Knowledge of Good and Evil

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A few nights ago, I worked as the staff duty NCO for my battalion.  This means that I work a 27 hour shift and am responsible for checking buildings throughout the battalion, taking important phone calls after duty hours, and generally maintaining security throughout the battalion during that time.

Also, during the staff duty work period, the NCO is in charge of the “extra duty Soldiers”.  That is, the Soldiers who have gotten into trouble and been given Article 15 sentences of extra duty.  Extra duty is one of the plainest examples of the difference between civilian life and that of a Soldier.  In  a Company Grade Article 15 (an Article 15 imposed by a company commander), a Soldier can be sentenced to up to 14 days of extra duty.  With a Field Grade Article 15 (an Article 15 imposed by a Battalion Commander or higher), the Soldier can impose up to 45 days of extra duty.

Extra duty is fairly brutal.  A Solider in my unit starts his day at 0700 hours for accountability formation and physical training.  Then they’re one and a half hours to change, shower and eat before reporting to their appointed place of duty.  The duty day unusually ends at 5 pm unless there’s important work to be done.  For the extra duty Soldier, his day doesn’t end until 2300 (11 PM).  So, someone with 45 days extra duty is working about 15 hours every day, if you take out time allotted to eat.

Last night, I was responsible for four Soldiers on extra duty, which meant I was supposed to assign them tasks and keep them busy.  Mostly the usual military stuff like buffing floors and mopping.  One of the Privates asked me if I wanted him to do police call, which means picking up garbage around the barracks and headquarters. I agreed and he went on his way.  A couple of hours later I realized I hadn’t seen the Soldier in a while, so I went out to look for him.  He seemed to had vanished.  I went in to ask one of the other extra duty Soldiers if they’d seen him.  One of the others was acting very strange, as if he were hiding something.  I immediately recognized the body language from my days as a cop.  He was up to something, and gave me the odd story that he’s just vomited “all over the bathroom”.  I told all of the Soldiers to hand over their cell phones, as I suspected they were communicating and covering for each other while they slacked on their work.

But I still had to find the missing Soldier.  His buddy finally gave up the goods and said that sometimes the other Private sleeps in the woods.  Sure enough, I found Private Snoozy fast asleep in a group of bushes behind the barracks.  I escorted him back to my office and pondered what to do with him.  He told me that he has insomnia and he’s had it ever since December when he watched a friend in Seattle Washington shoot himself in the head.  Sadly, I immediately felt suspicious about this story.  I’m sure we’ve all heard of school kids producing sick notes because of deaths in the family that never happened.

I delved further into his personal life.  He told me that he was being “chaptered” out of the Army for Failure to adapt to the military life style” and “Pattern of misconduct”.  He had only about 5 days remaining of his extra duty days out of the 45 he’d been sentenced to.

Later on in the work shift, one of the Soldiers’ cell phones kept chiming, so I turned them over to see which one it was.  It was the sleepy Soldier’s phone.  It was his wife, sending him a text, which read: “I love you.  Can you bring some MREs home?” An MRE is a “Meal Ready to Eat.” They are the prepackaged food that Soldiers eat when deployed or in the filed, or on very rare occasions, when they have no time at work to get a hot meal.  They’re not bad for carrying around whilst in third world countries. But no one brings them home to munch on.  The Soldier had also asked for and MRE to eat when he first arrived for his shift, stating he was broke.

Later, I asked the Soldier if he’d had pay taken away from him when he was punished by the commander.  He said no money was taken from him and that if it were, he wouldn’t be able to live.  I asked him where his money was going.  He told me that, between his car payment and car insurance, he paid $800 a month.  His insurance was over $400 a month because of 4 vehicle accidents this year alone.

Three of the four Soldiers on extra duty acted in what I considered “un-soldierly” ways.  One Private First class did not stand at parade rest when addressing me, as is Army regulation when addressing an NCO, until that NCO releases them by telling them “at ease.”

When I found the Private sleeping in the woods, and was escorting him back to the office, I felt exactly as I did as a police officer, escorting a prisoner to jail.  The biggest difference was that I’d never escorted a co-worker.  Inn the end, I did nothing but yell at the sleeping Soldier and have him report every 30 minutes to my office.  Anything more would probably keep him in the Army longer and waste people’s time and resources.

All of this got me thinking about delinquency.  Here was a young man who’s Army career could have been as fine as any others. He’d been afforded the exact same opportunities as me, but apparently could not even show up for work on time.  The other Soldiers exhibited behaviors that subtly showed them to be undisciplined.  In short, it seemed they were all trying to get away with something from the start, that every moment was  about trying to cheat.

