It’s All So Clear Now
I haven’t been back in this shit pit for 48 seconds and already I want to punch myself in the face. I thought my high from R&R would last at least a few days, keep me in better spirits but I see it wasn’t a powerful enough drug. Truthfully, it was more hassle than it was worth. I did have a good time but the military can suck the life out of everything. If there’s ever a next time, and I’m hoping there never will be, I probably won’t bother.
At any rate, I have discovered the essence of the culture of the Army. I now understand why Soldiers do not speak up when they see something wrong. I think I get why we fail at preventing suicide and sexual assault, and why so many Soldiers do stupid things like piss on dead bodies. Let me caveat by saying that to my knowledge none of these incidences have occurred in this unit. In fact, I’d be the very last person to know about any major problems, I’m simply trying to point out a few home truths.
I think Soldiers of any rank don’t bother pointing out things that are wrong because it’s almost a guarantee that no one will listen, no one will care or that someone who thinks they are smarter will rebut the obvious with something less obvious. Why report sexual assault up the chain of concern when the NCO above you will try his best to convince you that you were not sexually assaulted, that you just misunderstood the situation. Why report your battle buddy is suicidal when your next line supervisor will say, “Oh, he’s always like that.” Forget about the fact that you can witness with your own eyes that something is dreadfully wrong.
I think a lot of NCOs think they are somehow geniuses just because they have reached the rank of Sergeant or higher. The Soldiers below them are led to believe that anyone with some stripes is somehow smarter than them and knows everything. No, this is not true. Many NCOs are just good at playing the game. They know how to show up in the right place, at the right time, in the right uniform. There is nothing special about that. This is basic. As long as you do what you are told, you will get promoted, and as a senior NCO once told me, “Rarely will an NCO be removed from his position due to incompetence.”
That is because paperwork is required and another NCO has to be the one to do the paperwork. If they are both rock-heads, who is going to be the one to figure it out?
Soldiers are supposed to be able to go to their NCOs with any issues. The NCO may not have all the answers, but what makes him a good NCO is that they are able to find out where they can get the answers. They don’t stop until that Soldier’s issue has been resolved. At least, that is my opinion of a good NCO. That NCO should also realise that just because they came up with a solution or a decision, it doesn’t mean that it’s the RIGHT one. I think this is a big problem. It’s like, thanks for applying some thought, but we need follow through. And this is where another NCO or Soldier will point out inconsistencies and errors, but that first NCO is having none of it.
He came up with a decision and everybody should rock with it, regardless. Forget about if it’s unsafe, illegal, stupid, dangerous, etc. That NCO is proud of whatever he came up with and if you don’t like, eat it. I think some NCOs feel like if you question their decision you are questioning their authority. This is not always the case. Questioning authority does not have a place in the military but questioning illogical, unsafe, stupid, dangerous and illegal decisions in the appropriate manner should be encouraged. We should not be a society of idiots following idiots, scared to say anything because they don’t want to be That Guy.
Look where that has gotten us. Extremely high suicides and suicide attempts. Extremely high occurrences of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Occurrences of fraud, waste and abuse of government equipment and funds. Young Soldiers following NCOs to their detriment, like pissing on bodies, Abu Ghraib and the NCO who allegedly shot up the village in Afghanistan.
On 1 June, I will have been an NCO for one year. I have made a lot of mistakes, but thankfully none of them were illegal, unsafe or dangerous. Most of my mistakes were stupid and most of them have only involved myself, and not other Soldiers. I do have good examples of NCOs above me, but I think I have more bad examples. I feel like I am smart enough to wade through the bullshit, to decipher what is good and what is not, but not everybody is. There are a lot of us new Sergeants, but not all of us is able to figure it out. Some of them just follow the person above them, whether they are a good example or not.
But what I have also seen in my short time as an NCO, is that I am discouraged from making too many waves. I will grant that sometimes my approach is not the best, but most of the time it’s the sake of even asking the question. “Don’t ask too many questions.” “You’re making too much sense.” “Don’t ask why.” “Just do it.” “This is the Army. It’s not supposed to be logical.”
But why? Why does it have to be that way? The American Army is the best trained, best equipped, best funded army in the whole wide world. Why should we not also be the smartest? Because we lack common sense and critical thinking skills. In all the leadership courses and classes and crap I’ve been to since joining the Army, not one of these classes has addressed critical thinking skills.
Why does no one see this as a problem?