Brace Yourself- Garrison is Coming

With the end of the war in Iraq, and with combat operations in Afghanistan slated to wind down, and especially with the impending drawdown, life in the Army is starting to change. 

More and more, troops will find themselves at home station, and with less money for training, they’ll find themselves focusing on the more mundane aspects of soldiering. And increasingly, the Army is turning its focus in discipline and good order. That’s not to say that soldiers haven’t performed magnificently for the last decade plus of war. But new soldiers joining units aren’t going to be immediately deployed to a combat zone. And to achieve unit cohesion and effectiveness, many of the peacetime garrison aspects of soldiering will regain emphasis. Attention to detail is a key skill of soldiering, and unit chains of command, especially Sergeants Major, tend to look to things like uniform standards, and the cleanliness and orderliness of unit areas as key indicators of such.  That link focuses on the Marines, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the Army is going to follow a similar path.

One example is the recently approved revisions to AR670-1, the regulation governing uniforms and appearance. For some reason, the Army has suddenly decided that tattoos on the forearms and lower legs will no longer be permitted. Until recently, the standard was as long as the tats were covered while wearing the dress uniform, and not an extremist tattoo, it was acceptable.

In the Old Army, we referred to these petty inconveniences as “chickenshit.” While every soldier (Marine/Sailor/Airman/Coastie) has their own experiences, things are in some ways not as bad as they used to be. Let me share some of my experiences.

My first unit was a light infantry battalion in Hawaii. It was a unit with very high standards, which, for the most part, was a good thing.

Every morning started with First Call at 0600, when the Charge of Quarters runner would pound on doors waking you up. By 0605, I could expect to  see my Team Leader standing in my door ensuring that I was dressed in PT uniform, and busy making my bed, and that my room was tidy and neat. First formation was at 0630, followed by an hour to 75 minutes of PT and a run. After that, we had until 0900 to shower, change into uniform, clean our rooms and the common areas such as the bathrooms and showers, and with luck, run to the mess hall and enjoy breakfast.

Every day, rooms were expected to be swept, mopped, and buffed. Every day, my Team Leader and Squad Leader were expected to inspect my wall locker. All uniforms were to be neatly hung, with all buttons buttoned, and zippers zipped, hung in a precise order. Undergarments were to be folded or rolled in a specified manner and stored according to a published template. What little space was left could be used for civilian clothing, but it too had to be stored in a (specified) neat and orderly manner.

No members of the opposite sex were allowed into the barracks spaces. Nor was hard alcohol permitted in the barracks, regardless of the age of the drinker. Indeed, while beer was permitted for those of us of legal drinking age (at the time, 18 in Hawaii) no more than one six-pack of beer per person was permitted.

Time has faded some of my  other memories of the inconveniences of living the barracks life and the ravages of a garrison mentality. But rest assured, there are First Sergeants and Sergeants Major aplenty in the force that are eager to embrace every opportunity to bring back as much as possible those prewar artifacts. Indeed, they are eager to impose the strictest possible interpretation of AR670-1 with one curious exception. The strict prohibition upon pressing and starching the Army Combat Uniform will somehow be overlooked. And if they could figure out a way to demand a spit shine on rawhide boots, they’d do that too.

Brace Yourself Garrison is Coming | Sean Bean Game Of Thrones



8 responses to “Brace Yourself- Garrison is Coming

  1. Thanks for the memories. Never made it to Hawaii though.


  2. ultimaratioregis

    Good leaders did those things, LBWA (leadership by walking around) without having to be told. I toured the barracks three times a week, not to inspect, just to tour. I inspected the barracks once a month. I was in the gun park every day. Rain or shine, I was there seeing what was being done, and by whom. Asking questions of the Marines because you have sincere interest, and understand that you can expect what you INspect, pays rich dividends.

    That we periodically have this idea that leadership has to be mandated never works out well. If you tour the barracks and the gun park because you think you somehow cannot trust your SNCOs and NCOs, you will convey that with your actions and words, the results will not be good. The Marines (and soldiers, I am sure) GET IT. They read you at least as well as you read them.


    • I’m not at all knocking LBWA. Good leaders do it instinctively.
      But there is a subset of leadership that prizes the process over the product, the means are the end. Form over substance.

