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Copyright by John T. Reed Comments from John T. Reed are in [red brackets].
Thank you for your website. It has been a great relief to read your columns, especially regarding the military, and to know that others experience the same frustrations I have known.
I served four years on active duty as an enlisted combat engineer in the Marine Corps, and have continued to serve in the Air National Guard, receiving a direct commission as a Nurse Corps officer. I was on active duty at Camp Pendleton when one of the Osprey crashes occurred, killing the crew and several infantrymen from 5th Marines (who lived right next to us). Your insights on military leadership, the performance review process, and the general quality of military personnel compared to civilian workers are spot on. I work far harder as a critical care nurse than I ever did as a combat engineer. A few details for you based on articles I recently read on your site:
- The "crucible" portion of basic training was implemented in 1997. Marines such as myself, who enlisted prior to that period, did not undergo the crucible, though I think it is fair to say we earned the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor nonetheless. The first three "crucible graduates" to join our unit in Okinawa were world-class shitbags.
- Marine officers, including those who graduate from the US Naval Academy, attend a 3-month OCS at Quantico, VA, followed by a 6-month Basic Course (TBS). They are not commissioned until after completing OCS. To my knowledge, this applies to NROTC candidates and direct commissions as well. The Marine Corps also promotes from within using a program called MECEP (Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program). Selectees are released from active duty to complete a baccalaureate degree (while drilling with a NROTC detachment), and attend OCS and TBS following this. Initial specialty training (such as Infantry Officer Course) are completed after OCS and TBS. It is possible that Naval Academy students attend OCS during the summer prior to graduation, allowing them to be commissioned with their Navy peers, though I do not know for a fact that this is done.
Thank you again for your writing. I am awaiting delivery of my copy of Succeeding, and look forward to reading an intelligent alternative to the garbage peddled in the finance section of the local bookstore.
Thoroughly enjoyed your Succeeding and Baseball Coaching books. Also, from someone who played baseball at Princeton University and then spent 8 frustratingly long years in the Navy (wrought with the same "counselling sessions" you frequently mentioned from your Army days), I find your detailing of your son's football career and your own military commentary to be incredibly accurate. Regarding your son's college recruitment, I've even referred a few people to your web article as I think it's the best description of reality that I've ever come across.
Before I read the stuff at your website, I really thought I might have been the only one who ever lived that life in the military. Side Note: My callsign actually ended up being "Principal," on account of all the hot water I got myself into for standing up for my 'principles.' [Shit, after I stood up for my principles, I didn’t need a call sign. They always made me the assistant to some guy who was not authorized to have an assistant. Your monstrously large West Point education tax dollars at work.]
Dylan Jones <email@example.com>
I have been a long time reader of your website, which I discovered randomly a few years ago doing a search about Robert Kiyosaki. I was one of the many who had read his book long ago and felt that it was a bunch of nonsense. First of all let me say thank you for exposing that idiot for what he really is, it was a breath of fresh air to read your logical, no-nonsense style of writing. I work as a financial planner and from time to time have new clients mention Kiyosaki's books, at which point I immediately refer them to your website so they can read your article. I have also bought "Succeeding" and "How to Protect Your Life Savings from Hyperinflation and Depression", both of which I enjoyed thoroughly. I especially enjoyed the latter since I work in finance and learned quite a bit as well from reading it.
What I enjoy most of all about your site though is the military articles. Having served in the US Coast Guard (2001-2005) I have found them all very relevant, entertaining, and amazingly accurate. Many of the things you mention in your articles are thoughts I have had for years, some of which I just never put into words or was able to pinpoint exactly what I was feeling. More than a few times when reading your site I have literally exclaimed "Yes! That's right! I've been saying/thinking that for years!" as well as other "of course!" moments. Your article about process vs. results was one of the best things I have ever read that breaks down the mindset of military vets and others who have been raised in that system. I also thought the one on leadership was excellent and very eye-opening.
I enlisted in the CG when I was 18, thinking that the military was wonderful and was where "real leaders" and "real men" were. Much of this I'm sure was influence from my Navy officer father and my career Air Force grandfather. After about a year in I knew I wanted to get out. Granted, the CG is slightly different from the Navy and Army, as the demographic tends to be more middle class (80% + WASP, as I recall the statistics at the time) than the other services, but the same problems persist. I think no matter what branch of service the concentration of people is the same, the 80/20 rule (80% dirt bags, 20% good people). It was amazing to me to see 20 year, "career E-4" types who just wanted to do the bare minimum possible, earn a paycheck, and then blow most of it at the bar. I also noticed the trend of anyone with any ambition and intelligence getting out as soon as they could. I observed that the officer ranks were more motivated and intelligent than the enlisted generally, but the sycophancy and shameless ass-kissing was unbearable. I was glad to be enlisted at times after watching all the O-1 and O-2s run around the ship tripping over one another, desperately trying to impress the CO in the hope that their next evaluation would be high enough to make the next rank.
