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What Does It Mean? According to data obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request, the intelligence of new Marine Corps officers has declined steadily since Two-thirds of the new officers commissioned in would be in the bottom one-third of the class of ; 41 percent of new officers in would not have qualified to be officers by the standards held at the time of World War II. Similarly, at the top of the distribution, there are fewer of the very intelligent officers who will eventually become senior leaders. Newly commissioned Navy ensigns and Marine Corps 2nd lieutenants from U. Today, that number is close to 30 percent. A good first step would be to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery ASVAB to all officer candidates in all Services, study what makes an effective officer, and implement long-term reforms to strengthen the officer corps of the 21st century. How Higher Education Has Changed The percentage of young Americans in college was relatively steady during the s and s, but this started to change in the early s. Over the next three decades, the percentage of young Americans in college increased by over 50 percent—not just the number of Americans, but their share of the population. Contrary to the assumptions of many, students in were not accepted into college just because they came from a privileged background, but rather because of their intelligence; in fact, over 80 percent of Americans in the top quartile of intelligence went to college. There were some people in who were intelligent but could not afford to go to college, and there still are in But overall, the expansion in college attendance since has been from students who are less intelligent on average than college students in This means that young people who possess a college degree in are, on average, less intelligent than those who possessed a college degree in The private sector and civilian agencies of government have responded by demanding a postgraduate education for more jobs, but a comparable shift has not been made in the military. The result of this effect is that the pool of potential officer candidates has become less intelligent. In World War II, individuals who tested in the lowest mental categories IV and V had to be sent to special training units before they could go to boot camp. No Category Vs are allowed to enlist. But what about officers? The link between intelligence and performance in officers, while less thoroughly studied than the link in enlisted, is still clear. In World War II, there was no requirement that an officer have a college education, but possessing a 4-year degree allowed one to be commissioned without taking the GCT. Without a college degree, enlistees in the Army who scored above on the GCT were considered for Officer Candidate School OCS ,10 which was used to train and screen potential officers the minimum score for Marine officer candidates was In fact, it was so important that it was administered to all officers again at the beginning of infantry school to ensure that they were competent enough to be suitable combat leaders. Additionally, there was much debate about whether was a sufficient minimum score, as most of the failures at Army OCS were by candidates who scored between and New officers at TBS are graded on a mix of military skills such as running an obstacle course or orienteering , leadership evaluations made by staff members and peers , and academics technical knowledge. The GCT score was found to have a 0. It is likely, therefore, that not only does the GCT correlate strongly with academic ability, but that it also correlates to leadership grade at TBS. No pen and paper test can exactly predict leadership; these results, however, indicate that there is a relationship between GCT scores and the leadership potential of young officers. It is impossible to link particular episodes in recent history to a decline in intelligence in the officer corps. However, one can point to incidents and note that they are what one would expect to see and that will be seen more often if current trends continue. For example, in May , 13 junior Marine Corps officers were administratively discharged because they had cheated on a land navigation course at TBS. In a different Service, we might point to the 79 Air Force nuclear weapons officers at one base who faced disciplinary action for cheating on an exam. In the field, the decline in intelligence might manifest itself in a focus on adherence to process output instead of achieving a desired outcome. In Afghanistan, many of the metrics focused on output instead of outcome: The decline in average intelligence manifests itself not just in the middle of the distribution, but also at the top. Figure 2 shows the distribution of intelligence scores for and Note how not only the average has declined, but also the number of officers who are achieving the highest scores. In , there were 14 Marine officers entering who scored above on a test with a maximum score of In , the year of incoming officers who are now recently promoted majors, there were only two lieutenants who scored above In , there were none. A Modest Proposal Some might argue that junior officers only need leadership and physical fitness. If so, we already have a cadre who fit that bill: Why not have them lead our platoons, companies, and battalions? While many might dismiss this idea outright, in the long view of history, it has been done before by successful armies. Take the Roman Legions, for instance, whose centurions rose through the ranks to lead all units up to the cohorts battalion equivalents. Thus, centurions, proven enlisted leaders, held responsibility equivalent to that of a lieutenant colonel. A small group of educated aristocrats was needed only for the highest ranks. While the nature of warfare has not changed, its practice certainly has. The complex nature of contemporary warfare puts great intellectual demands on our mid- and upper-level leaders. The Roman Legions did not employ artillery, tanks, communications, or any number of technical branches that we have today. Consider the job of the contemporary infantry platoon commander, the least technical, most leadership-intensive position. In a conventional war, he must be a physically fit leader, but he must also know how to program a radio, accurately locate targets for airstrikes and artillery, and calculate geometries of