Becoming an Officer and a Gentleman By Mark Thompson

DeM Banter:  The tone of this article is interesting… is the implication really that we don’t need this sort of training–especially in this day and age?  I very much recall the similar training we received at The Citadel and found it if the highest value (of course I have let much it it slip every now and again–but that was to no fault of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets).  Do we need training on proper manners and etiquette? Thoughts?

View Original / Time Swampland / 14 Jan 14

Air Force Academy seeks help to teach cadets finer points of finer living

an-officer-and-a-gentleman-11-mayo-pushupsSure, you’re learning how to bomb an enemy capital back to the Stone Age with that old tried-and-true “shock and awe” strategy. But do you become flustered at a fancy dinner party when you have to pick the right salad fork?

Have no fear, Air Force Academy cadet: the service is seeking outside help to calm those Aim-High-society jitters. The Colorado Springs, Colo., academy “has a requirement for a comprehensive etiquette training program instructing cadets and staff in military protocol for social and business situations as well as the skills they need to succeed in the U.S. Air Force and in life,” it said in a Thursday contract solicitation.

That’s because being an Air Force officer is not all tarmac, cockpits and ready rooms. According to the academy, it’s also “table etiquette (settings, seating, decorum, conversation), the art of conversation (tact and diplomacy, small talk, use of proper language style, body language and non-verbal communication), social conduct in stressful situations, leadership roles outside the military structure, and ceremonies.”

What the academy calls its “social decorum” curriculum has been under development for “several years.” Following this single-year contract, the academy says such training will be done by academy employees. The program is funded by donor—not taxpayer— funds, an academy spokesman said.

The topics in each annual hour-long class will vary by year, but interested bidders are told not to worry about repeating themselves. “Training may be repetitive and cumulative,” the solicitation says, “to ensure proper social behavior is inherent by graduation.”

Freshmen training “shall emphasize courtesies and standards of behavior, proper hygiene, how to be a guest, social conversations, and writing thank-you cards.”

Sophomores “shall be taught etiquette in small group situations, proper civilian dress standards, table etiquette (settings, seating, decorum, and conversation), receiving line etiquette and military dining-in/out etiquette.”

Juniors “shall be taught social introductions, how to behave when alcohol is available, how to plan social events, and how to communicate standards of behavior to their peers and subordinates.”

Seniors will get “Formal Decorum Training,” which means they’ll receive “experiential, semi-formal dinners to teach first-class cadets the do’s and don’ts of formal dining. The events will also be used to teach proper invitation and RSVP procedures, proper semi-formal civilian attire standards, and social event planning.”

While the social-decorum program has been under development, seniors have been served what the academy newspaper calls five-course meals—“ beef medallions, roasted baby baker potatoes, salad, mixed vegetables and white chocolate raspberry Brule cheesecake”—in the academy’s formal dining hall to help them hone their etiquette skills. “The intent is to practice so they understand,” the academy’s social-decorum consultant told the Academy Spirit. “We want to take them from clueless to a class act.”

One Reply to “Becoming an Officer and a Gentleman By Mark Thompson”

  1. I detect a hint of sarcasm in the author’s tone. Unfortunately, this is understandable as the military schools don’t do a great job of explaining why this education is important. And when they explain it, they spend more time giving the example of table etiquette – knifes and forks – than protocol – how one addresses the ambassador and her husband.

    My wife makes a good living helping the million $ a year salaried senior executives of her employer understand and employ proper protocol and etiquette. They need it in to build international business relationships. Her former business partner makes his living by instructing diplomats here in Europe on proper protocol and etiquette. It is big business for a relatively small but very ELITE and POWERFUL market. Military officers have a place in that target market. A great example of how protocol and etiquette fit into the real world is shown in “The Devil Wears Prada”. To paraphrase one of the lines of the film, “These social gatherings are a play filled with actors and actresses. It’s about doing business – negotiating, alliance building, scheming – without looking like your doing business…”

    What the schools, and the author, fail to communicate is that officers are representatives of the United States military and government and as such will always be held to a higher standard of decorum. Most of us come from humble backgrounds and not from the families of the “corps diplomatique” or general officer staffs who are used to acting and behaving appropriately in a social setting filled with dignitaries and attachés where “proper manners” are expected. Officers, and even cadets, are expected to be able to step right into these diplomatic affairs. I remember when on my 1st class midshipman cruise the wardroom was invited to a social with the mayor of Cannes, France. By chance, the French Charge D’Affairs for the region showed up raising the tension, and decorum expectations. That bit of etiquette and decorum I received at The Citadel helped me at least feel like I could manage through the experience. Protocol and etiquette education has a place at the military schools. Let’s hope that they take it beyond the table setting.

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