Why I whole-heartedly welcome a return to “garrison life”

military bronies
General Order #2: I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner.
General Order #2: I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner.

So this week it was revealed that the Army is going to be tightening up its regulations concerning tattoos.

Well, it wasn’t really revealed. You see, these changes were announced over a year ago.

That didn’t stop reactionary bloggers and talking heads from quickly ripping that juicy headline and repackaging it to fit a popular narrative of a military that is slipping into “garrison life.”

I’ve talked about this before here on this blog. It was actually one of my first posts. It’s a subject I find interesting because I am of the wild belief that the foundation of an effective military is discipline. Discipline is enforced through standards.

As James Joyner points out in his lamentation over the Army’s “misguided crackdown on tattoos,” the Army relaxed its standards to allow more recruits into the Army who may have at one point been turned away because of their tattoos. That’s fair. We needed more soldiers and we relaxed our standards to get them. Now, we’re no longer in that position and we can afford to tighten up. Dr. Joyner also writes about an upcoming prohibition from “eating, drinking, smoking, or talking on cellphones while walking; presumably this is to ensure they’re not distracted from or incapacitated to salute senior officers.” Dr. Joyner’s presumption that this is to ensure they’re not distracted from saluting senior officers seems like a nasty jab at the officer corps, who according to this are very concerned with getting saluted. I would argue that more likely it simply helps to ensure that soldiers present a military appearance. Slamming a Monster and chatting on an iPhone while walking across the street does not present a military appearance.

Paul Szoldra who writes at Business Insider characterizes this return to garrison life as a way to annoy junior enlisted troops to the extent that they wouldn’t consider re-enlisting.

Paul writes:

Single sergeants and corporals, who previously were able to get out of the barracks and be paid a housing allowance, will once again be forced back into the barracks. A place where, the general writes, officers and other leaders are to “regularly conduct visits in the Barracks between the hours of 2000-0400.”

It gets worse. From the email:

4. There will be two NCO’s on every deck in a Barracks and there will be a Firewatch posted on every deck.

5. There will be no TV’s or video games allowed in the Watch standers place of duty.

6. Units will establish an Interior Guard with a SNCO in charge of the Interior Guards training.

“It gets worse?” I never considered active leadership a bad thing. When I was a young soldier living in the barracks, I was always impressed when my squad leader paid me a visit on a Saturday to see if I was doing okay. It showed me that he cared. He’d stay and talk for a minute, ask me what my plans were for the weekend, and then reminded me that I could call him if I ran into trouble.

That experience paid off when I became a sergeant myself. After coming back from Iraq, I walked through the barracks on the weekends even when I lived off post to check on soldiers, who were often getting into trouble. Checking in on your soldiers isn’t “annoying,” it’s  a basic leadership skill.

But things have changed. When I pulled CQ (charge of quarters) duty many years ago, there were no smartphones and the only thing I was allowed to read were military publications. Today, the duty NCO and his soldiers are usually hypnotized by their glowing screens, oblivious to what’s going on right around them. I’ve also seen how it is now common to have giant high-definition televisions and Grand Theft Auto V or Call of Duty running at the CQ desk in the evening after everyone has gone home. One soldier actually didn’t even look at me until I politely asked him to pause the game when I was making my rounds one night.

Maybe I’m just being a grumpy old man, but I think there is value in displaying military professionalism.

Or to put it another way; crazy shit goes down in the barracks. Active leadership and control measures deter that. That, is not a bad thing. That is not “worse.”

When I wrote my post about garrison soldiers versus field soldiers, I had been out of the Army for over five years. Yet I still clung to the notion that standards and discipline are inherently good things that makes the fighting force better. As I read more and more articles of soldiers bummed out about the flaming out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a part of me that wanted to give those guys the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I had just been out of the game too long.

When I rejoined the Army later I was able to confirm my original notion. Pervasive in the junior force is this idea that rote standards and discipline for its own sake is bad and a distraction from the core mission – winning wars. Ten years of espousing the “warrior” as opposed to the “soldier” hasn’t helped, either.

Everyone wants to play what the Army calls “big boy rules.” An example, we’re not going to hold accountability formation fifteen minutes prior to the formation time because I am going to trust that you can all make it there on time. And then, of course, someone doesn’t make it on time. So you institute a means to ensure that you can accomplish the mission – show up fifteen minutes prior.

Or, I’m not going to physically inspect your foot march packing list because “we’re all grown men and can do it ourselves.” And then, of course, a member of the team leaves out a key piece of equipment, putting the mission at risk.

Or, we’re not going to conduct consolidated physical training because maintaining physical fitness is an individual responsibility. And then, of course, a member of the team who slacked off during PT is now holding back the platoon on a long field movement.

