What are the disadvantages of hiring someone who has been in the US military?

I am going to speak as a Marine and currently a hiring manager. Here are some negative attributes that come with military service that more hiring managers need to understand.

Military people don’t get you and you don’t get them.

There are a great deal of miscommunications and misconceptions dealing with people in the military. What it is like to grow in the civilian world and what it is like to grow in the military world are two completely different things. You may have gone to a great university and interned at a very prestigious company where you met some very important people and this put you in a position of power. These qualities are not that highly respected by people from the military. If they respect you it is because of your character or in the least, your rank. Most of the time if you are CEO or VP or even just Manager that is enough for them to respect on a basis of rank, but don’t expect your story of going to an Ivy League university to mean very much to them at all. This isn’t an attack on you, but most of the time they will just attribute this to luck or born into the right family. You shouldn’t get angry about this, it is just the way they think. I had a personal experience with this in that when I started with a new branch of the company I am with there was a man who served in the military who didn’t really respect me because I was just another yuppie with a piece of paper. I had a “chat” with him where he found out that I was actually a Marine Sergeant and had done quite a bit before getting my piece of paper. Now I have his full respect. I understand where he is coming from though, most military people can be very smart, but grew up in small towns where they don’t get noticed by colleges, they are from poor families and opportunities are not that abundant. They see the military as a place where you can work hard and get noticed, so they really don’t like seeing young hot shots arrive in charge because things like college or connections. That is just a reality that many military have different values than people who became adults as civilians. You have to accept it. They will be able to appreciate and respect what you do though. Good, strong leadership is always respectable.

You have no idea what it is like to be in the military and what their mentality is like.

The fact is that you have never served in the military. You don’t know what it is like to be sent from your family, to live overseas, to live and work with the exact same people for months on end, you have never experienced the degree of isolation they do, you have never been in real danger and been expected to perform under it and you have never been a part of that culture. Your experience is in the movies, the news, some blog about how great military leadership is or that you had an uncle who served in such and such. What makes you think you could possibly understand how they think or how they solve problems. If you think that you do if that is the only reason you are hiring them than you need to investigate your own ignorance and take a look at all the experience they actually have in their resume.

I recently had a boss who was frustrated with me because he gave me very unclear goals with little guidance. He kept saying that his company needed a “Marine mindset”. I asked him what specifically did you want? He always would spit out a bunch of non-sense about how they needed my ideas and my knowledge and experience and “a bit more Marine Corps here”. I took this to mean that he wanted a strong logistics network, clear lines of communication both laterally and up the chain along with good training and discipline for the employees, which I provided. I also have a business degree specializing in entrepreneurship and have started my own company which I run on the side. I really thought that he meant he needed my business understanding and ideas for this company that he in no way actually knew how to run. After I would have ideas for problems I did see I would implement them and they never got any traction and most get shot down leaving the problem now just as bad. Finally I knew it was time to leave when he said “Because military people follow instructions.” I was incensed. Do you think military people are robots you push a button and they magically get things done. Do you expect me to hop to and go get it done with absolutely no clue what you are asking me to do? Would you like a salute with that?…SIR? The fact is that that was an incredibly insensitive and ignorant thing to say. It is an easy way to make a military person feel like they are stupid, have no individual value and can actually contribute nothing to an organization. Of course we also get very angry. Given our proclivity for violence, saying such things could be considered a major mistake, but suffice it to say, that is when I felt it was time to leave.

Military people will tell you when something is wrong, even when you don’t like it, often.

In the case above this is when I told him, with tact (honestly), that I had followed every instruction that he had given, which were almost none. You don’t go and point someone in some direction and say go when you lead them to believe that their job is completely different from the one that you intended them to do. I told him this and he wasn’t happy. Sorry, the fact is that when we serve in the military we hold a great deal of responsibility, not only of property, but of lives. We need to know what is going on and question when something isn’t right. It is a matter of practice that this has to happen something is wrong. If you are one of those people who believe you are always correct, don’t hire someone in the military.

Military people are extremely capable, when given adequate support.

If we are going to work under you, you need to know that you absolutely need to provide us with a framework, training and direction until we are capable. Sometimes this may take a long time, but it is necessary. The fact is that military people are used to a very heavy bureaucracy that provides a great deal of annoyance, but structure. You need to provide that on some level for them to succeed. Here is a point, in the Marines we spent 3 months in boot camp. That is the famous boot camp that everyone talks about. This was just to be called Marine. It was just a giant exercise in on-boarding. We spend another month in weapons and tactics training, as much as six months to a year in job training and then spend months training with our units before we go to actually do our jobs. I spent about 14 months preparing for a 7 month tour. That is why we succeed so well at war. However without that kind of training and support the Marines would suck, just like your company. If you aren’t prepared to give them a great deal of training for their job, they won’t know what to do go off trying to do something that doesn’t fit your strategy. This is in contraindication with my next point, but you will see that they are tied very well together.

Military people are also extremely independent and will go off in random directions when lacking adequate guidance.

As I mentioned in the last point military people need good direction. That is because if any one group could be stereotyped as “alpha males” it might just be young men in the military. They are rash, forceful, arrogant, stubborn and filled with pride. They also have a great deal of initiative and want to fix problems where they see them. The problem is that you didn’t obey rule number three. You hired them because they were “real go-getters” and didn’t explain their role or what a problem in your company actually is. What could have been a massive driving force for you is now more of a bull in a China closet. You will have numerous arguments with this individual and he will not get what your point is. Remember they don’t get you and you don’t get them, but train them well in their job, point them in the right direction and you will have a force and not just an employee.

Military people are not always fun to work with.

There really are two types of military people to work with. The stoic solemn ones who are extremely rigid, professional and have no time for your nonsense or the wild and unruly bombs who can be unreliable, drunks, dissidents, aggressive and might even bring massive drama into your workplace. Both of these types are likely to be extremely proud and can border on arrogance and can be very aggressive in general. They can both be extremely difficult for other personality types to mesh with and can cause conflict just with their presence. As bosses they can be extremely strict and demanding and can bring down the morale of a workplace because “incentive” to them is usually just a lack of punishment. You have a job, you do it. That is how many think. Their punishments can be incredibly severe by civilian terms because most civilians have never dug a seven foot deep fighting hole and filled 600 sand bags because they didn’t clean their room once. Simply put, aggression is not always a good thing, but these guys have it.

A lot of veterans have very real problems you don’t understand.

Post traumatic stress is a real thing. Lower back problems for wearing a 70 pound flack jacket for 8 hours a day for 7 straight months is a real thing. Hearing loss from working on rifle ranges, or near rotary-wing aircraft and artillery is a very real thing. The fact is that most military people get out with some degree of disability. They are proud so most never mention this, but it is something you will need to understand when trying to understand them. The fact is that a 22 year old veteran has the body of 35 year old because of the stresses they endure overseas. You will need to know about that and a good leader will find out how to help the vet cope and work productively. A bad manager will say that “He went to Iraq? He probably has PTSD.” and not hire the person. This isn’t a made up opinion. Recent studies have shown that while only 5-20% of combat vets have justified PTSD (about the same as civilians who have experienced car accidents or tragedy) it is assumed that most have the ailment. It is called PTSD bias and is most damaging among middle managers who don’t understand the disease. The fact is we all had something jarring happen, if it was only the incredibly long periods of isolation from our country and loved ones. This doesn’t mean that there is any likelihood that you will experience violence in the workplace from us. They might be a bit off by your standards, but still deserve a chance.

Military people have what some might call controlled Tourette’s Syndrome.

