Casey,

Many thanks for your response, and my apologies for the delay in responding; I wanted to be sure I did the question justice. As a caveat, my opinions are backed only by anecdotal evidence, and I don’t claim to speak for my entire “graduates of elite undergraduate institutions” cohort, but I think I speak for many of us. These are not necessarily the only reasons we don’t join, but these influence our decisions. We are afforded many opportunities upon graduation, and when weighing our options, we are often looking for reasons not to choose an employer. These have been some of those reasons for my friends, family, and me personally. We are not compelled by economic or familial pressures to join the military; if we serve, it’s because we are making a conscious choice and conscious statement that we believe in what we are fighting for.

That said, some thoughts:

  • We are not anti-military in the way our parents were; indeed, we don’t really blame the military for our current situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we haven’t been impressed by the political leadership we’ve seen in the last several years, and we find it difficult, if not morally reprehensible, to go to war for this administration. We just don’t trust our politicians to make the best choices for our country.

    • The Iraq War in particular is a stumbling block. We’re not naïve enough to expect a mea culpa, but by the same token we don’t feel obligated to potentially give our lives for a cause we don’t believe in and politicians we don’t trust. We understand that we can’t just pick up and leave Iraq, and we know that the reasons for staying in this war are different than the reasons for starting it, but we dislike the way this war has been handled, and want an admission of wrongdoing. Afghanistan does not present this same problem.

  • Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:  We have grown up aware of and, to a large extent, accepting of homosexuality as a lifestyle choice. Whether or not the military takes concrete steps towards accepting and protecting this class of people, we find the maintenance of this policy frustrating and indicative of a narrow-mindedness we are unwilling to live with day-to-day.

    • Additionally, recruiting efforts on college campuses have been hampered as a result of DADT. If recruiters cannot talk candidly with college students, we aren’t going to receive crucial information about why we might choose military service and what it would be like. We aren’t at a loss for what to do with ourselves after we graduate, so there’s no incentive for us to go out and look for this information otherwise.

  • Among my female friends, we remain concerned by the possibility of harassment in a male-dominated, often hyper-macho culture. We want assurances that women’s issues are not ignored or swept under the rug. I clearly recall being disgusted by the handling of a string of rape allegations at the Air Force Academy in 2003, and choosing at the time not to consider military service after graduation. A major push to make it clear that the military does not, in fact, drop charges or simply reassign people as a way of smoothing over accusations of rape and harassment may help change this negative impression.

In my conversations, it seems like a national call to service from a figure we liked, respected, and trusted to lead us wisely and to use military force as a last resort would gain a real response. We want to be asked to serve; we don’t want to be asked to shop. But we don’t see that leader in this administration, and so we don’t join.

Thank you very much for your time and your consideration of my comments. Please know how much I appreciate having the opportunity to express my views and, by extension, those of my friends and peers. I am, as before, willing to discuss these points if you’d like.

Warm regards,



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