Saturday, June 22, 2019

Thoughts About The Military and Institutionalization

All of the branches of the military, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, are institutions with traditions and sets of expectations for any of their members. It does not matter if someone is the lowest private or a five-star general, the military have expectations for everyone in their uniforms.

   If someone cannot adapt to the military and its tons of rules, this usually happens in early training for recruits, then those recruits are undoubtedly separated from the military on the grounds of "failure to adapt." And, I do not see a stigma associated with this kind of exit from military service. Being a soldier, sailor, airman or marine is just not for everyone. Not everyone can fit in under the conditions the military presents. Unfortunately for both the service involved and the recruit, it is impossible to know who can or cannot adapt to military life without being immersed in a military environment.

   Some people rise to the challenge and find something about the military and its regimentation that they like. Meanwhile, others will find they are uncomfortable in uniform and, for whatever reason, they balk at being able to serve or rendering satisfactory service.

   Well, I've discussed something about those who fail to adapt to military life, but then there are those people who do adapt. For someone to adapt to military life, in any service, they must accept that other people, with more rank and seniority to them, will control their lives a great deal (basically 24 hours per day), and any direct statement or failure to obey an order (be it spoken or written) is punishable in some way or other. So, to be a well-adjusted member of the military, there is the fundamental understanding by individuals that they might be able to request certain things but, ultimately, their lives and most of the decisions in their lives are being made by other people. The only choice the service member has is either to A. Obey their orders and do the 'right thing,' or B. Buck the system and do things their own way.

   Of course, bucking the system leads to a series of bad things that no reasonable person would want to experience, because disobeying orders or breaking civil or military laws while a service member can carry extremely long prison sentences (and there is no parole in the Federal system). So, everyone who successfully adapts to the military exclude, for the most part, bucking the system and doing things their own way.
At a certain point, service members get on-board with
their respective services' rules and regulations.

   I can speak to life in the Army, which I served in during the early 1980s to early 1990s. To begin with, basic enlistments for recruits, in my day, were two, three or four years. The state of communications technology had not reached the level of cell phones and computer chats yet. Thus, whenever a soldier was in the field or doing some other chore away from their family, they had to rely on the telephone and/or writing letters. It seems rather prehistoric today, but the world still managed to turn without 24/7 access to everyone in one's life. This means a certain amount of sacrifice was going to be experienced by everyone in the Army (who happened to do what I did for a living in the service). The choice, again, was either do it or do not.

   So, there is this series of events, every single day, where someone either chose to go along with their service or did not. After successfully adjusting to the service, the notion that someone actually has a choice fades away from the individual. And, by this time, the soldier is 'adapted' to the service.

   What does that even mean...'adapted'?

   I can speak to my experience. As an example, a private in an infantry unit has a team leader who is responsible for him or her. They certainly have a squad leader who is very prominent in their lives, and they are responsible for not only that private but all the privates and team leaders in their squad. A team leader can be a corporal or a sergeant, while a squad leader is generally a sergeant or staff sergeant. The squad leader will ensure that everyone is where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there, and prepared for whatever it is that the unit is doing.

   Aside from their strictly military duties, team leaders and squad leaders are responsible for the general welfare of everyone under their command. I am using team leaders and squad leaders, but really every link in a soldier's chain of command is responsible for the military performance and general welfare of every single person under their command. The squad level is a good way to illustrate this, in my opinion.

   When the private eats in the morning, they are called from sleep and expected to be in a physical training uniform formation. They will be led through exercises, then they will be dismissed to attend to hygiene and such. Then, they will be told where they can go eat and when. The private will then do whatever he or she is told to do until lunch, when they are told when and where to eat again. This process will repeat itself again for dinner. The release of the private from a day's duty is not guaranteed....if they have to perform some duty stipulated by their leadership then they do that, and subordinate whatever they want for whatever is needed.

   At no point here am I making a value judgement. Leading organized lives can generally be a very good thing.

   The squad leader has a right to make sure those under his or her command are keeping their rooms as expected by the service, that they perform to certain levels needed for military training, they are even responsible for the state of a soldier's dress and their hygiene, as well as their general welfare. If a soldier has a legal problem, then he or she is referred to Army lawyers, if they are sick they report to Army medical personnel, if they have a problem with their pay then they are referred to finance specialists. There is a different expert on hand to take care of any need a service member has. All they have to do is what is expected of them in that infantry team.

   Getting used to this reality means someone has become comfortable in that institution, and by 'comfortable' I mean they are institutionalized. What are the 'up' sides and 'down' sides of this institutionalization? Well, that becomes a political conversation filled with speculation. I go so far as to say every single service member who fulfilled even one enlistment in a branch of the military service was, indeed, institutionalized.

-- Jim Purcell

Friday, June 21, 2019

Old Grudges Are Like Clothes That Don't Fit Anymore

I was on Facebook and happened to notice that a mutual friend was 'friends' with an old master sergeant I used to work for when I was in the Army. Well, this guy I used to work for gave me a pretty hard time, for one reason or another. I thought he was a pretty terrible NCO actually, which was a shame given he retired as a Sergeant Major. 

