Tom Brady and Self-Discipline

ny giants sacking tom brady

This post is a little difficult for me. I’m a life-long Giants fan.

And as such, I experienced everything I needed to experience as a football fan when the Giants beat the Patriots the first time.

Even watching this today, it still hits.

But I have to give credit where credit is due.

Tom Brady is good.

Damn good.

Maybe the best.

It’s not raw talent. It’s not luck.

It’s hard work and consistency over time.

I admire that. And we can all learn a lot from it.

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On Morale


Originally published in 2015, and still true.

Every year or so, an article appears sounding the alarm over morale in the military. This piece from World Affairs Journal is no different, analyzing recent data and polling on the state of military morale.

I made a note to write about it, because it seemed alarmist and disingenuous.

Reading through the text, there isn’t a lot of hard evidence that indicates morale is actually low. Most of the data comes from informal polls that don’t directly correspond to “morale” but instead touch on things like pay and job satisfaction.

Morale, as an idea, should to be defined before it can be analyzed.

morale |məˈral|
the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time: their morale was high.

That’s a book definition, and it seems ok for a start. But I’ve been unable to find an agreed-upon military definition of morale, which seems odd, since it is always touted as a chief concern. With no firm definition of morale, it’s hard to say if it is high or low.

This Stars & Stripes article from October 2003 (a time where I can personally attest to as a period of low morale) unpacks the discussion of morale and trying to define it. All soldiers know it’s important, but not everyone can agree on what it is, only, like pornography, you know it when you see it.

Of course, there are the three pillars of morale: chow, mail, and pay. Mess with any of those and morale will sink. For today’s troops, I’d add in free time and connectivity, to a lesser degree. These are elements of “big tent” morale. These are things that depend on acts of Congress and the Department of Defense to deliver.

Polling as a means of measuring “big tent” morale is ineffective. Soldiers, since time immemorial, always gripe, no matter how good or bad the situation.

Instead of polling, recruiting and retention numbers serve as a better measure of “big tent” morale.

At a time when the military as a whole is downsizing, benefits are becoming scarcer, and the operational tempo remains high – despite the wars “being over” – recruiting and retention numbers remain at one hundred percent and above in a recovering economy. That is, there isn’t a rush to the exit. Servicemen and women continue to join and stay in the service.

Anecdotally, the grass is always greener on the other side. Troops today talk about wanting to deploy more, like we did in the mid-2000s. There’s also a post-COIN running discontent with trying to accomplish a myriad of seemingly distracting tasks while being told to always find and exploit opportunities to train.

Even some of the guys who served back then talk about those days with a tinge of nostalgia.

It’s easy to forget how tough those times were. Friends were being killed, deployments lasted 15 (+) months, and the military enacted policies like “stop-loss” and Individual-Ready Reserve (IRR) call-ups to make numbers.

When the military has gone to the small print in enlistment contracts to make numbers, that’s a sign of overall low morale.

Just like the APFT is simply a benchmark of physical fitness, recruiting and retention numbers only provide a snapshot of overall morale.

Still, individual units can have high morale when morale across the force is low, even (or, especially) down to the squad level. Plenty of units had high morale during the mid-2000s when things were tough. This morale is different from the “big tent” morale discussed earlier. This is the morale that comes from small-unit cohesion. The biggest factor in this is, of course, leadership. A good leader who can filter out the nonsense while still accomplishing the mission can (mostly) insulate his or her element from low morale. This is why you’ll often hear soldiers talking about how great “their last unit” was. What they’re really saying is that they liked it better with their previous leadership.

This type of morale might be better measured through polling, but not in the aggregate. This morale is better measured through small unit sensing sessions, informal discussions, and listening to the remarks from soldiers as you pass them by – the things they say in your presence, just to see how you respond.

On the other hand, simple measures of low morale and discontent would be desertion rates and “fragging” incidents. Although there may be others, these two in high number, or beyond the infrequent lone episodes would be a good indicator that there is a true morale issue in the force.

Interestingly, new Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey is looking at troop morale through the prism of small, common sense changes that can be made, to include allowing headphones to be worn in fitness centers while wearing the physical fitness uniform (a source of much emotional heartache for this author). While small things like headphones and socks might seem inconsequential to troop morale, these micro-policies can have significant effects over time.