I was stationed in the Caribbean and did counter drug patrols, which would seem exciting and cool to the layman, but after hours and hours of drilling, training, and rarely finding anything, it all becomes distressingly routine, not to mention very dangerous. I think of the incidents in some of the military books you reviewed as my teams and I were ordered to do things that made no sense at all and put us in danger just because the CO and XO had an "ops checklist" that they "have" to complete. Only the military can turn a one hour, simple, routine exercise into an 8 hour, all hands, waste 500 pieces of paper in briefings debacle. I also experienced the same "you are wasting your opportunity" counseling as well… I made E-6 in less than four years with about 8 months left to go, and on the same day I was promoted I had the yeoman fill out my discharge forms. I had more than a few people tell me that I was "wasting my rank", "now is when things get easy", etc. It seems people had a hard time understanding why I didn't want to reach E-7 and then "ride the wave till 20." I had many superiors try to talk me into going to OCS, etc., but I wanted nothing to do with it.
Needless to say I got out and never looked back, nor have I ever regretted it for a second. Many of the people I worked with are unfortunately still in the military, who can't get out now because they are "past 10". Others who did get out work at low wage, dead end jobs. Only two I know besides myself went to college and had success in the civilian world. The sad reality is that the structure of the military seems to attract and retain a majority of below average citizens, and is no place for anyone with ambition and a drive to succeed. I have younger siblings that I encouage not to join the military and tell others who are willing to listen. Thankfully there are websites like this that I can show them! I think you are doing a great service with your articles and books, and I look forward to reading more!
Justin [last name withheld at his request]
From: Nicklaus Walker <email address redacted pursuant to 9/16/11 email from Walker>
Subject: Get a grip
Date: August 4, 2011 9:32:47 PM PDT
To: John Reed <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I googled the debate of whether military members might lose their much deserved pensions, due to the fact that our country is broke. I was shocked to come across your article, which you adamantly argue that the pensions are overgenerous. While that might be true, to some extent, your statement that military personnel are 'misused most of the time' was ignorant and demeaning. I know, firsthand, that we arent as efficient as we could be, but we do a job many able bodied men don't dare to do.
Show a little more respect in the future when commenting about something you know little about.
My job allows you to share such drivel publicly.
Reed response: Captain Walker will almost certainly lose his “much-deserved” pension because “the country is broke” as he says. It’s broke in part because of the military collecting too much in pensions and benefits and starting to collect them too early in life. Would you believe half pay plus full medical for you and your dependents starting around age 37 to 42 depending on your age when you entered the military?
I surmise this guy only read part of one page of my web site. He seems to think I was never in the military. He “knows firsthand” as opposed to me.
He orders me to show more respect. Orders—as if an Air Force captain outranks the entire civilian populace of the country.
The captain is invited to kiss my civilian ass. Although he would be better off if he spent is time looking for work with an organization that is not about to be driven out of business by the greed of federal retirees, government employee unions, senior citizens, and America’s legions of disabled, on welfare, collecting unemployment insurance, etc.
It has been said that GM has become a union health care organization that occasionally makes a car. The U.S. Air Force and the other branches of service have become retired military pension and benefit programs that occasionally fly planes. I know nothing about him other than this email, but I predict that Captain Walker will get a “much deserved” RIF (Reduction in Force) out of the Air Force before he is eligible to retire. That will help the nation by preventing him from becoming an even bigger part of the problem than he is now.
That will also give him a chance to try what most military lifers “dare not do:” start his own business in the real world where he has to compete successfully, not just keep breathing, to get paid. Or he might try working for a profit-making company where you can get fired for inadequate performance or laid off if the company as a whole does not perform, as opposed to a sinecure like the military.
I am a 20 year Army Veteran (Retired). I have been reading your many articles and agree with you on almost everything you write, probably in the 98% category. I must say if I didn't know your time of service was the Vietnam era I could easily think I was reading about the Army of today! (I was in from 86-07). I can make many, many comments and provide many, many examples and indeed I have many questions, but my purpose of this email is to ask you if you have an opinion of Ret. Gen Hugh Shelton? I have served under him and read his book "Without hesitation" and think he was a great and much admired leader. I've personally never heard a bad thing about the guy. Of course I realize someone isn't going to write his "memoirs" and knock himself or his faults, but as far as I can tell he's always been a straight shooter. I think he was a breed of his own as far as Officers go. I am greatly curious if you have any views about him. Thank you Sir,
David W. Endres
Master Sergeant US Army (Ret)
PS: Other then his "I was there and breathing" medals and school badges, he got at least 1 of his Bronze's Star w/V device and Purple heart in Vietnam as a young officer.
I am also a Graduate of Ranger School and yes it is still a ticket punch and a Good ole' Boy's club, and yes it sill sucks!! I am also a Jumpmaster and was horrified at the level of (or incompetence of) their JMPI and overall Jumping procedures. As a student I couldn't help with these procedures, but as soon as an RI turned their backs I did what I could to square guys away. Funny thing is if I was caught I could be kicked out for being a "Serious Incident Threat" when I was actually doing the opposite! It amazes me that there isn't many more Parachute related deaths, lucky I guess. Oh yeah, in case I didn't mention it...Ranger School Sucked!!!! And you went when it was hard!!
