‎Army Myths: Chechens

A ruined Grozny, 1995.

Reminded during a recent Team House podcast of a very-GWOT myth: Chechens.

For some reason, “Chechens” became a bogeyman. I heard this in both Iraq and Afghanistan (Related: Juba).

“I heard there is a Chechen sniper in our AO,” someone might say with a knowing gravity.

“Oh damn, really?”

Given the influx of foreign fighters in both countries, of course there would be Chechens. I always wondered though – why, exactly?

What is it about “Chechens” that makes them particularly scary or fearsome? Why is it that when someone would invoke the Chechens, faces became sullen and serious?

I never figured that out.

Maybe someone has a better take on this, but I remember growing up in the 1990s watching the news of the war in Chechnya. It was brutal, and the Russians pulled no punches. I had a notion of what was going on, and there is a part of me that thinks much of the myth-making here is attributing mystical fighting prowess to Chechens because we (collective we, soldiers) really don’t know much about it.

It also feels very conspiratorial any time Chechens are invoked. The presence of “Chechens” points to something darker going on that I never quite bought into. Other leaders might roll their eyes – “This guy again with the Chechens…”

I am sure there is a kernel here, something going on that got this ball rolling. But the power the myth has does not seem warranted.

Would love to know more about the reality here, if anyone can point me in the right direction.

Details about the referenced podcast below.

Wesley Morgan details the history of US military operations in the Pech valley in Afghanistan, a place of deadly battles and unforgiving terrain. We start with the history of the valley and America’s first forays there in 2002, then get into the larger conventional and special operations campaigns that have taken place there with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns.

‎The Team House: Deadly Special Ops missions in the Pech Valley with Wes Morgan, Ep. 85 on Apple Podcasts

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Army Myths: Unhook your chest strap and you get 10% more inflation

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Before a jump, paratroopers spend a lot of time waiting around. The airborne timeline is notorious for having you show up at 0300 for a 2359 time on target, and most of the time inbetween is spent talking with the guys next to you.

Invariably, talk will turn to how much jumping sucks, and how to make it suck less.

A myth that I heard over and over from “senior” E4s and junior NCOs was that if you unhooked the chest buckle of the T-10D parachute during your descent, your canopy would get a little extra inflation. On more than one occasion I heard that it would give you 10% “more lift.”

I remember being skeptical upon hearing this at first. I understood the theory, that by unhooking the chest buckle it would theoretically allow the risers to expand out more, thus allowing the canopy to also expand, letting in more air and slowing the descent.

I dismissed their claims, and they dismissed my dismissals as naive.

The only way I’d know for sure, they said, was to try it out myself.

New paratroopers are unlikely to risk touching any of their equipment during descent out of fear – better to just ride it all in than to touch something you shouldn’t touch and risk a gory way to die.

After making a certain number of jumps and feeling confident that I kind of knew what I was doing, I decided to finally test the claim for myself. During a “hollywood” (no equipment, day time) jump on a pleasant day, I unhooked my chest strap during my descent to see if it would do anything.

It didn’t.

I fell to Earth, at more or less the same speed as I was before I unhooked the buckle.

Airborne.

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Army Myths: Don’t Lock Your Knees

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the Army has experienced the mind-numbing, painfully long formation where you are forced to stand at the position of parade rest (or attention) for long periods of time, often under the hot sun. Before the event, the phrase “don’t lock your knees” will be uttered over and over again by NCOs and the E4-Mafia like a meditative mantra. In these long formations, someone will invariably pass out, spilling over onto the floor in dramatic fashion. Then a soldier or two will drag the victim to the back of the formation where he can’t be seen and left to recover, while the rest of the formation snickers at his misfortune with whispers of “shouldn’t have locked his knees.”

As a young soldier, I had no reason to disobey the orders of my more experienced NCOs, so whenever I stood in a formation, I made a conscious effort not to lock my knees. “Locking my knees”, as I understood it, was standing in a manner in which my legs were completely straight, the knee joint “locking” back so the bones of my lower and upper legs support one another, requiring no “work” from the muscles of my body to maintain balance and position. Locking the knees somehow disturbs the blood flow process, resulting in the fainting solider phenomenon.

