The Army Reflective Belt: Why America no longer wins wars

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Yesterday I went for a bike ride, approximately 18 miles total.  I rode my mountain bike out Fort Drum’s gate, had lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, a coffee at Starbucks in downtown Watertown, then rode back.  I approached the gate guard with my ID card in hand. I was wearing civilian clothes because it was a day off for me.  The guard stared at me for longer than I expected before asking, in an extremely foreboding tone: “Where is your reflective belt?” The Army reflective belt is part of the physical training uniform and is also worn during some outdoor activity, even in broad day light.  Given that the Army’s current digital camo pattern couldn’t hide a Soldier in a 50 foot well, the idea that a green or yellow belt prevents many accidents during the day seems absurd. Joe makes fun of the belt all the time, asking if it deflects bullets.

Who cares about winning wars

I told the gate guard that I didn’t have my belt with me.  Usually I wear by belt on bike rides, but to be honest I wasn’t sure if I needed to wear it when I was out of uniform during the day.  Apparently I do, because the guard made if very clear that if I ever rode my bike to the gate again without a belt, the guards wouldn’t let me in.  The base is the size of a small town, so this green belt is valuable indeed and grants one elite status by actually allowing Soldiers to get to their homes.  I guess I would have been sleeping in the woods outside the gate without my belt.

The guard gave me a pass for my beltless sin.  As I rode my bike away, I grew increasingly pissed at the situation.  Here I was a guy who joined the Army out of a sense of duty, a married adult, with kids, a former cop who arrested people for real crimes–never because American citizens weren’t wearing reflective material–being told by some retired military fellow longing for his glory days that I couldn’t get back to the place where I lay my head because I didn’t have a green belt on.  Yeah, I know.  He was just doing his job.  Which is why I nodded my head and rode off without arguing with him.  Then it occurred to me that a general officer probably made the dumb reflective belt rule.  Someone responsible for an entire division in the most deployed unit in US military history actually made a rule this inane.  All the same time, General McChrystal was issuing rules of engagement in Afghanistan that said we couldn’t fire illumination rounds during firefights at night if we thought there was the smallest chance an empty illumination canister could fall on a farmer’s hut.  Never mind that we can’t see the enemy that’s shooting at us.

And so as I see it, this is a symptom of why America can’t finish off its modern day wars.  Its military is incredibly small minded.  We have the brightest, shiniest toys any Soldier could hope for.  We just have no idea what we’re doing strategically.  As I once said to an analyst buddy of mine in Afghanistan: “Stupid people place equal importance on all things.”

Don’t get me wrong.  The Army has some very smart people within its ranks.  But it is an utterly broken culture, devoid of the agility, creativity and openness needed to fight today’s wars.  We’re forced to rely on drone strikes in Pakistan and hope for the best.  The only units in the Army that possess the needed qualities to fight are special operations forces, and they know how ponderously dumb Big Army can be.  Many times, the special operators avoid working with regular military folk while deployed because they consider them amateurs.

As long as Soldiers know more about the regulations covering the proper wear of the reflective belt than they do Sun Tzu, expect America to continue making itself look foolish.

5 thoughts on “The Army Reflective Belt: Why America no longer wins wars

    Royce said:
    August 23, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    I am appalled at this and find it indefensible but understandable. As a cadet I was practically beardless and could easily go days without shaving. One morning the Sergeant caught me and said “You didn’t shave” to which I replied “I don’t have a beard” and his response to that was an epiphany for me — he said “Army regs say you must shave they don’t say you have to have a beard”. At that moment I understood the Army way. Later –as the Mess Officer I was waiting for a General inspection when my Bn Co casually mentioned that it would be nice if there were donuts for the general. Without my knowledge the Mess Sergeant dispatched a pvt to get donuts for the general. The pvt was stopped and his trip ticket read “donuts for the general” Needless to say that created quite a stir. My point is that you are undoubtedly right some general probably said the troops should wear reflective belts, but never made it an order and never intended that it should rise to a mandatory uniform requirement. Some dolt took that casual remark and turned it into an order. The general may not even be aware of how stupidly this is being enforced. However, if things are just as you described and some idiot general did actually issue this as an order then all I can say is this does not bode well for re-enlistments.

    C. M. Sturges said:
    January 29, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Thank you sir for adding me to your blogroll. Consider the favor returned.

    MAJ D said:
    April 7, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Actually, here’s how this kind of dumb shit happens: soldier is hit on a FOB by a HMMWV. COL must go stand on MG’s carpet and explain how he’s going to make sure it doesn’t happen again: speed limit reduced to 5mph. Another soldier gets hit by an LMTV – COL must go stand on MG’s carpet and explain how he’s going to make sure it doesn’t happen again: every vehicle will be ground guided when moving, even if it is a golf cart. Finally, a soldier gets hit by a contractor: COL must go stand on MG’s carpet and explain how he’s going to make sure it doesn’t happen again: reflective belts for everyone!

    It comes from our cultural viewpoint that a leader must take responsibility for anything that occurs under his command, and that with the proper leadership, anything goal can be achieved. It’s hopelessly optimistic and ignores the simple tyranny of statistics – where there are cars and people, eventually a car will hit a pedestrian.

    On a related note, I heard if there’s any more accidents on Ft. Drum, drivers will be required to wear NVGs to see the IR strobes pedestrians will be required to wear at all times.

    MAJ GFM said:
    September 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    This whole movement away from personal accountability toward a highly infantilized American culture including the US Army is a disaster where nobody is responsible for their failures.

    It’s already visible with reflective belts, ground guides, ultra-lo speed limits wasting fuel and time, etc, etc, etc.

    Glad I have only 5 years to retire and get out.

    Anthony Alfidi said:
    November 6, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    With enough effort, we can make the reflective belt an indispensable fashion accessory. Army folks should be the envy of civilians with those bright yellow straps. That’s the real plan, all right. (sarcasm filter off)

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