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Becoming Soldiers: Army Basic Training and the Negotiation of Identity

By John W. Bornmann
Master of Science, May 2002, George Washington University
Bachelor of Arts, December 1998, University of Pittsburgh

A Dissertation submitted to
The Faculty of
Columbian College of the Arts and Sciences
of The George Washington University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
May 17, 2009
Dissertation directed by
Roy Richard Grinker
Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs

UMI Number: 3349632

Copyright 2009 by
Bornmann, John W.
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Becoming Soldiers: Army Basic Training and the Negotiation of Identity

John W. Bornmann

Dissertation Research Committee:

Roy Richard Grinker, Professor of Anthropology and International
Affairs, Dissertation Director
Alfred Hiltebeitel, Professor of Religion, Committee Member
Ronald Weitzer, Professor of Sociology, Committee Member


For my father, whose spirit exists in every word I have written.


The process of writing a dissertation is difficult, complex, and arduous. Over the
course of my studies, many people have been helpful in many different ways, and I could
not possibly thank them all. My committee deserves special thanks for their consistently
patient and understanding feedback as I attempted to process the varied and numerous
different elements of Basic Training into some coherent whole. All of my committee
members kept me on track, thinking, and challenging my preconceptions. Richard
Grinker provided prompt and thoughtful responses to my various drafts, kept me focused
on my final goal and ultimately believed in my work when it truly mattered. Alfred
Hiltebeitel provided constant support and many needed criticisms when I ventured too far
into speculative territory. Ronald Weitzer provided many hours of discussion and
directed down avenues which I never would have noticed without his help.
I would also like to pay my respects to all of the soldiers I have served with. So
many of your voices exist in this dissertation, and unfortunately I can not identify you
here without giving you away. Special thanks do go to the members of my team during
my deployment. As I mention in this dissertation, the bonds of soldiers who have served
together go deeper than friendship, and you will always be my brothers.
Many of my friends and associates also deserve particular recognition. Dr. Lucy
Laufe provided a constant friendly ear and positive encouragement when desperately
needed, even if she didnt know how much it mattered at the time. The opportunities for
teaching and leadership she provided also forced me to return to my basics in ways which


were more helpful than I can express. Daniel Singer was always available for assistance
with every element of my work, from grammar to advice on how to deal with academic
bureaucracy. The entire Thursday Night Gaming Group provided not only much needed
decompression, but also some remarkably astute insights into the world of the military.
And finally, for putting up with my long hours, late nights, and overall stress, eight
months in Iraq, and countless hours of necessary solitude, my partner, Carrie Blank.

Abstract of Dissertation
Becoming Soldiers: Army Basic Training and the Negotiation of Identity

This dissertation examines the process of Basic Training and how that process
works to convert civilian recruits into soldiers. The common conception of Basic
Training is that the Army breaks you down and builds you back up again. However,
the nine week process of Basic Training is hardly enough to overcome a minimum of
eighteen years of prior life experience. Rather, Basic Training is an introduction to the
institution of Army life, through the accumulation of skills and knowledge of how to
properly negotiate that institution. Throughout Basic Training, recruits accumulate social
capital through their performance of the role of soldier, emulating Drill Sergeants as well
as mythical heroes from film and literature who they think best epitomize what a soldier
should be. Thus, the definition of soldier is unique to each individual, learned before
Basic Training, and performed by each soldier as he continues his career into the regular


Table of Contents
Dedication ..iii
Acknowledgements iv
Abstract of Dissertation .vi
Table of Contents ..vii
Chapter One: Introduction and Literature Review.......1
Chapter Two: Language and Mythology ..71
Chapter Three: Basic Training as Rite of Passage ......126
Chapter Four: Sacrifice and Basic Training ....191
Chapter Five: The Soldier, His Rifle, and the 21st Century Battlefield .....256
Chapter Six: Military Revolutions and the Field Training Exercise ...301
Chapter Seven: Fictive Kinship in the United States Army ...353
Chapter Eight: The Contemporary Soldier in the Field ..390
Conclusion ..428
References .. ... 437
Appendix .....461


