Is there anything more inspiring than the relationship between soldiers who have fought side by side in the heat of war and emerged victorious? Think of the deep affection between brothers-in-arms, after walking through Hell together…
It’s no coincidence that such incredible bonds are formed in the midst of ugliness, chaos, and even death. The very fact that ordinary men/women knowingly, willingly unite with each other and sacrifice everything a human has to sacrifice is precisely what makes their relationships so deep.
Now think of how they got there. Think of the months spent training and learning to work together in preparation for their mission.
Boot camp kind of makes the average civilian wonder, “Why would anyone want to join the armed service?” No one likes being micro-managed and scrutinized. No one likes emotional and psychological pain. But boot camp is necessary to teach new-recruits how to function as part of that well-oiled machine.
The process starts with senior training officers stripping away the bad habits developed by recruits during civilian life. Most agree, the whole experience sucks…but, the more stubborn and prideful the boy, the worse his experience is. Boot camp exposes weaknesses and breaks the individual down. It’s a kind of death. But it serves an important purpose:
Recruits are yanked from their comfort zones and thrown into situations that make them feel out of control to learn trust for their commanding officers and each other.
The results speak for themselves, most of the time. Oh sure, there are squadrons that go to pieces on the battle field. But often, the right training pays off. There are few relationships stronger than the ones between soldiers united for a cause.
What if the military decided to overhaul its boot camp system, so it wasn’t so darn unpleasant? What if they decided to keep the roles and expectations basically the same, but they shifted their emphasis a tiny bit?
I’m imagining a day when drill sergeants are asked not to pick apart the little flaws they find when new recruits arrive. After all, most of them are really good kids with good intentions. Do we have to yell at them? What’s the harm in letting them rest between exercises?
And why can’t they ask questions or make suggestions about their training?
Instead of focusing so heavily on forcing the new recruits to fit in the well-oiled-military-machine (which is a painful process), why don’t we teach officers to lead differently? Better? They can show examples of order and respect, rather than getting in the face of young recruits; earn the right to lead through patience rather than demands. Maybe training officers could work with the recruits individually–learning their strengths and highlighting them–instead of hammering so much about conformity, group-function, and trust.
I can picture a young boy, asking a commander why it’s so bad to have an un-tucked shirt. And (rather than snapping) the commander patiently explains the dress code. Maybe the boy still doesn’t agree with it, so he asks whether the dress code can be changed. The commander starts to raise his voice. (Old habits die hard, after all.) But, the boy doesn’t fault him for his being imperfect. Commander apologizes. Recruit accepts. And the two of them cultivate a life-long friendship based on mutual respect.
We probably should keep the rank system, so everybody knows what job they have. But we need to make sure EVERY soldier understands the titles don’t mean one person is more or less important. The Commander-in-Chief (aka the President) ultimately makes the decisions, but the rest of us are peer-equals, trying to carry out the Chief’s orders the best we can…
THAT needs to be the bottom line—the part everyone takes away from training.
I worked through a pretty standard Love/Submission Bible study in my devotions this morning.
I can’t help thinking Christian culture keeps approaching this training wrong…
Imagine it with me:
The military team is dropped into a raging battle and barely hears the team leader over the sounds of planes, explosions, and the cries of the dying. Suddenly, an order comes down the line: RUN STRAIGHT FOR THE TREE LINE RIGHT NOW! But, who gave the word? Is that REALLY a good plan?
A couple young soldiers get low to the ground and head for the wooded area, but several mill about in confusion and indecision. Two boys shout to each other over the noise, “Where’s the Chief?! We need to find out what HE wants from us!”
At that moment, the team leader grabs one of them by the arm and screams, “We’re vulnerable here! Head for the trees NOW!” But the boy still isn’t sure what to do…
“For the love of God. WHERE’S CHIEF?!” he cries in desperation. The leader just repeats his order–yelling angrily, “Even if the Chief is mad, I’m the one he will hold responsible. Do as I say, Soldier!”
But the boy hasn’t been taught the importance of obedience to authority. When life is on the line, he ultimately relies on himself–his own ears and reasoning. He feels comfortable speaking with the Chief personally and asking questions about the plans. It’s not easy for him to get messages second-hand.
He has no idea how to behave in war–since he trained using a system that emphasized discussion and equality rather than respect and loyalty.
What a shame…
…because he has been robbed of the beautiful relationship–the life-long affection–which could have bonded him with the Team Leader, if only he had the courage to trust.