Reed response: I do not know Shelton and have not read his book. I hope you're right about him. I would like to think good people can reach such levels. But when you are a West Point airborne ranger who could not make captain, it's hard to look at a general's stars without wondering how many things that I refused to do that he did.
I found no fault at all with jump school except that it was three weeks instead of three days. Also, I find fault with the fact that it is operated on such a huge scale, along with the various airborne units, when it is quite obvious that parachuting in war has extremely limited application.
I don't know if ranger school was harder when I went than now, but it was too hard in the sense of actual physical danger and the starvation and sleep deprivation aspects.
May I quote you? Especially the part about it being the same now. I get a lot of gas about being so old that my experiences are utterly irrelevant. Also, please tell your own anecdotes somewhere on the Web.
Thank you for your response and of course you may quote me and use my name. I would not say Vietnam era soldiers have an "old" perspective of the Army, just pick up any book on WW I or WW II and you'll hear the exact same stories and attitudes. (We don't even want to open a can of worms on the Politics of Civil War Generals!) Even when I completed Airborne School we all asked "Why is it so long?" Other then the Student to Instructor ratio we could not figure it out, (because that's the way its always been?). Airborne School is a factory that mass produces Airborne qualified Soldiers with only a small percentage EVER jumping again in their career, and if they do it's because they are in an Airborne "Unit" and they all jump once every 90 days to collect their pay and never do any tactical operations let alone will they EVER have the need to jump in combat. A 5'0, 98 lbs female clerk from a finance unit can get her Airborne Wings and then never jump again for the rest of her career. Where is the tax payers investment in that? Airborne school should be reserved for those personal who because of their job need to jump from planes (weather large or small scale as you write). Not people who did good that month or re-enlisted so they get a slot like it's a Christmas present. Nor to those officers who just need it for their resume and to compete. Airborne truly started out as elite, but today many people are getting wings just for the heck of it. Besides that, I am a true believer that we need Airborne Units that are fast to respond and have forced entry capabilities, at which size they need to be I do not know (I'm not a General! Ha!). Panama was a Brigade. Haiti's aborted jump (which I was on, and flew for 2 hrs and turned back to Ft. Bragg) Was to evolve jumping the whole Division. Iraq was a Brigade from the 173rd Airborne. So do we still need a whole Division on jump status? Maybe yes, but just cut out all the fluff. Also doctrine states if you jump a Battalion or Brigade in Combat you still need a reserve of Paratroopers for contingency's that may arise while they are deployed or as back-up. It seems every unit at Ft. Bragg other then the 82nd seems to think they have to be Airborne. I have never seen or been involved with them in tactical maneuvers as part of an Airborne mission requiring them. But I did run the Drop Zone's they Jumped on once every 3 months, during daylight with no equipment to get their jump pay. (Hollywood Jumps) Where's the tax payers investment in that? I forget the dollar amount but it is substantive for 1 aircraft to fly and drop one chalk, it's a crazy amount. Again thank you for the response and have a great day Sir,
David W. Endres
MSG US Army (Ret)
I served as an Army Officer (Field Artillery) from 1998 to 2002. My experiences including befuddling OERs based on everything except battlefield competence, “mandatory social events”, and overbearing LTC wife’s seem to be the same as yours.
Matt Faler, lawyer
Mr. Reed, I was in the Army from 1986 to 1988. Granted, there were no wars going on for us at the time, and I was only on the two-year plan. After reading all of your military articles, I can say without a doubt, everything you've written about is right on the money. So much so that, if you could have published your articles 25 years ago, I would have went to college instead.
I do not oppose the military at all. My father was a WW2 veteran, and two of my older brothers were in the Marine Corps.
That being said-the ass kissing, incompetence, and general BS was just as you have described it. I guess nothing ever changes.
I've tried to make as many people as I can aware of your military articles, in the hopes that they'll learn something. Hopefully, you will continue to write these articles.
Timothy Brosnan by Facebook
Thank you for your clear-eyed, honest, no-BS articles on military service. Your experiences –adjusted appropriately for time and distance—approximate my own. I previously thought my experiences were unique. I had always rationalized my bizarre time in service in the 1980s as having been an unfortunate outlier. I assumed the dangerous [deadly] incompetence, dishonesty and mind-boggling ineffectiveness I saw was due to post-Vietnam malaise and the recession that had driven a bunch of us low-rent unemployable losers into enlisting. Then I read your experiences. And I realized what I’d lived through was pretty typical SNAFU.
It is about time someone ‘called shenanigans’ on the whole cult of blind military-worship and started shining a results-oriented spotlight on military affairs.
Best of luck. Keep up the good work.
I am an Army Reservist. I wrote you once before, in 2006, to thank you for the military articles at your web site.
Somehow, I always find myself coming back to them whenever I attend any Army school.
This time, it's WOBC (Warrant Officer Basic Course ), following successful completion of WOCS (Warrant Officer Candidate School ) last year.
