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July 08, 2005

Things that annoy me, part 2,334,651

I understand symbols. I really do. I understand symbolic acts, too. But certain kinds of symbolic acts - especially done poorly, but also in a general sense, just "peese me off"!

One such symbolic act is going around the Army today. And is being done poorly - and it annoys more people than it impresses. At least here where I work and in scattered places where I have friends living and working.

One thing about the Army leadership. We sure do love to jump on fads. The Marines, well, they found a fad they liked 'round about WWI, and have pretty much stuck with it since. The Army is a different creature, as it should be - but that is a post for a different day.

If you are going to institute a fad, there are Right Ways and Wrong Ways.

Take the "Army Values and Warrior Ethos" dog tags. There is *no doubt* they are cheesy. When the Army Values one came out, and they had to force them on the whole Army at once, the attitude was pretty much, (especially in the 'institutional' i.e., non-line unit) Army - "Okay everybody, here's this new "Army Values" carp on a plastic dogtag. Everybody has to wear 'em with their tags, it's an inspectable item at formation, and the commanding general/chief of staff expects ya ta be able to rattle 'em off if they ask," followed by tossing you this bit of plastic.

This is the Wrong Way. But it is how it went in every unit I was in that experienced this. There were units, mostly line units, which took a better approach.

If you think giving soldiers plastic dogtags with slogans on them works in inculcating those values - you're wrong. You have to tie it to something meaningful. In Basic Training, we now do it via the Victory Forge ceremony. You actually make these tags something you earn - a sign of accomplishment - conferred after a Rite of Passage, and awarded in front of peers and the leadership. Perhaps the Heartless Libertarian, a Basic Training Company Commander, (though soon to be a Stryker Brigade kinda guy) will elaborate for us if he's not too busy trying to find all his unit property, handing over the guidon, and moving.

To the cynic, this sort of thing will *always* be cheesy (but they'll still pay attention) and to the earnest, it will have meaning. *And* it will indicate that the local chain of command - the single most important one in a soldier's life - cares, and thinks it's important. Doing it wrong SENDS ABSOLUTELY THE OPPOSITE MESSAGE.

Now, I have an attitude problem about some things. Shocking, I know. Ask SWWBO, but I *really* hate it when someone reminds (or requires) me to do something I already know, or do, as a matter of course. Not entirely rational, I admit. Funniest manifestation of this in a self-enlightenment sense was Kansas and the Mandatory Seat Belt law enacted while I was stationed at Fort Riley. I have *always* worn a seatbelt. It just makes sense. But when they passed the law, I was so pissed that they passed a law about it, that I found myself having to *make* myself buckle up. In the final analysis - the source of my anger was pretty narcissistic: they took away my self-ascribed virtue, by making mandatory something I did voluntarily... and well, for good or ill, that kinda thing justs overtorques me.

So, where *is* my bad example, anyway? (I'll never make it as a pundit - too wordy) Bear with me.

30 years ago, I swore an oath. The oath of enlistment. I can still recite it from memory.

I, John Hays Donovan, do solemnly swear/affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

27 years ago, I swore this oath, one which *still* binds me today - and which I can recite (or type) from memory, the Oath of Commissioning, which is also the oath that Federal civil servants swear or affirm:

I, John Hays Donovan, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."***

Which leads to my Bad Example, the one that peeses me off. Even though this time, it doesn't apply to me personally, as I am a contractor. We have a new Secretary of the Army. He feels, in the midst of war and rumors of war, that we should reaffirm our commitment to the principles embodied in the oaths, and in the federal ethics regulations.

So, Secretary Harvey sent out this Memorandum on the subject. As written, I have *no problem* with the directive to review, and personally reaffirm, my commitment. It's kind of the same thing as renewing your vows in a marriage - it is a joint, mutual thing - and you make it a ceremony - a Rite of Passage, to put the proper seal and solemnity to the event, and it's purpose.

So this is what comes out to assist in implementation of this guidance. Okay, understand. The Big Guy thinks it's important.

So, how do we implement?

As part of an email. With an Opord from higher headquarters directing compliance. Running through the administrative assistants, with an Excel spreadsheet (damn you, Bill Gates!) to monitor and report compliance.

I (even though I'm not the target audience) am vaguely insulted. Apparently, the Leadership wants to 'renew our vows'. Okay. We're a damn busy group of people these days, doing work of literal life and death import... and you want me to recommit. Must be important, right? Right. So, at the local level (and I suspect this happened through much of the Army, not just here) it comes out in an email, read this, check the block, report back up.

All that did was irk me. Sure, this is important. And, before I composed this rant, I did a little survey of the workforce - 10 people, %70 (mixed civil servants/commissioned officers) agree with me, and are irked, as well. What, you don't think we understand our oath?

If this was that important - then we should have had the directive coming from the local leadership - preferably in person, probably via a professional development session, using a Chain Teaching presentation developed by the ARSTAFF that made clear what prompted this - and where we all could have stood up and raised our right hands and actually *reaffirmed* that oath. Where we discuss recent, concrete examples, of where people were failing to live up to the oath. You show, by working and personal example, Why This Is Important.

To me, the approach taken, all in good faith, no evil intended, trying to meet the requirement with minimal disruption... actually trivializes the intent, and achieves in some people just the opposite of the intended effect. It wasn't entirely wasted - it did stimulate some conversation about the subject - but I'm not sure it's the conversation the Secretary was after. But, doing it my way *is* admittedly the hard way, and we're busy, and, well, that's just the kind of thing that peeses me off and gets you bored to tears reading this stuff. And half of you reading this are thinking to yourselves, "Oh geez, Donovan is such a dork! Just what I need, another touchy-feely meeting that gets in the way of getting the job done! Wotta load!"

I didn't say doing it right would be easy. It would take work. But if we think we need to reaffirm our oath and commitment - I would think the effort would be worth it.

As a reward for wading all the way through this - how about some Plane Pr0n?

***Technical note - if your scruples/religious upbringing, etc, do not allow you to *swear* and/or call on God as a witness/guarantor, you *affirm,* and the "So Help Me God" part is dropped. [Note to young leaders - you should find out what your soldiers wish to do in this regard, PRIVATELY, before standing them up in front of formation and either (most likely outcome) causing them to go ahead and compromise their principles to avoid an embarrassing moment - or causing an embarrassing moment... which will be *your* fault.] I am also *not* impressed with leaders who have to read it from a card. What, you don't know the oath? And why not?