Where did military pride in appearance go?

Military pride in appearance is not just for “show!”

The very first lesson I learned when I joined the Army National Guard was pride in appearance. When I got my first pair of boots, my Dad, a 28 year Veteran of the Navy and Marines told me he would show me how to shine my boots. Being a daddy’s girl, I always jumped at the chance to spend one-on-one time with my Dad. So we turned on an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation, sat on the floor in the living room, one boot each in hand, and I got my first lesson in boot shining. I was astounded at the process, the detail and attention it required! Every day we would sit, each with one of my boots in hand, and watch an hour long show and shine my boots. He also showed me how to get the most perfect creases in my Uniform (back then the BDUs). He also showed me how to starch and iron my hat. The day I showed up at my first drill, I strolled in with the SHINIEST BOOTS and most creased Uniform in the whole Unit! So many NCOs I met that weekend came up to me and complimented me on my sharp appearance and told me that I was off to a good start if this was the level of discipline I had with everything I did. Over the years, I learned the lesson that creased Uniforms and shiny boots were not just for “show," but a statement. Actually, many statements: “I am disciplined. I pay attention to detail. I am willing to commit the time and the work it takes in my tasks and I am not willing to half ass something. I don’t compromise with the tasks that are set before me. I do everything 100% and even exceed the standard.” These lessons were imparted to me not only by my Father, but also by my 10 years in the military. This “pride in appearance” and related lessons have benefited me much in life; in work, in relationships, in opportunities.

I am still in touch with my very first Platoon Sergeant. Recently we were texting and he said he was at Camp Blanding the other day and he was so disappointed to see how slovenly the Soldiers looked. He said some foreign Soldiers from Argentina were slender, fit, their Uniforms pressed and boots shined and an air of discipline about them. He said by comparison, the American Soldiers' Uniforms were baggy and wrinkled, most were overweight and had no discipline in appearance or behavior. I too had observed this over the years, working as a civilian contractor for the military for the last 10 years, I have seen the degradation of appearance, discipline and the fattening of our US forces. In fact, this was THE INSPIRATION for me to launch Fire Team Whiskey!

Of course there are many Service Members who remain as disciplined and vigilant in appearance as we would expect our Service Members to be. But my observation is that the greater number has given up on this. Our forces look sloppy, unfit and undisciplined.  When I see an overweight Service Member, I see someone who is below the Standard and has not committed to the discipline it takes to meet the standard. This person may be very good at their Military job, but I am sure many think, “well if they are willing to not meet the standard in one area, they will probably be willing to not meet the standard in another area.” This goes with the physical fitness standards as well. When I was in the Guard, and the PT test rolled around, most of us had been training for months. We had our eyes on maxing out on every category. We were going to get that PT badge and wear it proudly on our PT Uniform! Now, more frequently the question commonly asked at the PT Test is “How many do I need to pass?”. In other words: What is the BARE MINIMUM I can do and be done with it. Back in the 90s when I was in my Unit, if we had someone in our Unit who did that, they were shamed immensely! Now, it’s pretty much the standard.

We are busier than ever. Our forces are over-used. We have been at war for over a decade. We fight in the desert, not a place for shiny shoes and ironing uniforms. But this is not the only thing that has fallen away. I still am shocked when I get to a Unit and see pretty much everyone staring at their phones, playing You Tube videos, and drinking 20 ounce sugary energy drinks and completely ignoring the briefing being given or the task that is being given. I want to stand in the middle of the drill hall floor and scream at the top of my lungs “WHAT THE *UCK HAPPENED!? WHY DO YOU ALL LOOK LIKE A BUNCH OF LAZY, DISTRACTED SLOBS!? IS THIS OUR DEFENSE AGAINST THOSE WHO WOULD TAKE OUR FREEDOMS? YOU TUBE VIDEO, MONSTER DRINKING PEOPLE WHO CAN’T RUN AN 8 MINUTE MILE TO SAVE THEIR LIVES?” I know this is harsh. But this is the reality. Almost 60% of our Armed Forces are medically overweight. And it's impossible to get accurate statistics on the physical fitness failure rate because those numbers (and the body fat numbers) are manipulated frequently.

My hope with Fire Team Whiskey is that we are part of a new movement within the Military Forces. A return back to the discipline and “Always Ready” vigilance that our Armed Forces have been known for since World War I. That we return to the no excuse, no compromise, do we everything 100% . That we don’t wait until the week before a Physical Fitness test to start training for it. That we don’t care what the minimum standards are…that our goal is the maximum. That no matter what, we wear our Uniform, we wear it with the pride, discipline and attention to detail, like the ones before us did. People like my Dad, my first Platoon Sergeant and those who never returned from the mission. Its disrespectful to do otherwise; to those who went before and paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who depend on our Forces to keep us safe and free. Semper Paratus: Always Ready: Fit to Fight.


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