I have no doubt that you get a perpetual sprinkler system of criticism -- especially from Airborne and Ranger qualified personnel -- namely for the reasons you cite: that such personnel are so utterly caught up in the mystique of their own bullshit that they cannot tolerate anyone making a common sense critique of Ranger School or the Army's absolute infatuation with Airborne training. [Reed note: Not a perpetual sprinkler but a handful of emails containing ungrammatical ranting to the extent that tough guy training and the guys who graduated from it really are tough. College football players are tough. The military’s purported tough guys are masochistic, but could not defeat a college freshman football team in any sort of non-masochistic physical competition. They may not even be able to defeat them in a masochistic competition.]
Here at WOBC at Ft. Jackson, a few of us have been shaking our heads at the fact that Army PT is still dictated to Airborne standard. Ergo, if you're not a fast runner, then you're generally denigrated. A few of us have permanent physical profiles due to leg, ankle, knee, and hip injury. It's amazing to us still that no matter what school you attend anywhere in the Army, or at what level, those who cannot run are held in high contempt by those who can run. Yet there is no known reason why any troop in Afghanistan or Iraq would be required to quickly run 2 miles at full speed. Army studies have shown that "burst" sprinting would be far more beneficial -- for urban combat ops -- yet the Army insists that the three event APFT(Army Physical Fitness Test ) -- which revolves almost entirely around the 2 mile run -- is the best way to evaluate soldier fitness. A tradition that dates back to at least WWII and seems to have its roots firmly in the soil of Airborne training. Curahee!, and so forth. [As a football coach, I time players in the 10 and 20-yard dash. Since football plays rarely last longer than six seconds, that’s what football games are about. The military’s fire and maneuver tactis have similar durations. I am not aware of any battle where a two mile run was executed with the possible exception of the Battle of Mogadishu where the U.S. rescuers with armored vehicles incompetently left a squad of rangers behind leaving those rangers with no choice but to simply run out in the open behind their idiot armored colleagues while under fire. In that case, I think kicking the asses of the commanders who forgot a squad makes more sense than having everyone in the Army run two miles repeatedly.You will know the military is serious about physical fitness when all ranks and specialties get surprise tested at all times of the year in a realistic-to-battle conditions physical test. I recently went to a military retirement ceremony in Hawaii and spent some time at Fort Derussy. I never saw such a high percentage of overweight military active duty personnel in my life. We emphasized physical fitness far less when I was in during the late sixties and early seventies, and we were in better shape on average, mainly because we pushed ourselves away from the table sooner than today’s soldiers. “Hooah” apparently means “Supersize me!”]
I understand the Army's requirement for aerobic conditioning. But as you have noted, the civilian world is already way ahead of the military in this regard. Hell, last week one of the other Warrants and I went down to Solomon Gym for a civilian-led fit aerobics class. In 75 minutes with step, medicine ball, and weight bar, the civilian MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation ) instructor took us through an excellent aerobic program that had us soaking our PTs (Physical Training uniform) to the point of dripping, and it never required mindless, joint and bone jarring distance runs on hard pavement -- per the Army standard of formation runs. So why do we still do fucking formation runs?
Right. Esprit de corps. Oh yeah, and everyone else was forced to fucking do them so naturally WE (we meaning people who should know better) are going to force all our juniors to do them, because if the Army does anything well, it's force shit to flow eternally downhill.
[We called West Point “208 years of tradition unmarked by progress.” In the Army, it’s relatively easy to start some half-baked practice; almost impossible to stop it. No one wants to waste his precious political capital on stopping his predecessors’ stupidity.]
Makes me thankful I get to be a civilian most of the time. I am proud to participate in my own tiny way in the defense of my nation, but the Army is still so chock full of idiocy, at the end of these training schools, I am forever happy to shed the uniform and have a real life.
Much obliged for your articles. I always pass the links on to other Army and servicemembers. In all cases, everyone loves and agrees with them. Because they contain truth. [That’s what I’m trying to do. Glad to hear others recognize it.]
One more thought, about Airborne and Ranger qual. A term came up here at WOBC that I had never heard before. That term was SCARE BADGE.
It was used in reference to an instructor who had an impressive collection on his breast: airborne, air assault, Combat Action Badge, etc.
I have often discussed this with many different Army personnel, both those who have these badges and those who do not, and most people seem to agree that these badges are essentially trophies, with little or no practical value. And while it's all well and good to wear trophies on a dress uniform -- the "I Love Me" uniform [I never heard that phrase before but I think it’s true.]-- wearing them on ACUs (Army Combat Uniform, the new -- and badly designed -- digital camo uniform of the Army ) or any other dual duty-field uniform is just back-patting, or a quick way for "club" members to differentiate themselves from those not in the "club."
Jump wings and air assault wings seem particularly specious, as many people who wear them have not fallen out of a plane or gone down a rope from a helicopter in a long, long time. So why wear something from a school you have not attended in years, and which you'd probably have to repeat all over again if actually asked to execute the same skillset in a current combat operation? [If everyAmerican who graduated from a course that lasted 15 days or more wore a badge, we would look like a nation of Audie Murphy’s.]