Chapter 1: Introduction

The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been underway for almost seven
years, and take up a large part of the considerations of our media and public
consciousness. However, despite the large numbers of journalistic and first person
accounts of those wars, there has been very little academic discussion of the military, and
more importantly, the soldiers and other servicemembers which make it up. A proper
understanding of the military, and particularly the Army, is essential in a new era when
so many of our American citizens are deployed overseas in combat assignments.
As I began my research, it seemed to me that a good first step in studying the
military would be to study the first step of most soldiers joining the military, namely to
go through Basic Training and experience the events firsthand, then examine those events
to see what type of instruction was received, how incoming soldiers received that
instruction, and whether there were any other elements of Basic Training which could not
be easily described in a day by day recitation of the events which occurred. As such, I
entered Basic Training as a private, proceeding through a recruiter to enlistment, and
eventually shipped off to Basic Training in the summer of 2002. My experiences at Basic
Training were highly charged, as the environment is very emotional, intense, and
stressful. However, the immersion in the environment provided me insight which an
outside observer would likely miss, and allowed me to build rapport with other privates
in my Basic Training class as an equal in their worlds, and provided me with the shared
history essential to speaking with other soldiers about their own experiences.

Since World War II there have been a limited number of academic studies of the
military or the Army, and less than a handful of examinations of the process of Basic
Training itself. Although the truism that the Army breaks you down and builds you
back up again, remains common, there has been little study of the process itself, and
whether or not it actually does serve this function. If the goal of the Army was to turn out
identical soldiers from its Basic Training program, in my case this most definitively
failed. Instead, each individual in my Basic Training class continues to express himself
as an individual, even if within the structure of the military itself.
According to our Drill Sergeants, the Basic Training class to which I was assigned
was not particularly different from any other class they had instructed. The composition
of our Basic Training class was wide and varied, with every region of the country
represented, and ages ranging from eighteen to thirty four years old. Each of these
individuals dealt with the environment of Basic Training differently, and although each
individual changed over the course of the nine week training, there were very few
changes which were similar from one person to the next, and out of 57 individuals who
entered Basic Training with me, 57 individuals graduated.
If Basic Training did not produce the typical or ideal soldier, then what is the
purpose of the training program? I argue that the indoctrination process of Basic
Training is not designed to produce a soldier, nor could it, but is instead designed to
teach incoming recruits the proper way to perform as a soldier. Specifically, in an
institution constructed on restrictive and often contradictory rules, Basic Training teaches
individuals how to manipulate and negotiate the rule structure and maintain their
individuality. Although modeled after a traditional rite of passage in many ways, Basic

Training is more of a process of becoming a soldier through the constant and reiterated
performance of the soldier role.
This approach has a number of far reaching implications, as the Army is one of
the most restrictive institutions within American society. If individuals find ways of
expressing themselves within this rigid institution, then it follows that in other arenas
which present even fewer rules agency is both possible and likely. Over the course of
this work, I will show how Army recruits challenge boundaries and negotiate rules
through the performance of their assigned role, soldier, and express their individuality
despite the rules imposed upon them.
Sociologists and political scientists have both looked at the differences between
military and civilian culture. In journalism and quasi-scientific studies, a large focus of
military writing has focused on the elites of the military establishment: Special Forces,
Navy SEALS, or Army Rangers. Historically, a number of academic studies have
examined the makeup, psychological or sociological, of the combat infantryman, the man
who closes with the enemy and kills him. Although the psychological and social
consequences of legally sanctioned violence, generally censured in the rest of American
society, are important, there is a very large subset of the United States military which is
underrepresented in studies of the military.
The vast majority of members of all the military services, and the Army in
particular, are not infantrymen but soldiers whose primary purpose on the battlefield is to
render logistical support to the infantry, whether through analysis of intelligence,
processing paperwork, or putting food on tables in a war zone. Any examination of
military life which focuses on the infantry, on the killing engaged in by the U.S. military,

