The Wall Street Journal recently posted a great piece on the Class of 1976. This is the first class to miss service as young officers in Vietnam. They went to West Point at the height of Boomer (born 1943-1960) unruliness and dysfunction (the stories in this article speak for themselves!) and at the low point of military morale. Young people in uniform were insulted and spat on in public. The Generation X (born 1961-1981)-energized recovery from this “hollowing out” of our armed forces began later, in the early 80s, as we finally succeeded in make the all-volunteer force structure work.
Interesting to contemplate that these are the top, late-wave Boomer brass (Petreaus graduated two years earlier, in 1974) who are now in charge in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Question: What happened to the classes graduating in the 60s? Most of them I presume served young in Vietnam, but they haven’t really showed up in later wars. The architects of Desert Storm (Powell, Franks, Schwartzkopf) graduated in the ‘50s. All the guys now in charge graduated in the 70s. The one 60s grad I’ve heard of is Gen. Barry McCaffey, and as I recall he was regarded as something of a loose cannon in GWI. My impression is the these early-wave Boomers were the most traumatized by Vietnam and later on kept their heads down and avoided risks. They were the ones who initially triggered the ideologically polarized collective self-image of military officers (which still prevails, but may be easing). I also suspect that today’s mid-level X’er colonels work better with the late-wave Boomers than they ever did with the first-wavers.