Think Like an Officer

“I’ve got (x) years (or months) to get you thinking like an officer.”

I said this line frequently to my students during my years in the Commandant’s Department at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The Academy, also known as Kings Point, trains and educates officers for the merchant marine. About 25 percent of all graduates accept active-duty commissions in the armed forces, with the rest required to take a commission in some reserve component. The school is run on military lines with the students ranked as midshipmen, in uniform, and organized into units. In addition to admonishing students, I used a similar line on a few civilian colleagues: “You need to start thinking like an officer.”

When I said it to students, I meant that I wanted them to think like warfighters, like tacticians and strategists. I wanted them to cultivate the killer or predatory instinct needed in a tactician, as well as a knowledge of and respect for the laws and conventions of war, for the serious ethical and human consequences of decisions that they might be making in a matter of months. I also wanted them to start developing a strategic sense, to realize that mere “problem-solving” might not be enough if they were solving the wrong problem, like trying to fix the palace plumbing while Rome burned.

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