I added this one after some comments came up about the way that military act toward civilians and I thought that it deserved special recognition. It relates to #6 on my list, but this element deserved it’s place. In the military the way we talk to each other is often not pleasant. In the Marines bootcamp instructors are actually trained on how to manipulate their voices so that they can yell for extremely long periods of time without damaging their vocal cords. This is known as the “Frog Voice” and it is a real as the weapons we use. The fact is that once you enter the military people literally screaming at you all the time and you adapt. Eventually you will be a leader and screaming will be part of your job too. This video actually shows a great deal of things that are important. It is a video of a charity golf tournament where some Marines were invited to give a show for some of the competitors. Listen at the very beginning and you can hear a Marine using a strange voice to speak to the victim/participant. This is Frog Voice. You will also see what is known as the “Omnidirectional Ass Chewing” in which multiple D.I. will be screaming at you in unison as you attempt to make sense of the universe around you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr4C8PtfMq0

This video is in jest, but it is identical to the way that Marine recruits are trained at boot camp, except that goes on for 3 months. “Why do all these things you ask?” Because it is the easiest way to get a human being who is unaccustomed to performance under stress to take action while being placed under an extreme and sudden stress environment (combat). It trains them to block out the noise and the fear and the stress and just do what they need to do. We can’t actually shoot at the kids you know. (Oh God, that actually does make sense.) So the Omnidirectional Ass Chewing is one of the most important parts of onboarding that most military go through, and the yelling really never stops after that. What is extremely important to know is that just as quickly as these men started yelling they can turn it off just as quickly. It is mostly an act meant to instill aggression and help military people cope with combat stress without actually experiencing combat. This is why as John Albert put it “Not that my ex-military friends aren’t cool to just hang with when the pressures of work are off, but once you get them into a “business” situation it’s sometimes like flipping the “asshole” switch.” This asshole switch is a very real thing that has taken years to perfect. Yes, I acknowledge it as a conscious decision and part of our leadership and cultural mentality, but now they are in the civilian sector and this can is extreme. If you hire a military you need to know about this. If given a leadership role there might be some moments where the employees stop talking to Jon and start being talked to by Sgt Davis. As with other things, this can be an asset, but if it isn’t what you want in your culture you need to consider that. as well.

You

If I could really say the hardest thing that I have dealt with since leaving the military it is civilian managers who want to leverage my military experience, but have no understanding of it. I’ve had bosses who hired me thinking that I would be able to kick down doors, then when I made someone cry guess who got in trouble. One guy tried to lecture me on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War because now he understood warfare. Basically the worst thing that I have truly experienced is that so many think that all these traits I have listed are an all encompassing list of personality traits. Only these things are what naive managers think they want. After they realize that this may not be what they want, or that what they want doesn’t rationally belong in a civilian environment, who do they blame? Yeah. They expect some level of unattainable perfection while not allowing you the freedom to move in the way they hired you for. In the meantime, they hold the vet to a different standard than the other peers only because the vet didn’t live up to the managers impossible stereotypes.

In summary, hiring military people can be much less productive than you think if you don’t try and understand them. They can be asset or a liability. What is important for you as the hiring manager or owner is to accept that these are extremely capable and strong willed individuals that will need much guidance in the beginning, but be a major boon to your operations after that. They likely won’t fit your stereotypes and if you expect them to you will only get a great deal of resentment and difficulty. Still, there are few that know how to work harder can be more loyal, providers of effective diversity, are as reliable and can be counted on like a good US Veteran.

In all fairness you should also see my answer in What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the US military?

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Movie Tropes and Military PTSD – Hollywood Needs to Start Getting This Right

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for veterans of war isn’t a real disease. It’s a profitable movie trope.

Vets

This is going to be a very serious post. To be clear, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disease that affects many veterans who have taken part in combat and even non-combat operations in warfare, as well as many civilians who have experienced fatal car accidents, work in emergency medicine, and many other people who have experiences which put them in stressful situations beyond the expectations of what a normal person should expect in their lifetime. The disease can affect the way people live their lives, resulting in follow-on social dysfunctional disorders, depression, and for some, result in suicide.

That said, to not dilute the level of frustration other veterans and myself feel, Hollywood is not treating this disease as a problem which deserves understanding and respect. They’ve turned it into a plot device to add drama and communicate a story they wish to tell, depicting their own biases towards the military, the wars they fight, or the politicians that sent them to this unfortunate fate, with the “innocent veteran victim” now serving as the medium for their message. Masked in a story about “the real heroes and the struggles they face” these narrative mechanics boil down to little more than money making engines and good publicity for film creators by exploiting people who want to identify with veterans and their needs, but can’t. We aren’t part of that world. So their best opportunity years after they decided not to serve, and now maybe don’t feel so good about that, is a two hour war movie which is billed as coming from their point of view.

Movies like the Hurt Locker and Brothers are the worst of these. They tell the story of how warfare will always leave people broken, charred remnants of what used to be happy and productive human beings. Please understand that most of us are just normal people. We went to war. Then we came home and did other things. We enjoy going to our jobs where we add valuable experience and promote cultures of work ethic. We enjoy running on the track with our dogs, and we enjoy spending evenings with our families watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 and playing Mario Kart or Skyrim. However, when I see people who have done the things I have done in movies, and see the way they are depicted as I live today, it really breaks my heart. I’ve experienced prejudice, fear, and even been denied opportunities because I was a veteran of Iraq. What’s more, millions more like me have suffered far worse. Many have faced social ostracism, been denied jobs, and accosted publically for their role in an unpopular war. I just want people to understand, if that sort of treatment happens to you, it would mess you up in the head. People need to feel appreciated, loved, or at least not hated for doing something which they did for all the right reasons. Forget that the war even happened to these people. If you were to be treated as many returning vets were and are still today, you would not come out of it psychologically for the better.

This isn’t just something that sucks. It has been shown to affect how often veterans are hired in civilian positions after leaving the military. Did you know that veterans are discriminated against in hiring decisions because of the assumption that veterans have PTSD and may bring violence to the workplace? It has actually been measured that because of the negative bias created by these types of media, military veterans suffer unfair stereotyping and bias in hiring practices. This phenomena began making headlines when USA Today put out an article calling attention to it. Often, managers will look at a resume and say that, “He went to Iraq? He probably has PTSD. He might one day snap and shoot up the office.” The veteran is not hired because of an unfair stereotype no more accurate or just than not hiring an African American or Latino man because he was probably at one time part of a gang. Recent studies have shown that while only 5-20% of combat vets have justified PTSD (about the same as civilians who have experienced car accidents or personal tragedy) it is assumed by many people that most veterans have the ailment. It is called PTSD bias and is most damaging among middle managers who don’t understand the disease.

Researchers from the Center for New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, interviewed executives of 69 leading corporations, including Bank of America, Target, Wal-Mart, Procter and Gamble, and Raytheon. All said hiring veterans can be good for business, but more than half acknowledged harboring a negative image of veterans because of how popular media — from news coverage to films — portray PTSD. [1]

About one in three employers consider post-traumatic stress disorder to be an impediment to hiring a veteran, according to a survey report by the Society for Human Resource Management. [2]
This in spite of the fact that military veterans are less prone to violence than all the other population groups when matched with their own age cohorts [3] and that the presence of non-active duty veterans alone has prevented dozens of criminal acts including bank robberies, muggings, and even acts of terrorism [4]. Still though, veterans are considered potential risk factors by employers when work places say they won’t hire “our kind [5]” and continue to experience higher unemployment rates in spite of more training and more experience than other potential candidates [6].

Hopefully, this example will show that there is a link between the incorrect assumptions formed by media and actual real world civilian perceptions which are affecting veterans’ lives. Perhaps it isn’t that, though. Maybe all vets really do just suck. Well, maybe, but all anyone really has to do is watch the climactic ending to Brothers to understand that Hollywood is pushing an image of veterans that frightens people. Even if you’ve seen the movie, please watch this scene again to really get a feel for how frighteningly people like me are portrayed.

Look, movies have power. The words they say have power. The words said in movies echo over and over and over in the minds of people who see it. The specifics of a guy put into an impossible situation, (literally the premise of Brothers was beyond plausible) are lost as the audience over time forgets the details. Eventually they start to generalize, “it’s a movie about a guy who comes back from the war and is now crazy. As I said, it isn’t just “some guy who came back from the war.”  The “do you know what I did to come back to you?” reference in the clip was of a Marine Corps Captain captured and forced to murder another Marine by his terrorist captors  to buy himself more time in detention before he could be rescued. Anyone would be psychologically damaged from that, however it is a work of complete fiction. There are no stories like that of any actual people who came back from Iraq or Afghanistan. It is complete fiction for the point of adding drama, but that fact is lost. A few months later, people who watched the film only remember, “it’s a movie about a guy who comes back from the war and is now crazy.” When they see a vet a month after that, and find out he was in the war, what framework are they working under? Do you think they are aware that the only reference they had was a movie that wasn’t even possible, which also sort of aligns with vague news reports they weren’t really listening to about veterans and mental illness, and that they already have an incredibly loaded bias behind this person they are now talking to? As I said, it isn’t just, “some guy who came back from the war.” Brothers is a work of fiction, and no one should have to prove themselves against it, but now we do.

Even movies which got a lot right made this unnecessary tangent into depicting veterans as war ravaged husks. Consider the “unfortunate dog scene” from American Sniper.

