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Stalwart
05-24-2014, 01:34 PM
Fallacy #1: Our “culture” is unique. I am a former Marine, specifically from the Reconnaissance community which is a physically and mentally demanding occupation, but one that relies more on the determination of those who want to be part of the team than physical prowess. I find it ironic that many of the regular behaviors I found in the regular infantry did not exist in the reconnaissance community, there was a lot less of the regular antics. I left the Marine Corps to accept a commission in the Navy and my first assignment was on submarines. Early on, I observed many who leaned heavily on the myth that the attack submarine is one of the last vestiges of warrior culture remaining in our fleet today. The proudly vulgar tattoos; the pranks and dirty jokes; the lack of respect for bodily privacy; the open disdain for all things sensitive or sacrosanct. The irreverence. The porn. The fight club that may or may not exist in the machinery room. Again, things I did not observe in a direct action platoon in Marine Corps Reconnaissance.

What I eventually came to realize, though, is that this isn’t warrior culture; it is just dudes being dudes. Visit any fraternity house or any football locker room, and you will witness the same brutality and grab-assery. Any group of young males—infantrymen, firefighters, athletes, oil rig workers—will exhibit similar behavior and will become similarly convinced that they are the dirtiest, hardest-drinking, toughest bunch of vagrants ever to live. This is just something that young men do, and most of the time it is fun and endearing.

While the specific cultures of the services differ from service to service they are still bound by the ethos of service to our nation and our comrades. The individual warfare communities have especially distinct, awesome subcultures as well. These have evolved based on the very different types of jobs we have to do. Incorrectly identifying typical guy behavior as something that makes us unique only distracts from what makes us elite.

Fallacy #2: Brutality and vulgarity make us better at War. No they don’t, no matter how intuitive this little nugget of conventional wisdom may seem. They are at best neutral; when they reach a degree to which they subvert and undermine the chain of command, they make us worse.

I have up close and personally experienced war, it is brutal and vulgar, and that is why we train. Training, discipline, and cold, calculating precision are what make us better at war. Hazing and other disorganized, amateurish bullshit do nothing to put bullets in the enemy or ordnance on target. Even for that part of our military who actually carry rifles into combat, it is their training and discipline that make them deadly.
If you feel tempted to defend locker room culture against the weakness-sowing evil of political correctness, carefully consider the perspective of a good Sailor who does not want to play. Maybe he doesn’t really feel like wrestling or playing grab-ass, or being constantly bombarded with porn. None of those things were part of the deal when he signed up, and he has a right to work in an environment that respects personal boundaries. He’ll probably just tough it out, but he shouldn’t have to.

Bottom line, if your people aren’t tough enough, it’s because their training sucks, not because we’ve cracked down on bush-league male bonding rituals.

Fallacy #3: Bad execution = bad policy. Does preferential treatment occur, based on race, sex, religion, or orientation? Sure, and it cuts both ways. This is a huge organization, full of flawed human beings with interests to protect and prejudices to indulge. Is it common? Not really. Is it institutionalized? Absolutely not.

This is an important point. While isolated cases of double standards or preferential treatment certainly do occur, these are local failures of leadership, not broad decrees of policy. When they come to light, it is an example of good policy poorly executed at the local level. Somebody has to answer for it.

What about all the time we futilely pour into training for things like equal opportunity and sexual assault? This is a side-effect of democracy, as our leaders answer to Congress who answer to newspapers. I don’t really know what else you could do. What about knee-jerk overreactions and stupid witch-hunts? All examples of poor execution.

The danger is that it’s very easy to confuse our frustrations with the execution as frustrations with the policy. I bet Grandpa didn’t have to go to sexual assault training, and he never had to worry that he’d be unfairly passed over for promotion because he was competing with a protected in-group. If only we were still Grandpa’s Navy, where men could be men. Wait, I mean white men. Wait, make that white heterosexual men of Judeo-Christian descent. Maybe Grandpa’s Navy benefited from change.

Fallacy #4: You should fear political scandal. Our environment sometimes trains us that any event involving hazing, discrimination, or sexual anything will necessarily result in some kind of dramatic overreaction, with IG investigations, firings, and widespread public executions. I certainly felt this way, until I experienced a few scenarios that were handled well. There’s certainly historical precedent for these nightmare scenarios, but we never hear about the majority of cases that follow due process and are adjudicated in a methodical, non-sensational manner.

An officer who is paranoid about scandals will be tempted to handle potential high-visibility issues in one of two ways: to neurotically overreact with draconian witch-hunts and inquisitions, or to under-react or hope the problem goes away. Both errors have potentially devastating consequences. The only way to handle these things is like a consummate professional.

If you unambiguously refuse to put up with things you know you shouldn’t, you drastically cut back the odds of an incident. If something does occur and you need to report it or investigate it, then you must follow due process to the letter, and concern yourself only with facts. Be brutally honest with yourself, as emotions, biases, and preconceptions are very dangerous in this situation—they are what will get you into trouble. If you have done your job and adhere to the truth consistently, you will have nothing to fear of political fallout.

