Around the Table is a three-question interview series from the Make Room email newsletter. Each edition features a conversation with a peer in the national security community to learn about their expertise and experience in the sector.
CPT Harrison Mann is an officer in the U.S. Army. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the Army or the Department of Defense.
In what ways have you seen your experience in the Army and as a graduate student connect?
The obvious intersection of military service and graduate study is discipline, like resisting the urge to blurt out in the very first sentence that I went to Harvard! The actual discipline that grad school demanded was the discipline to leave my comfort zone as a member of the military. As my opening indicated, my discipline is limited—so I did take a lot of international relations and national security courses, which were instructive for understanding why the Army had sent me around the world. But the unique value of my education was the opportunity to learn from activists, entrepreneurs, politicians, and educators, and otherwise reconnect with the non-military universe. And my classmates did take me outside my comfort zone, from convincing me to study economics (hopefully those grades are sealed) to recruiting me as the “white people representative” for a seminar on racism (hopefully that video is deleted). My civilian classmates were a humbling reminder that courage and leadership exist in many forms, and most of them are found outside the military. They were also a reminder—especially salient for the officer who imagines he’s working at the strategic level—that there are many conceptions of security that have nothing to do with hypersonic missiles.
What advice do you wish you received when starting out your career?
Comparison is the thief of joy. You will inevitably have some peers who are luckier than you (or, in my case, smarter and more talented) who end up in more exciting jobs. You may, for example, find yourself charged with hunting for underage drinkers in the barracks, well-aware that your friend is calling in airstrikes to defend an entire district he’s in charge of. That can be disheartening. But whatever your job is, there are people who depend on you, and they really don’t care if you’d rather be somewhere else. Learn to ”love the one you’re with” or your lack of enthusiasm will show, and your performance will suffer. Also, develop a full identity outside of work. To my great dismay, I discovered nobody at the bar cares that you jumped out of an airplane last week. More importantly, you need other sources of self-worth when your career disappoints you or even comes to an end. Not to say that you shouldn’t love what you do, or the people you do it with—but a bureaucracy can’t love you back, so make sure you have something else going on in your life...even if it’s CrossFit.
What advice do you have for LGBTQIA+ people planning to enlist or commission?
Prepare for the adventure of a lifetime, though queerness of individual adventures may vary. Both official and cultural attitudes toward sexual identity have progressed enormously in the Army, even in the 10 years since I joined. Anecdotally, I have met many more openly queer service members and heard far fewer of the jokes and comments that were common when I started out. Attitudes toward transgender people are less enlightened, but trending in the right direction. Queer people should largely feel confident and safe signing up, but I would note that many military cultures, especially in combat units, value traditional conceptions of masculinity. Troops who don’t conform to those will have a harder time being accepted by their peers. You should also be prepared to be an ambassador. If you choose to be out, there’s a good chance that you’ll be the first queer person that some of your comrades have ever met (that they were aware of!). Expect to hear some questions that may sound insensitive or ignorant, but which may also come from good-natured curiosity. Finally, understand that military service can involve logistical obstacles to living as your most authentic self. You might be posted in a rural area without much of a gay scene. I’ve also served in countries where homosexuality was against the law...and those just didn’t feel like the right times to begin my journey of exploration.
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