Monday, May 10, 2010

Uselessly useless.

It's been a long time since I had to care about the minutia of U.S. Army uniform.

But every so often I come across something that pokes me right in my NCO gland.

As a species we tend to be the U.S. Army's official custodians of niggling bullshit and militarily useless fripperies; the details of dress uniforms, drill, and ceremonies being perhaps our most nitpicky symptom of that. So when I see this:...a U.S. infantry company marching in the Russian WW2 V.E. Day parade, my asshole old sergeant reflex kicks in and begins to ask;

1. If you're going to send someone all the way to Moscow to march, Army, why not send someone (like a company from the 3rd U.S. Infantry) instead of a bunch of yayhoos from 2/18th Infantry (and, yes, I know that the 18th landed in Normandy on D-day. Compared to the Soviet war effort, their activities at that little tea party had about as much to do with winning WW2 as the 3rd Infantry did ambling around CONUS). The 3USI specializes in useless pagentry like this, this unit doesn't, and it shows.

2. And if you're going to have them march past in their blues (which I do understand is the Army's official Class A dress uniform now) can't you at least find them their "bus driver" caps instead of that goddamn beret?The damn thing looks silly enough with fatigues (you haven't seen a beret until you've seen it worn by an Army cook or a light wheeled vehicle mechanic - my favorite was the "jeff cap" look, where the stiffened bit with the flash is pulled down flat over the forehead) but it makes the wearer look perfectly ready to ride the short bus when worn with blues.

3. And if you're going to have them march past the Kremlin, Army, you can't march past at shoulder arms instead of sling arms, like a bunch of recruit privates? Were you afraid that the rifles would be every-which-way, like sticks in a barrel? And what does that say about the marching unit's attention to detail in preparing for this ceremony?

4. And if you're going to march past in mass formation, Army, get your D&C head out of your fourth point of contact! (Note: understanding this comment requires watching the BBC video) Either the officers in the front rank of the formation are ALL commanders-of-troops and entitled to render the hand salute for their unit (and if so, why are they together in a single rank?) or they're part of the formation and they should be executing an eyes-right. This is really a trick question - I KNOW they're not the COT because he's where he should be, at the front of the element.

The Brits and Russians look their usual dapper selves on parade, and I'm sure that the French and Poles managed to put together a couple of smart looking march units. Personally, I think that this sort of military preening is a useless throwback to the 18th Century and should be restricted to a tiny handful of ceremonial units like the 3rd Infantry. But if we're going to go to the effort to show up at one of these dog-and-pony shows, why do a half-assed job?

I feel the way about this goofy Army crap the way Lord Burleigh did about keeping a mistress; the pleasure is transient, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable. But if we're going to do it at all, why not do it to a higher standard?

(Crossposted from GFT, a huge h/t to Jason over at Armchair Generalist, and a sheepish admission of fellow military geek-guydom in finding the pass-in-review of the operational T-34s and SU-85s pretty fucking cool.)


  1. It isn't at all useless. This is one of the standard ways to impress your friends and intimidate your enemies. Sharp looking uniforms are *much* cheaper than carrier groups

    As your analysis indicates, putting on a dog and pony show involves countless decisions (both big and small). These decisions all roll up together into what you actually see.
    An experienced eye can gain insight into these thought processes when they watch a parade.

    Take your comment about the dapper British, it simply assumes a quiet professionalism.

    I wonder what the Russian General Staff thought of the Americans on parade.

  2. Ael: Enh...I'm not so sure. The Sovs had lovely parades and they didn't impress the Afghan muj a hell of a lot. The Israelis are famous for their scruffy appearance and until the intifada they had no problem mopping the Levant with their Arab foes. Polished marching meant something in the time of Fredrick the Great. Now? Not so much.

    I agree with you that the attention to detail it takes to get things right for one of these public shows in the final turn-out of the troop unit. The thing is that the skill set to look pretty on parade is very different from the one that makes you dangerous in combat. And, like getting good at fighting, it takes a long time and a lot of practise to get there. It looks to me like C/2/18th didn't put in the woodshedding it would have taken to match the prettiness of the Welsh Guard or the Russian parade units or (I suspect) whoever the hell the French and Poles sent. Not that they should have had to; we alredy have a march unit that does that, and how much more difficult would it have been to fly a company of the 3USI to Moscow that it was to railhead the 2/18th?