“The Kinder, Gentler Military.” This phrase is emotionally charged, and speaks to a Spartan fantasy that no one serving today, or in the last few decades has ever experienced. It is kind of like saying “don’t get me wrong, I’ve got lots of black friends” in that it communicates something entirely different than what the speaker intends. In this case, it suggests an insecure need for macho validation and disappointment that the military has failed to provide it.

Despite our problems, we are a more capable, disciplined, and professional organization than we ever have been, and it’s OK to be proud of that. Discipline is warlike. Professionalism is warlike. Those are the qualities our adversaries fear, not our barracks antics.

DocBones
05-24-2014, 03:37 PM
Oh, come on. Would Gunny Highway lie to to us? He had to overcome a platoon that was a bunch of layabouts, and even a dude in that platoon that tried to beat him up.

Heartbreak Ridge is the go to movie about how recons really are. You can't be fooling me!

;)

On second thought, maybe that movie wasn't the best portrayal of recon life.

Rusty Jones
05-24-2014, 04:07 PM
I dunno about that. I served on two DDG's, one with an all male enlisted crew (that had some female officers), and one that was full integrated.

The all-male ship had all of the "barracks antics" that you speak of. The integrated ship did not. The problem isn't that I perceive the men on the integrated ship to be "soft," but they tended to behave in ways that they believed would attract positive attention from the females. Also, I've seen far too many instances of dudes screwing each other over, because of some girl.

In fact, I lost a Sailor who worked for me over that. A female Sailor claimed that he saw my junior Sailor having sex with another female in right outside the door to the female berthing, and it was right before taps. That story was unbelievable to begin with.

However, there was one male Sailor - who WAS a friend to my junior Sailor - who could've provided an alibi to get the mast case dropped. The problem? He had a crush on the female that reported my guy (and she used the HELL out of this dude for MONTHS, for other things). So, my guy gets sent home with a General discharge.

I felt a greater sense of comraderie and brotherhood on the all male ship. We all looked out for eachother and had eachother's backs. Yes, we bonded through those "barracks antics." But the resulting comraderie, I believe, made us more focused on the mission - because we had the mentality that we were in this together.

Rizzo77
05-25-2014, 04:03 AM
Does preferential treatment occur, based on race, sex, religion, or orientation? Sure
You know goddamn well that it occurs. Marines may think they're special, but they're not.


Is it institutionalized?

YES.


This is an important point. While isolated cases of double standards or preferential treatment certainly do occur, these are local failures of leadership, not broad decrees of policy. You keep telling yourself that, so that you can sleep at night. Trying to inform you of the reality isn't even worth the time it takes me to shit.

Rusty Jones
05-25-2014, 11:32 AM
Marines may think they're special, but they're not.

I didn't know what service you were in, until now... spoken like a true Soldier!

Stalwart
05-25-2014, 12:05 PM
The all-male ship had all of the "barracks antics" that you speak of. The integrated ship did not. The problem isn't that I perceive the men on the integrated ship to be "soft," but they tended to behave in ways that they believed would attract positive attention from the females. Also, I've seen far too many instances of dudes screwing each other over, because of some girl.

Men doing something to gain the affections of a female, or a female doing something to gain the affections of a male are nothing unique to the military.

When I was on a DDG, the crew was co-ed and when I first got there I was a DIVO and quickly was made the OPS O (for about 21/22 months.) What I found when I first got there was my division was very cliquish, disjointed and in general not a cohesive team -- in particular having failed a pretty significant ATG evolution 3 times in 5 weeks. When we took a more aggressive stance on training and professional standards the division got more proficient and actually got along better too. I don't know if the success with the ATG hurdle was a 'sigh of relief' but I saw it. As the DH, it was the same thing, Deck Div vs. Operations Div vs. OT Div is not a good team. Ironically, 14 months after I came aboard, the division went from the lowest rated OT Division in the Strike Group to winning the Atlantic Fleet Intel Excellence award ... the Sailors did the work but just needed a bit of a push to get their own motivation going.


I felt a greater sense of comraderie and brotherhood on the all male ship. We all looked out for eachother and had eachother's backs. Yes, we bonded through those "barracks antics." But the resulting comraderie, I believe, made us more focused on the mission - because we had the mentality that we were in this together.

I won't argue that the barracks antics result in bonding, but it doesn't make us more deadly or proficient in the art of war. As I said earlier in the post, when I transitioned from regular infantry to reconnaissance it was a bit odd that the shenanigans almost entirely went away. In part I think of it as having nothing really to prove, since if you were in the unit you had already proven yourself. In the time I spent in the recon / special operations community and since my transition to the Navy -- the operators are by and large the 'quiet professional' and the more loud, obnoxious, vulgar folks were usually not even the combat arms personnel but support personnel who were in essence trying to prove themselves worthy of a standard that was artificially inflated to begin with.