There are so many other places the morale discussion can go. Discipline and punishment in a unit has an effect on morale. A soldier who goes unpunished for an infraction only to see another soldier who committed the same infraction receive an Article 15 can be a blow to overall morale, as it reeks of favoritism and selective enforcement.

Admittedly, I didn’t do a ton of research for this post. I’d be curious to know if an actual military definition of morale exists (it doesn’t in Operational Terms and Graphics). It’s also an interesting discussion to have, even in terms of our allies. The Iraqi Army, as a whole, likely suffers from low morale, as indicated by the high rate of desertion in the face of the enemy. Individual units, though, like the elite Counter Terrorism Service, seem to have higher morale. What is the cause? Leadership? Pay? Equipment? Sense of purpose? Skull masks?

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Humanity and Iron Discipline

Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline. This is a certain road to victory.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

On the plane ride to Afghanistan I was skimming through the Art of War when I came across that line. Humanity and Iron Discipline popped out to me, and I was struck by how those two ideas juxtapose. My platoon sergeant was sitting next to me and I showed him the line.

He pulled out an ear plug and yelled to me over the roar of the C-17’s engines, “You’re Humanity, sir. I’m Iron Discipline.”

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Winter is Coming: And so is the Army’s new appearance bible


This is a piece I wrote back in December for another outlet that never got published. It’s been sitting on my hard drive since then and since Iraq: Ten Years Ago ended (and training picked up) I haven’t been able to write as much. So, here it is.

“The Army is a uniformed service where discipline is judged, in part, by the manner in which a soldier wears a prescribed uniform, as well as by the individual’s personal appearance.” – Chapter 1, AR 670-1

The regulation covering things like haircuts, fingernails, and the way soldiers wear their uniforms is being updated for the first time in almost ten years. For the hundreds of Army regulations in circulation, few are referenced more frequently than Army Regulation 670-1: Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia. It prescribes – in painstaking detail – exactly how each and every item is to be worn and the manner in which soldiers should present themselves in order to project a professional military appearance.

The regulation is thorough and exact. An example, from the section on male haircuts:

“The hair on top of the head must be neatly groomed. The length and bulk of the hair may not be excessive or present a ragged, unkempt, or extreme appearance. The hair must present a tapered appearance. A tapered appearance is one where…”

And it continues on for another 145 words.

The last revision came before the adoption of the much-maligned grayish/greenish/blueish Advanced Combat Uniform which blends in well with your grandmother’s couch. The new revision will include the proper wear and appearance of the ACU as well as other pieces of clothing that have been issued since the last update, when the force was arguably busy fighting two wars. Currently, the wear and appearance of those items are buried in cryptic ALARACT (All Army Activity) messages which are hard to read and even harder to find.

The updated AR 670-1 will be welcomed by non-commissioned officers throughout the Army who have to answer the question daily, “Hey Sergeant, how am I supposed to wear this?”

Besides updating the wardrobe, hints at what to expect have leaked out, and all signs point to more restrictive regulations concerning grooming and behavior standards, which has raised the ire of some who lament the return of a “garrison” Army.

Some of the expected changes include:

-Tattoos cannot be visible above the neckline or extend below the wrist line or hands while wearing Army uniforms
-No eating, drinking, or smoking while walking
-No talking on cell phones while walking
-No gold teeth or “grillz”
-Male soldiers will have to shave their faces, even on weekends when off duty

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fostered an environment where if a potential policy does not immediately impact the ability of the warfighter to do his or her job – win the nation’s wars – then it is dismissed as irrelevant and a distraction to the force. That seems to make sense, and it is a hard argument to counter, especially to the junior sergeants and officers who have shouldered the burden of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those soldiers, by virtue of their wartime service, feel emboldened to decide what is relevant and what is nonsense in terms of “Big Army” policy and its effect on war-fighting.

Without question, training and preparing for the “unforgiving minute” should be the focus of policy and regulation. But to categorically dismiss anything that doesn’t have direct relevance to the guy shooting the enemy presents an unrealistic burden on the force – one that can never be met.

