Officer Politics in the Army

Today, I want to talk about officer politics in the Army.  I spent about 12 years as a commissioned officer between the Active Duty Army and Army National Guard.  While I enjoyed the experience overall, there were several things about it that drove me absolutely crazy.  One of those things in particular was the “politics” that you had to deal with.

I’ll be the first to admit that EVERY organization, military and non-military alike have “office politics” or “politics” that you have to deal with.  It’s pretty normal in most jobs, whether it’s a volunteer organization or corporate America.  All organizations have figureheads, customs, courtesies, informal rules, jargon, and networking.

Some organizations (both inside and outside the military) keep the politics to a minimum, while other organizations thrive on it.

Some people are masters at the political shuffle (as I call it). Some folks even enjoy it (not me).  And some people despise it more than anything else.

When I think of officer politics in the Army, here are just a few things that come to mind:

  • People backstabbing others to excel their own career
  • Acting one way in front of a superior and differently around other superiors, peers or subordinates
  • Being forced to attend extracurricular events and mandatory fun, even if you have no desire to do so
  • Having your spouse be forced to act/dress/talk a certain way so you don’t get blackballed
  • Keeping your views and opinions to yourself, even when something is messed up or wrong
  • Doing what you need to do to make sure you are “liked” by the in crowd
  • Avoiding certain people who have been blackballed by the organization

Once again, this is just a short list of things you can expect to deal with.  I can tell you that it will vary significantly based upon your job, rank, superiors, and unit.  Some senior leaders hate politics and others love it.

When you talk to other officers, there are really two viewpoints about the subject.  Some officers will tell you to avoid the politics at all costs and just let your performance speak for itself.  Other officers are enthralled by the idea and encourage you to be political.

To have a successful military career, and enjoy life, I think you have to be somewhere in the middle of the road.  I think it’s best to be good at your job and then figure out “how” political you want to be with your peers, superiors and subordinates.

I’ve met plenty of people who were marginal performers who excelled their career by being with the in crowd and always saying the right thing.  And I’ve even met some superstars that were held back in their career because they refused to play the political game.  Ultimately, you have to decide what is best for you and your own career.

What do you think about officer politics in the Army?  What do you like and dislike?  What do you recommend to other officers serving in the Army?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.  I look forward to hearing from you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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8 thoughts on “Officer Politics in the Army”

  1. You are absolutely right that all jobs have office politics. My dad, a retired career officer, volunteered at a food service program at a homeless shelter. This is an individual who commanded troops in the field, retired, and wanted to help his community by feeding people who – for whatever reason – couldn’t feed themselves. Guess what? After surviving and thriving 20+ years in the military, he was fired from his volunteer job because of office politics at the homeless shelter. No matter what your view on office politics, they are a reality that you have to deal with. Everywhere. Learn to play the game.

  2. One thing that I have learned over the years, and has worked for me quite well when others are trying to draw me into political situations in the work place is: I play somewhat stupid. I act as if I do not know what they are talking about, I don’t get involved in any gossip, and I do my job as if I were doing it for God. By having this mentality, it usually shows the ones playing the game that I want no part of it, and it normally works.

  3. I believe no matter what, anyone will have to play some politics no matter where they are. It seems in every job and company I have ever worked, there are politics of one form or another. When someone says to stay clear of the politics, I become wary of them immediately. In many cases, the person who states such a thing plays the political game heavy. It is just something I have noticed throughout life. I believe the best bet is to just try to keep the lights from shining brightly on you. Keep your head down and do your job. Play the political game when you need to, but do it quickly and quietly.

    1. All jobs and organizations have some level of politics. Any time you involve people you will have it. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if you want to play the game or be an outsider.

      1. Politics can be a very dangerous, and career threatening game to play. Whether it is in the military or in a civilian career. I found myself knee deep in a political struggle when I lived in Lebanon, Missouri. I worked at one of the largest companies in the town, and when my grandson was, I feel murdered, I protested the local government. I soon found myself laid off from the job–because of politics. This was a political struggle I was forced to play, but it did teach me some huge lessons–the main one is to do everything in my power to stay out of politics.

  4. Being in the Guard reminds me of HS. Very cliquish and very stratified (with the in-crowd often made up of Combat Arms types). Even in a fairly large state (7k Army) that leaves a small pool of people and you need to be aware of your actions at all times since there is normally only one degree of separation in an Officer pool of that size.

    The only mandatory event that I wish I could find a better way of getting out of is our annual Officer Conference, where you are strongly encouraged to attend.

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