ignores the vast majority of soldiers who will not fire their weapon in anger nor engage
the enemy. Although the emblem of military culture is that of the infantryman, soldiers
create their own identity by choosing those elements of military imagery that appeal to
them and negotiating their own way through the bureaucracy of the Army institution.
The question of agency is one which sits at the very heart of military service. A
structural view of society argues that many of our decisions are made in advance of our
actual choices, based on the larger cultural and institutional conditions into which we find
ourselves put. Thus, although the contemporary military is most commonly referred to as
a volunteer one, the All-Volunteer Force, some critics claim, has merely replaced a
system of forced conscription that was biased against the poor with one of economic
conscription in which those who enlist are those to whom society has presented no
attractive alternatives (Congressional Report on Social Representation, 1989, p. 9). This
does hold true to some extent as one anecdote from my first day at Basic Training will
After the shark attack (which will be discussed in Chapter Three), the drill
sergeants set all of my new platoon down on the floor of the barracks and began
introductions, with each recruit identifying their name, where they were from, and why
they joined the Army. In one case, Private Marshall stated that he was from Alabama,
and I joined the Army to get out of Alabama. This comment was met by laughter from
the remainder of the group, but the Drill Sergeants simply nodded and moved on to the
next person as if this response were completely normal. However, this was a single
recruit out of almost sixty, the rest of whom expressed their intentions to join the Army

for reasons which, although occasionally including money for education or job training,
predominantly focused on ideas of patriotism.
The particular time frame of my training, six months after the events of
September 11th, may have had an effect on these responses. This timeframe also shows
the problem with the quote from the Congressional Report mentioned above. Prior to
September 11th, joining the Army may have been seen as an opportunity to simply
achieve a college education or vocational training for Americans who had few other
options. However, this was also a period when there were few deployments overseas,
and these few deployments were almost always voluntary (even fought over). Although
in 2002 many of the soldiers already in the Army had joined under these peacetime
conditions, in my training cycle there were only two recruits who had joined prior to
September 11th, and they held this distinction up with pride, noting that they were the
true volunteers who had joined the Army, rather than those who had simply responded
to a national emergency.
Regardless of their reasons, recruits who join the Army do so with the
understanding that they have joined an institution which is distinct from a corporation or
even another government entity. In the modern world, institutions and organizations
abound, with a variety of rules and restrictions. For most organizations, restrictions on a
members behavior and attempts to mold members identities are limited to those
elements which directly affect the institution. However, an organization such as the
United States Army restricts the entire universe of its members. Rules and restrictions on
fashion, residence, behavior, and even acceptable presentation of a soldiers body are
imposed on soldiers, an expression of the total institution developed by Erving Goffman.

These restrictions shape the roles associated with a distinct identity, that of the soldier,
and the sets of values which it attempts to inculcate in all of its members. Basic Training
is a shared experience of most soldiers in the Army, and all enlisted 1 members have gone
through it. Basic Training, then, is the touchstone of Army life, a common point of
reference with which soldiers can bond together and form a group identity.
After Basic Training, recruits move to specialized training and focus on more
specific tasks distinct to their particular occupations within the Army. Most of these
occupations, as noted above, are not infantry or combat based. However, the military is
an institution designed around the infantryman, and around the action of killing. The
Army has a number of disparaging slang terms for those members who are not on the
battlefield, such as REMF (Rear Echelon Mother Fucker), Fobbit 2 , or Pog (a generic term
for an out of shape or otherwise substandard soldier, pronounced pg). These terms are
opposed to the killers on the battlefield, the infantry, the armor, the artillerymen
(collectively, these three specialties are termed combat arms).
Even among the combat arms, pride of place is granted to the infantryman, whose
job, as defined by the British military is to close with and kill the enemy. 3 In other
words, the infantryman will experience death firsthand, and be under threat of death from
the enemy in a way which other soldiers, even artillery and armor soldiers, are not.
Infantry are granted certain symbolic privileges that other members of the military are not
allowed, such as the Combat Infantry Badge, a blue braid on the shoulder of the Class

Except for the very few soldiers in the Army who have come from other branches.
Fobbit is a combination of hobbit and FOB, or Forward Operating Base. Thus, a Fobbit is a small weak
soldier who remains on the FOB and never leaves the safety of the base.
The strength of this phrase is such that it is often used by American soldiers as well as British. In fact, in
2004 there were rumors that non-infantry soldiers would be eligible to receive the Combat Infantry Badge,
and the arguments against this were summed up by my platoon sergeant with this exact phrase.