That was unfortunate because, according to the book, nothing like that was ever mentioned. There was a situation where Kyle killed a dog, but not like the movie. In fact, not even in the United States. In the book American Sniper, on a night before one of Kyle’s overwatch missions, one where he considered his role to be providing security and ensuring the lives of Marines and fellow SEALs under him, there was a dog barking outside his tent. He warned the owner to shut up the dog. The dog kept barking. Deprived of sleep and needing to rest for his responsibilities the next day, he warned the owner again. The dog kept barking. Kyle shot the dog. Given that context, is that anything like what was depicted in the movie? Given the true context of being literally in the middle of a war, doesn’t that kind of sound like something a responsible person might do? Asking another question, what possible reason existed for adding the numerous hints that Chris Kyle had developed PTSD over his numerous tours in Iraq, all the while in spite of no real world evidence existing that the actual person depicted in the film ever had come under the hold of the disease? Was his life not good enough without the extra drama?

In a couple of  interviews [7][8], Clint Eastwood said that the film was meant to be “anti-war”.

“I just wonder . . . does this ever stop? And no, it doesn’t. So each time we get in these conflicts, it deserves a lot of thought before we go wading in or wading out. Going in or coming out. It needs a better thought process, I think.”

While the point is valid, the medium he used was to display a falsified narrative about Kyle, and by extension, all others like him who deployed to the war.

“the biggest antiwar statement any film” can make is to show “the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did.”
While I agree in practice, I have a problem with Eastwood’s decision to use mental destabilization and broken families as the “facts” that “family and the people who have to go back into civilian life” go through. That sort of experience isn’t universal and it isn’t even common, despite what they say in the movies.

I’m sure from a perspective of cinematography these movies probably pushed the industry forward somehow, but as far as communicating one of the most important social issues of our time, not to mention an ongoing conflict at the time, they have failed miserably. Many have set veterans’ issues back ten years. If we look at how much actually is known about PTSD, much of it discovered through studying and counseling done for combatants of the Vietnam war, and the mysterious black hole of mystery surrounding it now, one might question if the narrative of “a disease we still know so little about,” has set us back even further.

I want people to look at it this way. We have seen LGBT rights and issues get a lot of press and people are now trying very hard to see things from their perspective. It’s not acceptable anymore to portray them as the wildly stereotypical, flamboyant clowns circa the era of Robin Williams’ The Birdcage. No matter your beliefs, (I actually think The Birdcage was meant to help them, somehow…) we all agree that they’re people who deserve respect and to be portrayed in a realistic manner. However, the veteran population is allowed to be portrayed in any manner in which the world pleases to fulfill their narrative, and ironically, is considered a violation of 1st Amendment privileges to argue the practice, where a modern release of The Birdcage might be considered something between criminally insensitive or even a hate crime. These veteran depictions vary from bloodthirsty murderers (Battle for Haditha), psychologically scarred societal dangers (Brothers), impossible killing machines, but incapable husbands while in (American Sniper) unstable love interests, addicted to pills (Parenthood), and everything about the Hurt Locker. In fact, the Hurt Locker was so hurtful to the soldier it was beyond a reasonable doubt depicting, that he sued the filmmakers for his portrayal. Even consider the movie Max, about a dog who goes to Iraq and develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even a freaking dog who goes to war will come back mentally damaged. Where does it end? What is the overriding theme that Hollywood movies and television are trying to present? Basically, once a person goes to war, he is from then on, on the cusp of losing control and murdering everyone around him if the door slams too loudly. That’s what people seem to think is happening. Now, why is it that I brought the LGBT stance into this? Because, frankly, veterans outnumber the estimated homosexual population in the United States by at least 2:1. Why is it that one group of so many people is allowed to be so egregiously stereotyped, when the others aren’t? Furthermore, being gay isn’t a choice, but serving is. Whether you agree with their mentality, or what they did or didn’t do, they chose to serve their nation, which includes many reading this, in the best way they knew how. They deserve more respect than to become plot devices to the profit of people who neither cared about them, nor bothered getting to know and understand them.

I’ll leave you with this, Hollywood has power. It has the substantial power to mold the way that the average person identifies with experiences they have never had. Unfortunately, we live in an age where fewer and fewer people serve in the military. This is true as a percentage of the population and in real terms. We have fewer members of the military today than we did prior to World War II, and when the United States itself is twice as large. For that reason, for many, the movies are the only place they will experience the military, its veterans, or the struggles they face. When movies collectively paint only on the lines of a particular damaging movie narrative, it has a drastic impact on the lives of those it is thoughtlessly depicting. And it isn’t just the Hurt Lockers and the Brothers responsible for this. It echoes in the “artwork” of people who know even less, but who use these same devices in a downward spiral of our depiction. Below is an excerpt from an “incredibly powerful” short film by a college student for Project Greenlight entitled The Present Trauma.

This hurts me to see, not for the message it is trying to tell, but for the abuse on the character of those same individuals. It’s images like this which make a friend of mine tell me that when her husband finally came from Iraq, her friends asked her, “Do you feel safe?” It’s a childish attempt to do some good, more for creators than for the subjects, through the obvious manipulation, veterans as victims clickbait, but actually slapping the face of the plain old vet sitting at home, wondering why no one will hire him. Of course, the echo shows up in darker forms, where we are nothing more than, to use the words of Muse, “Fucking Psychos”.
I can’t help but agree with the rage of one anonymous writer in his visceral reaction to the propaganda layden depiction of veterans in Muse’s Psycho. It’s disgusting, and against no other minority would this sort of ignorance, callousness, and blind hatred be acceptable. But to the military, it is. It hurts us. We feel the sting of words, and this hurts us. Of course, I doubt this filth would have ever seen the light of day if not for a particular idea being so prevalent in our culture … that veterans are fucking psychos, something Hollywood is, in my opinion, doing the most harm in causing and the least good fixing.

Wow… all of a sudden I understand why 22 veterans kill themselves every day. It had nothing to do with Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s coming home to a place that treats them like this.


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Marine Corps given 15 Days to Rebuild Boot Camp as Co-ed

