02. September 2013 · Comments Off on Dealing With Politics and Bureaucracy While in the Military · Categories: Politics, Uncategorized · Tags: ,

Dealing With Politics and Bureaucracy While in the Military

This is a warning post regarding something everyone in the military deals with, but is rarely discussed prior to enlistment – military politics. The aim of this post shouldn’t be confused with what was discussed in BJtM’s last post, which talked at length about national political concerns and how it affects people in the military. Here, we’re discussing how life in the military will expose you to some concepts, behaviors, and personalities you may not otherwise come across as a civilian.

Politics in the military is a pretty vague notion, so it makes sense to narrow it down a bit. When joining the military, you subject yourself to one of the oldest hierarchies still in use. This system of authority has its place and comes with a number of positives, but it also subjects you to a few negatives that you may not have thought to consider as a civilian. Decisions will be made in spite of your contributions, and at levels where your voice may be completely drowned out, regardless of how logical your input may be. This is the nature of the military hierarchy.

Generally speaking, when you ship off to basic training, most of us know enough to expect to be treated like the lowest man on the totem pole. A lot of times, however, recruits leave basic training for the fleet or the field expecting different treatment. Very often meeting with a rather disappointing reality. For some time after BMT (basic military training), you can expect your opinion to be ignored and occasionally (or constantly) criticized. This is also deeply written into the nature of the military and shouldn’t be taken personally. However, once you spend a little time in the trenches or out at sea or wherever, you’ll begin to notice your expertise is taken a little more seriously and as you advance, you can expect to experience what it means to be a leader.

While many books have been written about these topics, what you don’t find are many discussions about the politics that come with that leadership. Many of us joined, worked to be promoted, worked our asses off to earn the respect of colleagues and subordinates only to discover a whole different aspect of leadership that had never been mentioned. Again, politics – which is generally short for dealing with the personal/professional agendas of your peers or seniors – is all but inevitable, and it makes sense to at least be aware of it.

As a junior military member, you’re bound to be on the brunt end of any number of political agendas – from your immediate ‘supervisor’ to your senior enlisted leadership to your executive officer and commanding officer and beyond. There are only a handful of approaches to dealing with this sort of game, and if you’ve worked in a corporate setting prior to enlisting, this all may seem quite familiar.


1) Be flexible.

In basic training, you’re pretty much at the mercy of your division commander/drill sergeant/etc – now is certainly not the time to try to play games.

Once you’re on the other side of boot camp, things change a bit, but this advice is still sound. Historically, you’re not customarily in control of when and if you’re deployed. Times are changing though, and it appears that even this is up for debate. Nonetheless, it’s wise to manage your expectations when it comes to your military experience. Your time will largely be spoken for, and the best practice when planning thing like college plans, leave/furlough, second jobs, and the like is to not be discouraged (irritated is fine) when your command’s needs take precedence over your agendas.


2) Be resilient.

You’re in it for the long haul. Ultimately, persistence will get you what you want, assuming it’s not in opposition to your command’s mission.

A hypothetical – your immediate supervisor claims that you will be busy with exercises/training/mess cranking and refuses to approve a vital part of your Tuition Assistance. You can get mad, get discouraged, bitch to your colleagues about how big of prick he is or whatever. Or you can adopt the more sound, rational strategy:

1) demonstrate how you’re capable of handling the responsibilities of school in addition to your job duties and

2) don’t be afraid to negotiate with his supervisor. The chain of command is there for this reason. More on this type of scenario at a later date, but for the time being, this illustrates how a situation requiring these attributes might play out.


The higher up the food chain you get, the more political your professional career becomes. On the brighter side, there are more approaches you can take. It’s also wise to acquire knowledge about how and why some of these games are played. for reference, I strongly suggest picking up a copy of Robert Greene’s book, The 48 Laws of Power