Look for the Good
J. D. Pendry
The old gag meter is redlining - again. The reason for that is the negative bovine scatology continually heaped onto the Army. The problem is, it's not liberal politicians who are doing the heaping - it's us soldiers active and retired who appear unable to find any good in anything. It's a lesson we are teaching to our replacements - and some have learned it quite well - that we may regret teaching someday. A prominent old soldier who still mentors me from afar told me that some people just insist on finding the bad in everything, before they ever look for any good. Here are some of my gag meter peggers.
Leader bashing. I grew up in the Army. From directionless teenager to retired old fart. Whenever the soldiers I hung out with or I had a problem with the leadership, it generally came out in private discussions between peers or with a first line leader. If, as NCOs, we had disagreements with our bosses we didn't share them with our soldiers and whenever the soldiers and subordinate leaders began to mouth negativism we'd hear what they had to say, point out to them the positive in what we do and then remind them of their lane. Unfortunately, the new approach is to throw fuel into the fire and then run to the Internet to share discontent with the world.
I was a relative lightweight in the NCO kingdom. I only served nine commanders in my time as a 1SG and CSM. I had disagreements with every single one of them, but it was always between them and me. When I walked out of their office, tent, bunker or whatever we both owned the decision - period and I enforced it with no apologies or explanations. Because that's how it works. Nowadays, people not only disagree in public forums with their commanders, but also actually try hard to garner support for their own positions. The fallacy is that these same so-called leaders would go completely berserk if a subordinate did the same to them.
The grand daddy of the gag meter peggers, however, is the guys who grew bold and found candor with their retirement check. They love to beat up the leadership. What's frightening is that they have built a large following of active duty people wanting to ride their negative bandwagon. Most of their following are too gullible to realize that these pundits of negativity are earning a living doing what they do and they've discovered, like the prime time news did, that negativity sells. I find it interesting when they, sharing their version of the truth, insist that our general officer leadership is no good because the generals do not make a practice of publicly speaking out against and disagreeing with, well - their commanders. They are making an assumption that just because a soldier supports his commander's decisions that he obviously is in total agreement with them. I prefer to think the general made his position known and then saluted the flagpole - like soldiers do.
I don't want to sound too flippant here, but if the Chief of Staff of the Army publicly announced that he needed to go pee, the Internet tomorrow would fill up with e-mail commentary on the announcement. Some would say that it was a career saving political decision, others would question the poor timing of it, some would question his choice of location, some group would be offended about the insensitivity of it, some would imply that he was showing favoritism to a particular urinal maker in order to secure a post-retirement position with the contractor who supplies the Army's urinals....
How about recruiting? I can't count the number of complaints I've heard about the Army's past recruiting methods, which consisted of selling college money, bonus money and everything except being a soldier. I made some of those complaints myself. Now, as soon as a new recruiting plan is unveiled all it gets is negativity. It actually shows soldiers doing soldier stuff and never once mentions the college fund. I don't get it. If you want to sell the Army, start selling - leaders are the real commercials, and who do you think is going to join when they hear leaders sharing how bad it sucks all over the internet. Leaders can make any recruiting campaign work or fail - it's their call. The recruiting plan is not aimed at those already in the Army; it's aimed at those we want to attract. A recruit attracted by the toughness it takes to be able to strap on a rucksack and go running across the desert might be the person we've been looking for.
I volunteered for the "Army that wanted to join me" at a time when joining just wasn't done. I don't recall the NCOs being preoccupied with the recruiting ad campaign. They focused on preparing soldiers to meet the rigors of other campaigns and that was a full time task considering the times.
Thought much about hats? How many times have you picked up a garrison cap and thought about what a strange looking, useless piece of headgear it is? Yet, when someone wants to replace it what happens? Be grateful you're not in the Air Force where they give you a multi-colored baseball cap with Supply Room stenciled on the front of it. So, you don't want to wear black hats. OK. We heard. Decision's made, now be the example, look for something positive in it, move out, and draw fire.
A final note on hats, then I hope to never speak of them again. I was amazed at the support the varied associations were able to muster against the decision. Even to the point of enlisting a politician to demand that the Army Chief of Staff report to him about the matter. Every member of these groups has at one time or another probably wanted to choke a soldier for writing to his congressman. What's sad, is that if they can muster such support in their drive to keep a hat, where were they for fewer deployments, better pay, better equipment, better housing, more training....
Another mentor of mine told me that it's easy to find things that are wrong and that's why people spend so much time looking for what's wrong. It's much harder to find things that are right, but when you do there is a much higher payoff. He said spend your time looking for what's right.
In or out of uniform, we need to spend more time looking for the good.