Soldiering is a process, not an end. Discipline is developed – especially among young men and women – through tough standards that are rigidly enforced. Keeping a neat haircut or shaving on the weekends won’t make you shoot straighter. But general discipline over time inculcates pride in the profession of arms, which builds confidence that spills over to other areas, like training.

The popular narrative right now is that of a “wartime” Army that is fantastic at fighting, but is about to shift to a “garrison” Army akin to that of the 1990s that is more concerned with looking good. This narrative is fueled in small part by opinion pieces saying such, but is really getting around through military-themed internet memes and satire blogs that are insanely popular with troops.

This narrative has legs because it idolizes the soldier who has gone to war – which is one of the driving forces to join in the first place – while protecting the soldier from restrictive “garrison policies” when he or she returns home. The narrative assumes a zero-sum environment, where a force that concerns itself with tattoos and haircuts cannot simultaneously train as well for war.

The fallacy is that going to war does not necessarily make you good at war. Tough, realistic training prepares you for war. Going to war provides experience. Showing up is good, but as the Army football team demonstrates yearly in the Army-Navy Game, showing up isn’t always good enough.

Interestingly, it was the Army that emerged from the 1990s that invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and by many accounts, that Army performed those invasions exceptionally well. It is the following years of counterinsurgency and “surges” whose efficacy is being called into question, those years when we became a “wartime” Army, and those “garrison” standards were shed.

When I spoke with a friend and senior NCO about this, he offered some candid analysis, stating: “They (junior NCOs) aren’t as good as some say they are. They can’t maneuver over complex terrain. They can get in a vehicle, drive to an objective, do something, and then return to the forward operating base and hit the chow hall. The discipline that made the invasion Army good spilled over into everything we did back then, and that’s why we were so successful.”

On the role of the Army, he continued “Moreover, the Army has a responsibility to think about things other than shooting bad guys. Our appearance and actions in America are how we garner trust from the public. Our persona as a force has to be palatable to most of America to continue to enjoy the relationship that we have now.”

Taking the long view, that “garrison” Army looks pretty darn good. And they could fight, too.

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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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Training and the spartan/sybarite dichotomy

“Part of me wants to be hard as nails, the other part of me wants to chiiiiiiiillllllllllllll.”

In the days and weeks leading up to my now delayed Ranger School class, every moment, meal, and quiet nothing took on monumental significance. Driving somewhere on post with a couple of buddies, we discussed the two axes of thought regarding any impending military event, in this case, Ranger School. The spartan in us wanted to do nothing but read the Ranger Handbook, drink water, and train. The sybarite in us wanted to do nothing but go out, party, and soak up every vice allowed in the final moments before disappearing into the woods/mountains/swamps. These two opposing thought patterns exist simultaneously.

The thing that drew many of us to the military in the first place and the infantry specifically was the shot at adventure and the opportunity to be hard. In that hardening process, a deeper appreciation is gained for the simple things in life. An old Army buddy once marveled at the civilian’s freedom to sit down wherever and whenever he pleases, for example.

Imbibing and gorging before a sleep-away camp like Ranger School satisfies the craving to enjoy life now while it is still under control, but sabotages training for the same. Any time some great luxury sits in front of me, it’s hard to resist knowing that when I’m taking a knee on a mountaintop with a shrunken stomach in the near future, I’ll want to slip back in time and dropkick my old self for not eating the freaking pizza. But any thoughts in that food/sleep deprived state aren’t entirely rational and cannot be taken as absolute truth.

What are we training for? This is the question that anyone who trains has to ask. There is a tendency out there (myself included) to think that by virtue of tough training, we’ve bought our permission to enjoy the things that set us back (name your vice). In fairness, I know some people who seem to be able to train hard and party hard all the time. I don’t know how they do it, but I know that I can’t. If I want to achieve something difficult, I have to commit to be all in.

And that’s hard.

 “I’m calling you a killer. A natural born killer. You always have been, and you always will be. Moving to El Paso, working in a used record store, goin’ to the movies with Tommy, clipping coupons. That’s you, trying to disguise yourself as a worker bee. That’s you tryin’ to blend in with the hive. But you’re not a worker bee. You’re a renegade killer bee. And no matter how much beer you drank or barbecue you ate or how fat your ass got, nothing in the world would ever change that.”
-Bill, to the Bride (Kill Bill)

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Life Lesson – Fear Inertia

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” or so the saying goes. I’ve always found that when I’m working and get into a “flow,” I accomplish a lot. As soon as I stop to sit down or take a break, getting started again takes a massive effort, and I usually fail. I can accomplish most of what I need to get done in a short period of time if I simply DON’T STOP MOVING.

