04 June 2009

AT 09-Day 6

Part of the ECP (Entry Control Point)

Yesterday...what happened yesterday? More of the same, except that my platoon, or most of it, was going through the training. They did a pretty good job; one of my new guys--did I mention that Sergeants Morgan and Hayes had to leave for the rest of the week for Combat Lifesaver class? Yeah, it sucks. But we got two replacements-one of them mandated to be female, to provide a lot more realism-and they're just as good. The other guys still got to stay in the barracks, though.

We put in a new wrinkle on the 'pregnant lady' scenario, though. Instead of just trying to get in to work, we were the local tribal chief and his pregnant wife/interpreter trying to get on base for an important meeting with the Colonel (this was all my idea). The snipers were thus targeting us even more than the soldiers, because we were collaborating with the enemy. It went over well, and was fun, although nobody has done as well as the first group at handling the civilians after the firefight began.

One thing that really irritates me about the military (take note whenever I say 'military,' that I've only seen the Army National Guard and small parts of the Regular Army, so if what I say doesn't apply to your service, let me know...but I bet a lot of it does). Is that it's all about looking good. If what you're doing looks good, you can get away with almost anything; conversely, if you don't look good, you can be doing everything right and it doesn't matter. By 'looking good' I don't just mean looking handsome and sharp, but presenting an appropriate-seeming appearance, and not doing anything that looks bad or out of place or wrong, whether it is or not. My current Platoon Sergeant is particularly bad about this. He's actually a pretty easy-going guy, but if you or what you're doing looks at all weird, you can be sure he'll say something about it.

For instance, the Army standard for male haircuts is actually fairly long-AR 670-1 clearly states that the hair 'must not fall over the ear when combed.' Take note of that 'when combed.' That means that the hair can be long enough, when ~uncombed~, to fall over the ears. Well, apparently I'm the only one in the Army that can read, because that kind of haircut is never acceptable. It can't fall over the ears at all, whether combed or not. Even when you point out the wording, it's meaningless. Sure, the commander can prescribe a stricter standard, but he has to actually do so, and that's rarely the case. Everyone just enforces a nonexistent standard, while other ones, such as that everyone carry a pencil, which ~is~ prescribed in a policy letter, go ignored. Why? Long-but-proper haircuts look bad, but the lack of a pencil doesn't. Another example happened yesterday, when I was wearing my Army PT (physical training) shirt (with 'Army' printed on it) with my blue jeans in the barracks. I'm on OPFOR, remember, so I'm supposed to be in civilian attire. The regulation specifically encourages wearing pieces of your PT outfit with your civilian clothes, but I was made to change shirts by my PSG (Platoon Sergeant). Why? Because the usual rule is that you can't mix uniform items with civvies, so it looked bad, regardless of whether the truth was pointed out.

What's wrong with this is that it encourages blind conformity and timidity. You don't dare take chances, don't dare do anything or be anywhere everybody else isn't doing, and restrict your behavior (where your leadership can see anyway) to what you're already sure is acceptable, meaning there are certainly things that are okay and no one will yell at you for that might benefit you or just be easier that you don't do for fear of looking bad and getting called out.

Just today, I got called out by my PSG for not having shaved. Of course I haven't shaved. I'm OPFOR. I'm playing a civilian. I haven't worn a uniform all week. I deliberately didn't shave to make me look less like a soldier in Arabic dress. If I could have made my skin brown and given myself longer hair, I would have. As it was, I did what I could. But it didn't look professional, so I got told to shave it off (and this after overhearing this very same PSG-who is also on OPFOR-say a few days ago that HE wasn't going to shave).

The Army's big on what they term 'avoiding the appearance of impropriety.' By this they mean avoiding both acting improperly and even looking like you're acting improperly. But all too often-the great majority of the time, I'd say-we avoid the ~appearance~ of impropriety without worrying about the actuality. This means that people who look good without worrying about doing the right thing get promoted, while people who focus on doing the right thing regardless of how it looks-like me-get nowhere. Guess what kind of people lead our military?