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NEWS | June 1, 2010

The Next “Greatest Generation” – Millennials

By Lt. Col. David Murphy 316th Mission Support Group deputy commander

"Wired Magazine", February 2010 edition, relays the story. The situation was desperate for the Broncos. On the first Sunday of the NFL's 2009 season, with only 28 seconds left in the game, they trailed the Bengals 7-6 and had the ball on their own 13 yard line.
On second down, Broncos quarterback, Kyle Orton, threw the ball downfield, only to see a Bengals defender deflect the ball away from the intended receiver, but into the arms of Broncos wide receiver, Brandon Stokley, who started racing down the field. The victory was clearly in hand for the Broncos until Stokley did something amazing, just before he reached the end zone.

With 17 seconds remaining in the game, he cut 90 degrees across the field and drained six seconds off the clock before he ran into the end zone and scored the game-winning touchdown.

This play is on You Tube, check it out and listen to the announcer's stunned disbelief as Stokley stops running toward the end zone and makes his right turn to burn time off the clock.

When later interviewed and asked why he did this, Stokley relayed that he'd performed the maneuver "probably hundreds of times" in a videogame, before doing it in a real NFL game.

The new millennium brought with it a new generation that now makes up the front line leadership and enlisted ranks across the entire Department of Defense.

Called "The Millennial Generation" or "Gen Y", these tremendously talented Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers and Marines are serving all around the world as the U.S. standard-bearers of freedom.

From the mountains of Afghanistan, to the jungles of South America they are fighting our nation's wars, and bringing relief and hope to those who have lost both. This generation is vastly different than the generations before, not necessarily in the way they act, but in the way they think and communicate.

Born largely after 1980, Millennials were raised in an environment unique from previous generations. Involved parents, globalization and technology have shaped our young professionals.

Parents were generally much more involved in the Millennial upbringing than in the "Gen Xers" before them. Gone were the "latch-key" kids of the 1980s, replaced by heavily scheduled children involved in a myriad of after-school activities. "Soccer moms" racked up miles in mini vans shuttling kids to various appointments and practices. In a 2002 poll 59 percent of the Millennial Generation stated their mother was their role model, followed closely by their father.

This is a sharp departure from previous generations, who may have chosen other heroes.

Interestingly, for the last couple of years the Army has aimed recruitment efforts at parents, not the young adults they intend to recruit. Parents have pressured children to perform and pursue education, while sometimes shielding them from failures.

This pressure resulted in increased SAT scores and a renewed interest in pursuing advanced academic degrees, but some Millennials may not be confident in their own abilities and less able to handle personal or work problems without involved support.

Gen Y children had a say like never before in their families, and their opinion was sought after and respected by parents. Much positive reinforcement was levied on Gen Y in their families and schools.

They will expect to have a say in their work environment and they will prefer lots of positive reinforcement as well.

This is the first generation to think of themselves in global terms. Minority groups make up 52 percent of the high school population; many Millennials are second-generation immigrants or have a non-citizen parent. If you have kids, think about the school your children attend. Most likely it is far more diverse than the one you attended when you were young.

Increased multiculturalism combined with the explosion of technology has resulted in kids with heightened awareness of other cultures. Millennials are likely to have friends and chat, e-mail or text people all around the world, not just in their local environment.

They want to be involved in the "global conversation" that occurs on the internet, and most likely love the thought of doing a job helping other people in far-away countries.

This characteristic is one that makes military service attractive to this talented group, and makes them so motivated to serve.

More than anything, technology has greatly shaped this generation. They have grown up "plugged in" and "connected." Ask any Millennial and you will be hard-pressed to find one that remembers a time that they did not have an internet connection in their home.

I remember very clearly my first internet connection at home...I had the best "dial up" money could buy! I think I could handle a whole 14.4 bps and I was king of the world!

Do you remember not having an Air Force e-mail address? I do, but most Millennials cannot even imagine not having an e-mail address, chat names, Facebook accounts, the list goes on and on.

Social networking is not only popular, it's pretty much considered mandatory for the young adults of Gen Y. Cell phones, laptops, MP-3 players and iPads, have brought endless ways to "stay connected" to the internet, and to each other. For most Millennials, electronic communication is as valid as face-to-face communication.

All this technology, of course, has caused some problems such as increased accidents due to texting while driving, posting of inappropriate material on the internet and many other examples.

Some are concerned that Millennials, given access to FB at work for example, might spend too much work time on their FB account. But does that mean the technology should be restricted, or shut down?

Would we turn off the desk phone of someone who took excessive personal calls? I would say probably not, instead we would retrain them to meet DoD standards. The discussion is somewhat moot, however since "smart phones" give people access to their FB accounts anyway.

The DoD recently made a decision to allow users to access social networking sites again, and in fact they are now accessible on Andrews.

Instead of worrying about too much sensitive information getting on the sites, or people wasting time on them we should train to DoD Communications Security standards, and embrace the communication tools that define this generation.

One very positive spinoff of Gen Y is the way they gravitate toward simulation technology. Of course, the Air Force has embraced simulators for many years, mostly to train aircrew. Now, virtually every DoD component has discovered and embraced the power of simulators and video training.

If you took a walk around the flightline during our recent Joint Service Open House event, you noticed both the Army and Air Force had simulation training devices on display.

This brings me back to where we started. In the previously referenced Wired article about how technology transformed football, the author says "it was only a matter of time before the generation that grew up playing Madden and games like it transformed the gridiron".

He goes on to describe how football teams and individual players at every level of play are now practicing plays...on video games!

We know that "practice makes perfect" and the military has reaped the benefits of computer training for years. The generation that grew up most comfortable with simulation, is the generation that is bearing the brunt of our current war.

This is but one example of how their unique talents, bring new capabilities to that fight. Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of "Generations: The History of America's Future" state, "Today's rising generation is poised to become a political powerhouse, re-energizing civic spirit and transforming both the substance and process of American politics.

With new technologies, attitudes, and agendas, this generation could define the twenty-first century just as fundamentally as the G.I. Generation defined the twentieth century".

I agree and I'll be the first in line to help them do so.