October 30, 2008
Posting date: 10/31/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Binghamton, NY
Milblog: Cheese's Milblog
I never thought it would get this bad. I feel ashamed to even talk about how miserable it is here while people are living in much worse conditions other places. That being said, I've lived on patrol bases before and they were heaven compared to this.
There are many things that are hard to explain to people who have never been in the military, and the "Joe" mentality is one of the hardest. "Joe" is the nomenclature for the average lower-enlisted soldier. Joes are often Specialists (don't even get me started on the E-4 Mafia -- that's a whole 'nother post in itself), but the term can include NCOs and officers, depending on the situation.
Joes, however different they may be, have certain basic characteristics, most of which are often attributed to a gang mentality. Joes spread rumors like pro's, they are easily whipped into a frenzy, etc. Most importantly;Joes are heavily influenced by morale.
Now, morale is a tricky subject. The Army likes to think that morale is affected by things like the availability of Burger King or Salsa Night, but it's not. In fact, I bet you'd find that the overall morale on a particular base is inversely proportionate to the facilities that the base provides. Sure, internet is great, and so is decent food, but I have never had higher morale than when I lived on a tiny outpost in the middle of nowhere in Iraq. My morale there was based on baby-wipe showers, a warm sleeping bag and, most importantly, camaraderie. Here, Joes sit in their rooms, surfing Myspace, interacting with each other only when missions so dictate -- or for the occasional smoke break in between downloaded movies. This is a different war, and a different stage of that war.
It's sad that there's a whole generation of soldiers that won't know what it's like to sit in folding chairs, shooting "near-beer" cans over the wire, or how much fun a scorpion fight can be. More importantly, these guys are missing out on the kinds of missions that build soldiers. I was a better Joe when I was in Iraq than I am now. I would work for days on end because I was motivated to do so.
I couldn't say at the time what it was that motivated me, and I guess it was that camaraderie and the pride I took in my work. Here, there is very little to be proud of. Sure, we patrol and that's more than many can say (not that I'm knocking people whose jobs keep them inside the wire, I'm just referencing my guys' mentality here), but it's still mind-numbing work for troops that have spent a good chunk of their lives preparing for war.
That, combined with a belief that the command is ignoring us (a belief that I think is right on the money), saps morale. We are not allowed to act as highly trained soldiers. Every step is dictated by echelons above us. Ultimately, we all either become solely motivated by a desire to not have our free time interfered with by punishment, or stop being motivated all together.
Now I may be rambling here, but I'm okay with that. I have a lot on my mind and I'm happy enough getting it out where someone above me in the chain may see it -- in a language that they'll understand, and that won't offend my readership (that last part has been the hardest thus far). If you want Joes to listen to you, you have to trust them. Joes make mistakes, but those mistakes are never as catastrophic as the fallout from command environments like those found at Camp Phoenix. None of my previous bases have had karaoke nights, ready access to internet or massage parlors, but you still never saw the theft, the vandalism or the hostile attitudes that are plaguing this base.
Joes can be abused. They are resilient. That being said, the very second that they feel that they are being treated like children, as they are here, they will begin acting like children. This is when sensitive items get stolen, when General Order #1 gets violated and when soldiers begin cutting dangerous corners.
If you let the company commanders take control, let the platoon leaders decide how missions will be accomplished, let the squad leaders decide how their individual trucks will be run, etc, troops will be too busy to get lazy or get in trouble. Leaders may think that micromanagement saves soldiers from getting in trouble, but Joes know the right decision 99% of the time -- and they deserve whatever punishment comes from making the wrong decision. Joes will most often make the right decision if they are allowed to make it for themselves, rather than having it dictated directly by an officer who has no business speaking to them. If not, you get Camp Phoenix...