fire, among many other intellectual demands. In an unconventional conflict, we also ask him to be a cultural expert, government builder, and humanitarian aid planner. This requires a high degree of intelligence. Physical fitness does not have the correlation to military performance that general intelligence does. In an initial statement to the Marine Corps Times regarding this new data, Marine Corps Recruiting Command repeated a common rebuttal to these findings: While physical fitness is probably well correlated to success in some military skills events, such as the endurance course, it does not have the strong correlation to total TBS grade that intelligence does 0. There are numerous studies correlating intelligence to success in the military; there are none doing the same for physical fitness. Finally, most members of the military would argue that having distance between commissioned officers and the enlisted is necessary for military effectiveness; the decline of officer intelligence and the rise in enlisted intelligence has blurred these lines. Given that the intelligence of entering enlisted has risen over time, and that more intelligent enlisted tend to be promoted, it is not unreasonable to guess that right now the average intelligence of SNCOs is close to that of our junior officers. Raising average officer intelligence is necessary to maintain the utility and credibility of the officer corps. In this view, the vocabulary and phrasing of the questions would be clearer to someone from than to someone from ; the test-taker from , therefore, might score lower than someone of the same intelligence from This is similar to the argument that the SAT is biased against non-whites because it contains cultural references that only white test-takers would understand. For the cultural distance theory to be true, there has to have been no cultural distance between and , at which point American culture began slowly and steadily drifting in a way that made questions from less clear to test-takers. As this does not make much sense, we can reject this theory. Another objection is that poor record-keeping for GCT scores invalidates any conclusions drawn from test scores. It is true that the number of scores in the data set represents about 85 percent of all the officers who joined the Marine Corps during this time period. Having 85 percent of the scores, however, still enables us to be extremely certain of the result; we can be 99 percent confident that the difference between the mean score in and is between 7. Either way, the decline is substantial. The only other way that missing records could affect the data is if high test scores were systematically removed starting in and removed in increasing numbers every year for the last 35 years. A final question is whether the GCT results are still valid given that the GCT no longer serves any administrative purpose. At some unknown point, this function too was lost. If its use was changed during the time period studied and that change had a large impact, we would expect to see a large drop in scores during the year that the use of the GCT was changed. For motivation to have caused this trend, lieutenants at TBS would have to have become 0. It is hard to find a group of young men and women as earnest and eager to excel as young Marine lieutenants. The Services have tried to compensate for this effect, but with mixed success. There is good reason to doubt the year-to-year comparability of the SAT: In fact, some of the strongest evidence for the Flynn effect comes from the results of military intelligence tests; using the GCT to inform our understanding of civilian trends, therefore, is very much in keeping with psychometric literature. In , the average SAT score of incoming Marine officers was , compared to an average of for college-bound high school seniors. The average college student today, however, is much less intelligent than they used to be because there are so many more of them. Insofar as we believe that the military should reflect society in general, the officer corps continues to accomplish that goal. But in absolute terms, our officer corps today is less intelligent than it was 35 years ago. Say that in , the average Servicemember was in the 80th percentile of physical fitness of all Americans to use an arbitrary number. In , the average Servicemember was still in the 80th percentile of all Americans, but the average physical fitness of Americans had declined dramatically because of obesity. Being in the 80th percentile is now not as rigorous as it was in The average Servicemember from would run faster and be stronger than the average Servicemember of today, despite them both being in the 80th percentile of their peers. This absolute, not relative, decline is true for intelligence, too. Olsen What Is to Be Done? How should we react to the results of the General Classification Test? Officer candidates are almost all screened at a Military Entrance Processing Station prior to joining the force. It should also be administered to all officer candidates; this solution is a low-cost and simple way to measure the intelligence of all officer candidates on a scale that can be controlled by the military and easily compared to enlistees. With 1 year of ASVAB scores for all officers, the Services would have a good data set to analyze and determine follow-on policy. Applying a similar policy to candidates in all Services, therefore, is not a radical departure from the past. Simply cutting a number of the least intelligent candidates, however, is not a solution in itself; to make the average of equal to the average of , the Marine Corps would have to cut the bottom A minimum score, furthermore, risks constraining the Services too much and shifting the balance between leadership, intelligence, and physical fitness too much toward the intelligence pole at the expense of less quantifiable leadership qualities. We must shift the accession balance away from physical fitness which again has never been shown to have a correlation with officer success toward intelligence, while keeping a similar weight on leadership. Study What Qualities an Officer Needs. The military has made wide study of what qualities it needs in enlistees and how to identify and recruit enlistees with those qualities. Similar study should be made of officers. There has already been some recent movement on this front by the Services.
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