The New U.S. Army? Preserving Egos, Not Peace
by Chuck Colson
The Los Angeles Times recently published a humorous parody of a U.S. Army decision to consider giving every soldier a hand-held computer. The parody describes some soldiers missing an attack because they're too busy playing computer games, sending e-mail hoaxes, and typing up communications.
Well, as you can imagine, the attack ends in complete shambles. But, unfortunately, this portrait of the military's disarray is not all that far-fetched. As Weekly Standard writer Matt Labash reported recently, attempts by today's "new" Army to make its identity and training programs more egalitarian and inclusive are producing a generation of soldiers as ineffective as those in the parody.
One such policy - the Army's decision to issue black berets to all its soldiers - was intended to boost recruitment and morale. Instead, it did just the opposite. Recruiting rates have not gone up, and many soldiers are angry at the decision to abandon their symbol of honor and achievement reserved exclusively for the elite Rangers units for more than twenty-five years.
Another thorny issue is the Army's new recruiting campaign, "An Army of One," that glorifies personal autonomy at the expense of teamwork and respect for authority. These ads, reportedly market-tested with young adults, appeal to a generation, we're told, who only want to know, What's in it for me?" "Duty, honor, country" no longer have the kind of appeal they once did for America's fighting forces.
But the problem with this campaign, Labash says, is that it reveals a fundamental shift in the Army's mindset. "The campaign is scandalous," he writes, "not because the Army is falsely indicating that it will change, but because it is truthfully advertising that it already has."
Labash saw evidence of this "new Army" during officer training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Historically, infantry officers are an elite group - tough, well-trained, demanding. But in one new training initiative, non-infantry officers were trained as infantry officers for seven weeks; this was supposedly to build understanding and leadership among non-combatants. The problem was that training standards hadn't been set properly, and there were no consequences for poor performance. The results were shocking. The non-infantry candidates were often last to training and sometimes talked back to their instructors. Labash even observed one female officer lying on the ground during push-ups, barely moving her head.
Such behavior was unheard-of not long ago. But serious discipline is apparently a thing of the past. Instead of yelling at trainees who step out of line, instructors send them to counseling sessions. And, fearful of getting negative written reviews from their students, instructors were careful not to hurt the recruits' feelings.
All citizens - especially Christians - ought to be concerned at what's happening to our military. Nurturing the emotional well-being of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen is one thing; sacrificing America's military readiness is something else entirely. The biblical role for the military, remember, is to maintain order and preserve the peace, and sometimes that demands sacrifice and discomfort.
I know the new defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld well enough that I can take hope that soon we might once again train an army of warriors. That ought to be a high priority for our nation.