Thus, one of my life lesson’s is to “fear inertia.”

in•er•tia. noun.
1. a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged: the bureaucratic inertia of government.
2. Physics. A property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.

When I start getting tired and gravitate towards the couch, I try to remind myself of how much extra effort it is going to take to get going again. Sometimes this works and I’m able to keep going. Other times I give in and plop down, ending the work.

Developing a healthy fear of inertia can help to overcome the tendency to stop, and result in a more productive person.

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Self-preservation mode

a soldier shamming

After branching day at OCS, the BN CDR and BN CSM grabbed all of the new infantry guys and gathered us outside to give us a quick pep talk. The BN CDR spoke about the pride of being an infantryman and the importance of going to Ranger School as a new 2LT.

The BN CSM reinforced what the CDR said, and then delved a little deeper on what to expect going forward in the infantry. He talked about what he called ‘self-preservation’ mode. As a prior service infantryman, I knew what he was talking about, but never heard it put that way before. He described the suck of being in the infantry; the cold, the hot, the wet, the fatigue, the bugs and on and on and on. Life in the infantry can suck. As humans, our bodies naturally try to protect us from these things. This protection manifests itself in the shamming soldier (the ultimate of which is embodied in the soldier in the above pic). The soldier who shuts down, stops volunteering, stops being motivated, stops talking and on and on and on.

Self-preservation mode. The goal is to preserve yourself by shutting down. Anyone who’s been in the field for a few days or has been ground down by tough training knows the feeling or at least have seen others experiencing it. I felt it at the end of last week as the culmination of a weeks’ training took hold late at night.

What I found interesting, is that since hearing the CSM describe that feeling as ‘self-preservation,’ I’ve been able to identify it when it settles on me. Before, I just thought I was “tired” which seems natural enough. There’s something about labeling this thing as ‘self-preservation’ that makes it especially repugnant. Heading towards self-preservation mode isn’t weak, though – it’s natural. Your body and mind are going to push you in that direction. By acknowledging it, however, I’ve found that I’m able to reclaim it, and choose to fight it.

Fight fatigue with action. That’s been my motto when I feel myself going into self-preservation mode. The more I sit and think about how much it sucks, the deeper I go into self-preservation. If I fight it, I stand a better chance of staying out of the trap. Granted, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes things just suck and the best you can do it grin and bear it.

My hope is that by making a habit of fighting off self-preservation mode, it will become easier and easier to do. We’ll see how it goes.

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Garrison soldiers, field soldiers, and missing the point

Garrison vs. Field: An imaginary distinction.

“He’s good in the field, but he sucks in garrison.”

I saw this story last week, and it bummed me out. ‘82nd Airborne Paratroopers Unhappy with Iraq, Afghanistan Withdrawals.

Paratroopers like to fight. They like to go to war. But I was saddened by the tone in this report, suggesting that soldiers fear a return to a ‘garrison’ Army, one in which they won’t be doing real work, but instead, focused on things like area beautification and the ‘ol dog and pony show. It’s a strange fear, since, for most of these soldiers, they never really experienced a garrison Army.

One soldier reports that he wants to do his job and he can only do that while deployed.

That sentiment is echoed throughout the article, although, the younger soldiers seem to fear garrison life more than the older ones (who are on their umpteenth deployment and wouldn’t mind a little more family time).

The idea forwarded is that being deployed constitutes real work, while being back home does not. It is easy to understand where this attitude comes from. For those who join the Army looking for action and adventure, garrison life is a distraction and boring. I suppose time spent training in the field doesn’t count as strict garrison, and would qualify as a cut above pure garrison life (whatever that is), but still short of an operational deployment. But even time spent out in the field might be a downer. No one in the field is out there trying to shoot you.

Sadly, this eagerness to deploy to do ‘real work’ suggests that being back home isn’t taken as seriously. That is, true soldiering is something that happens only while deployed. Everything else is just nonsense. Not what I “signed up for.”

