Opinion: Sometimes, common sense IS an uncommon virtue. And sometimes the Army, despite all evidence to the contrary actually gets one right. Just recently, the Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper signed a memorandum that states the simple, yet hard to understand for some truth. That the hated reflective belt was not needed in the daytime.
To the uninitiated or the civilians in our midst who happen to read our incessant ramblings here, that would seem to be a blockheaded statement. It is a completely unnecessary and dare I say it, (Yes please!), stupid point. Of course, you don’t require a reflective belt in daylight hours. Au contrair, mon ami… my friend Geo would say. You don’t know the Army like we know the Army.
Like all 600-lb monsters and utter stupidity, the idea of the reflective belt was born out of a good one. Back in the mid-1990s, some Airmen were running on a dark, unlit road and a driver mistakenly drove on it as it was designated for PT use. Several were killed and severely injured and naturally, the Air Force thought to alleviate that situation by having their Airmen wear a reflective belt in the hours of darkness. Makes total sense…right? Of course.
But then the brain-eating amoeba that lives in every good idea manifested itself into the brains of the brass. Like too much of a good thing or MSG Muldoon’s chemistry set, it soon got bigger than all of us. Staff officers and Sergeant Majors with no clue (not to be confused with the good ones) ran rampant with this like the clap in a one-hooker town when the Foreign Legion or 3/7 rolled into the area.
You know the types, tactical proficiency be damned, they are going to worry about every blade of Bermuda grass or Kentucky Blue Grass like it was their own children. No one was allowed to touch the Sergeant Major’s grass, let alone even look at it. If he thought you’d even think about his grass, it would him to have an epileptic seizure. Time for another anecdote.
Because every old guy has an anecdote for every occasion. Once when I was a younger and dumber (not much more than today) our unit was running our normal morning PT. Another unit was passing by us going in the other direction and they called some typical Jody cadence about “yo mama” or such, the exact one escapes me, it doesn’t matter.
Anyhow, it just so happened some woman, a dependent was walking her dog, a Golden Retriever who got a little freaked out by the yelling and began pulling on the leash and GASP! He walked on the grass. Granted it was just a couple of steps but OMG! So being the smartass Bostonian I was (still am, they don’t call us Massholes for nothing), I yelled, “Give that mutt extra duty and get him off the grass!” Of course, there were snickers in the formation. But no harm, no foul right? Wrong. Of course, someone heard me, yeah you guessed it.
So that being a Friday, guess who gets the “honor” of cutting the grass? Yours truly. Never knowing when to leave well enough alone, the Masshole had the temerity to say, “SGM, I can’t cut the grass.” Putting his coffee cup, which was permanently attached to his left hand down, he said, “Why not?” Smiling, “because I’ll have to walk on the fuckin’ grass to do it,” says I. Sigh.
That got yours truly the enviable task for repainting the stairs in front of the building. Each step had a different color on the facing of the step underneath, yellow and black all the way to the small landing as you walked into the building.
So I had a bright idea, why not put black and yellow on each step in a diagonal line with each step having the lines slant in another direction. On Monday morning, promptly at 4:45, the runner came up and said, “the SGM wants to see you…” No doubt.
“What the hell is this,” he asked. I stammered on like an idiot about it being more safety conscious. “C’mon, outside,” he said. Staring at it in the dark, he took another look and then blew me away with his next comment. “That is Out-fucking-standing!” He loved it and then announced that we were going to have all the doors in the area painted as such. Needless to say, I was not a popular person with the rest of the unit for that one for a few weeks.
But I digress, so, what happened with the reflective belt? The services loved it, like the diagonal steps. And like anything else it turned into a chickenshit Army exercise. The services all adopted it, different colors were used, so instead of baby shit yellow, green, red, blue, even pink belts appeared. Some genius decided that it wasn’t enough to be able to see troops in the dark, we have to identify them. So names and ranks were even put on some….Jesus.
And then the most chickenshit of all things found its way to war. The reflective belt became the go-to piece of equipment in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Our troops inside their bases had to wear a reflective belt at all times, day or night. Whether it be during physical training, operating in and around any vehicles, even to get into the damned chow hall. Somewhere an a-hole named Henry was smiling. “Can’t kill al-Queda or the Taliban without that reflective belt young trooper.”
And then in the bases, the color coding and extreme BS ran amok. Belts color-coded to rank became the new rage, as we made it easier for Taliban or insurgent operatives to identify the higher ranking officers.
This extreme silliness even found its way into our Selection course. So yes, Special Forces candidates carrying a rucksack that weighs as much as a Toyota pickup truck pushing a jeep with three fucking tires down a firebreak in Camp Mackall aren’t visible enough? And worse, now this is a thing for civilian runners now. Everywhere in the states, I see civilians who love to wear whatever cool-guy Hoowah shit the Joes wear now wearing the “Belt, High Visibility, Yellow” as they jog down our streets.
Esper’s memorandum was probably met with extreme joy by the troops who have always hated the damned things to begin with. But Esper’s memorandum left enough ambiguous language in there to satisfy some chickenshit SGM who no doubt pounded his desk in frustration spilling his coffee and knocking over his Matchbox Scooby-Doo van. “Not on my gawddamn watch!” So it may take a while because old habits die hard.
Reflective PT belts will soon go the way of the dodo. Sorry, you won’t be missed. I can’t see old soldiers in the future looking with nostalgia on their reflective PT belt like our generation did/does with the poncho liner. What’s next? Will the Big Army bring back training that actually prepares the units for combat? What a novel concept.
And …fuck you very much Henry…yes, still, because you know, old habits die hard.
Photos: US Army/Newsrep cartoon