It seems there is always time for nostalgia when it comes to the Army of yesterday. The 80s Army looks back on the Vietnam Army, the 90s Army on the pre-stress card Army of the 80s. The OIF/OEF Army looking back on the 90s Army…

Wait, what?

Well before the last MRAP rolled through K-Crossing in Kuwait, there was a large push by big Army to “return to the standards” and to “get back to basics”. As though our force, after a decade at war, was somehow broken, less professional, more criminal and more inclined for behavioral health problems.
Cue the Red Book, the first in depth look at suicide in the ranks. What they found was that in 2008-2009, the rash uptick in suicides were NOT among combat veterans but among 18-25 year old white males who had never deployed. There was also a disturbing amount of folks who remained on active duty who had committed felony offenses. Looking at the numbers, yes, the Army had a problem and we affectionately named that problem after Chapter 3 of the Red Book: The Lost Art of Garrison Leadership.

Fast forward to the Gold Book. The Gold Book paints a more disturbing picture of the Army. A dramatic uptick in sexual assaults along with the suicide rate now shifting to our multiple tour combat veterans and still a large chunk of felony offenders who are still on active duty. We are a force with real problems in our ranks, no doubt about it.

Then comes the talk about changing the standards in AR 670-1 to “tighten up” the grooming standards. Got tattoos? Better get rid of them. Got a gold grill? Yep that’s got to go to. Mind you, I don’t actually have a problem with enforcing any of these standards but the sad fact remains that many of our fellow leaders won’t enforce these standards. It’s kind of hard to care about tattoos or nail polish when you’ve been shipped away from your family every other year and you’re more worried about how well your joes can shoot.

So now all we’re hearing about is the return to the 90s army. When shiny boots, a pressed uniform and a good PT score meant you were a great leader. We’re already seeing outstanding leaders punished for their less than stellar PT scores. Got an injury? Too bad, you’re slacking so you’re not the total army soldier we need.

Lest we need a history lesson, let’s not forget about the exodus from the force in 03-04, when a ridiculous amount of company grade officers fled in the face of the possibility of a long war. When far too many folks who had reached their 20 years of duty dropped their paperwork to avoid the conflict.

We talk about how the SGTs and SSGs in our Army today don’t know how to lead soldiers. Who’s fault is that? Instead of pointing the finger at the force, let’s look at the 90s army that abandoned the OIF-OEF army to fight the long war. The leaders of the OIF-OEF army were flexible enough to sustain combat over nearly a decade against an unconventional force. We were not flawless, not by any means. We made mistakes and some Really Bad Shit happened on our watch.

But to tell a force that has sacrificed through more than a decade at war that the 90s army was somehow better than us? That the 90s Army was more professional because we looked like soldiers then? The shiny boots didn’t stick around long enough to get dust on them in the deserts of Iraq. Too many of those pressed uniforms damn sure didn’t bleed in combat.

True, everyone who was in the army in the 90s did not get out. We would not have any 05s or E9s or higher if they did. Yes, we need to clean up the criminals in our ranks: I’m sorry but you no longer get to serve. Yes, we need to get better at PT because a decade on the FOB has meant our running skills have atrophied. Are there things we can do better?

Absolutely. But please stop pointing to the 90s Army as some bastion of professionalism.

Shiny boots and pressed uniforms and a good PT score do not a professional make.