Hell, many people who do wear them, don't want to!
One of the most impressive soldiers I have met in my small career in the Reserve, was a WOC (Warrant Officer Candidate ) mate and former Marine who later joined the National Guard, and who had done combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though he'd collected his own chest of "scare badges" he declined to wear them until it became obvious that WOCS cadre would call him on it. For him, having gone and done the acts was trophy enough. Badges were a needless nuisance -- and this man was one of the most unassuming and humble fellows I'd ever met. To run into him in civilian clothes on the street, you would have never guessed he'd done even half of what he'd done in two different theaters in two different branches of the Armed Forces.
I absolutely believe in recognizing significant accomplishment where it's due. But I also think that unless a badge or a tab represents a current, specific, pertinent skill set or MOS slot, there is no point in a person having it on his or her duty-field uniform. Save the "I Love Me" routine for dining in or some other formal event, where pomp and primping is the point of the whole affair. Every-day work? Your name on one breast, U.S. ARMY on the other, and a flag on your shoulder, ought to be enough. [That ought to be engraved on a monument somewhere.]
Everything else... Is just a status symbol. Something to divide up the "club" from the "un-club." And that's just bad military mindset in my humble opinion. Especially in an era where MOSs and different types of troops are being called upon to work together -- sometimes very closely and for long duration -- during very difficult missions. [I think the real purpose of all the bullshit attendance and good bureacrat medals is to impress civilians who assume they must all be for bravery.]
A soldier's calibre is always reflected in the quality of the product he or she delivers, not badges and tabs. [Put that on the same monument.] I've met too many "bare" troops who are excellent, and too many shit-fuck troops who are badged and tabbed to the nines, to believe otherwise.
One final missive, since I've been reading your site again and am reminded of the hazing issue.
The Warrant Officer Candidate School at Ft. Rucker used to be one of the most notorious hazing institutions in the post-Vietnam Army. All of my senior Warrant Officers who went through the "old" program spoke of insane hazing events, such as the Duffle Bag Drag wherein men and women -- people who had been senior enlisted prior to being picked up for Candidate status -- were forced to crawl across a lengthy field populated with TAC (Training and Counseling) Officers, with each Candidate having their full kit on their backs, and at the feet of each TAC ordered to execute 100 push-ups. This could take hours, and literally exhaust the Candidate in question. Others spoke of being rousted from barracks at 3 AM to crawl across the "beach" of the sand PT area -- which was flooded nightly by the TACs in anticipation of the event -- en route to their actual physical training for the day. All uniform items -- even socks -- had to be ironed to perfection and arranged in accordance with the infamous WOC SOP; a document that still lives, although in modified form.
My own WOC experience was not nearly as harsh as that described by seniors. As a Reservist I was able to take advantage of the National Guard Regional Training Institute program -- RTI -- wherein Reserve and Guard performed part of their Candidate Schooling over a series of weekend drills, and finished with a two week capper event at either Ft. McClellan in Alabama, or Camp Atterbury in Indiana. Hazing at the RTI was minimal, and there did seem to be more of a genuine focus on leadership training. My two TAC officers for the Idaho portion of my RTI experience were especially excellent.
However, other Warrants who have recently passed through Ft. Rucker inform me that hazing has not entirely left that institution. Though restructured to be a "passing" program instead of a weed-out program, Rucker WOCS still extracts its pound of flesh.
The key question being asked: why?
For those who had been senior enlisted especially, what was the point in subjecting them to another break-down chickenshit run, as they had already experienced in Basic Combat Training and, in some cases, at other schools, such as Ranger School?
As you note on your web pages, the only possible explanation is that there are still some people who see value in being able to say they "went through" a thing, or in the case of some TAC and cadre, being able to sadistically enjoy doling out some of the punishment that was doled out to them in their day, like a frat house initiation.
Frankly, I find such tales depressing, because in an era when PROFESSIONALISM is the huge watch-word of the Army, frat boy antics are unbecoming. Especially in a program purpose-designed to turn out technical leadership.
The Warrant Officer is called a Warrant Officer for a reason, and if I had my way, I'd absolutely abolish Candidate School and re-institute the direct appointment for all Candidates who are Staff Sergeant or higher. Everything they could possibly need to know about squad and platoon leadership has already been taught in the lower schools -- Primary Leadership Development Course, now called Warrior Leader Course, Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course, Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course -- and it's insulting to think that men and women with a great deal of experience and enlisted leadership skill need to be "hazed" as an aperture to their expanded role in the Warrant Officer corps. That's just fucking stupid, and pointless, and there is no call for it.
But then, as you have noted, most Army schools seem to be predicated on the notion that it's not a "real' school unless it's dominated by cadre who get to insult, fuck with, and otherwise denigrate the students in their charge. Because nothing teaches a human being better than being humiliated, deprived of sleep or food, and being forced to engage in mindless and often pointless activity, such as ironing a pair of socks in the middle of the night so that a Candidate doesn't get dinged for having a non-standard locker drawer display. Wow, talk about leadership training! Not.