It turns out the medical science behind “don’t lock your knees” doesn’t exactly hold up. While the advice to avoid locking knees is widespread – even outside of military communities – the actual cause of fainting is usually loss of blood flow to the brain which can be brought on by any number of things, but the act of locking ones knees has nothing to do with passing out. While the act of locking one’s knees and maintaining a rigid, completely unmoving position for a long period of time may interrupt proper blood flow, the act of locking the knees alone does not by itself cause fainting spells.

As this very scientific YouTube video demonstrates, locking your knees can interfere with proper blood flow from the legs, which in turn might result in less blood flow to the brain and ipso facto a soldier passes out.

I can remember foolishly standing in formation, trying my best to maintain a “knees slightly bent” position (as the position of attention calls for, after all) and feeling my knees “hover” inside of my pants as I awkwardly tried to maintain a good-enough but not-quite straight position. For sure, it kept me occupied, and maybe that mental occupation is what prevents fainting spells. I remember another occasion though, while deployed to Iraq, where I was standing in a change of command ceremony and started to feel nauseous and dizzy. I started having a cold sweat and I felt like I was going to pass out. I knew not to lock my knees and wasn’t, but it didn’t matter. Thankfully, the formation ended before I took an embarrassing spill, but thinking back on it, the likely cause was dehydration, as just about everyone had dysentery at the time.

Like most Army myths, this one will continue to spread – and I have a feeling that some will aggressively defend it as fact, despite the lack of hard scientific evidence. While locking your knees might affect the flow of blood, there is no evidence that says that it actually does.

Thankfully, I’ve spoken with a few NCOs who have privately confessed that they’ve been locking their knees in formation for years – because it’s easier – and they’ve yet to pass out.

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Army Myths: There is no “right” way to lace your boots

One of the first things I learned as a new soldier was how to lace my boots. I remember sitting there with a boot tucked between my legs and holding the ends of a long black boot lace in each hand and asking the guy next to me if there was a “right” way to lace my boots.

“Yeah, left over right, the whole way up.”

Left over right, the whole way up.

Why?

Because “we always start with our left” or something like that.

For over a decade I have always laced my boots this way, left over right until complete. When I ask others what the “right” way to lace my boots is, they confirm that it is left over right.

It turns out this is another myth. DA PAM 670-1 says nothing about how the laces are to be crossed, only that:

According to the regulation, there is nothing wrong with going right over left, or going back and forth between the two, or – unfathomable – some kind of random design.

All this said, I’ve always done it left over right and I like the way it looks.

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Army Myths: You don’t need 100 hours to get a Volunteer Medal

2000px-Outstanding_Volunteer_Service_ribbon.svg

[Update 29Jul15: The new AR covering 600-8-22 changed this up, and now you DO need either 500 hours of service or service over 3 years. Total bummer, really)

The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (MOVSM) is one of those unique awards that a soldier can get to build their rack outside of the usual suspects (AAMs, ARCOMs, NCOPD ribbons, etc.). Although it doesn’t require anything particularly heroic (Silver Star) or unusual (Prisoner of War Medal), I’d say it’s a pretty rare award to get. I don’t think I’ve actually every seen someone with one.

That said, I’ve heard it talked about a lot.

Especially at FRG meetings.

In those meetings, someone will usually remind soldiers to “log their hours” to get to a grand total of 100 hours so that they can be recommended for the MOVSM.

You do not need to rack up 100 hours of volunteer work to be recommended for the medal. In fact, there is no set requirement for how much volunteer work must be accomplished in order to get the award.

Let’s go to the doctrine:

From 600-8-22 Military Awards:

‎www.apd.army.mil_pdffiles_r600_8_22.pdf-1

It’s clear that the award is intended to be presented to recognize volunteer service over an extended period of time, not a flash in the pan act of altruism. It is at the approval authority’s discretion as to what measure of service meets the criteria for this award, but there is absolutely no target mark that signifies meeting the minimum requirement for the award.

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Army Myths: The way you’re supposed to wear the blue cord (infantry)

Pay day activities, uniform inspection, whatever the event, when infantrymen start putting on their dress uniform, there will always be “that guy” who insists there is a certain way that the blue cord is supposed to be worn. I’ve seen senior NCOs pinch both sides of the cord with their thumb and index finger to test for “thickness,” insisting that the “fat” side goes to the rear (or to the front, who knows). I’ve also heard others say that the loop that grasps the button is supposed to be facing a certain direction as it comes off of the cord.

