Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's a Wartime Army

I wrote this on 9/1/06, at the end of a three week training exercise in Korea, but before being mobilized for active federal service. I decided to include it here for the sake of continuity:

Well, I've spent a few weeks in active service now - a couple weeks in class in June and nearly three weeks here at this exercise. And despite all the silly stuff I've observed and the complaints I've voiced here, I have to say that I like this Army.

It's not the same Army I left 13 years ago. Sure, it is the same in many ways. In fact, my grandfather would probably recognize many aspects of it from his service in the 1920's. But it's really quite different from when I left, and it's not just the technological and doctrinal changes. It's an attitude change. I began to feel it at CAX, but that was a classroom environment so it was just a hint. Here at this field exercise it's become very clear in many ways.

It's a wartime Army.

When I was in before, it was a peacetime Army. We trained for war, and took things very seriously, but nonetheless, there was a definite garrison mentality that permeated everything, even field exercises. It manifested itself in many ways, but would best be summed up as what we used to call "machts nichts BS". That was from the German for "means nothing", as in trivial stuff that shouldn't really matter, but takes on a distorted importance because people have lost track of the priorities imposed by real wartime conditions.

A few examples will serve to illustrate:

When I was in the Army before, we wore spit-shined black leather boots. Spit-shined black boots look great but don't wear very well in field conditions. So most of us had two sets of boots - our spit shined garrison boots and our field boots. Older men used to talk with nostalgia about the "brown shoe Army". That was a reference to the WWII and post-WWII Army, when they wore rough-surfaced brown boots that were meant for field duty. And the term "brown-shoe Army" came to mean the "less BS, combat-oriented wartime Army". Well, this Army wears rough-surfaced brown boots.

In Germany, when I was issued a holster for my .45, that was the only holster I could use, and it had to be set up "just so" on my web gear. When I bought my own standard military holster and put it on a separate (standard) military pistol belt to wear inside the CP when my gear was grounded, it was frowned upon. Beng in uniform was *way* more important to some people than having the pistol at hand when it might be needed.

Now it's like the wild west. People wear all kinds of holsters - every type of military and aftermarket holster you can imagine - shoulder holsters, belt holsters, low-hanging thigh holsters. And nobody cares - what matters is that the weapon is at hand when needed, and then you just get on with your job.

Same thing with personal web gear - there are all kinds of pouches, packs, and add-ons. While at root it's pretty standard, people have their own setups. Whatever works.

Carrying M-16's loaded, even with blanks, was very rare. Even issuing the troops magazines was rare. It was just too much trouble. At this exercise, the troops walk around with loaded M-16's all the time (blanks only). They are required to have full magazines and keep a round chambered at all times when walking around the post. They carry at the "low ready" position and don't salute when under arms, exactly as they would act on combat patrol. When entering a secured building they clear the weapon in the clearing barrel, and they lock and load again when they come out. There's a very good reason for it - we want them to know how to handle their weapons so it's second nature.

These may seem like minor examples, but they illustrate a whole different underlying mentality - we are at war, and we know it. The Army is full of veterans who have seen recent combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can tell who's been there because they wear their combat patches on their right sleeves. And around here, those who have been there outnumber the ones who haven't. An Army full of combat veterans won't put up with as much BS. Certainly not the kind of BS that gets you killed. They do what works, and get on with the job. That fits right in with the way I look at things (and always have).

It's a wartime, brown-shoe Army. And I like it.

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