Over two- million men and women have served in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated that a significant minority of them will require ongoing psychological care for conditions like posttraumatic stress, depression, and anxiety. Consequently, non-military behavioral healthcare providers will shoulder a sizeable portion of the care these men and women will receive.
Appreciating the Culture
In order to provide the most effective level of care possible, it is believed by many within the military and veteran psychological communities that civilian practitioners should be knowledgeable regarding the unique culture of the military.
One aspect of the military culture is the various personality traits military personnel share. Please keep in mind, however, that the attempt to homogenize any group of people into a unified whole ignores the importance of individual differences.
It also is fraught with necessary assumptions, many of which may be inaccurate. Nevertheless, I believe there is value in looking at collective traits for the purpose of trying to better understand a particular group as long as the previously noted cautions are kept in mind.
With that being said, there is no one personality type that defines those who serve in the military. There are, however, several personality characteristics I believe are shared by many.
To be successful, military personnel must possess certain traits that allow them to manage living and working in stressful environments. These traits allow them to adapt to a structured, rule bound, and hierarchical way of life.
If not present, adapting to the military life can be difficult for some. I can also cause challenges for the military. The military understands the importance of recruiting individuals with these particular characteristics. Doing so ensures career longevity and mission success.
It is no coincidence that military recruiting commercials show Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines jetting or sailing off to exotic ports of call and distant and enchanted lands. The military understands that those who crave adventure are a good fit.
And the opportunity to living in Japan, Italy, or Germany is an attractive option for someone who grew up in Brookhaven, Mississippi or Muncie, Indiana. In my opinion, those individuals who join the military tend to be more open to change, comfortable taking risks, and willing to explore new ways of life. Considering that the average military member is forced to move every few years this is a valuable trait.
Love of Country
It probably goes without saying, but a high degree of patriotism is necessary to be successful in the military. Love for one’s country is a powerful force that prompts countless men and women to take risks the average person would not even consider.
Often times, it seems that this value is coded into their DNA and passed down from previous generations. It is quite common to find that a service member had a parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt or uncle who once served. Many also have high school friends who aspired to serve, which reinforced their own latent interests of National service.
Flexibility is a must for someone to succeed in the military. “Adapt and overcome” is the only comment more commonly heard in the military than “make sure to hydrate.”
Without the ability to adjust to ever changing demands, one will either fail at important tasks or grow so frustrated that leaving the military is the only viable option. This trait is not unlike the adventurous streak described above. Without the ability to shift to ever changing demands, expectations, and environments, the service member will struggle with the military lifestyle.
Rigidity is a double-edged sword. It allows a person to more easily adapt to a highly structured and regimented way of life, but at times can conflict with the need to be flexible.
The most successful military members are those who maintain a structured and organized approach to life, but know when a situation requires adaptability and a different perspective and approach. This skill does not come easily for many.
The military recognizes this fact and provides substantial training with regard to meeting and exceeding explicit standards while teaching young troops how to make sound, evidence-based decisions in a variety of contexts.
There are many ways to serve one’s town, state, and country. Some go into education, law enforcement, or healthcare. Others join the military. The desire to serve others is a trait that sets the stage for a successful military career. In fact, the best military leaders are those who can put others before themselves.
You will likely find that those veterans who sit across from you in the therapy room possess a strong and unwavering sense of purpose and desire to make a difference. It is important to acknowledge this desire and use it within treatment as applicable.
As I mentioned above, trying to fit the men and women of the military into a single personality category is very difficult if not impossible. The diversity of our Armed Forces is tremendous and in part is what makes it great. But recognizing those traits which contribute to successful service helps ensure we provide the best level of care possible.
*This article was adapted from a previous article written by Dr. Moore for his column “Kevlar for the Mind.”
Soldier photo available from Shutterstock