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Military Mathematics: Subtraction

Every organization has its own culture. Lawyers debate like lawyers, engineers approach problems like engineers, and politicians solve ethical dilemmas like, well, politicians. Culture can influence how you think, how you act, and, in some cases, how you do math.

The military has its own brand of mathematics. Today I am going to talk about subtraction.

I call it Army subtraction: the missing three hours in the work week from 0600 to 0900 to start Physical Training (or PT). The Army can tell you that you only work for eight hours a day, from nine to five, and still have you show up at 0600. How do they subtract those hours?

I call this the “missing” three hours, because apparently I am the only one who misses it. Well, me and every other Soldier below the field grade officer rank (majors and up). They don't seem to notice showing up that early in the morning. Ask any leader in the Army, and they will say the work day starts at 0900 (or 0830 depending on the post).

A full Army work day is from nine to five. At regular units, Soldiers and leaders usually leave work at 1700. When discussing how much people work, the Army counts 0900-1700 as the work day, with an hour and half lunch. When calculating how much a Soldier works, Officers can easily say they put in a forty hour work week.

For me though, from 0600-0900 I feel like I am at work. It feels like work because I am at work doing work related tasks. That, and by law I am required to show up at 0600. (I could write another post on the formation before the formation that many units conduct. Even though first formation is at 0630, units will have Soldiers show up half an hour early for accountability.) This further depletes Soldier's personal time. If the Army understood that Soldiers work an average of 55 hours a week, than they could better understand the strain put on Soldiers.

This post could be dismissed as the gripe of a disgruntled Officer (and it is) but serious issues are at play. In the last year, the Army passed the civilian world in its ratio of suicides. The number of divorces, mental health referrals, and discipline issues by Soldiers continue to climb preciptouisly. And despite assurances otherwise, junior officers continue to flee the Army in droves.

The missing three hours every morning are not the cause of all these problems--the two ongoing wars are--but they contribute. Those three hours every morning are time away from family. By calling an eleven hour work day an eight hour work day, the Army steals three hours every day. And waking up at 0500 in the morning makes it much harder to spend quality time with your family when you get home from work at 1730.

The Army subtracts three hours from every work day. Only Army mathematics could make this work. The result is stressed out soldiers, families and systems. Could the Army find the time to start the work day at 0800, still do PT, and do all its other work? Absolutely, but that is another post.

eight comments

Not to mention that for a lot of people, the golden hours in the morning are the best time to get work done, but if you don’t start working until 4 and a half hours after you wake up, you’ve lost something.

Anyways, PT would be a better afternoon activity anyways, productivity wise.


And we wonder why those who can, flee to the private sector as soon as they can. Better pay and a shorter work day.


Amen to the shorter work day. I would actually argue that in many cases it is more important than the better pay.


I can rationalize the year in combat. I can even rationalize a mere one year back home.

But the hectic pace of life back home makes me either wish I were back in combat or simply out of the Army.

Are you a single officer? If so, housing either won’t be available on post, or it will be far less than what you can afford off post. Living off post is great, don’t get me wrong, but the drives in (especially during Fort Drum snow season) mean leaving the house at 5:15 am in order to make it to work on time—since there’s always a massive line at the gate.

Start leaving at 1900 at night each night for the year you’re back home “resting”, add in another half hour to an hour for the drive home. Then don’t forget that you need to pack for the next day—God forbid you forget a velcro name tag or a brown t-shirt in your gym bag.

To make matters worse, you might have some REALLY bad luck and have one of those policies where, if one soldier gets a DUI, the whole company shows up in Class As the next day, regardless of whether or not it’s a weekend or not, or whether or not you even knew the guy.

Again, people wonder why junior officers flee to the private sector…


Totally agree with everything Starbuck said, absolutely.

Having said that, a friend said some units are starting to do 0800-1700 work days with PT starting at 1600. That would be great if it gets adopted, but I am skeptical, especially with light infantry units.


Thanks Starbuck. This is stuff civilians (myself included) never realized was happening.


And getting off of work as well, you could be sticking around work for a long time if there is any equipment that needs to be checked or missing equipment. And usually for my company formation STARTED at 17:00 (actually 16:45 with your team leader making sure you´re there at 16:45, and your platoon sgt. making sure everyone was there at 16:50), and the first sergeants and commanders would come out at their own time sometime between 17:10 and 17:20, and talk for atleast 10 minutes. Thats 45 minutes of just standing around just to make sure you´re there and to get 10 minutes worth of information (really important information, like safety briefings), and we wouldn´t be released until 17:30. If there was a ceremony or BN formation at the end of the day (which happened almost weekly), forget it, you were lucky if you got off before the DFAC closed. I remember one formation where the commander and first sergeant never even showed up (I guess they forgot), after we were standing there waiting for the 1sg and CO for over an hour we were released by our platoon leaders anyways. Only the Army would waste hundreds of people´s time in such a way.


Chris C you are preaching to the choir. End of the day formations are possibly more ridiculous than the formation before the formation early in the day.