Hollywood Military vs. Real Military

I was watching Star Trek The Next Generation the other day.   It was the pilot episode, part II.  Q (John Delancie) shows up and Picard yells “At ease!”

That’s a standard military order.

What he said next wasn’t: “That’s an order!”

I’ve heard this particular phrase from Hollywood military a lot.  Turned up on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea on a fairly regular basis, and seems to be in just about anything in the media with military.

Never heard an officer in the Army actually say that phrase.

I think this shows up in Hollywood is because a lot of people really don’t understand the rank structure or officers vs. enlisted.  We’re taught right from the first day at basic training about following the orders of the people in charge.

Because in a war, not following the orders can cause soldiers to get killed.  In the film A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise gets a Marine colonel on the stand and traps him into confessing because that movie did understand how orders worked (Tom Cruise was pretty far away from anything military in his characterization though).  Everyone kept trying to say the people involved hadn’t followed orders, but the colonel was adamant that everyone followed orders because lives would be in jeopardy if they didn’t.

The officers don’t need to tell the people under them what they say is an order.  We all know it is.

This is a 7 step illustration of what “at ease” looks like.

Lost in the woods with a Lieutenant

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Admittedly, my reputation precedes me. For years, I thought I had no sense of direction. I could get lost amazingly easy, and with a map. But I’m also visual spatial, and directions are supposed to be easy. It took me well after the army to realize that it was the maps and the directions that was messing me up. If I go to a con in Baltimore and try to follow Google or AAA directions, I’ll end up lost in Washington, DC for an hour or two. But if I just have the appropriate exit numbers and transition points, I’ll have no problems whatsoever. A lot of times, I just need to simply go and I’ll head in the right direction.

The maps are the problem, and sometimes it’s really easy to over think what you’re doing and end up messing it up. Which is what happened with the lieutenant.

We were on a land navigation course on Fort Lewis. Pretty much, you go out into the woods with a map and find a certain number of points within a specified time. I was paired up with one of the lieutenants, which was very strange. Usually they didn’t participate in any training; they just came and inspected it.

So he’s got the map, and it’s one of those army terrain ones. It uses lines to show elevation and depressions. Great in Washington State because of all the land shapes, but not so good in Saudi Arabia with all the shifting sands.

The lieutenant orients the map, and we find the first couple points. Then we’re walking and we come to this road. It’s fenced off from the course. There’s a road on the map. The lieutenant orients the map again and announces this isn’t the right road.

I look at the road and in my head I’m thinking that it is it. But he’s the lieutenant and I’m the lower enlisted, so I merrily follow him.

Two hours later …

We finally find our way out of the course. We didn’t find any more of the points, and we were over an hour late. We were one of the last groups out of the course.

Next up will be “What it’s like carrying an M16 rifle” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

Why Enlisted Don’t Like Officers

Many years after Desert Storm, a man who was colonel in the reserves asked me why enlisted don’t like officers.  He genuinely didn’t know.  Let me tell you a story …

You’ve already seen the showers we had to deal with in Saudi Arabia.  They were outside, and water trucks came by every morning to fill the tanks on top.  The intent was to let sun heat the water up so we have hot showers.

But when we moved to the place we called “Camel Race Track,” which was near a stadium where the Saudis raced camels, we were also headed into winter.  I never thought that a place hot like the desert would feel freezing at seventy degrees, but it was!

The showers, which were not warm, became ice cold.  So cold that as we marched deeper into winter, the rumor mill said that a soldier had a hard attack because of the temperature.  We all believed it!

The showers had never been very good to start with, but they were a brief moment to get all the accumulated grime of the day off (even if it started accumulating again seconds later).  Now I had to pull the shower lever and jump back to keep from getting assaulted by icy water.  My washing consisted of sticking my hand under that stream and splashing it back on me.

One night I wasn’t able to make the showers by the set hours — don’t recall the reason why — and I rode over with the officers and the first sergeant to a nearby barracks.  Those were inside, and they were steamy and wonderfully wwaaarrrmmm.

Wait a minute.

We were freezing our skin off, and the officers were going off and taking warm showers?

The officers evidently saw nothing wrong with that.  Maybe they even justified it to themselves by saying they worked past shower hours.  But to the enlisted, it looked liked arrogance.  That the officers thought they were better and more special than the enlisted.  One of the big things the army was to “lead by example,” and yet, we would see stuff like that which clearly said they weren’t.

Word got around eventually, and this trip to the barracks for the officers became very unpopular.  Eventually, they trucked us out to the barracks for showers, but it was a logistics nightmare trying to get everyone out there.  Finally, the officers arranged to have the water heated before it was put into the shower tanks.

The problem of all of this is that they officers were the leaders and if they had been leading by example, we would have had the hot water as soon as the problem became obvious.  Instead, they ignored what was going on because it didn’t affect them.  Not every officer is like this.  I’ve met plenty of decent ones who wouldn’t have done this (even the colonel who asked me the original question!).  But it’s tough when you’re a private because you really don’t have much say and are stuck when people don’t always care.

5 military things about me

Linda Adams in desert camo uniform against a backdrop of other soldiers

1.  I was in the Army Reserve, the Army, and the Army National Guard.

Those are three different services.  I started out with the Reserve because it helped me make the decision and decided to enlist in the regular Army after Basic Training.  The National Guard was a big mistake, and I was glad to be finished with it.

2. I was the least likely soldier to be in the military.

I have “Adams Feet,” or flat feet.  The whole family on my father’s side has them.  In my case, I have high arches and they drop.  It makes me a terrible runner, and I can’t march well either.  They debated about me, then decided to let me in.  The debate happened again during Basic Training, and then again at my first duty station.  No one ever told me I had flat feet!

3. I went to war.

It was Desert Storm, when the thought of women deploying was strange and new and different.  The photo above was taken when President Bush visited us for Thanksgiving.

4. I was enlisted.

With the way everyone talks about the military in movies and film, you would think that everyone is an officer.  They make up only a small percentage of the military.  Enlisted are the bulk of the service.  Because I had a degree from a community college, I came in as a Private First Class (still a private) and left the military as a Specialist.  I’m afraid I didn’t aspire much to come up in the ranks!

5. My Basic Training was at Fort Dix, NJ.

I went during the summer.  Hot, really humid.  Imagine a heavy cotton jacket soaked with sweat, and that was what it was like for us.  Most alarming though were the signs posted on the words warning us about ticks.  Yikes!

More military stuff to see: