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Basic Shouldn't Be.

That title may be a bit loose to interpretation, but hey, a good title hooks people.

My thoughts today are how basic training could be improved to make a much more cohesive unit for the military rather than the collaboration of psychotic individuals that it cranks out. I'm going to be brutally honest and some of you may not like hearing it, but the simple truth is that when you come out of basic training in the military, you come out fundamentally broken inside.

Their whole argument is to strip you down to your bare essentials, then build you into the mindset of working as a team. A sound idea, sure, but boy howdy is this not accomplished. In fact, it's not even CLOSE.

*waits for the shouts of military fanboys and cries of 'non-hacker' to die down*

Now that you've gotten this out of your system, let's listen in. I am an average person. I'm not good at everything, but neither am I bad. I'm smart, sure, but hey, that's balanced by my physical nature being less than successful. Basic's two-point stratagem is to rebuild your physical prowess into something that can handle the rigors of battle and war...and to put you into the military mindset of working together as a team.

That first one? I handled that pretty well. I was able to pass tests with some ease and could hold my own with PT and whathaveyou. The second one was...well, IS poorly executed. And funnily enough, it's executed at the same time as the first, which is probably it's biggest downfall. See, you're punished in basic for erring. A LOT. And half of the time, it's not even really worth 'being smoked' for (the term we called getting our arms melted clean off with nuclear amounts of pushups). You can get smoked in basic for truly simple things...and most of the time, they're so distantly related to you so as to be uncontrollable by you in any fashion at all.

But they're still YOUR fault. Example: our whole platoon was woken up in the middle of the night by an angered drill sergeant because the two guards on duty (an unfair thing to do in basic when you're learning if you think about it) erred in missing a phone call, leading him to be called directly...and woken up from HIS sleep. We got smoked for an *hour* for something that all of us (who were asleep at the time) couldn't have possibly changed or affected.

Do you see how this is a negative?

This reinforces something that should NEVER be reinforced in any environment, be it school, work, or otherwise; up until about the last week of basic, you never 'win' if you or your team succeeds at something, you simply didn't lose. But when you don't win, you lose. And you get smoked. Punished. Forced to endure massive pain and anguish without any consideration for going over WHY you lost or, more to the point, how to not lose again. Now, sometimes, you get a rare drill sergeant that actually DOES care enough to help. However, they are far and few between. The vast majority are big, beefy guys and girls who think more with their muscles and tend to put excessive amounts of bias into physical performance and actual stats rather than mental acuity.

Example again!: an asshole in our company could run the two-mile in the PT test in eleven minutes flat. He was lauded as being a good soldier. However, he routinely shirked his duties, hit on the females of the company, and was a VERY lousy shot. BUT, the drills actually went to extreme lengths with him to get him to succeed. Such as tuning the qualifying course of basic rifle marksmanship down so much that he could qualify. He was named Top Soldier for the cycle. Not really fair, is it? Nope. Because the drills were looking to make their quota off of us. And I know that's true because working at Fort Benning gave me access to talking to drill sergeants who DIDN'T see me as their underling and could talk openly.

Most of them could be called sadistic. On a side note, most of their family lives were pretty shit as well.

This basic mentality is VERY difficult to break. The concept of 'you don't win, you just hold off losing more" carries with most all recruits who make it out intact for quite some time after. Advanced training showed me that. And the guys who came from AIT to my station were a mess too, comparatively. When you think about it, it's not really a good idea to give broken soldiers to units to fix up. Bad for business. But I've seen the mentality of 'winning by staving off losing' elsewhere in my life, too. Some jobs do this, enforcing quotas on their employees and then having those quotas be unattainable without drastic amounts of effort given. And even when you think it's attainable, if something mechanical comes along to gunk up the works, you're still considered to 'not meet standards."

Unfair and unacceptable as far as I am concerned. We should be better than this. Yes, we don't have to be all lovey-dovey, ooey-gooey with each other. But a basic understanding for how things are and how much you can accept and realize a standard with the given amount of time is VITAL if you intend to enforce such stringent standards. And the term "you win more flies with honey" is NOT stupid. By reaching out and meeting trainees halfway, you show them trust. You show them how to do it...and then you can start pushing, start helping them exceed and grow. But to just assume they will lose or worse, enforce losing with severe punishments or a never-ending limbo of misery, what are you accomplishing exactly? That kind of 'sink-or-swim' idealism never works and just leads to a lot of lost jobs, a high turnover rate, and more needless searching for work.

