It Doesnít Matter
J. D. Pendry
We has met the enemy, and it is us. Ė Walt Kelly, Pogo
Whenever I read the military newspapers or look in on the Internet discussions, I hear the same tune.† Now itís turned into a golden oldie.† Itís like those scratchy LP albums that I still have somewhere in a box (for you youngsters those are the big round black things with music on them that came before the compact disc).† Occasionally the tone arm needle sticks in a groove causing the musician to blurt out the same phrase or strike the same note repeatedly until you have to walk over and smack the turntable (which also preceded the CD player).† After you smack it, it lets out a scratchy screech and moves on to the next note.† I think itís time to smack the turntable.
The groove we are stuck in continually speaks about the poor quality of todayís youth.† That of course, is the genesis for describing virtually everything wrong perceived or actual with todayís soldiers.† Many of us have said this, thought it or at least alluded to it at one time or another.† ďTodayís recruit does not come to us with the values, sense of commitment, or physical abilities of past recruits.† They are only interested in whatís in it for them.Ē† With that mindset, we go on to blame any perceived shortcomings on the new soldier, then on the society that gave us him or her.† That, my friends, is just dumber than a box of rocks.
When the new soldierís performance is not up to standard, the first thing we do is blame him or her for it.† Assume for a minute that you work for a company that makes cars.† If you roll a crappy car off the line, you canít very well blame it on the car can you?
After we tire of blaming the soldier someone smacks the turntable and we blame society.† The problem with that is that society doesnít produce soldiers just as it doesnít make doctors.† Medical schools produce doctors and if they turn substandard ones loose, itís the fault of the school not society.† I may be mistaken, but Iíll wager that people Ė our society - want only the best doctors.† They also want only the best soldiers protecting them.† The majority of our people, which donít sit inside the capital beltway by the way, want the military to do whatís necessary to produce the best soldiers.
So, whatís the problem?
I shouldnít try to answer a question with another question, but Iím going to anyway.† Do you really believe that todayís dot com youth are that much different from past generations when it comes to providing the human raw material required by our Army?† Are they any worse than the 60ís flower power, hippie, anti-establishment, draft dodging, dope smoking, LSD popping, psychedelic generation (the group Bill Clinton and I belong to)?† I find it hard to accept that just because they grew up in a ďships in 24 hoursĒ society, whose morals are surely no less than those of the ďfree loveĒ flower children of the 60ís, that they are any worse off than any other generation that ever stepped from a bus at the reception station.
Leaders from the hippie generation revived our Army in the 70ís.† Then they built, trained and led the Army that ran through Sadaamís elite quicker than berries pass through a goose.† Something changed this generation, which had more than itís share of problems, when it came into the Army.
If anyone accepts that todayís recruits are worse than their predecessors were then they are the problem.† If anyone in a position to indoctrinate and train new soldiers feels that they are softer, smarter, more inquisitive, more apt to question authority (Iíve heard all of those and then some) and should be treated more gently because of that, then they are the problem.† I say that because it doesnít matter: if new recruits come to us possessing no positive values; if they are physically fit, pencil necks or pudge buckets; if they have college degrees or GEDs, if they come from the streets, the burbs or the farm; if they come from a broken family, good family or no family.† Or, it doesnít matter which recruiting ad attracted them.
What their parents, society or whomever done to them before they came to us doesnít matter.† What does matter is what we do with Joe or Josephine Snuffy when he or she steps from the reception station bus and into our world.†
If old soldiers, when making the inevitable comparison, view our new soldiers as being of lesser quality who is at fault?† Let me lay some logic on you.† If you are better than the new soldier you view today, doesnít it follow that the leaders who trained you did a better job of it than you did?† If they did a better job, why did they?†
From all accounts Iíve read and discussions Iíve had (with new soldiers and old ones) the consensus is that basic combat training is softer than in years past - in some instances much softer.† Under political direction, we resumed gender-integrated basic training.† An experiment we abandoned after its failure in the 80ís.† The reasons we abandoned it are not complex.† The main one being that the quality of our product deteriorated.† Either we didnít learn much from our failed experiment, or the group of leaders who followed us feel that they are smarter and better and can make it work where we failed.† Maybe they can.† The proof, however, lies in the product.† Basic training for combat support soldiers, who will fight their own battles, appears to have turned into basic gender socialization training.† Even the trainees are calling Fort Jackson Camp Jackson.
We send soldiers into basic training with more knowledge of their ďrightsĒ than how to blouse their trousers and begin to carry themselves like soldiers.† Basic trainees should have one right Ė The best, most physically and mentally challenging training I can get that may help me survive the battlefield.† Standards, discipline and selfless-service are as impersonal as it gets Ė or at least they should be.† Weíve tampered with the standards to the point that theyíre lower for some groups and we readily accept the minimum when we used to push soldiers toward the maximum.† Somehow, I donít think a minimum effort will keep people alive.† As to selfless service, when a soldier becomes too self-absorbed we simply write it off as a product of todayís society.
We also do things that are not in balance with what a soldier does or must be prepared to do.† For instance, we added hours of human relations classes to basic training, and follow-on training in line units, to sensitize our soldiers to the problems and needs of others.† Soldiering at itís extreme is the most insensitive business a person could ever be part of.† What we are stressing is out of balance with what we must prepare soldiers to do.† The outcome of soldiers being overly sensitive to the damage their bombs and bullets may inflict on others would probably not be too good.† Soldiers must survive in a world where consideration for others means destroying as many of an enemy as possible to protect his country, his countrymen, and his comrades in arms.
Weíve softened our approach to leading and training so it only follows that weíve softened our soldiers.† Softening our soldiers means that we soften the future leaders who will train the next group.† Itís easy to see the spiral, but your perception of whether or not itís spiraling in the right direction is whatís important.† The conflict is that the new leadership sees an upward spiral, while the combat leaders of the past who saw first hand the results of taking ill-prepared soldiers to war see a downward spiral.
Political correctness and units practically commanded by lawyers have left too many career conscious leaders quivering in the corner and too many undisciplined, unprepared soldiers smirking.† The condition the raw material is in when we get it doesnít matter.† What matters is what we choose to do with it once we get it.
When it comes to training and leading soldiers, we cannot be our own enemy.