I recently wrote a long piece on Women in the Military over some major changes to the way that the US Marine Corps is going to fight its wars. Over the last few months there has been a massive shake-up in the US Marine Corps, in what some, including myself, are calling heavy handed, dictatorial, and perhaps even ill-advised decisions to “modernize” the most lethal warfighting organization in the world. This criticism, however, doesn’t relate to opening of the infantry to women, however, but to other demands for change also placed on the branch this month.
Between December 4th and January 6th, two major Department of the Navy memos were sent out to key commanders of the Marine Corps by way of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. The first, was the groundbreaking decision, one made against Marine Corps recommendation and against the recent findings of numerous studies performed by the Marines, to fully integrate women into all combat roles. Many of us are undecided on whether this is a good thing for the military overall, not knowing if the added value of a few good women will significantly increase the number of capable warfighters, or whether their contributions will not outweigh the potential loss of manpower risk posed by events such as their increased rate injuries or eventually starting a family, as well as the logistical burden an integrated force will have on deployed forces.
It’s a future that I personally would like to see, but having read from many differing accounts, I have many concerns. I’ve attempted to voice many of the problems and conflicts such a decision would bring about for the armed services. What I, and many Marines, have a problem with, is the way in which this process of inclusion was done. I find that the manner in which this decision was made was in such a way as to serve as a great disservice to the military as a whole, the Marines who took part in the studies, and even the women in question. Frankly, there has been a great deal of evolution and debate, but most of the key issues I’ve had since the beginning have been completely ignored by recent policy enactments. The question isn’t being asked, “Is this a sound policy for the future of the Marine Corps and American national security?” Instead, we are promoting women in the forces not because it helps the nation’s military, but because it helps the cause of women. While I am supportive to the cause of women, as a veteran of the Marines, and knowing that their struggles are not of equal pay in the workplace, but of the chance of death or living a life of dismemberment and trauma, my loyalty in this regard goes to them. If the cause of women can be helped, that is a wonderful thing, but if such a policy harms the chances of mission success overall in the military, or the survivability of any of the Marines, both male or female, it shouldn’t be supported.Right now, we still hang in the balance of not knowing what women in the infantry will mean. We simply don’t know, but the gavel has fallen anyway, and those who question the ruling, are currently facing the hangman’s noose of social justice. This, I feel, was a detrimental failure in the administration, whereby an attempt to force the matter prematurely was made, not in an attempt to better the forces, but due to political pressures aimed around promoting equal rights, but in a realm where equality rights was never the issue to begin with.
The idea of women serving on the front doesn’t honestly bother. I hope it works, I sincerely do, though as I have said before, I am very disappointed that the Marine Corps was forced into the integration prematurely in the manner in which they were. As I said in the answer before.
What I can say is that I don’t feel that the way in which it happened was correct. Blindly ignoring the studies and experience of the world’s most lethal organization in the area they excel above all others was a failure. More so, I don’t think this had much to do with what is best for the Marines, or the military as a whole, but of political expediency to further the political aims of a few politicians. The manner in which the rug was pulled from beneath the Marines was one that will leave lasting conflict within the service. Instead of welcoming the women into their new roles, they will be forced into it artificially. The manner in which this decision was made, quite honestly, was too soon, for all the wrong reasons, and a disservice most of all, to the women who will be first to enter this role.
That’s all I want to say on the December 4th announcement, though I would encourage everyone to read the full article for in depth analysis of the decision, and the debate over it, as well as the way in which it was handed down.
What actually concerns me far more is the more recent announcement that Marine Corps boot camp, will be forced to fully integrate with coed training. This mandate was one which I consider to be exceptionally ill-advised for reasons I will explain throughout the article. More so than this, it was mandated in what is being called conservatively as an “aggressive timeline” where massive changes to the Marine Corps most important institutions are being given only fifteen days, from January 1 to the 15th, to completely redesign the training method, as well as many of their facilities, and to have the entirely new approach in operation by April. I want to be honest, I was cautiously optimistic about the call to open the infantry to women, but I feel that this newest policy is a complete failure on the part of the person charged with safeguarding not only the men and women of the Marine Corps, but also their future success as a military force.
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How is this different from today?
Currently, Marine Corp basic training is segregated by gender. Male Marine recruits are trained in San Diego, CA or Parris Island, SC. All female recruits are trained in Parris Island, as part of the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. 4th Battalion Marine recruits enjoy (term chosen loosely) the same facilities and training as their 1st – 3rd Battalion male counterparts. They eat at the same facilities, hike the same routes, shoot at the same ranges, and live in identical barracks to the men. The only aspect noteworthy to boot camp that is very much different than the rest of Marine Corps training, is that men and women do not mix in boot camp.
To begin, I’ve dedicated a great deal of time and effort to communicating how Marine Corps boot camp works, why it works, how it is different from that of other branches, and namely, why it produces the largest crop of the highest caliber warfighters alive today. You can read much of that here: What is the logic behind making military boot camps so intensive? What I have come to learn is that the way that the United States Marines produce warfighters in unparalleled among all other military organizations of our era. No other training environment creates in its basically trained warriors such a high degree of exceptional fighters. This is due, in no small part, to its mastery of psychological factors and incentive training system, regardless of the world famous rigor highlighted in every evolution of their training. It does this, as I have said either, with identical training, facilities, and expectations of both its male and female Marines, with no policy that discriminates against either, nor hinders their career development. This isn’t to say that there is forever exclusion between the men and women, but only during the formative months of boot camp, where they are still learning to be Marines, rather than just a collection of individuals.
For example, immediately after boot camp in the Marines, there is the School of Infantry (SOI) and Marine Combat Training (MCT). These schools teach basic infantry tactics and abilities to all Marines. The School of Infantry focuses on Marines whose primary job is infantry fighting. I’ll say this, since it is basic job training, by this point, it should be fully integrated to the best of the SOI’s ability, i.e. the same as Army boot camp is now with separate billeting, but the same on everything else. MCT the same way, if it isn’t already done so on the East Coast. Likely, since the December mandate opening the infantry, we will start to see this very soon, anyway. The only reason there are probably no women in SOI now is because those who joined in December, aren’t even through first phase of boot camp. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the first batch of women start showing up at SOI in the early spring.
This would mirror how training is already done at all other MOS (Military Occupational Schools) and has been done for many, many years. There women who have completed their MCT training, join men in completely the same training, in the same platoons, same, same, same. We even had a women who was one of our squad leaders. This was back in 2004 and this, is why I argue that the Marine Corps doesn’t have an integration problem. Their job training saw men and women treated equally and with the same responsibilities, and since MOS school is often much longer than boot camp, I fail to see how this training is being overlooked, as if the first time a Marine sees a female of the species is when they show up together in Iraq or Afghanistan.
At all times where men and women have been employed together, they trained together. The soul exception being that of boot camp, which I have said before, is a good thing. “Boots” are immature. Many lack a firm understand of how to be an adult, let alone be a Marine. Few understand responsibility and are realistically, still kids. Of course there are many who are not this way, but many who need the military to grow them up. They need the three month intensive period to learn to operate as a Marine before they learn to operate in the Marines.
What is being proposed, is that this needs to change. No… “proposed” would imply that there was a discussion, where the legitimacy of such a system would be talked about, the experts on both sides would have made valid and respected arguments, and that it might be possible to consider that the world’s premier force perhaps has more understanding of how to produce world class warriors than those who do not take part in the warfighting profession. Instead, the Marine Corps has been “directed” to “correct itself” by the same Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
That said, I have to ask, what possible benefit does full inclusion in basic training possibly offer that in any way improves the quality of service, or even better the prospects of women of the service? I have no idea how creating a training platoon that does not live, eat, breathe, shower, sleep and piss together, as part of a single unit, will lend itself towards the creation of unit cohesiveness for the Corps, nor do I possibly understand how it will improve upon its standards.
The mastery of boot camp is focus. You don’t communicate back home for months. You don’t have access to social media, or media of any kind. You are basically cut off from the rest of the world. There are as few sources to prevent focus as can possibly exist. It is literally just you and your fellow recruits, that insular platoon for three months. As a young newlywed, only having been married not a week when I joined, I understood this hardship greatly, but having gone through that, I understood the need for it, too. You wouldn’t have had the quality of training with more distractions. When you deal with one of the only professions where life and death matters are not a thing of hyperbole, eliminating those distractions matters.
For the types of recruits that willingly go to the Marines, you deal with many of the types that do well in segregated environments. These are the young ones looking for challenge, needing the adrenaline high, and dripping with testosterone. I’ll say it another way that these are the types of young men you don’t trust with your daughters, for good enough reasons. By my estimation and experience, females of the Marine Corps have the same prerogative. They are alphas in their own right, and many come in with just as little natural discipline as their male counterparts. That said, I don’t honestly feel the need these two types of people should be given the opportunity to damage promising careers through integration. That is to say nothing of the thousands of others who would just find it too difficult not to sneak a peak, when otherwise, they would have been fine just paying attention to the instructor give a class that may one day have saved their life or the life of another Marine.
Frankly, adding sexual temptation to the mix doesn’t improve the Marine Corps’s system of creating Marines, as there is a cost/benefit that must be measured. I do not see how “helping Marines integrate” isn’t already served after boot camp through occupational specialty training and through all the training they will undertake together in the fleet, so sacrificing the focus and immersion recruits get from the training doesn’t actually seem like a gain. As I have said before, I do not know how the Army is able to do it.
I’m not alone in asking these questions. U.S. Marine veteran, Captain and Counterintelligence officer Eric Kirsch spoke on the subject. He first made comments in regard to Secretary Mabus:
“The Navy Secretary served for 24 months (1971-1972) in a non combat role within the United States Navy prior to attending Harvard Law School.He issued his memo request on 1 JAN and expects a detailed plan to be delivered no later than 15 JAN, erasing 241 years in 14 days, the United States Marine Corps, compliant to lawful order, obedient and faithful, always, is scrambling to dismantle title, as if it were an gangrenous arbitrary item and they have 5 further business days in which to do it.”
