The New York Times and the Myth of the Garrison Army

Garrison vs Field

The New York Times is running a front page (web) piece titled “After Years at War, the Army Adapts to Garrison Life.” If you follow my blog, you know that I hate when the term ‘garrison’ Army gets slung around because it has a bunch of negative connotations which are more myth than reality.

By titling the piece as so, the writers/editors are trying to paint a picture of a sleepy Army, worn out from war and now struggling to deal with the mundane tasks back home, in “garrison.”

Read the article. It’s the same piece that has been written for the past ten years. Young soldiers go overseas, see some crazy shit, come back and then talk about how it was really exciting and they look forward to going back. Junior officers are talked up about how much they are doing relative to their rank. Everyone loves going to war where they get to do their job.

This particular article doesn’t really discuss any changes back home, in “garrison.” It’s all just training like it’s always been. The only difference is that instead of titling the article vanilla like “What’s Going On in the Army Right Now” they titled it as they did, the supposition being that everyone is spending their days picking up cigarette butts.

There is a prominent myth that is couched in the article that the Army is filled with a bunch of very young soldiers with multiple deployments, which isn’t quite accurate (anymore). Most of the junior soldiers in a given unit joined in the last few years and have not deployed at all, or maybe once – and that may have been to close-out Iraq (a relatively tame deployment). The NCOs, on the other hand, have been in for awhile and they likely have multiple deployments. It is the senior NCOs/Officers who likely have three or more deployments. What I mean to say, is that there isn’t this horde of E1-E4s who are drunk on combat but now trapped in a “garrison” Army with nothing to do and going crazy. It’s mostly the same E1-E4s that we’ve always had, which is its own thing with its own problem set. The combat hardened veterans are mostly men and women in senior company or above positions. They’ve been through this already.

I get what’s going on here. The New York Times is writing a story about the Army on the timeline of 2001-2014, but the actual Army that exists, exists only ephemerally, forming slowly and hardening in a three to four year timeline before everyone PCSs/ETSs and it starts all over again. The garrison Army that the media keeps talking about just isn’t here yet. I’ve been countering the garrison narrative since I started this blog in 2011 and it hasn’t stopped.

What annoys me about these articles though is the way they get digested as fact. People will read this (people including soldiers, and leaders of soldiers) and see the headline which will lead them to process the text of the article differently than if it had been titled “Army Prepares for Future Wars.” Senior leaders will look out over their formations and think they see a bunch of hardened combat veterans, good at “war” but bad at “garrison” whatever that means.

Meanwhile, nothing has changed but the narrative.

I have friends who just got back from deployment, friends who are deployed now, and friends who are getting ready to deploy shortly. Just yesterday the Department of Defense announced another soldier was killed in Afghanistan. Whether we like it or not, we are still at war. We are not in “garrison.”

The current training tempo is hard and fast. If by “garrison” Army they meant a force that is either deployed, returning from deployment, or training for deployment, than I guess they got it right. But I don’t think that is what they meant.

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