Being in the military during the past decade of war has been tough for many service members, but the life of peacetime service soon to hit combat-tested troops will present its own challenges.
The military will be cut substantially in the next few years, with a reduction of 80,000 from the Army and roughly 20,000 from the Marines.
But the brass can't just hand out pink slips. Instead, top leaders are making changes that will make garrison life pretty annoying — at least for junior enlisted troops — so they leave the service at the end of their contracts without even the thought of reenlistment.
Nowhere is this more apparent, at least on the Marine Corps side, than from an internal email sent out Tuesday detailing new guidelines for "leadership focused actions" from Brig. Gen. James Hartsell, who was relaying the latest from the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
There are a number of things mentioned in the email: The general wants junior Marines to read some publications on leadership, have better criteria for promotions, and wants "our NCOs [noncommissioned officers] and leaders out from behind their computers and in front of their Marines!"
The most notable part of the email comes at the bottom, which is labeled barracks-related actions. The new guidance offers changes that are sure to make life a whole lot less fun, especially in the barracks (military-speak for what are basically dormitories).
" Marines who do not want to live up to our standards will be held accountable," he writes. That last word, accountable, may not mean "you're fired!" right away, but it certainly makes it easier to choose who it's going to be.
Single sergeants and corporals, who previously were able to get out of the barracks and be paid a housing allowance, will once again be forced back into the barracks. A place where, the general writes, officers and other leaders are to "r egularly conduct visits in the Barracks between the hours of 2000-0400."
It gets worse. From the email:
4. There will be two NCO's on every deck in a Barracks and there will be a Firewatch posted on every deck.
5. There will be no TV's or video games allowed in the Watch standers place of duty.
6. Units will establish an Interior Guard with a SNCO in charge of the Interior Guards training.
In a nutshell, many more Marines are going to be sleeping less and walking aimlessly around the barracks starting soon.
"The Intent of this refocused effort of reinforcing NCO leadership in our Corps is to instill improved Good Order and Discipline," writes Hartsell, "and to help address the problems of Hazing, Sexual Harassment/Assault, and Suicide."
And from Stripes, there's a new policy hitting the Army in the next 30 to 60 days concerning tattoos and grooming standards. In short, ink on new recruits is going to be heavily scrutinized, and existing soldiers will have to submit paperwork to get theirs "grandfathered in."
Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler says its a matter of "maintaining a uniform look and sacrificing for the sake of the force."
But let's focus on that last part, sacrifice, for a moment.
Some observers have noted the Army’s habit of changing its policies depending on its recruiting needs. The previous change was in 2006, when the Army loosened requirements on tattoos during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts. Under those regulations only tattoos that covered the face or head were banned.
This time around, the policy shift comes amid U.S. government preparations to downsize the military as troops withdraw from Afghanistan and the looming prospect of severe funding cuts to the armed services.
It's not just tattoos. There are a ton of changes coming to the Army's uniform policy, to include the necessity to be clean shaven at all times (even off duty and when on leave), a more restrictive haircut policy, and the specification of civilian clothing standards off duty.
If you are depending on the Army for great fashion sense, you're going to have trouble. Not surprisingly, soldiers are offering a mostly negative reaction to the changes.
The combat veterans of the past few years are about to get hit with the garrison life reality they missed because everyone was busy fighting the bad guys.
From Tom Ricks, who posted an observation from one of his readers in 2010 that still applies:
"Garrison life is the pits. The difference is now we (combat vets) have seen the "other side/combat." Nothing pushes up urges to kill yourself like spending 10 hours of work/admin paperwork for every one you're out at the range or training, or doing risk assessments to drive your car to a town that doesn't suck for the weekend, having your car inspected, having your room inspected, asking your boss if its okay to go outside of the 60 mile radius for the weekend, sitting through your pre/post deployment health assessment, sitting through power point suicide prevention classes, "reunion" classes, etc. Nothing beats mass punishment too. You have to love being called in after a 90 hour work week on your weekend b/c someone else got a DUI."
So with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, military leaders are bringing back the "garrison life" of years past that will certainly help the mission of downsizing — whether troops like it or not.
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