Then Kirsch continues:
“I served with Males and Females and Homosexuals and I’m cool with Transgendered because nothing would make me happier then hearing the frantic stuttering hand held radio transmissions of ISIS fighters announcing the assault of fabulous Marines who also enjoy alternative lifestyles raining steel upon their intolerant bullshit.That said, I believe, firmly, in gender segregation, in basic training….why WOULD YOU NOT SEGREGATE GENDERS? Of what benefit to either gender is mixing the two in initial training? If you got something I do not know about, regarding how it will IMPROVE the Marine Corps, sound the fuck off, I beg you.
Some are calling the act of recruit segregation in basic training just a “tradition”, and Marines like Kirsch simply overly conservative, or worse, dogmatic or even subconsciously bigoted. While some argue the effectiveness of the training, others are arguing that the sentiment is merely steeped in sexist ideology, echoing throughout individual Marines’ careers. Right now, the most logical argument I’ve seen is based on unit cohesion, “Officer and enlisted basic training is the first opportunity to develop the cohesion needed for full integration of women in the Armed Forces,” said a senior defense official with knowledge of the situation.
That word though, “tradition”. I don’t like it. It paints an image of the Marine Corps as having no logical reason for the decisions they make, but just a backward collective of old men who don’t read the news and no understanding of science. The word suggests that there is no empirical data and research with which they base their beliefs upon. Take for example the Marine’s own study on the subject, going on now for a few years, but attacked because, as Mabus said, negative attitudes towards women on the part of those overseeing the research had served to “almost [presuppose] the outcome.” How he justified the validity of that statement, particularly considering that the second senior officer of the command was, herself, a woman, I don’t understand, but he made it clear that he would take no countenance to the Marines’ objections to women serving in combat and publicly dismissed the Corps’ multi-year, multi-million dollar study.
The Marines, however, aren’t the first to study the effects of coed training. Notably, the issue of coed training has been studied before by the Pentagon. In 1997, the Defense Department assembled a bipartisan panel to examine the implications of gender-integrated enlisted training. At the time, the panel concluded that the coed approach used in Army, Navy, and Air Force recruit training resulted in “less discipline, less unit cohesion, and more distraction from the training programs.”
The Marines practice excruciatingly high standards to maintain the quality of troops they have fielded, both male and female, for two and a half centuries. Reports like the 1997 Defense Department study and the recent studies by the Marines are making many in the Marine Corps speculative that these high standards will be maintained in the future, a ramification that could endanger future Marines. One such Marine brave enough to comment on this is Marine General John Kelly.
Asreported by CNS News, “Marine Gen. John Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said at a Pentagon press briefing on Friday that he believes that future generals will face “great pressure” to lower the standards for women in combat in order to get more women into combat roles.“My greatest fear—and we see this happen a lot over the 45 years I’ve been in the Armed Forces–is right now they’re saying we are not going to change any standards,” said Kelly. “There will be great pressure, whether it’s 12 months from now, four years from now, because the question will be asked whether we’ve let women into these other roles, why aren’t they staying in those other roles?“Why aren’t they advancing as infantry people—persons–I guess? Why aren’t they becoming, you know, more senior?” he said. “And the answer is–I think will be–if we don’t change standards, it will be very, very difficult to have any numbers, any real numbers, come into the infantry, or the Rangers or the Seals, but that’s their business.”So,” said Kelly, “I think it will be the pressure for not probably the generals that are here now, but for the generals to come, and admirals, to lower standards because that’s the only way it’ll work in the way that I hear some people, particularly, the agenda-driven people here in Washington–or in the land–the way they want it to work.”
Mark Oakley describes how the Army handles coed integration in his answer to How does the US Army conduct coed basic training?
Females are only segregated in their billeting. So they are not in the platoon bays or rooms with the males (unless there is a class going in there…then there are also Drill Sergeants around).Other than this, they are integrated into the squads and platoons and function just as the males do. There are no differences in treatment of expectations. This is exactly the same way it will be once they are out in the Army (and the same way that the other services operate outside of training).
While he is optimistic that the Marines will do fine, I fail to see how this improves the quality of troops that come from basic training or mitigates the perceived problems, where they exist, of female integration. The Marine Corps’ recruit training is also lauded for it’s near perfection in training basically training warriors, as noted in his book On Combat, (Army) Lt. Col Dave Grossman compared its training to the equivalent of many nation’s Special Forces and ranks the basic Marines above that of the average American servicemen. Speaking from the point of view of a retired Army Ranger, I took that statement with a point of pride. What I don’t see being communicated is the understanding that Marine Corps boot camp isn’t designed to make anything other than basically trained Marines. That means that in the three months they are there, they don’t even time to learn basic skills like tactics and most of the weapons systems they will use. It is about taking immature people and through a process mastered by the Marines over a period of more than a century, making them that. Mixing men and women add nothing to this process, and I will argue, take away from it greatly.
Mark Oakley’s explanation that females are only segregated in their billeting, so they don’t share living spaces. He mentions that they do join the men for classes there and that there are Drill Sergeants always around. For the Marines, I simply can’t see how this wouldn’t fundamentally change the way training takes place. For example, so very much training happens in the squad bays, as far as uniforms, inspections, and even drill. Hell, even cleaning the place becomes a semi-religious ritual of team building. Given that, I don’t see how each and every time a task has to be performed, the women have to run all the way down to get the necessary training or team building. There is also the matter of discipline in the squad bays. While few people who haven’t read What is the logic behind making military boot camps so intensive? will understand what is meant by the term “quarterdecking” as miserable as the practice is to endure, it serves the necessary purpose of instilling discipline, perhaps far better than any other single incentive device I have ever seen. It happens mostly in the barracks, in front of the others. You suffer together. It’s part of it. The fact that they have separate barracks, to me, loses something very insular to the boot camp experience and, in the process of driving cohesion… destroys it.
This isn’t to say they should ever live together by any means. One drill instructor reporting on the basis of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the subject said, “The thing is how much more integrated can we get? We already train with females. What do they want? Them to live in the same squad bay? Cause that ain’t going to happen.”
There is also the question of supervision. While perhaps the Army does have training that lends itself to recruits being watched all the time, I can say quite easily that on the nights in hikes, I’d be surprised if more than one incident didn’t occur between recruits in the bushes. The deserts at Camp Pendleton are wide enough for privacy and the those swamps at Parris Island aren’t any different. 100% isolation isn’t realistic in those situations, nor 100% of the time is oversight by the few Drill Instructors available. Slip past the firewatch and you can get a lot of things done. Up to this point, I’ve never seen what incentive there was to this sort of sneaking around. To paraphrase Freud, sex is a motivator.
To make it clear, these men and women, the Drill Instructors are tasked with supervision of upwards of eighty people and there are normally no more than three of them. If this were an elementary school classroom, that would be a teacher/student ratio over the legal limit in many parts of the United States, but in the Marines, this ration of leaders to recruits is responsible for the troops safety and instruction, all the while participating in grueling exercises, and often under arms. This isn’t to mention being over them literally 24 hours a day. At some point, among some individuals, a Drill Instructor’s oversight can’t be directed at all times. That is to say, it is 0% acceptable for a recruit to get pregnant with six weeks left of training, at the beginning of a year of training. That simply doesn’t happen in today’s Marine Corps, but the experiences I’ve had in the fleet, I’m sure it will happen soon under Secretary Mabus’ Marine Corps.
That said, Mabus’ directive on integrating boot camp wasn’t sent until after the deadline for infantry integration, a plan which was part of the works for some time. There was no planning done, or consideration made toward changing its entry-level training. Yet the memo dated January 1 indicated that plans to revamp the training system for the all of Marine Corps boot camp needed to be made by no later than January the 15th. A Marine official said called Mabus’ 15-day deadline to come up with a plan to integrate Marine boot camp “an aggressive timeframe.”
It’s called aggressive because, besides the logical impediments to training, numerous others considerations must be made.
“It requires a look at … how much personnel to bring, how many drill instructors to bring, the leadership and support cadre that comes along with that,” the Marine said. “The barracks in San Diego are H-shaped, for example, so you can see everything that’s going on. If women are living in them, do you black out the windows or make an entire building that’s theirs? Do you do a floor for men and a floor for women?”
To say the least, giving only a 15 day time frame to redesign the most crucial training element of any Marine’s career, of all Marine’s careers, seems reckless. To be frank, I’m very concerned that Mabus is risking the efficacy of the world’s premier fighting force for a personal experiment on subjective morality. More so than this, I feel there is no evidence to suggest that this is good for the Marine Corps, in fact it stands against a great deal of evidence to the contrary. I don’t even see how this  definitively improves the prospects for women and their advancement in the military.  Quite honestly, I see no one truly benefiting from this decision to integrate the boot camps besides Ray Mabus himself, and his own political aspirations. Of course, my disappointment in the standing SECNAV is nothing compared to others, such as California Representative Duncan Hunter, a former Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, who has already called for Mabus’ resignation in September and said very clearly that “a greater threat to the Marine Corps than ISIS.”
As I said, I was cautiously optimistic when he decided to make the changes for the infantry, but relatively speaking with this new decision to reform boot camp, an institution in no need of reformation, I’m elated at the decision to bring in women to the infantry. Frankly, I can’t believe that an idea this bad would be considered good by anyone who puts the needs of people who will one day see combat first. That goes for the women, too.
I’ll repeat the closing of What do members of the United States Marine Corps think about the decision to allow women into front line infantry roles? as it rings even more true here than when the infantry was opened to them.
What I can say is that I don’t feel that the way in which it happened was correct. Blindly ignoring the studies and experience of the world’s most lethal organization in the area they excel above all others was a failure. More so, I don’t think this had much to do with what is best for the Marines, or the military as a whole, but of political expediency to further the political aims of a few politicians. The manner in which the rug was pulled from beneath the Marines was one that will leave lasting conflict within the service. Instead of welcoming the women into their new roles, they will forced into it artificially. The manner in which this decision was made, quite honestly, was too soon, for all the wrong reasons, and a disservice most of all, to the women who will be first to enter this role.
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How Being Yelled At By Mad Men Makes You a Better Warrior