It's my hope that my generation and those generations that follow, will take a lesson from the rapid evolution of today's military operations, and put the focus on mission specifics, and cut down on the frat house bullshit. Maybe during the peace-time Cold War years from 1975 up to and through 1991, there wasn't much else in the Army that allowed someone to "prove" themselves in a meaningful way, other than to go through a stupid hazing school. But in today's military, the next deployment is always around the corner, and even the Reserve and National Guard are being sent to the fight in numbers unheard of since probably World War II. So it's not like people don't have tons of opportunity to prove themselves in places where it actually matters.
Schools? Schools should be for learning skills that will actually assist with mission accomplishment in-theater.
Alas, too often, schools are abused as an excuse for hazing. It's pointless, and it ought to be stopped.
Good day, sir,
My name is Dave Starr. I've visited your web site often in the past, originally to peruse your real estate guru rating information. As a retired military contemporary (I was an AF enlisted maintenance guy during the same years you went through west Point and Vietnam, I find there are a lot more items of interest as well. Unlike you I endured (succumbed to inertia) for 10 years active and 28 more years in USAF Civil (swivel?) Service. I don't spend my life regretting ... there were good times and good things that I was part of during those years ... but too soon old and too late smart ... I probably would have chosen a different career path if given the opportunity again.
Without just sounding like a lower-grade chronic bitcher I have to say I find some of your comments on the officer corps, especially the winnowing process that eventually provides us with our general officers extremely on point and sadly true to life. Of all the GO's and senior O-6's I served under and worked with in nearly 40 years the ones who "had a clue" or actually served the country before themselves could be counted on one hand. That sounds pretty sour and I don't mean it to ... many of these men (and a few women) are actually very good and well educated people but they have to make their talents and efforts "fit" into the mold to such a degree that their better qualities eventually wither and die on the vine.
The following email was signed when I received it, however I have removed the name of the sender because he did not respond to my request for permission to quote him. My responses to what he says are in [red brackets].
I appreciate your writings on West Point and the Army. My background - serving Army officer [as soon as I see that the writer is currently on active duty, I expect him to be inhibited in what he says—I would be curious as to whether recent escapees from the military officers corps corroborate what he say about how the military has changed.], USMA graduate. A few of my own:
West Point: I attended USMA because I did not believe that civilian college would challenge me. [Try Cal Tech for a greater academic challenge or the LSU football team for a greater physical one] In retrospect, I am very glad that I went to USMA, because, frankly, I needed to get toughened up. [Once again, I would recommend any college football team over USMA for toughening] I thought the education at USMA was not broadly related to developing a coherent world view - much of how, little of why. I majored in history, but, in actuality spent the last two years reading whatever I thought interesting, and performing the least work possible elsewhere (engineering). I was basically "waiting" for my commission. I would have much rather been sent to the Army as an apprentice officer for two years. I also thought that the USMA leadership training was, as you might put it, process oriented, rather than people oriented. [I said process rather than results, not people oriented.] West Point is losing its focus [winning our wars] by attempting to be a "super-star" Army Ivy-league equivalent undergraduate school. The quality of undergraduate education is not, historically, an important factor in a successful officer corps. This does not imply that such a corps is not intelligent - but that its focus is on war waging. The Wehrmacht did not require a degree for its officers, but its officers were very well schooled in how to fight and win wars. Their performance in the years 1866 to 1945 attests to such a focus. Likewise, the British Army did not have many university graduates among its ranks - it did however produce native experts, linguists, explorers, and spies. West Point should be a one year military school, like Sandhurst, which focuses on preparing officers to be military leaders. [Arguably correct—and the students there should be older. The nurture-based theory that if you get cadets young enough you can mold them has been disproven by 205 years of West Point. Instead, they need to become nature-based and focus their efforts on mature people who have decided based on experience to make careers of the military rather than 17-year olds like me who had no business being in the Army.] The distinction between USMA and non-USMA is not important in the Army anymore. In any case, only a 1/3 of graduates elect to remain on active duty. [So much for molding teenagers into career military people.] However, all of this actually speaks to the widespread credentialing and professionalization of society. Police officers require college degrees. School teachers require Masters. Doctor so and so is the school principal. Wall street requires MBAs. Whether credentials actually improve performance.....do you think you would have been less successful had you not attended Harvard? [Yes, I would have been less successful, but the education upon which my success is based was about 90% self-education by reading books, taking seminars, and work experience tailored to my specific goals, not the sorts of general information taught at West Point or Harvard. For example, I have never once in my life used the subject we studied the most at West Point: calculus. I feel we studied that and many other subjects just to live up to some West-Pointers-are-engineers stereotype.]
Army: I really enjoy the Army. [You need to get out more. You have spent your entire adult life in the military since high school. You cannot meaningfully compare a military career to the alternatives from that experience base. It is very unlikely that you or any other person would find a better match between your strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes in the one-size-fits-all military than in the infinitely more varied international civilian world.] The fellow soldiers and officers I have served with have been decent, hard working people. My company grade experiences were, largely, positive. I was given freedom to plan and conduct imaginative training, to hold my subordinates accountable, and to make a difference, however small, in the Army. [Must be nice. I had zero of that.] I have served 1 Iraq tour, and I will soon deploy for another year as an Army Foreign Area Officer.