Well, Army leaders have nodded towards a coming realignment where discipline and old school garrison attitudes will soon be making a return. The drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the current budget crisis and a downsizing Army suggests a coming higher level of accountability from soldiers across the ranks.

The attitude expressed in the article reminded me of my first year in the Army. The ‘Global War on Terror’ had just started, but only affected a relatively small number of units and soldiers. There was a sense in the air that something big was looming on the horizon, but we were still a ‘garrison’ Army transitioning to a ‘wartime’ Army.

In the Army in days of yore, attentive soldiers with an eye on rapid advancement understood that a premium was placed on the wear and appearance of the uniform. A clean, freshly starched set of BDUs with razor angles and boots that shone like black glass attracted praise from tough NCOs. Standing tall and looking good was not done simply for its own sake, but was often done seeking reward. Preferential treatment, additional passes, and compliments rained down from superiors, who wished to foster an environment where all soldiers took pride in their uniform and appearance.

There were other soldiers, though, who were having none of this. So much attention paid to an immaculately kept uniform detracted from other, more important tasks. ‘Real’ soldiers were good at their ‘real’ jobs, and in the case of the infantry, that is closing with and destroying the enemy. Real soldiers were good at core tasks and were good in the field – PT, shooting combatives – whereas garrison soldiers were good in the rear – well-manicured uniform, competes in soldier of the month/year/millennium boards, takes correspondence courses, has the right things in the right pockets, knows unit history, etc.

Field soldiers and garrison soldiers.

A garrison soldier in the field.

Such a stark division couldn’t last. Handsomely dressed gentlemen wouldn’t survive in the field (there are bugs). And raw grunts would smell bad and break all the fine china in the chow hall.

This led to the inbetweeners. These are the soldiers who fancied themselves grunts but saw the value in keeping a good uniform and understood pragmatically that standing-tall-looking-good-ought-to-be-in-hollywood was good for their professional advancement. But they were torn, because it seemed as if only one path could be chosen – field soldier or garrison soldier. For an infantryman, the choice would be obvious. But to choose the field route meant forfeiting the benefits of the garrison route.

To address this, the inbetweeners decided to maintain a field uniform and a garrison uniform. The field uniform would be the standard issue BDU, but not specially kept. They would never be starched and they would be worn ‘as is’ – wrinkles and all. Field boots would be occasionally slathered with a chunk of Kiwi quickly rubbed in with the sole intent of preserving the leather. There was little shine, only a matte, dull look that absorbed the sun.

The garrison uniform, on the other hand, would be kept clean and starched heavily. On Monday mornings, it would be carefully removed from its protective plastic wrapper. As arms and legs penetrated the pressed uniform, thin sheets of heavy starch might crack off and fall to the ground, shattering like tiny pieces of glass. Soldiers could look at themselves in the mirror-reflection of their black boots, which may have been shined by hand, or by the boot guy on Yadkin road.

Garrison soldiers could rarely ‘put their arms down.’

A 0900 Monday morning formation was always one filled with grumbles, as the field soldiers scoffed at the parade-ready garrison soldiers, who of course, insisted that they were simply wearing their garrison uniform – not their ‘real’ uniform. Field soldiers retorted that uniforms are uniforms and there should be no distinction, to which the garrison soldiers responded with accusations of laziness and jealousy.

That battle didn’t end until the introduction of the ACU and the tan boot, which requires no shoe polish. It’s hard to make the ACU look good, so no one bothered trying.

I recall seeing starched DCUs while deployed. Relevant? No. Silly? Probably.

The point in all this is to highlight the long-held distinctions soldiers have had on garrison life and field life (whether ‘field’ means a week out in the woods, a couple of weeks at NTC or JRTC, or a year-long deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan).

Wherever soldiers are and whatever they are doing, that’s their real job.

Going forward, the challenge for leaders will be to convince a transitioning wartime Army that these ‘old school,’ basic soldiering skills are no less important than core skills related to a particular job. Leading soldiers in combat is important, yes, but should not be taken more seriously than leading soldiers in the rear, where the threat of death and injury exists just as it does while deployed (but with a different enemy).

Soldiering is soldiering, whether it is in the field or in the rear.

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