A uniform, and for drill sergeants, a blue disc around the Drill Sergeant Insignia on the
drill sergeant hat. With so much importance attached to the infantry, it is hardly
surprising that the infantry forms the strongest mythological and symbolic figure in
military discussion.
The strength of this imagery can be seen in the term trigger puller. Although a
direct reference to shooting a weapon (and therefore shooting an enemy), trigger pullers
do not have to be infantry, they are simply those members of a unit that are seen as the
ones least likely to hesitate if given the order to kill another person. Within most units,
trigger pullers are seen as better soldiers than others, and even within infantry units,
some soldiers are given the label while others are denied it. The vast majority of military
members are not infantry, however. The majority of jobs in the US Army involve
inventory and accountability, and for those that dont, they require a simple, if critical,
focus on the job at hand.
A study of military indoctrination, the methods by which a civilian is transformed
into a soldier, lays the foundation for an understanding of military culture as a whole.
The indoctrination process highlights those elements of military culture which make it a
unique subculture within our modern society. An ethnography of this process reveals not
only the changes occurring within those recruits going through it, but what the meanings
of those changes, and the symbols adopted by the military establishment, are to the
This dissertation examines the formation of the identity of soldier, by focusing on
the ways in which individual recruits rebel and adapt to the rules and conventions of
Basic Training. Those recruits labeled problem children form the basis of a sizable

portion of this study, due to their visible position and the degree of attention they receive
from drill sergeants. Functionally, these problem children become symbols of
unacceptable behavior, and the ways in which they are censured by both the authorities
and their fellow recruits identify what recruits and drill sergeants find acceptable and
unacceptable within the role of soldier.
These interactions alone are not sufficient for a proper understanding of the
formation of the soldier identity in Basic Training, however. In addition to the
interactions between recruits at Basic, examinations of military history and the techniques
used by previous soldiers to adapt to their lives in the total institution of military life will
show how the modern military is itself adapting to new challenges, new missions, and
new soldiers. The selective enforcement of rules by drill sergeants, acting as the
representatives of the institution, informs privates of which rules they will be allowed to
break, and which they wont. The discipline associated with certain activities, such as
handling a rifle, highlights the importance of those activities for the institution, and
connects soldiers not only with the institution, but with other soldiers the world over.

Military and Civilian Attitudes

In the past fifty years, there have been few academic studies of military
indoctrination procedures. Well known military sociologists such as Charles Moskos and
Morris Janowitz have traditionally focused on broader topics such as the organization of
the military, individuals who are already soldiers, and the ways in which the military as
an institution functions, a tradition which holds true for other social scientists as well
(Lutz, 2002; Moskos, 1970; Simons, 1997). Outside academia, a number of books have

been written about Marine Corps Boot Camp (Ricks, 1998; Woulfe, 2000; Da Cruz,
1987) but few about Basic Combat Training (Mann, 2002).
The role of indoctrination is suggested in a number of these studies, although
never the focus of the research. There is strong evidence that enlistees 4 in the military
already possess ideological feelings in support of the military. The Monitoring the Future
Project surveys high school seniors about a number of attitudes. David Segal and others
have analyzed these data for trends relating to military attitudes among high schoolers
(Bachman et. al., Summer 2001). The authors divided the respondents into different
groups based on time period, and on whether respondents were college bound, enlisting
in the military, or working professionally after high school.
There were a number of interesting results of this study. First, Segal found that
high schoolers planning on enlisting in the military already possessed many pro-military
attitudes. These attitudes increased in strength in follow-up studies, but enlisting students
were already significantly more in favor of military spending and military involvement in
foreign affairs by their senior year. The authors also discovered that enlistees feelings
that a soldier should blindly follow orders actually decreased after time was spent within
the military. With the exception of following orders, the authors conclude that among
military personnel, the attitudes associated with this culture are not so much inculcated
by the armed forces (i.e., socialized) as they are developed by young civilians who are
then influenced by them in their vocational choices (i.e., self-selection) (Bachman et al.,
Summer 2000, p. 579).