The Army's largest problem is their own definition of success. Rank = success. Thus, gaining rank is more success. [Well put] This attitude drives conformity and bureaucracy throughout the organization, as other measures of success do not count for much. The up or out system, the mandated intervals of promotion, the required "ticket punches" all reduce innovation and risk-taking. Additionally, the culturally ingrained love of technology (we are Americans after all) inhibits focusing on long-range human solutions to problems. Being wedded to technology, unfortunately, drives the military-industrial complex, swallowing vast amounts of dollars. [Amen]
Specific criticisms of some of your postings -
1. Examples of blind stupidity, rank arrogance, and leader incompetence from your Vietnam experience. I have encountered a few such problems, but nothing like a leader who makes his subordinates wait on him to begin eating. Never. The power of OVUM and leader's wives, and the fake social atmosphere of the Army is gone. The crackdown on alcohol abuse in the 1980s and 1990's destroyed the "social" army aspect. [I have gotten the impression from afar that DUI had reduced the military’s affection for “work hard play hard,” i.e., we’re entitled to get drunk and cheat on our wives—glad to hear it has changed for the better.] Most officers today consider their social lives as private lives. [My position when I was in the late 60s and early 70s was that my private life was my own. My superiors were mad at me for a number of things, but the main one was my refusal to attend so-called “command performance” parties which were approximately a monthly occurrence. They responded by hitting me with every punishment other than court martialing me—and they repeatedly tried to do that but were talked out of it by JAG officers who told me about it.]
2. The much bemoaned lack of quality soldiers today - the quality of the NCO's and soldiers today remains excellent. [Not according to the media reports. Since they are statistical rather than anecdotal, they arguably carry more weight than one junior officer’s experience.] I read about the recruiting abuses, the lowering of training standards, the lowering of recruiting scores; BUT, I do not see it. [I saw it when I was in the Army 35 years ago. That’s a long time, but human nature and the military are not known for change.] Soldiers who go AWOL or test positive for drugs are punished and removed from the Army. [Glad to hear it, but it begs the question of why the Army is giving increasing numbers of “moral waivers” many. if not most of which are for criminal drug offenses before enlistment. See my article on the need for a military draft.] This happens rarely, but leaders are trying to achieve a perfect solution in a society where 10-15 percent use drugs "recreationally." We will never get to where we want to be in terms of soldier standards.We all want soldiers that are high school varsity athletes, self-disciplined, focused, and an IQ of 110 and above. Well, good luck. [The vast majority of private businesses are far closer to where they want to be regarding the quality of their work force. Accepting an unacceptable situation with such “c’est la guerre” shoulder shrugging is a typical occupational hazard of being in the military for all of your adult life.] Units that can conduct extreme self-selection (Special Forces, Ranger Regiment) often can achieve that. [I would say they have more motivated personnel than other military units but more does not necessarily mean adequate. As I said in my articles on elite rangers and airborne units, the word “elite” is extremely relative and not very meaningful when used by the military. College football teams are an example of truly elite units. The typical so-called elite military unit would get its butt kicked big time in any fair competition—including military operations after necessary basic training—against a college football team.]
3. You actually said that Army officers do not need to learn a language other than Arabic. Learning languages is vital because....we have not fought an English speaking enemy since 1865. Learning languages exposes you to other people...creating empathy, understanding, and an ability to appreciate your friends and enemies. [I was one of the top language students I was ever around. In high school, I was the only kid in the history of my school who was allowed to take two languages simultaneously—Spanish and German. I got all A+ in each. At West Point, I was section marcher of first section Russian about half the time. (highest ranked cadet by grades in the highest ranked classroom of the subject) Once, the other section marcher commented that if he got even a single question wrong on a Russian test, it lowered his grade. I thought about that and said, “Me, too.” The max grade there was 3.0. Missing one question got you a 2.9. So we both had GPAs in Russian of 2.95 or higher. In Vietnam, I was one of only two soldiers on our large base who acquired a working knowledge of Vietnamese. I once learned a little Japanese and when I said “What is your name?” in Japanese once, a Japanese citizen turned around and expressed astonishment at my perfect accent. She thought a native was speaking. A German native once asked me how long I lived in Germany after hearing me speak German. (Would you believe five days?) In other words, I know foreign languages better than the vast majority of native-born Americans and West Point cadets. Yet when I tried to speak the languages I studied to natives throughout my life. They always switched to English which they could speak far better than I could speak their native language. A twelve-year old German boy absolutely refused to speak German with me insisting on English instead. He wasn’t going to waste his time. His parents spoke German to me to avoid hurting my feelings. In Germany once, I entered a restaurant once and said, “Speisekarte, bitte” (German for “Menu, please”) to the head waiter. He brought me an English-language menu. The email writer’s points are nothing but conventional-wisdom, psychobabble with no hard-evidence basis. In 2007, the non-Americans you need to speak with almost all speak English far better than almost all native-born Americans can speak any foreign language. Americans have an inferiority complex about this. Get over it. English is the Microsoft Word of languages. It may not be the best, but it won the competition. For a native-born American to learn a foreign language is an intellectual affectation and a waste of time and money.]