      My go-to exemplar was a particular Sergeant Major who was obsessed with the appearances of soldiering, and not the actual soldiering itself. One time when the battalion was in a cantonment area for gunnery, he rolled up in his Mumvee and stormed into the Company CP screaming for the First Sergeant. He shouted that “I shouldn’t have to drive 20 miles down here to get you to submit your NCOERs properly!”

      My First Sergeant exploded- “You’re right. You’re goddamned right. You SHOULDN’T have to drive 20 miles. You should have to walk across the street!” How any Sergeant Major could stay in garrison while the battalion was downrange was beyond his comprehension.

      There are aspects of garrison life that are important, and troops are just going to have to adjust. Time spent in the motor pool (or gun park, for you tubular guys). Maintenance IS training. Your trucks, tubes, tanks and other equipment is going to have to last another 20 years. You won’t be able to just draw another when it gets messed up. So an obsession with keeping up on operator and first line level maintenance makes sense.

      But senior leadership often becomes focused on metrics like that as ends, not means.


    • ultimaratioregis

      No, I didn’t mean to imply that you were. My commentary was on codifying such actions in Jim Hartsell’s letter. If you have to spell that out to your unit commanders, you have picked the wrong people. Or YOU are the wrong person.

      And yes, indeedy. It becomes about metrics. If you go to the gun park every day, you are a good leader. Even if you haven’t the slightest idea what you are looking at and never bother to learn. Better than the guy who is there three times a week and knows his business. Soon it becomes going to the gun park so the Old Man can see you there, rather than to observe and inspect your Marines at work on their trucks and equipment.


  3. Weathtd

    Don’t forget raking the sand with uniform, even rows and painting and aligning the rocks. That was one of the C/S duties I hated the most.


  4. Esli

    There are probably ten people in my unit that remember the army you describe. The good of it, such as it is, is gone. The bad of it will be replaced with something similar. The jury is still out on what that will be.
    (Strangely, when I talk about the way we used to be, most of my guys are jealous.)
    I am by far more concerned about lack of training than I am about Mickey Mouse stuff.
    By the way, some aspects of “garrison” are critical. Training management, property accountability, NCO and officer education, schools, gunnery, etc, etc, etc, all occur during garrison periods. For the record, having seen countless boots just turn worse and worse due to red clay, stains, etc that you can’t just fix with water, saddle soap, some leather dye, and a new base of kiwi, I would gladly return to real leather boots you can spit shine. Or at least brush shine.
    Concur on leadership by walking around. Critical. Sadly, every minute I am out and about directly translates into that much more time in the office at some point after everyone else has left for the day, while the family wishes I was home.


  5. TrT

    “No combat ready unit has ever passed inspection.
    No inspection ready unit has ever passed combat.”

    Rules 29 and 30 of BTHBTS
    Does properly folded underwear make a better soldier?
    Or is it a displacement activity?

    I have no practical experience of these things, but I cant help but wonder how many battles have been won by the battalion that spent the most time folding underwear, rather than the battalion that spent the most time on the exercise range, even if dry fireing.
    Its not expensive to practice jungle camouflage, certainly not if your based in Hawaii. Order a line company and the fire support companies hump their gear out to a hill or a pass and to dig in. The rest of the battalion has to infiltrate through the lines without being seen, as implied by “inflitrate”.

    Should the Battalion Sergeant Major be checking he cant see skid marks in underwear on his walk through barracks, or that he cant see soldiers he’s ordered to conceal themselves along his hike through the jungle?


    • The admin burden never relents, does it? Yet I aver that making all the paperwork correct is not the end-all of combat preparation. Why do we persist in actions that lead to a trajectory of failure?

      Units and commanders provide so much information to others, it’s almost like the energy of our best is diverted from making our troops combat ready.

      For an army to live in garrison has a long lineage in both the UK, British Indian, and United States Armies. The US Navy and the Royal Navy have had the same issues. The end result of concentration on garrison issues is usually a defeat in the first battle of an new conflict.

      Intel failures exacerbate this tendency.

      See the First Anglo-Afghan War, Black Week in the Boer War, the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919), MacArthur in Dec 8, 1941, Savo Island, Pearl Harbor, and Task Force Smith for representative examples. This list is a tiny sample of a much bigger list.