Monday, March 24, 2014

A Soldier's Task: Raising Adults

This post is simply a story about being a soldier and one of the many thankless chores we conduct as leaders and mentors. 

Raising young men and women.

I'm sure this post may apply to Marines, Airmen, and Sailors as well.  My background is Infantry and Special Operations, so this is the experience I'm writing from.  I'll mostly be speaking from my time in the Infantry, because with my latter job I don't have very junior folks.  

As a Soldier you have America's sons and daughters thrown your way, most of them fresh out of high school.  Most don't have the life skills to properly get by on their own.  The hard truth of this is that some of them just had parents that were nonexistent, didn't have parents, or their parents were what I would consider trash.  The others, they've been raised well, but they still have some growing up to do.  

That's where we step in.  As a first line supervisor in the Army you are responsible for teaching and showing your young soldiers "the way".  This covers the gamut of how to wash their clothes to financial responsibility.  It even includes how to keep their rooms clean and other disciplines that are needed to be successful as a young soldier.  It's not just about how to shoot, move, and communicate.  It's not just about how to be physically fit and become a warrior. 

When I first came in, you could not move out of the barracks until you were E-6 or if there wasn't enough barracks space.  Nowadays you can live off-post if you so choose no matter what your rank.  This could be unit dependent.  This means you have young men with the responsibility of finding a place to live within their means.  Good leaders will walk their soldiers through this process if needed.  Either way, they'll ensure the soldier knows what they're doing, even if they're married.  This process also applies to buying a vehicle.  

If that soldier gets in trouble or gets out of line, it's that supervisor’s responsibility to counsel him and provide some kind of corrective action.  Essentially, we have to punish the soldier in some fashion and teach them right from wrong.  This is a touchy subject for many, because you've probably heard the term "shit rolls down hill".  If that soldier did something that was noticed by "higher", than it will come rolling down to your level before you roll it onto them.  I've been the recipient of tough love thanks to mistakes by a soldier or two (even though you may not deserve it).  Right or wrong, that's just how it works in some units.  

When a young soldier has nowhere to go for Thanksgiving or Christmas, you can bet a leader in the unit will have a spot at the table for him and welcome them as one of their own.  When they need a ride home from the bar because they drank too much or when they're stuck somewhere with a broken down vehicle because their paycheck doesn't afford them a nice, new vehicle.

In summary, we are with your sons and daughters everyday.  We are responsible for their lives, especially on deployment where we are with them 24/7 and possibly in harms way.  We aren't just there to make them tactically and technically proficient.  We are there to raise them as men and women who will be a benefit to society and be successful no matter what they do as career soldiers or in civilian life.  I could go on and on about the tasks leaders/mentors conduct in the military that are outside of what you probably think we do.  As an infantry squad leader, I always said one of the most important jobs we do is raising men.  I still believe that to be true.  

For any military folks that read this, feel free to comment below and add to this.