A Giant Agreement -
1. I may be the only active-duty modern officer who supports a draft, largely for the reasons you stated. Bluntly put, I think that men who hire other men to defend them are essentially, contracting out their own freedom. I also believe that draftee soldiers, as you and COL Hackworth note, will throw the BS flag on BS aspects of the Army.
[Conspicuous by its absence in this email is any mention of my article “Is military integrity an contradiction in terms?” When you consider that USMA grads universally say that the cadet honor code was the most important aspect of a USMA education, that absence is more striking.]
The Transformation of War by Martin Van Creveld
Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram
Recommended Web Sites
[Name withheld because he did not respond to my request for permission to quote him. I have always found it disquieting that the career military people in charge of protecting our freedoms of speech and press have zero interest in exercising those same freedoms. During the cold war, I also found it disquieting that the career military people in charge of protecting us from the socialist countries themselves lived socialist lives (cradle-to-grave free government housing and medical care, government bosses). They still do.]
One of my fellow officers here in Iraq introduced me to your website. After reading your article “Is Military Integrity a Contradiction in Terms,” I couldn’t stop laughing. Not because it wasn’t true, but because it was all too true. Your counseling dialogue blew me away. Other than the prayer portion, I have had the exact same dialogue with many of my superiors. I am amazed that “military integrity” continues to be a misnomer to this day.
First of all, I am not the troublemaker type. I have a [graduate degree] from an institution that is ranked at the top for…ethics. Maybe that is why I am able to see the truth behind your articles—more so than an average soldier who has been brainwashed from the point of enlistment. I am currently in Iraq and work as [redacted] officer. I have already been berated by colonels and a general for protecting my team from being complicit in questionable activities that would never fly in the private sector.
Yes, I am a late-comer to the military. After 9/11, I was determined to serve my country at an appropriate time. I joined… years ago and am currently wrapping up my …deployment. While I have met many great soldiers, I have been extremely disappointed in military leadership values (or lack thereof). I am physically burned out from trying to be the best, just to be marginalized every time I take a moral stance on an issue.
In short, I appreciate the fact somebody out there understands what I am going through. Thank you for being the voice of reason for those of us who lack the freedom to speak out while in uniform.
Here is an email from a Canadian soldier. Same crap as in the U.S. The problem is the combination of bureaucracy and human nature, not anything unique about the U.S. military.
For 2 years,I have been a fairly dedicated reader of your columns,
From the age of 18 onward, I spent four years as an enlisted military reservist in Canada's army while also studying at a civilian college.
Originally, I had intentions of volunteering for Afghanistan and becoming an officer,but no more.I wasn't a star pupil,my military career has been very short and I'm glad for it, but already I can relate to everything you said about the army not being the selfless servants they appear to be in public. For most of your arguments and in spite of my short time in the army, I can come up with specific examples that have occurred to me or around me (direct witness) to support them.
I decided to join due to ideological reasons sometime in middle school,I seriously taught it was all propaganda to discredit the army (especially the "soldiers do it for the money" part, my father told me that the army was the place of last resort for unemployed graduates, I never believed him until I actually joined the army), but I was stunned to see that there was more than a grain of truth to it.
I'm now on my way toward a de facto honorable discharge. I would have left eventually before retirement age, I am 100% sure of it, but your articles confirmed what I didn't really wanted to believe with my own eyes, and speeded up the process.I am sure they will try to coerce or cajole (???) me into staying --in fact, my request went all the way up to the company sergeant-major, but I will stand my grounds.
A very sincere thanks to you Mr.Reed,
Name withhheld because still in the Army
I just wanted to say thanks for calling it like it is. I am a
paratrooper and medic. I spent 2 years in the 82nd Airborne and deployed
to Baghdad with them. The unit performs well, but with all the chest
thumping you would think it is a unit of supermen. Not so. I felt that
Jump School was an enormous waste of time, and honestly the hardest part
for me was not punching my classmates in the face for all the asinine
words they spewed. Life in the 82nd was harder than Jump School, but
still pretty easy for those of mild intelligence and strong body. I am
not Ranger qualified. When we redeployed I was given the opportunity to
attend Ranger School. My squad leader, who is tabbed, told me that
Rangers were like the 82nd on steroids. Prior to this statement I had
reservations about attending, but this statement, combined with your
essay provided an easy answer for me. NO WAY. The idea of training hard
just to be able to say you did it, with little to no tactical value is
dumb and does not appeal to me. When I uttered my observances, however,
I was cast out like I was the one with blinders on my eyes. I actually
felt sorry for these poor chaps. I am the one ETSing and moving on with
my life, and they were going to continue terrorizing their bodies in
search of bragging rights. A darn shame and a waste of good men if you
Name withheld because still in the Army
I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.
John T. Reed