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.