16 April 2014

Insecurity Is an Army Value

Posted by Lyndsey Prax

If you've ever spoken to anyone in the U.S. Military then there’s no doubt you know why their service is better than the others.

The Air Force for example has better everything: better food, lodging, equipment, facilities. Marines, as they tell it, are tougher and more willing to fight (in bars and on beach heads). Sailors apparently get to travel the world in boats.

So what is so special about the Army you ask? This blog has addressed that question before. Twice, actually. But the real strength of the U.S. Army comes from its multitudinous experts. Seventy-three per cent of Soldiers experts, and that number rises to 94 per cent for E5 and above! Experts at what? Yes.

Soldiers are experts at pointing out others mistakes and even better at making excuses for their own.

Let’s use today as an example. Today I cleared my weapon three times inside of two minutes. Clearly I am an expert at clearing my weapon. However, the last time I cleared the weapon I failed to switch my selector switch from “semi” to “safe”. Thank God my expert NCOIC discovered my mistake and punished me by demanding I perform 25 push-ups.

And wouldn’t you know it-- every other Soldier in my unit was an expert in diagnosing my push up deficiencies. One expert dropped to the floor and started showing me how to perform a correct push-up, but apparently she was not performing them correctly either! Good thing there were other experts on hand. They proceeded in turn, each performing their best push-up while the others from the side performed their duty of criticizing.

Of course no one’s was perfect. The real point of the exercise was for each to defend his or her own expertise. We have to prove, after all, why we are better than those Marines (in the bar or on the beach head).

Although I am nearly perfect in every way, I am happy I chose the service that has individuals with the courage and integrity to point out all of my flaws and mistakes; the service that affords me the opportunity to turn my defensiveness and insecurity into a virtue by encouraging me to point out, er, correct, others' weaknesses.

I can’t think of any better way to spend my time.

13 April 2014

Here I Go Again

Post number three of deployment number two.

I am heading with my unit to a little place called Afghanistan. We're looking good, if I do say so myself. New uniforms in hand, equipment ready, and nearly trained up. Fort Dix-- ahem... Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst-- isn't a bad place. The chow hall seems to be getting worse, but we're near enough to other options to make that tolerable.

Many of you have asked what our mission over there will be. Can't say, exactly. Public Affairs generally does reporting on what American forces are doing. We're hearing that a high priority for us will be to produce propaganda news packages about the cooperation between the US/NATO and Afghan forces.

But that's boring. What you all care about is the dessert options in the dining facilities, right? Well, there's more to this deployment than goodies. So here are a few things faithful readers of this blog, Loyal Cynics, as they have been called in the past, should know:

One: My Public Affairs has a new author. Lyndsey Prax is a decorated Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. She usually decorates herself with.charm bracelets and war paint. But I'll let her introduce herself in a couple of days. Next post is hers, and so readers will get a different, and perhaps even a funny, perspective on things Army.

Two: I'll be adding a new feature: satire. If you need convincing that not everything else in this blog is satirical, then you should read more official Army propaganda public affairs material. The line is very thin sometimes.

Three: We're adding a new "Physical Fitness" label to include a hopefully sizable number of posts on our unit's fitness plan. Basically, our eight-soldier detachment is going to rock the Army Physical Fitness Test. By the end of our deployment, we'll have a documentary ready to go about how this little public affairs unit embarrassed a bunch of high speed soldiers with amazing fitness scores.

In a nutshell, this is the relaunch of a blog that will change your life. If you doubt me, take my little test. Read weekly and comment regularly. The change will be even more pronounced if you share all of our content with your friends.

If at the end of our deployment "not to exceed 400 days," you are not satisfied, I'll probably just stop writing.

(Photo by Lt. Col. Hank McIntire)

05 April 2014

It's Easy if You Know It

What can you learn about academic subjects from training for a two-mile run? I had an epiphany about it while I was doing interval training: one of the biggest benefits from doing intervals is to break the 2-mile run (in the case of the Army Physical Fitness Test) into more manageable parts.