This is another myth. DA 670-1 indicates how the blue cord is worn, and it’s pretty simple:

DA 670-1

It’s worn on the shoulder, attached to the button. No thickness, no directions. Pretty simple.

Related: turning the buttons of the Class A’s/ASUs a certain way so that the eagles on them face this or that direction in times of war. More nonsense that gets passed around from generation to generation.

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Army Myths: MRE gum is a laxative

DONT EAT IT

There’s lots of lore surrounding MREs. One prominent myth is that the chewing gum contained in every MRE has laxative properties, presumably to counter that other myth that MREs induce constipation (a myth for another day!).

A friend of mine, another prior-service officer who did time in the 82nd actually emailed Natick, the folks who design the MREs and asked them about the gum myth. Here is their response:

Thank you for your comments and interest in the U.S. Army Natick Soldier
Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), Department of Defense
(DoD), Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD). The Combat Feeding Program has an
active interest in receiving proposals and comments pertaining to new ideas,
suggestions, innovative concepts, and products that could be of benefit to
our Warfighters.

The MRE™ is part of the Continuous Product Improvement process under the
Fielded Individual Ration Improvement Project (FIRIP). Feedback from
Operation Desert Shield/Storm suggested that Warfighters would consume more
if their preferences were taken into consideration. In 1993, the FIRIP was
initiated to improve the variety, acceptability, consumption and nutritional
intake of individual combat rations to enhance performance on the
battlefield. Today, all components that are put into or taken out of an MRE™
must first be Warfighter Recommended, Warfighter Tested, Warfighter
Approved™. From 1993 through 2013, over 260 new items have been approved and
added to menus and over 65 of the least acceptable items have been removed.

Attached is Natick PAM 30-25 Operational Rations of the DoD
http://nsrdec.natick.army.mil/media/print/OP_Rations.pdf which highlights
the entire family of fielded rations. Pages 14-16 provides the detailed
information regarding MRE individual components that you inquired about. The MRE™ gum does not function as a laxative.

Another myth, solved.

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I guess it has to be said again – there is NO SUCH THING AS A CONFIRMED KILL!

Kill count

A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook, about retired SFC Johnson – “the deadliest US soldier on record with 2,746 kills.” I’ve seen posts at other milblogs about this guy and the outrageous claims being made. I’ve also seen news items, like this one from Yahoo News which discusses the potential case for stolen valor here.

What blows my mind though, is how the whole notion of the “confirmed kill” is glossed over again and again. Authors even put the term in quotation marks without taking a moment to ask what it even means or if it is an actual real thing.

I’ve written about it before. There is no such thing as a “confirmed kill.” The term is something popularized by Hollywood and video games. There is no recording of kills and crediting it to individuals. It’s nonsense. All of it.

If someone wants to “claim” kills, fine. It’s disgusting and abhorrent but more accurate than “confirmed,” which makes it sound clinical and official – which it isn’t.

So, again, in conclusion, there is no such thing as a confirmed kill.

There is no such thing as a confirmed kill.

There is no such thing as a confirmed kill.

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Army Myths: Confirmed kills

Confirmed Kill

I’ve checked and double-checked my ERB and ORB. There is no category to record my “confirmed kills.” The term “confirmed kill” gets thrown around a lot, especially in sniper circles. The whole idea of a “confirmed” kill suggests there is some process or that there is a forensics team that descends on a body after a shot was fired to confirm unequivocally who gets the credit.

That doesn’t happen.

Most Confirmed Kills
People really want to know.

As far as I understand, there is no way of keeping track of individual kills. Individual soldiers may ‘confirm’ to themselves that they are responsible for a kill – but there is no official way of tracking that, no process. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some award citations out there where you might find the term ‘confirmed kill,’ but that is a reflection on how pervasive the term has become, not an indication of an official policy or process.

Hollywood and the media have latched onto the idea of the “confirmed kill” and use it as a way of displaying the individual skill and prowess of a soldier – usually a sniper. Journalists have no problem throwing the term around without checking to see what the term means or how a confirmed kill is actually confirmed, often taking military folk at their word.

So if someone tells you they racked up X amount of “confirmed kills” you can blow them off. Or better, ask them how those kills were confirmed and who confirmed them. If he (or she) says that they did it themselves, you can nod and smile at them. Then walk away.

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