Yelling

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When most people think of Marine Corps boot camp and the terrors within it, the image of a terrifying man screaming like a hellbound banshee is the vision they conjure. I am pretty sure this is what brought on the question of why does boot camp need to be so intense in the first place. It’s easy to understand why they might need to learn to shoot and even more rational to see them doing work outs. It’s harder to explain stress induced humiliation. It’s also far from a myth or exaggeration. Drill Instructors really do yell as much you’ve ever imagined, even more than you would believe. In fact, you never really hear their real voices. In the Marines, boot camp instructors are actually trained on how to manipulate their voices so that they can yell for extremely long periods of time without damaging their vocal cords. This is known as the “Frog Voice”, and while funny to talk about, it is a real thing. I only really became aware of this once I got out and just so happened to run into two of my old Drill Instructors in the fleet. It is a weird experience to see these guys as real people after all that they subjected you to for three straight months. Actually, that’s a pretty awesome story.

The following video actually shows a great deal of things that are important. Listen at the very beginning and you can hear a Marine using a strange voice to speak to the victim/participant. This is Frog Voice. While watching, I ‘d like readers to look through the yelling to hear what the real offense was. A recruit complained about feeling dehydrated during a training evolution. That’s it. Also, as a warning, many of the following videos have a bit of language because, well… Marines.

On a side note, I’m not really sure why this is labeled as a “leaked” video. It’s from a series of videos on boot camp sold by one of the Drill Instructors. I met him once at a conference. He’s a pretty cool guy who runs a chain of grocery stores now. Moving on, when you really boil it down, why yell at that kid so much for being thirsty and feeling weakened by training? Does that sound rational? I’ll get to that, but first, let’s take it up a notch.  The following video shows what is most likely the most terrifying event recruits will ever experience. This is what is universally known throughout the Marines as the “Omnidirectional Ass Chewing” where multiple Drill Instructors will be screaming at you in unison as you attempt to make sense of the chaotic universe around you.

“Why do all these things you ask?” The answer is disturbingly simple and sadly, rational. Yelling at someone, preferably in the most personally offensive manner possible, is the easiest way to get a human being who is unaccustomed to performance under stress to take action while being placed under an extreme and sudden stress environment (combat). It trains them to block out the noise and the fear and the stress and just do what they need to do. Remember that kid who was yelled at for being dehydrated? Was he really being yelled at for being thirsty, or was he being yelled at for trying to skip a training evolution? Was he really being yelled at for trying to feign sickness rather than complete an exercise? Was he really being yelled for being weak, or for allowing himself to use weakness as an excuse? The depot needs competent Marines, and allowing any of these things to pass would not fulfill that mission. That recruit will think twice before complaining about water again and therefore, he will tougher. The truth is, if you are less afraid of the physical stress than you are the psychological stress, you learn to get tough without complaining about it. We can’t actually shoot at the kids, you know, but the Omnidirectional Ass Chewing is one of the most important parts of onboarding that most militaries go through, and the yelling really never stops after that.

After the OAC, there is Incentive Training, or IT. Drill Instructors are allowed to use incentive training to instill discipline and correct mistakes. That’s vague. IT is creating an extreme stress environment mixed with physical strain and exhaustion where recruits are yelled out, normally by one Drill Instructor on the either the Quarter-deck or the sand pits outside and are forced into a series of calisthenics that are extremely exhausting and physically challenging in the manner in which they are done. They do this needing to listen to the random instructions of the Drill Instructor and respond in the appropriate manner, or the exercise continues. Outside, they are limited to five minutes of IT in one of the sand pits located around the recruit depot. Inside, on the “quarter-deck,” there are no limits. While engaged in IT, while doing everything else, you learn to instinctively listen for the DI’s instructions and think really long and hard about never getting caught doing whatever it was that got you put in that situation in the first place.

Everything your drill instructors do to stress you out is designed to simulate the stress of combat and illicit immediate responses to orders in a manner that, despite all unpleasantness, is actually harmless. Yelling won’t get you killed. From someone who has been there, trust me, it works. The fact is that once you enter the military, people are literally screaming at you all the time and, like so many other things, you adapt. Eventually you will be a leader and screaming will be part of your job too, though acting like DIs in the fleet is pretty much looked down upon by most real Marines. What is extremely important to know is that just as quickly as these men started yelling they can turn it off just as easily. More than psychopaths, these men are actors with the role of taking advantage of specific psychological triggers to instill aggression and help military people cope with combat stress without actually experiencing combat. These men aren’t bullies. What you just saw was extremely important training, mental training. No one in the comments section will ever dissuade me from this position that the yelling is one of the most important things a Marine Corps Drill Instructor can do for a young recruit. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should try it out the next time Tammy comes in five minutes late to work. You probably won’t make a Marine out of her and you may just get yourself fired.

Continue on to Learn to Act and Think as a Unit

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Why do People Like Full Metal Jacket So Much?

The first time I watched Full Metal Jacket, I was in a tent in Kuwait on my computer, waiting for a plane to take me to Iraq for the next seven months. As a Marine, I felt like it was one of those movies I was supposed to have seen by this point, and the lull directly before going off to war seemed like a good time to do it. It left me very confused, in part, because the movie is famous for it’s actual depiction of war and warriors, but also because it was so very, very incorrect with my own experiences of being a Marine. It was only years later that I began to realize exactly why so much of the movie seemed off to me. It wasn’t a movie about warriors or even about a war; it was a movie trying to make a point, which stuck with the film’s target audience.

Full Metal Jacket was a movie for people who would never see war. It’s an anti-war movie about Vietnam where absolutely every element of war, warriors, the whole military experience, is shown as being something terrible, dehumanizing, and a pointless endeavour to detriment of all mankind. In 1987 at the film’s debut, it was it was exactly what people wanted to see from a war movie, because that narrative held true for millions of people.

FMJ does many things differently than most other war movies, namely because of the time period it was filmed in. If we look at different eras of the genre we see very different themes. Look at the John Wayne “Sands of Iwo Jima” or anything staring Audie Murphy, especially the one where he played himself, and you will probably be left with a very different feeling than if you were to watch something like Platoon, or even American Sniper. The early era focused on the heroism and unfortunate necessity of war due to the incontributable existence of evil in this world. They depicted warriors as heroes and the world as black and white.

Following this, the second major era attempts to break that in a sort of genre revolt. War movies began showcases war as a pointless affair, having no meaning than to make people suffer, both the participants and the victims. They go further into personifying the warriors, namely our own, as being universally deeply flawed to the point of being the villains, in efforts to make the genre more “realistic” and gritty. It’s noteworthy to also point out that this was the point when war movies were no longer being made by military veterans, and veterans were consulted less and less often in ensuring accurate tellings of their stories. Many stories from this period don’t even depict actual events, but only place them within actual time periods, such as the Battle of Hue City. Perhaps this was due to peace activists not involved in the war taking up degrees in liberal arts and film and entertainment. I can only really guess as to why the dramatic shift in war movies, around this time.

The third (the modern era) which I will say started around Saving Private Ryan, is the war epic. Your Black Hawk Downs, American Snipers, even the detestable Hurt Lockers, fall into this category. During that era, all war movies center around 1) Paying at least token respect to the individual troops, while 2) ironically showcasing each as deeply flawed because of the war, and 3) never given credibility to how war may benefit anyone (such as the Jewish people in Germany, the liberated France, or the empowered Kurds of Iraq). Modern war movies are themselves inheriting a stance of only being allowed to say something along the lines of “war is bad” and never veering from that rhetoric, while not socially being allowed to showcase the warriors as the deranged, murderous, barbarians depicted in Kubrick’s film. I guess that’s an improvement. This may be because in the modern era people felt more vulnerable after 9/11 and no longer accepted this view of veterans. It may be that more veterans have more social power to influence the way they are viewed via Social Media, as I am doing now. All that I can say for sure, is that something happened that broke from the way that second era war movies showcased us, from the way modern era movies do.

Having said that, no era is perfectly honest in their depiction of the military or of war. Take for example Black Hawk Down. I liked the movie, but it is filled with much of the spectral of the era while itself being the cinematic telling of one of the greatest modern military research projects in history. To make my point, my favorite line was when one soldier is given an order by a commanding officer, and replies, “But Sir, I’m wounded.” and the Officer replies back nonchalantly, “Everybody’s wounded.” I loved that line, but nothing like it happened in the book, which like I said, is one of the most factual retellings of events in modern history there is, so much so that the Army and Marine Corps, have adopted it as part of their reading programs for all non-commissioned and commissioned officers. All that to say, dramatic license for some is embellishment, for others, outright fiction and rarely is it priority to get the story right for history’s sake.