The other day, I was speaking with a young soldier who has been in the Army for about two years. He told me that he is pretty sure that he will get out of the Army when his contract is up. When I asked why, he said it was because he feels like he is in a “garrison Army” and that he feels like he comes to work and is at a “twenty-four-hour daycare.” Meanwhile, this is a relatively new soldier that has never deployed and has had discipline problems in the past. Maybe Paul is right. Maybe he is being “annoyed” out of the Army.

I can understand a seasoned combat veteran getting bummed out about a return to “garrison life,” but most of the seasoned combat veterans I talk with fully embrace and understand the need for it right now. They want it. They see firsthand the effects of years of “bro’ing out” and want their Army back.

This whole project of getting back to the basics is not a function of a downsizing military or a way to annoy people so much that they get out. It is a recognition that a decade of war has eroded the basic soldiering skills that are required of a professional force. To argue otherwise is just complaining.

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EIB Week: Camp EIB vs. Camp Ranger

ranger tab and eib
Ranger EIB

An interesting thing happens when infantrymen who have EIBs but no Ranger tabs come into direct contact with infantrymen with no EIBs but Ranger tabs. An argument will break out as to which one is more important to the infantry or whether one or the other matters more.

Camp EIB will usually argue that Ranger School is just a suck-fest that tests one’s ability to suck, be hungry, and stay awake for a long time, whereas the EIB is an actual comprehensive assessment of an infantryman’s core tasks.

Camp Ranger will usually argue that given the EIB’s relatively short duration (usually two weeks at home station) it doesn’t require the same level of commitment to attain. Camp Ranger may also argue that the leadership aspects of Ranger School are significantly more important than the technical/physical aspects of the EIB.

Of course, the whole thing is just another topic of conversation to make it through one more hour of staff duty.

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EIB Week: Where/When did you get your EIB? Because, that’s super-important.

eib lane in a building
An EIB cadre and candidate during testing. From the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook page.
An EIB cadre and candidate during testing. From the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook page.

Further down the rabbit hole of infantry minutiae.

One does not simply “have” their EIB. No, they earn it at someplace and at some time. Back in 2001 when I tested, the actual place where one earned their EIB was very important. Getting an EIB while assigned to 4th Infantry Division somehow meant less than getting an EIB while assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division or the 101st Airborne Division. This, of course, is due to perceived ideas of unit toughness or eliteness, a thing that really has never been measured.

Today, where you earned your EIB is not nearly as important as when you earned your EIB. Over the past decade of war, the EIB testing scheme has changed to reflect a more realistic test of what makes an “expert infantryman.” Infantrymen from the old school tested on “stations.” Once the basics were out of the way (APFT, land navigation, rifle marksmanship) you would then move, as a group, from station to station training and testing on infantry tasks. Testing took two or three days. Claymore to weapons to grenades to movement to range estimation etc. Then, finally, you would do the twelve-mile foot march and be done.

The EIB assessment eventually morphed from “stations” to “lanes” where infantrymen received an OPORD and moved through a training exercise as an individual where many of those infantry tasks were incorporated.

Now, the EIB assessment is kind of like the old school way and kind of like the new school way. There are stations and lanes.

The important thing to know is that whatever EIB YOU did was by far the best one and the one that truly separates the “expert” infantrymen from the ordinary infantrymen. You will know this because said expert infantryman will tell you.

Besides where and when you got your EIB, it’s also very important for EIB holders to know the exact statistics for their EIB. As in, “when I got my EIB, only 7% of candidates got it.” Or, “Out of 900 guys that went for it, only 130 got it.” If someone doesn’t rattle off their statistics, than most likely his EIB would be what many infantrymen would refer to as an “easy EIB.” Likely, close to 50% of that guy’s candidates got theirs. No one ever thinks that a high pass rate might have something to do with good training. The only possible reason so many people would pass is because the grading was easy, infantrymen will tell you.

There’s still more to be said about the EIB, and I’ll get to that tomorrow.

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What’s with the super-hate towards Gen. Petraeus? (that CUNY video)

petraeus is drinking from a cup

I saw this video a couple of days ago and it’s starting to pick up steam. As I’ve written about in the past, I’m of the belief that the much-vaunted “civilian-military divide” is a thing only as much as military people think it’s a thing. Civilians don’t sit around thinking about how disconnected from the military they are. We do that.

But, videos like this contribute to military people sitting there, incredulously, mouth agape, swearing that they don’t understand the society from which they came.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that more than any other military personality, Gen. Petraeus has received a disproportionate amount of hate.

