Drill Sergeants vs. Hollywood The Army Trips Out on Electronic Acid

August 19, 1999

Comment: #308

Discussion Thread:  #238


[1] David H. Hackworth, "THE WAY IT WAS AND THE WAY IT IS" VOICE Of The GRUNT Newsletter, 1999-08-18-A, By 17 August 1999. Attached. [2] Drill Sgt XXX, "An Army Drill Sergeant Sounds off about Basic Training," VOICE Of The GRUNT Newsletter, 1999-08-18-A. Attached. [3] Bradley Graham, "Saving Real Privates With Virtual Training," Washington Post, August 19, 1999, Pg. 19.

Compare References #1 & #2 to Reference #3 and ask yourself a question: Has the US Army lost its mind?

In Reference #1 Col David Hackworth describes how important a hard-nosed drill sergeant is to a soldier who ends up in combat. He also says that the Army is getting too soft on recruits and an attitude of political correctness and zero defects on the part of officers is undermining the authority of drill sergeants. Reference #2 is an email sent to Hackworth by an active drill sergeant who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons. He reinforces Hack's comments and describes how it is becoming almost impossible to prepare soldiers for the rigors of combat in a responsible manner.

Now look at Reference #3. Bradley Graham of the Washington Post reports that the Army is giving $45 million to the University of Southern California to fund an Institute for Creative Technologies. Army officials hope to draw assistance from film studios and video game designers to develop technologies that can make military training simulators more realistic and engaging. ['engaging' means fun, I think]

And there is sweetener: in return for Hollywood's patriotic sacrifice to spend the taxpayers dollars to develop more hallucinatory technology, the Army will promise that any technological advances developed under this program could be applied to games, theme park rides and movie special effects.

It will be very interesting to see what kind of "realistic" Hollywood simulations the Army finds acceptable. One would think such simulations would have to be consistent with the image the Army portrays to its potential recruits, otherwise, new troopers might think they were snookered into joining by a fraudulent bill of goods. This image, however, like the declining authority of drill sergeants, is becoming softer and more in tune with adolescent feelings. In Comment #238, Reference #3, we saw that the Army is changing its recruiting appeals to downplay the blood and horror of combat and become more touchy-feely with the youngsters of today. Last February 14, Maj Gen Evan Gaddis, the commander of the Army Recruiting Command, put it this way to Dave Moniz of the Knight Ridder News Service, "What we need to do is get people [young recruiters] who will talk within our target population and say we have a lot to offer," he said. "And we need to get them to say the Army of the movie 'Private Ryan' no longer exists." [see Comment 238, Reference #3]

Bringing Hollywood into the howling wilderness of acquisition reform opens innovative new vistas for programmatic possibilities and political engineering, which proves the Army has not lost its mind. But there is more than a little cognitive dissonance in these vapors, and they raise an even more important question: What kind of Army sells out its drill sergeants and then trains the troops with Electronic LSD in order to pay Hollywood and the video game industry to develop more advanced means of numbing our children's minds?

But, then, perhaps there is a positive side to Army's going to Hollywood: it is a fact that frying young people's brains with trons will solve retention problems -- just go to any video arcade and ask the zombies why they stay in the game day after day.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

"THE WAY IT WAS AND THE WAY IT IS" VOICE Of The GRUNT Newsletter, 1999-08-18-A By David H. Hackworth, 17 August 1999

"Never point a weapon at someone unless you intend to kill 'em," roared Sergeant Allen. He slapped my M-1 rifle so hard the butt slammed me in the jaw. Then, with me shouting "I'm a dumb-ass recruit," he ran me until I keeled over.

I never forgot that lesson nor, like most recruits who met up with him, did I ever forget his name. Or the lessons he taught or the discipline he instilled. His "STAY ALERT, STAY ALIVE" mantra saved my life dozens of times over the next 25 years. My jaw still tingles whenever I think of him.

Later, when I became a sergeant, I passed his wisdom on to the men who served with me in Italy during Round One of the Balkan War and during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. And I'm sure his savvy saved many a young grunts life during those years, too.

Sergeant Allen was my Basic Training platoon sergeant in the spring of 1946. When he shaped up 15-year-old Recruit Hackworth along with 40 other sad sacks, he gave new meaning to the words stress, yell, and cajole. He demanded exactness 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If we were less than perfect, there'd be push ups, squat jumps, midnight details like cleaning the inside of a toilet bowel with a razor blade or shining the barracks floor with a small piece of cotton and shoe polish until your fingertips bled.

Sergeant Allen -- 53 years later, I still wouldn't dare call him anything but Sergeant -- was not a sadistic monster. He'd seen the elephant and knew what it took to keep men alive. He had just come back from kill-or-be-killed environments -- Africa, Sicily and Italy -- and had seen too many peach-faced kids turned into purple mush because a sergeant hadn't been tough enough.

During my basic training, the only officers I saw were on payday and on the firing range. NCOs were gods, and they ran the show.

Now things have changed -- not for the better. The officers and sociologists have taken over, and few have ever led a squad in combat. These kinder gentler folks have gotten their learning from books and lectures, and few have a clue about what's needed to survive. No way can their "Consideration for others" training help a soldier drive a bayonet in his opponent's gut or give him the sharp reaction needed when a sergeant yells "Knock out that machine gun."

