As war winds down, boots must shine
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, troops can look forward to what peace is bringing: Breathalyzer tests, cigarette price hikes, tighter rules on conduct and appearance, a heavy emphasis on safety and a slower promotion track.
Yes, the culture of the military is beginning to change, and the return to rigidity may not sit well with everyone.
“Psychologically, many soldiers will be dissatisfied with the reduced autonomy and scope of authority that comes from a garrison environment,” said David Johnson, a former Army lieutenant colonel who is executive director of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.
“Yet, there will be many who were reserves or volunteers who decide to remain on active duty because of the security, structure and camaraderie the life offers.”
Troops who have become accustomed to more relaxed standards on dress and behavior in combat zones can expect to be corrected for any breaches of the military’s many regulations designed to govern the most minute aspects of their work, appearance and personal lives, given garrison leaders’ well-known obsession with physical appearance.
The Army, for example, is reviewing its grooming standards for troops with changes proposed for rules governing such things as facial hair, tattoos and cosmetics.
An increased focus on discipline in garrison is not without its risks.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, writing about garrison life in the Strategic Army Corps (STRAC) in the early 1960s, said the acronym became Army slang for a well-organized, well turned-out soldier, but that style ended up overrunning substance.
“STRAC was a state of being, a sharpness, a readiness and esprit de corps … [but] as often happens in the Army, we over did it,” he said. “Being STRAC came to mean looking sharp more than being combat ready.”
The Army isn’t the only military branch returning to spit and polish. The Air Force tightened physical training standards in July and warned airmen to maintain their test scores or risk being sent back to Civy Street.
In the months and years to come, sailors and Marines will be participating in programs designed to influence their lifestyles under the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative.
Navy Exchanges recently raised cigarette prices as part of an effort to cut tobacco use. Breathalyzer tests are likely on the way to ships and ports as, according to a Navy statement, “a way to increase fleet alcohol education and awareness and to provide commanders with another tool to ensure the health and safety of sailors by identifying potential alcohol abuse.”
Many of the soldiers serving in Afghanistan today expect that they are making their last trips to a combat zone for a while.
Sgt 1st Class James Smith, who is in Khost Province, Afghanistan, with the 101st Airborne Division said he told his soldiers before they deployed that it would likely be their last chance to experience combat in Afghanistan.
“Really it was down to picking and choosing for this deployment,” he said. “I expect it’s going to be one of the last ones, if not the last one.”
Another 101st soldier, Staff Sgt. Matthew O’Dowd, said the extra dwell time between recent deployments has already made a difference.
“When you’re in the U.S. — garrison life — standards are going to be upheld more,” he said. “A lot of the younger guys, the junior guys, aren’t used to that kind of thing — always having to be out in the field, always training.”
Joseph Angello, director of operational readiness and safety in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said troops returning to garrison life will see a heavy emphasis on safety with regular reminders about drinking and driving and workplace hazards.
“No commander wants to write a letter notifying a parent that their loved one died on duty or in a POV (personally owned vehicle),” he said.
Johnson said a garrison military will need to focus more on maintenance of its equipment once funding for combat is gone.
The Army and Marines are cutting their ranks by 100,000 over the next few years and, according to Johnson, troops will be on a slower path to advance in rank during peacetime.
“Measures of effectiveness will include a focus on bureaucratic and logistical capabilities since combat excellence can no longer be used to measure the quality of our soldiers and officers,” he said.
Training and the ability to coordinate it through many bureaucratic challenges will be a major arbiter of leader success, he said.
“Our personnel screen and up-or-out promotion system will once again kick in and units will tighten discipline and appearance,” he added.
Troops who grew up in military families won’t be surprised by a return to a garrison military, and many will want to pass on lessons learned in combat to a new generation, he said.
The Army will not have a “down period” like after the Vietnam War, Johnson said.
Instead, a smaller force will continue to deploy for joint exercises around the globe and prepare to win the first battle of the next conflict, wherever it may break out. Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Jeffers, 31, who is in Afghanistan with the 101st on his sixth deployment since September 11, 2001, said the return to garrison life will be a culture shock for some troops who joined after 9/11.
“It’s going to be a big change for the Army, with the change in discipline,” he said. “Because things get a little loose here, even when they shouldn’t.”
Leaders of deployed troops try to maintain the same standards that they would expect in garrison, Jeffers said, but added that there are differences between garrison life and what goes on in a combat zone.
“It’s one of those deals when you deploy for a long time, you don’t want to be on them 24-7, but you also want to maintain the standards,” he said.
Many of today’s troops only know about life in an Army at war, Jeffers said.
“It’s going to be difficult to adjust back to the garrison,” he said. “Over here, we’ve got all the bullets we want. We can go to the range whenever we want. It’s not going to be like that in the garrison. I don’t think they (Jeffers’ soldiers) realize it yet.”
Still, his unit’s getting a lot of re-enlistments.
“I think [for] a lot of them, it’s going to be a big awakening when they go back,” he said.