I thought back to my teenage years, before I became a Christian, and remembered where I was and could have been.  The profound changes in me when my Damascus Road moment occurred.  No amount of intelligence, ability or even opportunity, could have protected me from myself before I was born again.  I was a thief, a liar, a deceiver and had failed at everything.  My rational side wants to say that I had a choice in the matter, that I could have just pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and begun doing the right thing.  But this never would have happened by any secular means.  No amount of punishment, no amount of philosophical talks about right and wrong, only through religious epiphany was I able to change.

In short, I was a slave.  But as Paul stated in Romans 6:6  :

“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”

I do not at all understand the mechanism that changed me.  I literally became a different person in my mind.  All of my unbelieving friends will confirm this.  Those early years as a new Christian were tough, though.  The longing for perfection that can never be achieved, which are at the roots of fundamentalism.  I tend to agree with Soren Kierkagard’s theory of the three stages of  life: The aesthetic, the ethical and the religious.

I am far from perfect.  But when I do wrong, I at least want to do better next time.  As a teenager, I wanted to keep stealing and keep lying.  There was no war with sin.  I was fully on the side of sin.

And so I look at some of these Soldiers and see that they have little choice but to act in the manner they do, and the only way the Army can handle them is to get rid of them.  In fact, I am amazed at the people who walk around without having experienced any religious change, but are able to play by society’s rules.    They are in Kierkagard’s ethical stage, the stage I needed to leap over, from the aesthetic (un-reflective) to the religious.

They are stronger than I was.

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5 thoughts on “Knowledge of Good and Evil

    Royce said:
    June 22, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Magus — Very insightful and touching posting. The young soldiers you describe have always existed — both in the Army and in society. How they got to be that way is beyond me to say but I do know it has nothing to do with poverty, wealth, environment, or even genes, because I have encountered these people all of my life. I also know that those (like you say you were) who choose to change can do so, but it requires struggle and a burning desire to do so. My son-in-law is one of those. He comes from an appalling background but decided as a young boy that he wasn’t going to be like his siblings and parents. Today he is educated, married, and successful by almost any standard. Until recently I had a man who reported to me who attributed his change to the Army — seizing the opportunities that you see that these young men missed or haven’t recognized in their search for the easy way. Today that young man is not so young anymore but he also has an education and is a successful executive at Micro-soft. Fortunately for me I have never had those challenges. While I come from a very humble working class background I was blessed with parents who gave me a solid moral compass along with expectations for conduct and performance. But I also attended church and Sunday school that re-inforced the lessons at home. Not everyone has those advantages and the young soldiers you describe either didn’t have them or ignored them. You were a police officer so you know what the future holds for these men.

    Royce said:
    June 22, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Douglas:
    I just got your essay — which I will read and comment on — but I have also forwarded the link to my nephew Christopher Callaway. Chris is in the Army and is a military intelligence analyst. He currently is working for Ball Industries at Wright Patterson doing secret stuff — which I am sure you know what that entails. I know that his reports go to the White House so I thought he might be able to give a better critique than I could.

    Lou said:
    June 22, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    Years ago I took a graduate course in education in NM. The professor had done some sort of study on young men who had been in prison and released. Some of the young men were habitual criminals – in and out of prison. Others had done well and never gotten in trouble again. So, what made some successful and others not successful? The study showed that the difference was “spirituality” – the ones who were successful had some sort of religion according to the professor. Of course as an educator the professor didn’t really know what to do with the info.

    Jeff said:
    November 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Lol you yelled at him for not standing at parade rest. Do you want them to fan you and feed you grapes as well. You SSG I’m guessing; sound as a power hungry, clueless guy. Who really makes extra duty guys who are only still in the army by a thread, just awaiting to get out, stand at “parade rest”. Let go of your power tripppppp.. Mr, “I could tell something was suspicious because I used to be a cop”, it doesn’t take a cop to recognize nervous body language such as blinking, not making eye contact, fidgety, sweaty, stuttering or mumbling. Get down off your high horse and give that kid a break, he can’t afford to feed his wife so he took an MRE for her. A good person in your position would have driven him to the commissary and purchased a meal or two for this guy to take home to his wife. This really upsets me, he’s trying to fend for his family by any means necessary.. And maybe if he had gotten more than 6 hours of sleep a night for the past 40 days he wouldn’t have gone to sleep in the woods!! The army is a prison. If you don’t like it, too bad. If you want out, get kicked out or serve how ever many years you signed up for. And many people argue that “you signed a contract stick to it”, During the start of WWII the nazis made Jewish boys and girls sign a contract to go to “boarding school” to learn German tradition. I bet they didn’t sign up expecting what they got either…..

    magus71 responded:
    December 1, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Jeff,

    I did give him a break. He didnt get in any trouble.

    What’s your point?

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