The honest truth is that all three, the military, war, and the individual warriors are extremely complex, but that complexity is too much for the average movie goer to be entertained by in only a two hour sitting. It is far easier to think of the average warrior as either a faceless bad guy, or a broken human because war is so bad, or keep overall ideas simple “War=bad, peace=good” and all things relating to one or the other falling into only one of those two categories. We’ve been made to think that war is some unsurvivable event, either physically or psychologically and that no normal person would be able to endure it, much less that some may see war as necessary and gain satisfaction from being part of one because they know their efforts provided some measure of good to others. (This sentiment in films correlates with the start of the Vietnam War and the end of the first era of war movies). Now, it is very hard for moviegoers to accept a purely heroic, purely rational, purely normal war hero figure because to do that they have to think of him as an average person, like us, who goes for a little while to do something important, unpleasant or not, and then going home to be normal again. Movies like that first present a false view of war and warriors based on stereotypes and tropes, one filled only with suffering and atrocities and with no good reason motivating thousands of rational people at all, then disturbs viewers a second way by making them uncomfortable with the thought, “Could I do those terrible things?” People don’t like that. They don’t want to identify with the common warrior that most of these movies depict. Part of them feels like the bad guy. This was the era in which Full Metal Jacket made its debut.

Having said all this, we can start to get into our conversation on Full Metal Jacket itself.

Full Metal Jacket is the perfect film to showcase second era war movies and the values they were meant to communicate. I am not saying that Kubrick told the truth in the least with the film, nor am I saying his goal was to try to lie to viewers. I think he is just trying to sell movies. He has to make a movie that doesn’t lead viewers into his way of thinking, whatever that may have been, but plays into their already existing biases and beliefs. That is how they identify with characters they know so little about and how they become emotionally involved. Movies don’t make money by correcting people’s notion of how the world really is. They make money by amplifying their beliefs to the point that viewers will tell their friends, “This is the truest thing in history of things and if you don’t watch it, you’re an idiot.” In 1987, no one was viewed anything that happened in the Vietnam War as anything similiar to WWII and the general consensus was that there was no point to it at all. With a legacy such as My Lai and the many thousands for a war more than 13 times more than were lost in Iraq, people wanted nothing to do with a “Sands of Iwo Jima” film depicting anything favorable about Vietnam, a heroic film depicting the period well wasn’t the type of movie that would have reached audiences. They were tired of the Cold War (which hadn’t yet ended) and had no sense that anything since 1945 having had any real value. Boil it all down, and FMJ depicts that belief. Note that it might not tell the truth that well, but it perfectly captures the mentality of the people of the time.

Take a look at the film’s hero/victim/protagonist, Pvt. J.T. ‘Joker’ Davis. He is symbolic on many levels which are meaningful to the time in which FMJ debuted. From before he is physically even seen on the screen, he is shown as a rebel, during the iconic introduction of the Drill Instructor played to near perfection by an actual Marine Corps Drill Instructor, R. Lee Ernie, where he outright mocks the Drill Instructor to devastating results. From that moment on, we sympathise with the character who obviously doesn’t belong here. Throughout the movie he is portrayed as not fitting in. He stands out from the brutish, womanizing, cruel or ignorant Marines, as most of them are depicted in the film. Davis instead is an intellectual, symbolized by the non-military regulation eyeglasses and the fact that his Military Occupational Specialty wasn’t infantry, but as a writer. He both stands for intelligence as well as truth, morally setting him above and opposed to the rest of the other “lower” infantrymen. Once he actually does deploy, he stands out as a continued rebel (remember he is morally and intellectually superior to all the other troops) by brandishing proudly the “Born to Kill” label sarcastically graffitied on his helmet and a peace sign on his flak jacket. Given that during the 70’s the symbol had more to do an anti-military sentiments than actual peace, Joker was Stanley Kubrick’s very deliberate attempt to make viewers see the character as being little more than the only rational, non-barbarian militant in the show, who is more a victim of circumstance than someone who wants to be a part of the war at all. All this combines to help viewers of a certain ilk, Kubrick’s target audience, identify with what the protagonist’s presumed views of what the war should be, when really, the truth is that the protagonist was written to personify the average viewer’s perception: “This is barbaric, this is senseless, this is wrong.”

Looking at the rest of the movie and you see a series of messages tailored for a moment in time, and that subgroup of Americans in 1987.

“War will utterly destroy the minds of good and innocent people.” Private Pyle was, to me, the worst part of the best part of the movie. He was over the top in personal treatment in how troops are treated in training, and major elements of his plot could not possibly have happened exactly because of the fate he met in the most acclaimed scene of the movie. Regardless, while the depiction of boot camp was novel for all war movies before or since, Pyle’s presence detracted from the film in a way that, for me, was little more than over the top sensationalism.

“War creates barbarism in American Warfighters where murdering innocent people is acceptable.” I’ve honestly never been able to deal with this scene, given what I have known and experienced in countless hours on the law of war, code of conduct, rules of engagement, and escalation of force training during my own time in the Marines. Honestly try to watch this scene and imagine your nephew or neighbor down the street being this evil, and also try to imagine everyone in the military just looking the other way as it happened.

Then there is the theme that “incoming warriors can only degrade the population of a region through their corruption and immorality.”

And finally, that the enemy that has been causing us so much harm is a much more impotent, underwhelming force than we had ever imagined, personified by nothing less than a little girl, making the American military machine appear, in retrospect to be the bullies and the aggressors.

Rob Ager, a Youtuber who has made a side profession of analyzing films, has even made a very potent argument for the numerous ways in Kubrick used metaphor to convey how military indoctrination forces young men into becoming rapists and killers through psychological rewiring of mind’s inner workings.

“Kubrick is acknowledging the universal truth about military brainwashing, soldiers who can’t be turned into brutal psychopaths by their Drill Instructors, can certainly be persuaded in the battlefields by the overbearing peer pressure of their lesser minded friends.”

If you’re curious, I must add at this point before watching, that the training that the Ager’s analysis and Kubrick’s film depict taking place in the first half of the FMJ, which is necessary for the following analysis and FMJ’s second half narrative to make sense, was nothing like what I experienced in Marine Corps boot camp. We never named our rifles girl’s names, we never slept with our rifles, there were no sexual connotations with them and the “This is my rifle, this is my gun” thing was never uttered in my tenure either. As a Marine Corps rifle instructor, I never even met anyone could explain to me what that meant. One can’t know if boot camp has changed and my experience is just because of reforms, or simply that Kubrick took a great deal more dramatic license than seems in hindsight unjustifiable.

In the end, Kubrick’s film does one thing exceptionally well, it tells the story many people wanted to believe to be the way it was. Was Vietnam hard? Yes, it was. Was it traumatic for many? Yes, it was. Was boot camp filled with mind altering psychopath building brainwashing? Umm… No. What Kubrick’s piece on Vietnam was can simply be called propaganda. It wasn’t the type of propaganda that encourages youth to join up or to make people support a war of one kind or another. It was quite the opposite, but still propoganda. It was a war film that used just as many inaccuracies to promote all the values of the anti-war movement prominent in the late sixties and early seventies and into the eighties, as the Nazi half truth films depicting the virtues of the German Third Reich. That said, it was filled with all the spectacle that makes a war movie entertaining, right down to the incredibly odd and ill fitting Mickey Mouse Club ending to the film.

So, to answer the big question, why did so many people like it? If I really had to guess, I would say it is because the movie boils down into under two hours everything they already believed about war. It supports their stereotypes, reenforces their biases, and conveys a message they have already accepted in their hearts and which society has generally accepted to be true, whether it actually is or not. When you stumble on something that so many people agree with, though few have experienced first hand, and which you yourself find inline with your own beliefs, you tend to declare it as the greatest thing ever made. I don’t know a lot of veterans who think that the Full Metal Jacket is the greatest movie ever made. Everyone laughs at the first half because, frankly, we all had scary drill instructors. Beyond that, I don’t agree that this is a very good film. It’s great propaganda for a certain viewpoint, or at best, a very good story about one very fictitious man’s journey, which unfortunately ended up misrepresenting the factual experiences of a whole generation of warfighters. That being the case, it really doesn’t surprise me that a democratic ranking forum would skew the results of an OK movie, when it has many moral and political undertones not obvious to many viewers.


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4 Lessons From the First 5 Minutes of Boot Camp

From the first moment you arrive at a Marine Corps Recruit Depot, you are neck deep in the ceremonialized terror that is the way of life within the United States Marine Corps. When recruits’ feet hit the ground, before even they leave the bus, they are psychologically shaken and immediately introduced to what will become their routine and what their expectations will be. While I’d like to discuss what this would be like, words fail to communicate what a proper demonstration would make clearer. Below is a video showing exactly what it is like for every recruit before they even get off the bus at the Recruit Depot.