"Too easy" is a common, if maddeningly trite, Army phrase. But as all overused and under pondered phrases, it has a root in truth. Running a good 2-mile is fairly easy when you realize that running 800 meters at a reasonable pace is a piece of cake. Then, all you have to do is string four of those together.

Too easy.

More frequently uttered in a math classroom than the above Army training is, "this is hard!"

When teaching any skill or motivating someone to complete a difficult task, good teachers and leaders will make it seem easy. I used to respond to my math students, "it's easy if you know it."

So true. There are a few things instructors can do to make something seem easy:

1. Disassemble the problem into easy components. This is the essence of teaching math. One step at a time, then move on to more complex variation on one type of problem. Teachers get their students in the zone when they can relate something back to a concept that students have mastered.

2. Articulate to students when they know something. When someone is learning something, they don't know what they don't know.The corollary is that they don't know when they know it. Teachers need to identity that a-ha moment so students can build on the confidence of moving in the right direction. Also, success is partly a mindset, one that has to be developed.

3. Celebrate progress and accomplishment. Praise goes a long way, especially when one is struggling to learn tough stuff.

Now that I have left teaching for the time being, I'll be doing the NCO business to leading and teaching younger Soldiers. We'll probably even be doing a lot of training and assisting of Afghan forces one we get over there.

We'll see how easy that is. 

28 March 2014

E5 promoted two ranks for psychological disorder

FORT BRAGG, North Carolina, March 29, 2014—The Army promoted Sergeant Justin Richmond to Sgt. 1st Class on Wednesday after military doctors diagnosed him with a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Eric Swenson, Richmond’s battalion sergeant major, said that Sgt. 1st Class Richmond’s attention to detail was a key part of the decision.

“As we draw down from two major wars, we need NCOs who can begin to focus more on uniform appearance,” Swenson said. “Combat is all well and good, but a properly garrisoned Army must be neat and tidy.”

“We have confidence that Sgt. 1st Class Richmond’s condition will give him the ability to spot uniform wear violations quickly. It’s really the most OCD soldier I’ve seen in a long time. He’ll be an outstanding senior NCO.”

“I’m stunned. I never thought of myself as a senior leader,” remarked the newly minted E7 as he adjusted his chest rank for the 11th time. “But then again, I don't consider myself mentally ill. I just can’t ignore egregious deviations from standards.”

Richmond corrected his commander’s uniform no less than four times during the promotion ceremony. Swenson said that with that kind of moxy, he thinks Richmond could be on the fast track to sergeant major.

“He’s got 19 patrol caps, for God’s sake,” the sergeant major said.

Richmond says he just hasn't found one that has a front seam exactly in the middle.

Promotions based entirely on medical conditions are extremely rare, and Richmond’s promotion was the first since World War II that an enlisted soldier moved up two grades.

The doctor who examined and diagnosed Richmond would not comment on his case precisely, but indicated that a theoretical case of OCD that was excessive would probably give a patient extreme sensitivity to regulation violations.

“We just need to marry up his compulsivity to the exact regulations in AR 670-1,” said Master Sgt. Gail Brice. “That’s really all there is to excelling as an E8 in this Army nowadays.”

"There is a fine line between mental instability and the kind of vigilance over a soldier's presentation we need in the Army," added Brice.

Others aren’t convinced. First Lt. Joseph Samudio thinks there is more to leadership than merely pointing out variations from appearance standards.

“What about combat tasks? Decisions making? Judgment? There are 100 things more important than uniform wear,” said Samudio.

Staff Sgt. David Swittingham, Richmond’s former squad leader, echoed those sentiments, saying that he wanted a leader who understood the individual needs of his soldiers, and could customize training to meet the needs of the soldier and the needs of the Army.

Richmond promptly ordered Swittingham to do push ups.

(Photo altered, original  by SSG Michael Zuk)