    And if I had been on the reviewing stand for STAVKA I'll bet I'd have been thinking; "You bastards try and act like you're so bad-ass...what a fucking clusterfuck. You can't even whip the same goatrapers we couldn't beat. You pussies. We should have gone for you back when we had the chance..."

    Hey, it all goes for twenty, right?

  3. The Sov's parades were not intended to impress the Afghans, they were intended to impress us.

    And they did! Mission accomplished, especially when you compare GDPs of Nato vs Warsaw Pact.

    A military has to prioritize all the missions it is assigned. I'm guessing that whoever made the decision to send the 2/18 figured that it was a second rate parade and that the USA didn't need to send their best because nobody who counted would care.

  4. "The Sov's parades were not intended to impress the Afghans, they were intended to impress us. And they did!"

    Mmmm....well, they certainly impressed the "Team B" types like Cheney and the Kagans. Not so sure if it was the parades or just the overall size of the Soviet military. A big portion of our defense leadership certainly did buy into their propaganda. Again, not sure if it was as much the trooping through Red Square or the much larger muscle offstage.

    But your point is well taken - the people these shows definately WERE intended to impress were the Russian (and the subject people's) civilians (and they seem to have done that), and the corrolary to that is that the U.S. Army may well have decided that this would be a total non-event for the U.S. public so who gives a shit?

    Not a decision that, to me, reflects well on the shrewdness of the Army staff, but, oh well...

  5. I was particularly impressed by the aviation assets that flew the number "65" over the viewing stand. Very strack.

  6. Chief-

    The Welsh Guards are not strictly a ceremonial unit. As with all the Royal Guards Regiments, they serve fully in the missions and deployments of the British Army, to include Iraq and Afghanistan. It is possible to be sharp and fight.

  7. Often events have no deeper meaning. A parade is just a parade. That the US was invited is, at most, a sign of somewhat better relations between the US and Russia - nothing more. I could care less how well they marched or what STAVKA or anyone else thought them. I doubt most anyone else cares either and this parade will be largely forgotten in a week or so.

  8. Al: True. But I would argue that the British Guards are a very unusual critter. Their definition of parade "sharp" is an order of magnitude higher than anything we have outside of Ft. Myer. And I'm not trying to slag off on the guys from 2/18; for a bunch of U.S. line dogs they would have been just fine for 95% of ceremonial occasions. But this was a fancy-dress party, and we have a bunch of guys who do just this, and we didn't send them. What, was the social calendar at Arlington specially full that week?

    Andy: True, but that's because you're an officer and are paid to think about the Big Picture. I'm and NCO and thus spend my little life nagging people about petty, idiotic bullshit. While I try and transcend it, every so often the NCO genes throw out a nasty mutation and I revert to type. This event just happened to be one of them.

  9. Chief,

    Thanks for the promotion, but I'm an NCO too. I did marry an officer, so I do have some insight into how they think! I do think big-picture mainly because that's a big part of my job, but perhaps cavorting with the enemy has affected my judgment. ;)

    I do understand what you're saying and I have my own set of NCO peeves. I think ten years ago this would have been one of them. The more I think about it, though, the more I agree with your point - these guys represent the US and perceptions matter.

  10. Finally got around to watching the full video. The Russians do know how to put on a good parade. Reminded me of plenty of GDR parades back in the bad ole days . . . watching the equipment especially - "yes that is an upgrade of the RM-70!"

    Thanks for this Chief. Yes, we did look really bad, even the full version cut us off quick . . . maybe if the odd US line unit tries real hard they might look as good as the French, with a bit of work. The Poles? Forget it.

    Yes, 3rd Infantry and designate one platoon for this parade as "Berlin Brigade" . . . they march by wearing that patch . . . the Russians would pick up on that . . .

  11. As a former army cook its great seeing an NCO act like a little school girl and pick out MOS's to pick on.

  12. I have a lot more respect for those 3rd Infantry Infantryman than those fake Soldiers in the Old Guard.