It began with the “General Betray Us” ad in 2007 when he was testifying before Congress about the need to “surge” in Iraq.

When I was still a CUNY student at the City College of New York, I attended a talk given by Gen. Petraeus at the 92nd Street Y – not exactly an imperialist think-tank. I arrived early, and there were a handful of protestors outside, waving signs that called Gen. Petraeus a war criminal. The protestors heckled anyone who stepped inside, asking why we’d want to hear a man like that say anything.

General/Ambassador Eikenberry was up on stage, introducing Gen. Petraeus, who was walking up to the podium. As he read through the laundry list of the General’s accomplishments, he was using a mnemonic of “He was the Commander of forces in Iraq, then he was the Commander of….he was…” Right as he said another “He was” a protestor who had “infiltrated” (bought a ticket) jumped up and screamed “A WAR CRIMINAL! HE’S A WAR CRIMINAL! YOU’RE A WAR CRIMINAL!”

The room gasped and some people tried to shush or shame the protestor. Gen. Eikenberry waited for the person to be removed, which took an awkwardly long time. Gen. Petraeus held his hand to his eyes, shielding them from the light to try to see who it was.

The protestor was removed and the Gen. made an off-the-cuff remark about the protestor that made everyone laugh. I don’t remember what it was, but it wasn’t offensive. It was making fun of himself if I remember correctly.

A couple of years later, I was in London for graduate school. In a small classroom, I sat with a handful of very bright students waiting for our professor of Middle East anthropology. We had just read an article critical about the Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some quotes from General Petraeus were in it. I listened in on a conversation happening next to me between two students, one from the UK and one from Italy:

Italian Student: “You know, I have to admit, I kind of had to respect General Petraeus when I read that he has a PhD from Princeton.”
UK Student: “Oh please, the Nazis were highly educated too.”

My jaw literally dropped a bit and I had to bite my cheek not to flip my desk. Both statements were ridiculous. I didn’t say anything. It is terribly awkward to be the grizzled Army veteran in a Middle East studies class. And once that cat is out of the bag, it doesn’t go back in.

The Italian student’s statement was ridiculous because buried inside of it is the idea that having any kind of respect for General Petraeus because of his military service or character is unfathomable. But because he got a PhD from Princeton, now it’s okay. That kind of a statement just fuels the idea that there is this academic elite who can only respect and understand people who have their noses buried in a book.

The UK student’s statement offended for obvious reasons.

And now, of course, we have the video above, which I’m particularly embarrassed about as a CUNY graduate. I’m all for protest and free speech. And CUNY is a special university that has a rich history of being at the very least – skeptical – of the military. But I think that this trend of hate towards P4 is indicative of just how skewed the public is about the military.

Inside of the military, General Petraeus was a legend living in his own time. For most of us, he really only appeared on our radar after the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom when he led the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq and settled in Mosul. From there, he was relentless and lead MNSTC-I, which was charged with training Iraqi forces, then commanded the Combined Arms Center where he worked at writing (with others) the Counterinsurgency Manual. Then commanding forces in Iraq for the surge, CENTCOM Commander, then the odd promotion/demotion to commanding forces in Afghanistan after Gen. McChrystal was fired. Retirement, then Director of the CIA before his personal scandal had him retiring from that.

A storied career. Weaved inside of all that is a ton of media which got him on the front page of a bunch of magazines and on television dozens and dozens of times. He became “the” General that everyone knew.

Soldiers, however, know the rest of the story from people who served with him. How he was an avid runner and athlete, and didn’t believe in weight training – just good old-fashioned Army physical training. How when he commanded a Brigade in the 82nd Airborne Division, he had a physical fitness challenge for the paratroopers that no one could beat him in. How he was accidentally shot on a training range. And of course, his relentless, un-ending energy.

There was nothing bad to say about the guy. He was loved. One of the good guys.

But anti-war activists seized on General Petraeus as the target of their discontent. He became the poster boy for anti-war. For military people watching, it didn’t make any sense. Why Petraeus?

My theory is because it’s the only General they know. The media windstorm surrounding him (and which he helped stir) means that he is the General, and with it comes the good and the bad.

For the military and veteran communities, though, all we see is a bunch of self-righteous kids egging one of one our heroes. Without a good understanding of how this all happened, it is very easy to slip into a general hate for the protestors specifically and the society generally that promotes it. That’s not good.

Like I said, “closing the gap” on the civilian-military divide is only a real thing inasmuch as military people are willing to do so. But, admittedly, this crap doesn’t help.

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David Petraeus


I'll take it from here
I'll take it from here

I wrote a short article for Tribeca Enterprises (the guys who run the Tribeca Film Festival) on a weaving of some Ground Zero memories. It was cathartic to write this. Little snippets and things I tell people here and there, all together.