   Well, I took a look at his old, wizened mug and found I didn't really feel that old grudge anymore. That was remarkable, really, given that for a good 10 years after my service I would not have minded at all if I saw him slip and fall on a banana peel and take a header onto a good, hard concrete sidewalk. 

   With time comes patience, though, and perspective. All the good and all the bad happens to people for a reason, I think. All kinds of experiences make us the people we are. And, each experience gives us a chance to grow, if we want to do it. 

   No one knows what tomorrow brings. The future is unwritten, and brings new opportunities with it. As I see it, there isn't nearly enough time to live in the present and the past at the same time. So, I have chosen to live in the present, with all the promise it brings. 

   I suppose that living with old grudges is a lot like keeping clothes around your house that do not fit anymore. They serve no purpose, take up room you can use for something else and no one ever regrets getting rid of them. 

-- Jim Purcell

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Question of History, Politics and National Unity


I am not going to lecture Democrats, Independents and Republicans out there. There has been quite enough of that for long years. Instead, I am going to talk about American history.

   How will America piece itself back together from the many sociological, religious and political fractures that have formed in recent years? Is it even possible?

   It better be, because the lack of cohesion our nation is experiencing today is nothing short of a road to ruin for our nation and its people.

   Anything great America has achieved has been when its people were unified, sans the Civil War, of course.

   Yet, in all of the great wars America has fought and won, especially World War II, it was not Democrats or Republicans who won victory. It was Americans of every race, creed and color. And, it will not be any one race of men and women who will chart a course to success for the nation.

   When American industry was the greatest in the world, and when the American worker established the highest standard of living on the planet, it was not because businesses turned their back on their nation and headed for places where slave labor thrived.

   Today, in this post-modern world of ours, Americans cannot even agree on what is or is not news of the day. The phrase "fake news" has been introduced into our lexicon of language. And, this idea has been caustic.

   I spent almost 20 years in the news business. Of course, back then, 'news' was mostly reported in newspapers. It was a craft, one that took someone years to learn. And, it was not entirely taught in colleges. Mostly, this craft was taught in newsrooms, where would-be reporters started by being assistants in the Editorial Department. They were given more responsibility, based on their performance, and eventually they might -- might -- be allowed to start writing something.

   It is not that way anymore. News is reported by anyone with a computer and a smart phone. It is no longer a craft, but a hobby for political advocates. Yes, there are still some major, credible news outlets. But the science behind news, and the ethical concerns so present during my years, is no longer anchored to news anywhere. Is it the Internet's fault? Well, that would be like blaming the sky for airplane accidents.

   The point is that Americans have ceased to have a set of facts in common about their politics, taxes, wars and laws. This is because if the news can no longer be believed, then people will believe what they want instead. And, this does nothing to help national unity.

   I will say, though, that 'traditional American values' should not be so interpretive as they are being spouted today. America has traditionally spurned foreign interventions. Americans have been at odds with Russian Bolsheviks and Chinese Communists since their inception. Yes, during World War II, common enemies turned these countries and America into temporary allies. But, these nation's leaders are not our 'friends' and association between American leaders and foreign nationals should be scrutinized with a critical eye at all times.

   It is not 'collusion' to be too deeply in the pockets and debt of foreigners. It is un-American, and possibly treason. The word 'treason' has been modified from its original meaning also. Where once treason was disloyalty to our nation, today this word is being applied to Americans who happen to not agree with certain political parties. I would under-score that disagreeing with those in power is far from treason or the Women's Suffrage and Civil Rights movements, in their times, would have been treasonous institutions...and they were not and are not.

   Founding brothers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson coined foul play between political parties. Inter-party rivalry and resorting to lies and innuendo is not new under the American sun. Yet, while politicians have always vied for power and fractured trust during election seasons, they have never before left the people fragmented after our elected representatives have been sworn in. This is a critique today, because the American people are as divided as any time they have ever been.

   Today, America faces multi-front wars from Africa to Southwestern Asia, and has been at war with some of these rivals for 20 years or more. America now finds it acceptable to fight 'never-ending wars.' How can this be a good idea? How does this solve the issue of having a strategic reserve on hand -- in case our rivals Russia and/or China ever decide to test American will. Our nation is too engaged in many minor wars to be able to effectively halt the Red Bear or the Chinese Colossus.

   Men and women of every race, creed and color serve this country in its uniforms, and place their lives in the hands of our nation's decision-makers ever single day. It does not take a well-trained eye to notice that, militarily, this nation is a ship adrift. And, it has been for a long time. I will say it simply, America cannot be strong and be fighting a never-ending war. War is where strength is weakened, not where it grows. It is not just the lack of funds that weakens the military, it is regular use in war that has no end.

   It is the 21st century and, rather than facing new challenges associated with our progress, Americans have decided to renew the domestic battles of old regarding equal justice, women's rights, immigration and governmental corruption. The world's technology has out-paced the growth of our national unity. And, this is a dangerous thing.

   Is it because Americans believe in nothing anymore? They believe in no institution, no leader, no rules of God? Or, have Americans projected their wants and desires onto these things in the hopes that they might be at peace? I don't know. But, I know if our nation does not stop measuring itself by labels and false platitudes then we will suffer for it and find our times of great achievement only in history books.