After you’ve seen it, there are some points I’d like you to take away from the experience, and maybe to review the video once you know what you’re seeing.

  1. Everything the drill instructor does has a purpose; everything. Every word the drill instructor is saying is memorized. Notice the precision of language, the directness of orders and instructions, and the brevity of communicating complex instructions. At first glance you would probably view the video either as one of the recruits, frightening overwhelmed, or you may view it as a comical charade. It may seem funny to you, it may seem terrible to you, but every word has been rehearsed to provide some crucial and instructional value in some way.
  2. The recruits are being yelled at before they ever set foot off the bus. This is a unique welcoming ritual, rare in even military circles. You can hear this if you begin listening immediately. It lets recruits know immediately who is command and wastes no time with allowing them to wander aimlessly and confused. They receive clear instruction directing their actions before even arriving.
  3. Within 5 minutes, 100 individuals with no group training at all have been trained by drill instructions on how to:
    Listen and learn while at bootcamp. (Not as obvious as you may think)
    Respond to instruction. (Like everything, there are rules to this)
    Stand in formation. (Also not as self as self explanatory as one might believe)
    Move as a unit. (The Yellow Footprints help with this considerably)
    They have also all been read their rights and responsibilities as recruits, which they listened to silently, then in a speedy and organized manner, filed to a different area. Unless you have ever had the extreme misfortune of dealing with large numbers of teenage boys, you will not appreciate the magnitude of this accomplishment.
  4. This is a ceremony that has taken place every week for every new group of recruits for decades. Regardless of technology and the passage of time, it has remained the same throughout. It is very well rehearsed and very well engineered to be important enough to be fit into the first five minutes of Marine Corps boot camp. As I said before, everything a Drill Instructor does has purpose.

Marines on Yellow Footprints aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego read the articles of the UCMJ upon arrival at Boot Camp.

The Yellow Footprints, as they’re known by Marines, are more than just placeholders. They symbolize breaking into a new world much more than they serve to instruct recruits were to stand. Every Marine remembers that moment, those first 5 minutes at the depot and for good reason. They are their own rite of passage and a binding element to Marines across generations, knowing how similar the experience is for so many. It would be good at this point to review the video and realize the power the first 5 minutes have with which to open the eyes of a youth about to enter training. It’s an experience which instantaneously sets the pace for training for what’s to come and makes it clear that no nonsense will be accepted. What’s more? There are three more months of this, and, as I will describe later, it gets much worse.

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Continue on to: We Swear You Aren’t Being Brainwashed – Welcome to Marine Corps Receiving or Read the full story.

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3 Misconceptions of Boot Camp

Before moving on, a few assumptions have to be put down along with a few myths about boot camp and the experience.

Movies about the military shape our knowledge and understanding of military life far more than do the testimony of most veterans. This is why so many of the assumptions surrounding the way we live are so drastically wrong. Don’t get me wrong, Full Metal Jacket is a classic, but there is much that needs to be corrected, if not for being entirely inaccurate, than for being dated. Because of movie legends, many ideas have permeated that leave regular people not really aware of what to expect. Beyond that, a lot of veterans don’t help very much either. Vets have one thing in common – over time, our stories get better. For many who served during times of peace, boot camp is pretty much all they had to talk about. Their exaggerations (we’re guilty of it somewhere) left a few more false legends that need to be corrected in those who want to know the truth. Then, of course, there are those people who simply lie about their military service altogether, and oh the stories they can tell. If for nothing else than the horde of pretenders, I’d like to list a few of the more common misconceptions that have been asked to me before and attempt to set the record straight there first before moving one.

  1. Is boot camp hard because recruits need the skills they learn to fight and survive in war?

    Boot camp isn’t really about the skills you acquire. Cracked.com had a good article in 2011 that read very accurately:

    I’ll be blunt: Everything about boot camp in movies is wrong. At least, it’s wrong today. What you find out in boot camp is that the heart of military life isn’t killing bad guys, fulfilling your potential or being all you can be. It’s uniform inspections.

    Yes, there are many important things you learn. The shooting is an important part. In some branches, boot camp is the only time you will ever fire a weapon. Learning to march is somewhat important, though you aren’t sure why. The swimming… well that is just awful. If we think about it, we haven’t fought in a non-desert in how long? I’m sure we will someday, perhaps… but the training is not about the skills. The high order tactics used in modern combat are too complex to be pushed down on recruits who barely know how to take the weapon off Safe. In all honesty, most recruits are too stressed, exhausted, and scatterbrained to actually learn anything in depth anyway.

    A much better environment would be a college or a school house. Later on, they will receive actual training in their military roles. For Marines, this is MOS school, and later on they will attend other specialized trainings in preparation for deployments. This will be where they gain skills. As I said though, boot camp is not about school. It prepares you for military life, the order of things, the customs and courtesies, and what will be expected. It is very intense, but all the skills someone needs to know for an actual war won’t be learned from boot camp.

  2. Is it because the recruits will go through Hell together when they get to war?

    Recruits do not go through Hell together, unless you consider boot camp itself Hell. It isn’t. It’s just training and there is a massive team there to make sure you stay alive, and well. You probably won’t enjoy it like Spring Break in Palm Beach, but it is far from Hell once you get used to it. A major false assumption is that the recruits will stay together for the rest of their military career, that later on they all move on to the infantry together and deploy to war with each other. That isn’t how it works and logically, why would it? The military takes all kinds. We need people who can man the radio, manage the fuel for jets, and shoot the boom sticks. How could these people all stay together when specialized training is required to make each of them specialists in warfare? After boot camp they will leave each other and go to different trainings and then on to their actual military occupational specialty schools, separately. This was mentioned in the last section as what happens after boot camp. Three months to a year after all the recruits leave one another, after all their actual skills training is done, they will join their real unit. These units are all over the world and have many different missions. This is the unit they will be a part of when they go on deployments and who they will go through war with, if they go through war at all. They are just filling a hole from someone else who has left, most likely not from being killed, as the movies would tell you, but from getting moved to a different unit or from being honorably discharged from the service. You will likely see only a few of the guys you went to boot camp with a few more times in your life, by chance, when you run into eachother buying milk at the PX on Mainside. Those who go through boot camp, won’t go through “Hell” together.

  3. Is it true that Drill Instructors beat and berate their recruits to make them harder?

    Drill Instructors/Drill Sergeants don’t physically touch recruits. They don’t hit or physically assault recruits, ever. They come close as the pictures show, but they never physically brutalize potential Marines. There seems to be an odd rule about just getting close enough for the campaign cover to touch. This is drastically foreign to most people’s conceptions, but the Marines use advanced enough training methods to not need to physically or psychologically harm their recruits in the process of making them Marines. They also never take part in racial, ethnic, or sexually derogatory slander. I was recently made aware of a certain Gawker post, where it was said that Drill Instructors call their recruits faggots and other racial slurs “… like 50 times a day.” I’ll say this, the article had many, many inconsistencies leaving me to doubt completely that it was real at all. That said, it exists and now people like me have to say you shouldn’t always believe everything you hear on the internet.

    I remember that I was actually surprised by the absence of it. It was as if they had all been coached into exactly what they were and were not allowed to do. Instead, there was a sort of “fake swearing” that existed, where everyone used in positions of authority used words like “Freak” rather than certain four letter words you might have expected. It was even odd in some places, “Mother-freaking?” but I almost never heard actual cursing and never anything that sounded like sexual or racial insults. Well, there was this joke about no races existing in the Marine Corps, just dark green and light green Marines. It seemed like a poor attempt at promoting some version of racial equality in the ranks, but it was pretty funny, none the less.

    If you think about it, there is a real reason why DI’s don’t engage in this sort of thing, beyond just altruism and the tender love that they have for their recruits. A lot of recruits are still pretty much children and their parents are still pretty mothery. They haven’t fully embraced the idea that this place is preparing their children for war, and not just a summer camp. Having said that, many of the Drill Instructors understand that every letter that a recruit writes home could find itself echoed in an email to some Senator somewhere weeks or months later. For that reason, most of the completely unjustifiable aggression has been weeded out of the boot camp process, leaving only the type of aggressive behaviors one might expect as being necessary with the type of mission of the Marines have. This was at least true in 2004 when I attended it and I doubt very much has changed the logic behind it.

Continue on to 4 Lessons From the First 5 Minutes of Boot Camp or Read the Full Series.

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