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What The Army Spent 570 Million Hours Doing

(On July 22nd, Michael C officially left active-duty U.S. Army service. In an attempt to explain why, he started a series about the Army’s culture, its successes and its failures. Read the rest of the “Why I Got Out” series here.

On a more positive note, if you want to know why Michael C joined the Army, read about it in “Why Do I Fight?”, “What Did You Do Out There”, “Did You Accomplish Anything Out There?”, “Why I Served”, and finally, “Hasta La Vista...Baby”.)

I have a theory for why America’s military spent the last ten years embroiled in two counter-insurgencies it was completely unprepared to fight.

Check out those boots.    

Not the current ones. The old, black, shiny ones. Oh, how black those boots shined!

In my post on “That’s Just the Way It Is”, I said most soldiers didn’t know why we shined boots. That was a tad disingenuous. We knew why: it looked grrrrrrrrrrr-reat!

When most senior officers think of finely shined boots, they think of a professional looking army. I think of the time wasted. By my rough calculations, in the decade before 9/11, the U.S. Army spent 570 million hours shining boots.

Here are my back-of-the-napkin calculations:

Size of the U.S. Army in 2001:                                480,000

Number of nights before a workday each year:        240

Hours spent each night shining boots:                     0.5

Multiply those numbers together and you get 57.6 million man hours spent each year shining boots. Multiply by ten, and you get 570 million hours in the decade before. If you increase the size of the military, which was larger prior to 9/11, and raise the amount of time spent shining boots to one hour, one could easily pass a BILLION hours spent shining boots.

This massive emphasis on uniformity and shined boots is a failure of productivity, a word never mentioned in the U.S. Army. While ubiquitous in American business, senior leaders in the Army don’t think in terms of productivity; they’ve never been trained to think like that.

So all that time shining boots disappeared. Was it a good investment? The U.S. Army adopted that ineffective policy for reasons that had little to do with winning our nations wars. Looking good wasn’t the real reason officers enforced a shined boots army, “enforcing discipline” was.

Did we really have a “disciplined” American Army heading into Iraq? Did the boot shining cause that discipline? I would have made troops learn discipline by having mandatory foreign language homework each night. Who would have been the more disciplined soldier, the one shining boots for hours each night, or the one studying foreign languages? Who would have been more useful in a counter-insurgency, the boot shiner or language learner? Early morning physical fitness also creates discipline like boot shining, but also creates teamwork and develops physical attributes.

The emphasis on discipline harkens back to the Revolutionary, Union, and World War II armies that still had legions of draftees who couldn’t read. Our all volunteer force has high school degrees or GEDs. Many enlisted soldiers have college degrees. And our modern army is an all-volunteer army. We got the discipline thing handled. Google succeeds without boot shining. So does Walmart. And police stations. And law firms. Not to mention some of the best Armies in the history of the world have looked quite slovenly--I’m looking at you barbarians.

Alas, the old, ineffective, unproductive attitude is still lurking. The regular Army absorbed it into its DNA through recombination. While thankfully abolishing mandatory wear of the beret, the newest Chief of Staff recently said the Vibram Five Finger-style shoe is verboten on Army bases in Army PTs. The reason, they:

detract from a professional military image.”

Guess we’re already preparing to lose/bog down in a civil war our next war.

seven comments

Well said, well said.

Hands down the most intensive training times, and hence the most rewarding time I spent in the Marines were a brief period, about a year and a half when I first got into Scout/Snipers. The Ssgt had balls the size of watermelons with the density of lead and he also had dirt on nearly every senior Staff Nco in our Battalion and many in the Regiment. We were totally on our own program. We trained insanely hard and a lot of it was dangerous. He lied, cheated and stole to get us the precious resources that were often unavailable to line Sniper platoons ie. School slots- SERE, Sniper basic, Advanced, Jump school, High angle fire, Herst, even Ranger slots. It was like having David Blaine as our Ssgt and everyone both hated and feared us.
The Battalion we be in the field for five days, we would be there for two weeks. He treated everything on our side, even the smallest training op as if it was real world. Massive plannning. We shot more rounds than anyone other group on the West Coast and we eve nto op insertions in civilian vehicles with civvies on ala Marcinko and his croonies. I cannot explain how much I learned in such a short time.

Nobody was allowed to have a girlfriend and nobody was married. We also NEVER SHINED BOOTS. We didnt have our rooms inspected, ever. Despite the entire battalion have AP inspections, we would always some how be away training.

It was super intense and our 14 man platoon was so razor sharp it was unbelievable. We stole a snoop and poop mission from a SEAL team during a huge CAX due to our write up and Toot being superior. We also trained with SEALS, Rangers, Force guys, and Green Berets. All set up under the table by this amazing warrior and leader.

He trained an incredible group of guys, almost all of whom have gone on to either re-enlist with SOF, due private work in the sandbox, or moved on to the FBI or DOE with one in DEA. A few have since died in war zones and died putting rounds down range.

All this came from one man that beleived in training and preparing for war above all else.

What did they finally do when they got him? Sent him to a five year recruiting position in some middle of nowhere town in Utah. It was do that or get booted out.

Other guys I know personally that shared his view point, one, the man who actually WROTE the Scout Sniper handbook I was given when I made it past selection was brought on some Mickey Mouse weapons charges, courtmarshalled and kicked out after time in the Brig. Hes a war hero by the way.

Bull shit.

The men who love the shiny boots and the tidy rooms and the parades and the drill- these are basically company men who also occasionally have to fire weapons and go to dangerous places. They would rather not but its part of their job.

The other men, the men I know/knew go to these places because that is their lifestyle. Its their point.

Great article and excuse the rant.

Gajinass, rant away. I hope this article gets noticed. The military, specifically the Army and Marines, choose to spend their times on certain tasks. (Though usually blaming it on higher headquarters.) Nevertheless, at some point the Army decided not to train as intensely or as focused as they should. That point needs to be made.

I thought the answer to the title was “playing Halo: Reach.” Or at least some other videogame.

No matty p but I laughed at that comment. And Call of Duty would probably fit the bill.

I wonder how many hours each night the Barbarians used to get that ‘rough & ready’ appearance – guys these days spend far too long getting their hair looking just the right kind of messy, so who says the Barbarians weren’t just as finicky?? But good article – it’s one thing to look good in uniform, it’s something else to perform well in combat.

I Junger made the comment in “war” that the best soldiers in the field are the worst ones in garrison. Think that quote applies here.