It needs to change. NEEDS to. We're not helping each other, not growing the right way as a human species if we continue along it. Now, granted, the more intellectual communities are well aware of this little easy-to-fall-into trap of You Can't Win and tend to avoid it. Some churches, not so much unfortunately. Some churches do.

What can help is to show the merits of teaching and training with positives in mind. Yes, you don't need to make everyone a bright and shiny star, but the thing is, by giving a positive to look at and to attain, you build confidence the positive way. It reinforces the same way negative confidence does, but is supremely healthier for one's heart in the long run.

Now, to end this on a big disclaimer, I was in basic seven years ago. Things may very well have changed. I've been out of the military (honorable discharge after deciding to not re-enlist and letting my four years run their course) for about three years now. From the outside looking in, I'm pretty distant from the issue. But I hope that if there IS some change, it's for the better. Because you should question this: do you want someone who is capable, physically AND mentally AND emotionally to handle our freedom? Or do you want someone who is only ONE of those? A LOT of emphasis was put on physical prowess determining rank while I was in. And a lot of lieutenants I had the (dis)pleasure of running across were most definitively shitty leaders because they only knew how to be physical all-stars, but had none of the emotional or mental requirements necessary to lead properly.

And that kind of brainlessness trickles down like a diseased miasma.

Now then. If anyone has any bright ideas on how to fix it, now's the time to be sharing, to be helping the leaders learn. We're getting close to a singularity point in human history, a point where we rise above what we've known for so long as standard. Personally, I'd like to approach that with a good hope that we can attain something greater for ourselves than to show our moral ineffectiveness.

At the very least, I'd like that damned episode 3 of Half-Life 2 to be released...
Viewed: 20 times
Added: 7 years ago
7 years ago
I read this. Nothing to add other than that this sort of thinking permeates our education system as well, and I'm working to change that. Negative reinforcement can influence behavior, but it's kinda pointless beyond that, and when the chips are down? Someone who's been negatively reinforced is more likely to turn on (or turn into) the one in power. Full Metal Jacket wasn't wrong when the most picked-on trainee shot the sergeant and then himself. That's what hopelessness does.
7 years ago
Yes.  Very very yes.

I was in basic too.  Didn't make it through.  Glad I didn't.  To add to your comments, I would point out that in mine, any soldiers who were nice to and protective of their team-mates were identified and singled-out for extra penalties.  Way to reward giving a shit...

They talk about team-building and how you work together to save the weaker one.  But I was on the inside.  You know what I saw?  I saw people hating each other.  Being the weak one out got you hated fast.  It didn't matter if you were so sick you couldn't hear the drill sergeant from across the room.

The whole damn military is filled to the brim with Stockholm Syndrome.
7 years ago
First off: "(the term we called getting our arms melted clean off with nuclear amounts of pushups)". That is just a damn perfect descriptive sentence. :)

Secondly, the more I read this, the more I began to get the feeling of a culture that's partly high school cliquery, and partly brainwashing camps. I was recently reading about how the technique of taking away anything good in the brainwashee's life is used on purpose to instill hopelessness in them, to crush their will to resist.

Sadly, I think you may be looking at this backwards, Zephon. Everything you're saying is absolutely reasonable and would benefit the common soldier. But is that what the military as an organization wants? I don't think so. I think they're looking at things through both the blinders of 'tradition is always good' and also the cold, dead eye of an unrestrained capitalist. I think that the well-being of soldiers is simply not an important consideration for them. They want people who will obey, and if that means breaking a few that resist, oh well. They'd consider that an acceptable loss. It's like how, it's pretty easy to infer that schools don't get enough funding on purpose, because no politician wants an electorate educated enough to see through all the bullshit they fling around.

You're absolutely right in that better morale would produce better troops. But they're never gonna understand that. There's a kind of person who only understands fixing problems in terms of how much force to apply. 'If the workers in my company aren't producing enough, increase their hours', 'Judges are too soft on criminals in this country! We need tougher laws to keep us safer!' 'The new meat isn't hacking it? Smoke 'em harder.' I don't know for sure, but it feels very possible that they may even hope for the 'hate the weakling' mentality that Landon described, because it fosters unity through heartlessness.

I look at how this country treats its troops. For the most part, citizens get it. They understand that soldiers' sacrifices means we all owe them a debt. The government? Not so much. They talk a lot, but all the truly shitty things I hear about happening to vets... I think that they pretty much regard soldiers as being no different than bullets. They're useful when you fire them at someone. But afterwards, who gives a shit about a spent casing? Just discard it. Buy more new bullets.

