Editor's Note: The headline of this article has been changed to more accurately reflect the author's viewpoint.
The rank of Private First Class, E-3, is amazing. You aren’t the bottom of the barrel for details anymore, but you will still be on a lot of bullshit details for things like picking grass out of sidewalk cracks or literally stirring somebody else’s shit while it’s on fire. Never stand down wind and keep your sleeves rolled down, I learned –poop mixed with petroleum products tend to bubble and pop while on fire.
The rank of PFC is an extraordinary character-building time for the enlisted man and woman. The Marine Corps seems to love the E-3 so much they name them Lance Corporal and put them in charge of at least half the Corps. In the Army, few leadership positions are made for E-3 and usually, you end up there by default and out of necessity.
Of course, it depends on the unit and your station in life. I came in as an E-1 fuzzy and had to earn my skeeter wings, and I was not impressed with the junior enlisted college kids who picked up some gimme rank. They tended to be very lazy and overly opinionated despite having no time in the service.
But I was very fortunate in my junior enlisted time to have good leaders who saw potential in me and provided opportunities for me to grow and shine. I was “volun-told” what I was going to do several times and, despite my objections at the time, I must admit now looking back I am eternally grateful I had some of the NCO’s and officers that invested in me.
Mostly, I was told to “shut my cock holder” and I never felt the need to go to IG about it.
Unfortunately, we have lost our ability to do that in the military. In many ways, we have become an over-sensitive military of babies as societal shifts adversely affect overall readiness and stifle the military development process. That's how discipline, corrective training, career progression, and personal/professional development in our contemporary forces look to me now: The insidious influence of the initiated and uninformed policymakers and their knee-jerk reactions and risk averseness has created a culture of indecisiveness and political correctness.
When I left service I was outright told I was “too intense for the infantry”… if they only knew how mellow I had become in my 30’s and as an officer. Had I served in our current cultural mindset, I would likely never have made it past E-3. I am so thankful for all of the smoke-sessions, ass-chewings, and no-bullshit leadership I received as an E-3. If we want our next generation of warriors to thrive and succeed at overcoming whatever threats loom across the horizon we need to immediately beat the breaks on the social justice bullshit in our military.
There is a direct correlation between the bullshit variables, i.e. “how people feel and what they want to do” vs. the “mission first necessities and what people need to do.” When we take away the ability to cope and confront aspects of humanity genuinely as learning lessons like botched jokes because of audience taste in humor, actual professional performance and competencies, and instead view these as problems to solve because we have a “zero tolerance policy” toward human problems, we create an unrealistic vacuum that has no purpose other than to remove humanity and create socially acceptable cliques.
There is an outright attack on the edginess and crustiness cultivated in combat occurring because of petty insecurities and senior leader cowardice. The healthy Warrior Culture must be preserved or it is going to cost lives — not just on the battlefield but for those that go on to live with the consequences of war; those that actually served and sacrificed their youth for this country’s circus to continue. It is a moral imperative the political agenda bullshit stops.
So how then can we begin to get back to reasonable standards and allow for human error? We must start by looking at how we develop our junior enlisted and really look at the larger military culture we are making. When we first invaded Iraq l, we didn’t even have armor on our vehicles. You would think after hundreds of years fighting a war we would have figured some basics like hardening vehicles, but alas, it was not so. It took time but eventually, you couldn’t roll a vehicle outside the wire without armor on it.
I believe part of the hardening process we need to look at now is hardening our junior enlisted to be competent and capable in combat and to be able to cope with all of the horrors and darkness associated with the consequences of war.
“There is an outright attack on the edginess and crustiness cultivated in combat occurring because of petty insecurities and senior leader cowardice”
Yes, senior leaders must confront abuse, and toxic behaviors like actual sexual harassment and hazing, but do not confuse that with being able to make dick, pussy and fart jokes in the field or in the COC. (Command Operations Center) or in the sky (a special thank you for the pilots who recently provided air power and an artfully rendered air penis)
We need to empower our junior NCO’s and junior enlisted to make jokes so that when they have to go pick up someone else’s cadavers they can laugh afterward. We need to teach them how to draw boundaries and stand up for what they are ok with joking about instead of turning everything into an “unprofessional career ending” moment. We need to teach our young warriors to have a thicker foreskin, because if they can’t take a joke or at least be able to just confront the joke and move on I ask how will they handle the absurd realities of war?
Luke Flowers is a 1LT, retired. He is figuring out life out after the Army. He writes, teaches leadership, and is learning to fix boats.