I regularly talk with dozens of Army Drill sergeants, and they tell me this new, politically correct approach is creating an Army that's marshmallow soft. Here's what they're saying:

"Road marches are now conducted at 4 kilometers an hour. My seven-year-old hikes faster. No wonder our new privates can't hump a twelve-miler when they get to a line unit."

"A sergeant was marching his platoon and he shouted at them to get in step. The brigade CO (a full colonel) locked his heels together and read him the riot act for yelling at the privates."

"The philosophy here is that the only stress the private should have is between himself and the task. If we can't create artificial stress, we're setting ourselves up for colossal failure."

"We have a new Sgt. Major and he told the privates if they think the Drill Sergeant is being too hard on them to bypass the chain of command, come see him and he'll take care of it."

"Drill Sergeants are not allowed to make the privates do pushups, or run on FILL DAY (first day): a no-stress fill. There's almost no training on Saturday so the privates can take it easy."

"We have to let the trainees go to concerts, a mandatory mall visit in their 6th week of training, and we have to cancel a day of training so they can participate in the monthly retirement ceremony. Should I mention the mandatory museum visit during their 2nd weekend of training? All of this to reduce 'stress.' Yes, Sir, we're training some warriors over here."

The new Army Chief of Staff better talk to his Drill Sergeants without any officers around and get the straight skinny. Or invest heavily in body bags and white flags.

Reference #2

"An Army Drill Sergeant sounds off about Basic Training." By An Army Warrior VOICE Of The GRUNT Newsletter, 1999-08-18-A

I'm writing to tell you a few problems I'm having, and there seems to be no one who wants to give me the answers! I'm currently a Drill Sergeant. We started a new Basic Combat Training, not infantry. Already I'm starting to get burned out, not from the privates, but because of the chain of command and all the politics. It seems that all the top brass care about is numbers.

I read your tribute to drill sergeants This is kind of a continuance to that. There are a lot of don'ts that the drill sergeant has to follow. For example, when we picked up the privates, the BC and CO didn't want the Joes to run off the bus or hold the bags for too long, because it didn't seem to serve a purpose. Now, right off the bat, are tools to shock the civilian-to-soldier method a little more weakened. But the drill sergeant sucks it up, and drives on.

Then comes the chow hall. Joe can eat whatever he wants: cake, doughnuts, or whatever. At least we can tell them not to drink soda or coffee. I'm not saying that we lost all out power, but it is definitely slipping through our hands. A rule from the officers is that the private will not get harassed in the chow hall, which I believe, but whose definition of harassment are we talking about? The drill sergeant yelling, "Five minutes left! Hurry up and get out!" to some people is too much, yet the drill sergeant drives on.

One day we're having a meeting, and the CO tells us that we can't drop the private for flutter kicks on the cement; it might hurt him! In my experience, never have I heard of anyone getting hurt for that. That blew my mind.

Our company took a big blow to the chops last week. We started basic rifle marksmanship. The first, day we grouped, and a storm came, so we had to shut down. The next day, we had to zero, but we were already backed up and we did the best we could. Then the Brigade Commander came out and said (like he was the high priest): no more training, it's too hot. Yes, we had a few heat casualties, and the sense I'm feeling is that he is worried about too many. The next day, we did the known distance range, which is a good range, but, considering our backup, someone should have said to nix the range and get back to zeroing. The drill sergeants tried to tell the CO and the First Sergeant that, but they are too worried about rocking the boat. The fourth day, we had practice qualification, and there were still privates not zeroed. We shuttled them to a different range, and got them zeroed the best we could, but there were privates that did not even shoot the weapon at a pop-up target, and we are qualifying the next day. As you can imagine, the next day was very ugly.

After the first time through, we had roughly 160 out of 240 unqualified. The rest of the day, about 15 more qualified. This was a disgrace. There should be about 80 to 85 per cent of the company qualified the first time through. I'm still waiting, but my guess is that the chain of command will blame the drill sergeants for this. This frustrates me to no end. I was actually told by a drill sergeant in another Bn. that they wavered 30 soldiers to graduate, even though they didn't qualify.

Another drill sergeant told me that, one day in the chow hall, the Brigade Commander came in and chewed his ass cuz he didn't know the exact count of missing salt and pepper shakers!

Shouldn't the commander have a few more important issues on his mind than that, maybe?

What's wrong without BRM. training? Anyway, the same day the Col. is talking to a private, the private is standing like a sloppy civilian, and a drill corrects him, and the Col. turns around, and says to the drill sergeant, "Don't worry drill, I got it," and then told the private to stand however it makes him comfortable. What kind of outright slap in the face that is to a drill sergeant and to the NCO corps? I can't stand the officers worrying about the privates' feelings, and if he eats whatever he wants, and not caring if the end product is a soldier that can fight and win, and is combat ready. I can only hope that this disease has not spread beyond Fort Benning. If it has, I feel sorry for the day when we see a combat zone that needs a strong hungry soldier capable of closing with and destroying the enemy. Am I the only one worried about this, or is this normal? Tell me that the army will change its view about training a soldier and trusting the drill sergeant.