My recent post, “The Army doesn’t give a !@#$ about Soldiers”, brought two comment that made me think. I often wonder how the Army has changed over decades and if what Soldiers experience now is just what they experienced in 1983 and before. A friend of mine was in the Army in the early 90s and he loved it. He was in air defense artillery in Germany. He and I think a like on most things and when I describe some of the things that go on in today’s Army, he gets depressed. I told him about one instance in which the company commander and 1st sergeant saw that my section was playing basketball on a Friday. The commander became upset because we weren’t doing PT we were playing basketball. It was clear that the commander did not play sports in high school or college and only thinks of them as games. Basketball is one of the toughest physical challenges there is, but to him we were having fun, which can never be part of training. When I told my Army veteran friend this story, he said, “That story makes me hate the Army.”
I constantly ponder the Army life. Sometimes I think I’m too weak. But I know I’ve been successful, if not comfortable. But there is so much nonsense. So much distracting bureaucracy and inexperience.
Many people tell me that I should try out for Army Special Forces. I’ve resisted this due to my age, but I did go to one of their recruiting briefings when I was in Germany. The recruiter was a SF qualified Sergeant First Class, and what he had to tell us had me chomping at the bit. He said that he hated the Army before he joined SF, that it’s been so long since he stood in a formation that he thought he’d forgotten how. That there was a brotherhood in SF you couldn’t find in regular Army. He stood in front of his audience with his hands jammed in his pockets, against regulation. To me, here was a man who understood what was important without an Army manual telling him. Some Soldiers in SF say they could never be regular Army again. Andy McNab, a former member of Britain’s elite Special Air Service, writes in his books, that one of the first things he noticed when the SAS members walked through his work areas, was how quiet they were; no yelling, no motivational speeches, no barking inanities. McNab went on to become the most decorated active soldier in the British army during his tour.
I’m not saying I’m a soldier of McNab’s quality. I’m sure I’m not. But I don’t believe my mindset fits that of the regular Army as an enlisted person. I just want to get the job done, and be able to focus on the mission. I want time to work on my mission. Please read Mark Bowden’s, Black Hawk Down, for an understanding of how elite troops view even the “Hooah” types in the Rangers. The Delta operators, men picked for unconventional thinking and quiet professionalism, looked at the Rangers and regular Army with a bit of scorn. And it wasn’t just elitism at work. They saw immaturity, dysfunction and a focus on the wrong issues.
The best way I can state what I’d like to do and be in the Army is by quoting someone else, Jean Larteguy, a former French soldier who wrote about the French conflicts in Indochina and Algeria among other wars. Larteguy says:
“I’d like to have two armies: one for display with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, staffs, distinguished and doddering Generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their General’s bowel movements or their Colonel’s piles, an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country. The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage uniforms, who would not be put on display, but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That’s the army in which I should like to fight.”
Sign me up for that Army, too.