Check it out. I reference the comic above in the article.

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EIB Week: Is the EIB the “mark” of the infantryman?

soldier looking through binoculars
Photo from the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook Page
Photo from the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook Page.

Whenever I hear commanders talking to soldiers trying to pump them up for EIB, they’ll usually say something about the EIB being the “mark of the infantryman.” Back in the barracks, some NCO will tell an old myth that the Springfield rifle on the EIB badge, if you look real closely, is cocked, ready to fire. Earning the EIB “primes you” for war. And then if you look at the CIB, you’ll notice that the cocking lever is forward, that rifle has been fired. You have seen the white elephant and survived. 

None of that is true by the way – the rifles and cocking levers on both the EIB and CIB are exactly the same.

But the myth is stronger than the reality.

Throughout the year, “the standard” that people refer to when discussing an infantry task is usually the EIB standard.

Take, for example, the foot march. The EIB foot march is a 12 mile movement wearing fatigues, load-bearing equipment, helmet, rifle, and rucksack that usually weighs about 35 pounds without water. To pass the EIB foot march, a soldier needs to complete the twelve miles in under three hours.

Anyone who has done the twelve mile foot march understands that in order to pass that event, it usually takes a lot of shuffling or running to keep under time – especially if that soldier is short, like me.

But if you asked anyone what the foot march standard is for the infantry (there isn’t one), they would likely respond with “12 miles under 3 hours with a 35 pound ruck. EIB standard.”

Out in the field, an infantryman’s ruck usually weighs well over 35 pounds. Field movements – be they tactical foot marches or patrols – are rarely conducted at a 15 minute mile pace, i.e.; EIB standard. They are usually slow and deliberate, designed to preserve the fighting capacity of the infantryman when he arrives at the objective. Plus, hauling ass with +70 pounds of gear just isn’t that easy.

My point, is that for good or for nil, the EIB standards become adopted as de-facto infantry standards, when that is just not the case. If they were the infantry standards, infantrymen would not be able to leave Fort Benning without their EIB.

As I wrote about yesterday, the original intent of the EIB was to give infantry soldiers a way to distinguish themselves from other, less physically demanding jobs in the military. Through hard training and a tough, fair assessment, an infantryman can proudly wear the rifle on and everyone would know that he/she has done something hard and that the job that he/she does is hard.

Today, when a unit conducts EIB, there is usually a long train-up period to the event to sharpen soldiers’ skills. Even if a soldier fails to pass the assessment, he/she receives good, in-depth training on basic tasks, which has become the reason the event is so important today. For many infantrymen, EIB training is the only time they’ll get their hands on some of the more exotic weapons in the arsenal unless it is in their normal duties.

So is it the “mark” of an infantryman? It is certainly a way for an infantryman to distinguish himself (or herself!) by earning a badge to wear on the uniform.

I’ll write more tomorrow about the culture that surrounds the EIB. But to address the title of this post, I’ll defer to something an old PL of mine said.

Sitting in the CP, the PL called in all of the new EIB holders. Once they gathered, he turned from his computer with a white foam cup in his hand, spitting tobacco juice into the cup. He quickly addressed the new Expert Infantrymen, voice garbled by the giant dip in his mouth:

“Hey, good job guys, you’ve earned your EIB. *spit* That’s good. You should be proud of yourselves. Now when you go to the PX, everyone will be able to look at you and know you’re infantry. Good job.” *spit*

He then turned back to his computer and did whatever it is he was doing.

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EIB Week: “Expert” vs. “Combat” Infantryman Badge

eib and cib interchangeable

First, let’s just get the basics out of the way. The Expert Infantryman’s Badge, known in everyday parlance as the E-I-B, is a badge awarded to infantrymen and special forces soldiers after undergoing a series of infantry tasks over the course of a few days, usually a work-week. Although the testing standards change every decade or so, there are are common elements to all of them. The EIB test will assess: physical fitness, marksmanship, weapons proficiency, common soldier skills (camouflage, medical, communications, etc.), land navigation, and foot marching. The badge was introduced during World War II by General George Marshall as a way of honoring infantrymen, who were known to have a particularly harsh and often thankless job. Wearing a badge that sets you apart from other soldiers was an easy way of raising morale, while also giving soldiers another reason to train hard.

Also, EIB holders earned an extra $5 a month.

For more on the history of the EIB, see this article from the Infantry School.

