26 July 2014

Needless Irritants

Who can I complain to?

The Army is adept at throwing wrenches in the smoothly turning gears of war. Actually, I'm going to blame support elements. This is a story about what GEN William Westmoreland called "needless irritants."

First, a bit of background. In the early 1970s, Westmoreland, as the Army Chief of Staff, was staring an all volunteer force in the face. Before then, the Army filled its ranks with conscripts. Those who volunteered often did so because they might otherwise have been drafted. So the draft gave the Army the luxury of treating its peronnel like chattel.

I sometimes wonder how much has changed.

You see, we had to move yesterday. I'm talking about a the furniture, lugging, dust-sweeping, clothes-organizing, kind of barracks move.

Two days ago, we arrived at our room, greeted by a notice to vacate the premises within 48 hours.

Not cool. When something is not cool, lodge a complaint, right? Except the guy kicking us out is only following orders. He has no authority, nor any desire to pass any feedback up the chain.

This, from an Operation Ready leader's handbook, describes my feelings well:
How would you feel if your next commander changed the tapes? Then the next commander comes along and changes them back? We do this to soldiers in the barracks all the time, for no better reason than to prove to them (and ourselves) who is in charge.
As their appointed leader you have great power to create misery and little power to reduce it, for you will be blind to its existence—unless you vigorously seek it out.
As with the moving imperative, whoever got the idea up his butt for us to move three buildings down the road excercised "great power to create misery."

It was an irritant, to say the least.

Westmoreland understood that the needless irritants (colloquially known as Mickey Mouse, or chickenshit, according to scholar Beth Bailey) were particularly deteriorating to readiness, for several reasons.

First, irritants take away resources for doing actual Army work. Second, they dminish the pool of willing violunteers. Third, they drive people crazy, often tipping the scales in favor of getting out of the service sooner.

I hear quite frequently from Soldiers on a deployment that they're getting out. Not because they had to move needlessly, but because of that plus 1,000 other petty tyrannies.

And cna we complain? Nope. The sergeant in charge of the circus is doing the bidding of some major probably, who doesn't give two spits about how maddening it is. But he'll never hear about it, because his sergeant wouldn't dare give him negative feedback-- the very type of feedback that helps good organizations make real-time adjustments to its practices.

Needless irritant? Yep. Need not complain, because it never does any good in the Army. 


  1. Well, I can definitely relate. The bad news is that these "needless irritants" seem to be a global phenomenon, not just in the Army... though some organizations are better than others. Sorry to hear that the Army seems to be on the highly irritating end of the spectrum.

  2. Oh, man, that would drive me batty. I completely agree with all you said here. Wastes energy and decreases morale. No room for innovation, creativity, growth. Just the status quo. Stagnating at its best, and dangerous at its worst.