The Army Times has an interesting article in today's Daily Brief that brought me back to a better time -- well, for me. I was younger, healthier and far more optimistic about the future of the nation and my Army. Now I'm older, broken and beaten down physically, and a bit less optimistic about the whole thing. I was always cynical, but as you age as a cynic, you realize that you can err in lots of ways...people do amazing things, good and bad, important and meaningless. Entropy increases, but no where does it say we have to go along gratefully with that process.
Anyway, the services added reflective belts to PT uniforms a few years ago, and for a variety of reasons, the regulations for the wear of these things have become -- shall we say -- somewhat excessive. If you're running at night or at dawn or at sunset, the reflective belt may let some motorist realize that he's going entirely too fast. If you're in the gym, it's just another thing to get in the way or get in trouble for not having when the gym Nazis decide to exert their authority. The current generation of Army uniforms are supposed to have some reflective qualities by design, but like the old IR defeating capability of the BDUs the Army prefers not to test them in practice. So, on the roads good idea; in periods of bad visibility, good idea; in sunlight, inside or in a freaking swimming pool or something, really stupid idea.
Now, the Air Force has figured this out, and has dropped the requirement to wear the silly things. Fine. But, the Army seems to want to make it even more complicated; the Uniform Regulation, AR670-1 is due for a revision, but that's running late...which makes me think that berets and blues may be on the way out if they can figure out a justification besides "these were a really bad idea..."Anyway, the regulation makes the wear of the things one of those elements that the installation commander has control of..which in reality probably means the CSM -- all of whom by definition are rational, balanced and totally non-egocentric megalomaniacs, it says so in the regulation! -- or maybe the General's wife. Anyway, no problems here. ( I remember bobbing and treading water at the position of "Present Arms" in one of the Fort Clayton swimming pools during Reveille, so of course this is a given...)
That’s right — the fly boys, on Friday, 86’d their reflective belts, at least when it comes to physical training. Service leaders, apparently riding a radical streak, also said airmen can wear black socks and any color of athletic shoe with the PT uniform. While this does not exactly push the boundaries of good order and discipline, soldiers would see such a move as an unauthorized use of common sense. The issue is a running joke among troops who are required to wear this dastardly device whenever in PT gear. Even in broad daylight. Or indoors. Or on a parade field. Or in a swimming pool, one might assume.
Just do a search for “Army reflective belt” and you will be treated to an endless library of memes and satire. Here’s the irony: Army Regulation 670-1 isn’t as rigid on reflective belts as one might think. Its guidance is that commanders determine whether the belt is required. But that policy doesn’t seem to translate very well.Leaders of the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea in August said unit leaders would decide whether soldiers needed to wear the belt during physical training. One day later, 8th Army Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Devens shot down the new-found freedom. Changes to AR 670-1 are in the works. In fact, they were expected one year ago. But nowhere has there been any indication that reflective belt rules would lessen...
I don't know CSM Devens but I suspect no one bothered to staff this thing with him, and as soon as the division decided to do one thing, he got calls from so many people either wanting the same thing or wondering if this might be a North Korean plot that he decided to simplify things. This is not a big deal, until someone makes it a big deal, and I suspect the CSM was just trying to keep it simple; on the other hand, he is the MACOM Command Sergeant Major so... It is Korea, and I can see some protocol weenie getting uptight because "what will the Koreans think?" if the soldiers aren't uniform in PT gear or some nonsense; maybe the J3 Safety Guy was concerned that without the reflective vests, the Koreans will figure it's ok to run into formations on the roads in villes because...they can't see them?
I checked out the idea of memes and found more than a few. I don't think that this is an example of why the Army doesn't win wars, because in general we do; however this issue is probably an example of how we can make it unnecessarily complex. It also is an example of why so many pretty good soldiers decide to do something else, and why so many ignorant idiots in all services stay as long as they possible can and climb over the smarter, less compliant and more mission focused types using ropes and ladders made of silly rules, useless requirements and shit that's broken by design. The author of this piece had ridden his bike for 18 miles around the greater Fort Drum area on his day off and was pedaling back to the gate, ID card at the ready when the gate guard got upset that he wasn't wearing his reflective belt with his riding stuff...most of which, as I recall, is reflective. Soldier was told that the next time, NEXT TIME, he wouldn't be allowed to enter the post... Soldier was polite and cooperative (been there in the face of ignorance and I suspect most of us have) and then heading home, he thought about what had just happened...
Here I was a guy who joined the Army out of a sense of duty, a married adult, with kids, a former cop who arrested people for real crimes–never because American citizens weren’t wearing reflective material–being told by some retired military fellow longing for his glory days that I couldn’t get back to the place where I lay my head because I didn’t have a green belt on. Yeah, I know. He was just doing his job. Which is why I nodded my head and rode off without arguing with him. Then it occurred to me that a general officer probably made the dumb reflective belt rule. Someone responsible for an entire division in the most deployed unit in US military history actually made a rule this inane. All the same time, General McChrystal was issuing rules of engagement in Afghanistan that said we couldn’t fire illumination rounds during firefights at night if we thought there was the smallest chance an empty illumination canister could fall on a farmer’s hut. Never mind that we can’t see the enemy that’s shooting at us.
And so as I see it, this is a symptom of why America can’t finish off its modern day wars. Its military is incredibly small minded. We have the brightest, shiniest toys any Soldier could hope for. We just have no idea what we’re doing strategically. As I once said to an analyst buddy of mine in Afghanistan: “Stupid people place equal importance on all things.” (My emphasis)
A long time ago, I was the G3 Training Division Sergeant Major in I Corps at Fort Lewis. Our G3 SGM was James Voyles, known to a lot of soldiers as Ranger Voyles or Pappy. Contrary to rumor, Pappy had notbeen a Ranger since Rogers formed the original regiment -- his Dad had been a Ranger climbing the cliffs at Normandy, and he'd eventually been CSM of 2/75th. Health and politics conspired to get him into G3s in the 80s and he had been the G3 SGM in the 4th Infantry and then in I Corps. He was notorious for telling people in pretty straight forward language what he thought while doing everything he could to take care of any soldier around him who needed anything. I think the soldiers who came up under Pappy Voyles -- officer and enlisted -- got a great education in what wearing the uniform meant. A great soldier and a fine man.