I first learned about the EIB early in infantry training at Fort Benning in 2001. It was probably at 30th AG, lounging around in the barracks waiting three weeks for my class date to begin. There were plenty of know-it-alls who knew everything there was to be known about the Army. They usually carried around this giant book called “Hooah” that was full of pictures and short missives on everything exciting in the Army. There were pages and pages of special skill badges and tabs. I’m sure that’s where I first saw the EIB.

I didn’t really understand what it was though until later in training. Most of my Drill Sergeants had Combat Infantryman Badges – which is like the EIB, but with a wreath. The CIB is awarded for being an infantryman who engaged in active ground combat – essentially going to war and doing the job of an infantryman. Most of my Drill Sergeants were Gulf War veterans. A few of the Drill Sergeants in the company, however, did not have CIBs, they had EIBs – just the naked rifle.

Towards the end of training, I remember being on a formation run. My Drill Sergeant – who incidentally would wind up deploying to Iraq with me a year and a half later – was calling cadence. He had both an EIB and CIB.  He was free-styling, just singing whatever came to his mind. Some soldiers have that talent. He started singing:

(Italics is my Drill Sergeant, bold is the soldiers’ reply)

C-I-B / C-I-B
On my chest / On my chest
Hell noHell no
Don’t want it
Don’t want it
Don’t need it
Don’t need it
You can have it
You can have it
Hell yeah / 
Hell yeah
Hell yeah! / 
Hell yeah!
We can take it / 
We can take it
We can make it / We can make it

I’m pretty sure I understood immediately what he was saying. The CIB is something you really don’t want to get. To earn it, you’re really putting yourself out there. It is one of the proudest things you can earn in the Army, and most infantrymen I know will tell you that the CIB is the award they are most proud of.

But it comes at an incredible cost.

Which takes me to the point I wanted to make here, which is the EIB is always compared to the CIB. A soldier is not allowed to wear both and has to choose which to wear. Infantrymen tend wear a CIB if they have it, as it is generally held in higher regard than the EIB. This is due partly to scarcity. Before Iraq and Afghanistan, and with few exceptions, there was only the Gulf War, Panama and Grenada. Those were places that infantrymen could earn their CIB, but those were short wars. Not that many CIBs (relative to now) were pinned. Then there is Vietnam, which is going back pretty far.

When I got to my unit in 2001, only senior NCOs and officers had CIBs from “back in the day.” Most of the rubber-meets-the-road infantrymen sported EIBs.

Now, with over ten years of war behind us and thousands of CIBs pinned on the chests of young infantrymen, they are not so scarce. In a very Seussian-way, it is not that uncommon to see someone who has both a CIB and an EIB choosing to wear his EIB to distinguish himself from his peers.

It is true, that for the most part, the CIB is an award for being in the right MOS at the right place at the right time. The EIB, on the other hand, requires a measure of skill and performance.

Which gets me to the next thing which I’ll discuss tomorrow: is the EIB the “mark” of an infantryman?

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EIB Week: The Expert Infantryman Badge

expert infantryman badge

As the saying goes, the best thing about getting your EIB is not having to do it again.

The unit I am with is currently testing for the Expert Infantryman Badge. I got my EIB back in 2001, so I do not have to test for it. Usually, EIB holders find themselves sucked into EIB anyway, as graders or planners. My current duties have me doing neither, so instead, I’ll write about it.

There is so much for me to say about the EIB. More than I can do in one post, so I’ll break it up throughout the week. It’s an interesting piece of infantry lore and I love reading and writing the strange minutiae of sub-cultures. This is as strange as it gets.

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The Baramus Massacre and the Syrian CW Attack

we need martyrs leonard

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is one of my favorite games. It’s mature and allows the player to make tough choices that seriously affect how the game plays out and how the game actually ends – unlike another one of my favorite games.

In the above video, the main character (you) is part of a fledgling rebel group that is fighting a very uphill battle against stronger, more organized forces. You’ve just come to rescue a bunch of your fellow people who have been held captive with the intent of enlisting them in the rebel army. While they’re thankful for being rescued, they are not interested in fighting and would rather just be left alone.

At this point, the respected senior knight who has been accompanying you pulls you aside and informs you that if the people would not join, then his orders are to massacre them, dressed as the enemy. The intent would be to drum up support for the rebel cause elsewhere. A very nasty move.

Interestingly, in the game, choosing this path puts you on the “Lawful” and “Loyal” path – traits that are generally considered to be good. Disobey and you are put on the “Chaotic” path.

A very heavy decision to make – I was fourteen or fifteen when I first played this.

When I started seeing news reports suggesting that perhaps it was the Syrian rebels that used chemical weapons in the attack last month, it made me think of the Baramus Massacre.

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Tactics Ogre Baramus Massacre Law Route - YouTube