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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pedagogy and Performance of Military Masculinity at Fort Knox

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Historically, the U.S. Department of Defense has attempted to advance military goals within the academy by guiding, gathering, shaping and suppressing knowledge production. However, with the ascendance of the Homeland Security state, relationships between the Armed Forces and higher education have become both less obvious and more familiar features of the academic landscape, as increasing research dollars go to develop weapons and cyber-security programs. This paper documents a less-known strategy designed to pave military inroads into contemporary college campuses: a military training program at Fort Knox, Kentucky, created to enlist civilian academic faculty and staff to become supporters of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. The training, “Operation Bold Leader,” embeds academics in pseudo-warfare situations that serve as military training exercises. Pedagogies include inviting academic faculty and staff to rappel down 50-foot towers to a soundtrack of recorded gunshots while hearing about the benefits of collegiate ROTC programs. This paper, based on ethnographic research, shows that “Operation Bold Leader” portrays an educative Army that is separate and distinguishable from acts of war-making and from war itself. In doing so, this training fosters participants’ identification with the U.S. Army by normalizing a vision of the military mission as a vehicle for social and educational improvement and global humanitarian development. This research finds that performing military training exercises facilitated a positive disposition toward the military, laying the groundwork for civilian academics to become “force multipliers” for the U.S. Army.

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