This Veteran’s Life: The Army Way of Doing Things

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

If nothing else the military can be defined by its routines.  This is quickly learned in basic training by a cadre wearing Smoky the Bear hats screaming in your face telling you that you will learn this and you will learn that.  It became abundantly clear that we were to learn the Army way of doing things or there would be consequences.

To be sure routines exist after the military, we go to college, we get a job, and we get married and start a family all of which requires learning routines. I need to buckle down and study for a final. I have to bake cupcakes for my daughter’s class tomorrow.  I can’t forget to pay the mortgage and so on.  And heaven forfend that I forget an anniversary or a birthday (maybe Smoky the Bear hats should be handed out at the altar. Just a thought.). Work requires a routines that some may find difficult to adhere to and others, primarily veterans, find it easy to adapt to.  You want a weekly report on this and a monthly report on that?  No sweat can do.  Start at 7 a.m. instead of 8?  Not a problem.

There might even be some comfort in routines as it helps us predict the future and plan for it. We learn not to veer too far from our routines as that might lend dissonance to our vision of the known future. 

So after the military, college, marriage, cupcakes and jobs I suddenly find myself with a lot less routines to worry about.  Before retirement I had a gym schedule, a grocery schedule, ATM on Saturdays and fill up with gas on Sunday schedules.  As can be imagined most of these schedules centered on the weekends and were rarely deviated from.  They were routines after all.  It took a couple of weeks but I began to find a quirky joy in deviating from my old routines.  I’ll go the ATM when I need to and I’ll fill up with gas when I darn well please.  Grocery shopping?  When I need to, that’s when. 

Another thing learned in the military is that there are some really savvy people who enlisted as well as some really non-savvy people.  Jarbeau immediately springs to mind when I think about non-savvy people I met at Fort Devens Massachusetts.  All of us looked forward to getting a weekend pass so we could take a bus into Boston.  Jarbeau couldn’t wait for the weekend either so that he could spend it sleeping in his bunk.  He would get dressed in his fatigues in order to grab a meal at the mess hall and then go back to his bunk.  At morning formation the orderly would take roll call and then call out who had to see the First Sergeant.  “Jones see the First Sergeant ASAP!” “Smith see the First Sergeant ASAP!” and so on.  Jarbeau, looking perplexed and wondering if he thoroughly knew our company chain of command asked me “Who’s First Sergeant Asap?”  You can’t make this stuff up.  One quickly develops over a very short time a sense of who is savvy and who is non-savvy.  Or as we liked to put it, who would you like to share a foxhole with and who you wouldn’t want to share a foxhole with.  All of us wanted to get out without losing life or limb and sharing a foxhole with Jarbeau didn’t seem like the best way to insure that.  There was no room for grab assing, no room for braggarts or showoffs and most of all there was no room for someone who would not have your back. 

This sense of survival stayed with me through college, marriage and into the business world.  In all of my years in corporate America I probably met about half a dozen people I would share a foxhole with and most of them were veterans.  In our unspoken camaraderie we knew that we would not BS each other and we also knew that we would stand with them through good times and bad.  It was more important to be mission-oriented and to achieve goals than it was to obtain approval from superiors.  The vast majority of those I met in corporate America were more interested in their careers and hiding mistakes or blaming others for them than in accomplishing a set mission.  If they were at all savvy in any aspect it was in making grandiose speeches full of empty threats and even emptier promises; the primary goal of their oration was to make them look good in their superior’s eyes.  No veteran worth his salt would ever want to share a foxhole with any of them.  Some of us would even choose to share that foxhole with Jarbeau instead of the empty suits in corporate America. 

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