Sorry to be a downer. Again, I think everything you've said here is right and true. But I think the military's flaws begin at the very top. The stuff you're saying they should fix, that they would fix if they had any basic decency, they won't, because it's simply not a priority for them. To quote Michael Jackson: "All I wanna say is that, they don't really care about us."
7 years ago
>  I think that they pretty much regard soldiers as being no different than bullets. They're useful when you fire them at someone. But afterwards, who gives a shit about a spent casing? Just discard it. Buy more new bullets.

This statement sums up how our government thinks about the troops more than just about anything else.

There is a reason we don't have a draft.  If most of society could be sent to war, then most of society won't accept being treated as bullets.  Past a certain point, you can not maintain an empire with citizen soldiers.  We don't have a draft because our government WANTS to use soldiers as expendable.

As for the officers?  They report to the government.  Government gives the okay before generals are made. Generals who don't do what the politicians want don't last long.
7 years ago
This actually hit kinda home for me because this is exactly how my employment works. A saying that goes around the office for people still in training (for my employment, not basic training) is "throw shit at a wall". Essentially my employment hires as many people as possible as quickly as possible, regardless of any disabilities or otherwise. Eventually they fire a good 80% of who they hire within the first two months.

I know this because over a year ago my training class started at 52 people. At the end of training, only 8 of us were left. A year later, there are 4 of us who are still with the company. Every class I watched come and go over the past year and some months went through the exact same thing.

Because the turnover rate is so high with our company I find that the only people I really even care to know are the people who have been around as long or longer than I have. And despite our differences, how we are socially extremely different, I've been noticing something peculiar that I I only recognized one night on a bus ride home.

I was sitting with two of my co-workers, one who I know fairly well and another I had met that night. We were joking about our day experiences and tossing around slander and laughing over some sort of customer who gave us headaches, or how this agent from another department was being particularly retarded or something of that nature. Near the end of our bus ride, some random person stood up, looked at all three of us with disgust planted across their face, and said "You shouldn't talk like that. Always being so negative. Should be more positive. It's better for everybody".

All three of us looked at this random individual like they were completely out of their mind. On the walk home from the bus station, I had to think about why that person would actually have the audacity to speak up. Eventually I came to a realization that they simply COULD not - as in being incapable of understanding - why when we were talking about this and that in a seemingly negative way, it was actually positive for us. Until they experience something similar, they will never have the joy of telling someone that just called you a son of a bitch that they are sorry for it. It's expected of them to apologize for being a low-life scum in the eyes of 90% of the people they will talk with through a day.

Same person is also sorely missing out of the impossible standards that are set and constantly changing every day. Lets say you want someone to jump over a four foot wall consistently and effortlessly. What's the best way to get the best results? Make them jump over a 5 foot wall instead until they can get it right consistently. That's the mindset of our company. We are an independent contractor with a big client, and since we are an independent contractor we need to show our client that we are better than anything they can do on their own. So we set our standards impossibly high to make sure even our lowest of employees are better than some of their better employees.

Does this work? Yes, unbelievably yes it works fantastically. The agents that last for more than half a year are generally so knowledgeable and capable that they don't need any help tackling issues that are completely unreasonable and do it with a smile. And the result of going through all we do and realizing that we survive the same ordeal day after day does group us together in an oddball way, leaving us to have a dark and defeatist humor about a lot of things. We are bitching and laughing about what we do because it keeps us (relatively) sane.

Is there better ways to handle the company? Very likely, yes. Anything to get the bullshit to stop I would welcome with open arms. Will it actually change? Until you get both my employer and their client to completely die and be replaced by something better, it's not going to happen.
7 years ago
And you're being a prime quality example of the best way to DEAL with being put in a situation like that. I still think that you can get productivity of that caliber without sufferance of the same broad nature, but like Alex said up there, this kind of thing starts at the top levels and filters it's way down. From top level brass who've forgotten completely what it's like to be a low-level grunt. Their 40-50 years in service/working has clouded their judgment on what is ACTUALLY going on.

As such, getting them to realize it is insanely tough because in their mind (and the minds of their peers or loved ones who they talk to regularly) the job can do no wrong. It's an almost willful ignorance of truth. It's a shameful thing to have as a leader. I think it's one of the reasons people act disappointed with our current president (regardless of the truth in the matter or not). And it filters down.

Getting it fixed?

No one has yet come to me with a solid answer aside from "replace the chain".
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