Enlistee refers to those members of the Armed Forces who will be entering as enlisted personnel. By
definition, officers do not enlist in the military. The term private will later be used to identify those
individuals who are currently undergoing Basic Training.

In the course of this study, the authors split the twenty year period of the MTF
Project into two decades, and studied trends across these decades. The results of this
analysis showed significant changes across time, in both the enlisting, college bound, and
professionally bound students. The entire sample of respondents, for example, increased
in support of U.S. military involvement in other countries from the first decade to the
second, even though enlisting respondents still scored higher in general. Other trends
followed this same pattern, suggesting that attitude changes occur regardless of career
choice. Thus, the military as an institution does not shape or define the attitudes, and by
extension the identities, of soldiers. These attitudes instead reflect the wider American
culture in which the respondents spent the majority of their lives up to that point.
Unfortunately, the Monitoring the Future Project is not one which focuses on
military attitudes, it is instead a secondary source. Bachman, et. al. have used the data
from the Project as well as they could but this data is limited. Although there are
suggestions of socialization through indoctrination, the Project can not tell researchers
whether further socialization beyond the first few years will affect their attitudes.
Larry Ingraham performed an ethnographic study of Army barracks life in the
early 1980s, mainly noting the predominant drug and alcohol use extant among soldiers
of the time. However, he also noted a number of social dynamics which still hold true in
the current Army. Most of these dynamics are specific to the realm of Active Duty
experience, but some are relevant even to the hyper-restrictive environment of Basic
Training. Ingraham noted four major social affiliations in the Regular Army: Work
Group, Rank, Residence, Race (Ingraham, 1984, pp. 58-66). At Basic Training there is
no rank structure outside of the Drill Sergeants and the recruits. However, Work Group


(typically squads), Residence (platoons) and Race figure prominently into the group
dynamics at Basic Training. Ingraham only discusses White versus Black interactions in
his study (Ingraham, 1984, p. 66) and in the contemporary military ethnic considerations
such as Hispanic groups are beginning to predominate. At Basic the main divisions
seemed to be along linguistic and not racial lines.
Ingraham also discusses the buddy system, implemented after the Vietnam War,
in which soldiers are not allowed to be alone, but must always be accompanied by
another soldier. Army requirements for the Buddy System still continue in Basic
Training. However, it is not always possible to have the same buddy at all times.
Leave, special duties, and personal business insure that there will be many times when
ones buddy is unavailable for companionship. The tendency of soldiers to run in threes
provided stability and continuity in social relationships at Fort Marshall. Each barracks
resident assumed the position of a partner in a dyadic relationship, but also functioned as
the third in numerous other relationships. (Ingraham, 1984, p. 71) These two- and threesomes would then be bonded together into what Ingraham calls a loosely bounded
clique, with overlapping memberships allowing a structured yet dynamic system to
emerge (ibid.). The beginnings of this social structure appear in Basic Training, as
privates are required to rigidly adhere to the buddy system rule, but due to the
practicalities of training, cannot do so with the same private at every moment. Thus,
privates quickly learn to negotiate the rule, developing strong relationships with two or
three other recruits, and weaker ones with a number of others, in order to always have a
buddy at hand when necessary.


Officers in the military go through a different process than enlistees, not Basic
Training, and there is evidence that officers are also influenced by civilian values, even as
they progress through the military hierarchy. General officers (Generals and Admirals)
are found to have attitudes roughly equivalent to the attitudes of civilian Americans
(Dowd 2001). Army officers leading combat units are highly aware of the
interconnectedness of military missions and civilian expectations (Avant & Lebovic,
2000). Value changes at military academies compared with those at civilian universities
also appear to be similar (Priest & Beach, 1998). Thus, for both officers and enlisted, the
wider civilian culture seems to have a stronger influence on attitude than military
indoctrination. We can infer, therefore, that there is nothing unique about military
indoctrination compared to other developmental avenues pursued by young people, be it
college, employment, or vocational education.

Research on Basic Training

The actual process of Basic Training has been the object of only a few studies,
mainly journal articles rather than monographs. Many such studies have been performed
by military personnel for the Department of the Army. Peter Bourne examines the effects
of the stressful environment of Basic Training, dividing the process into four stages,
which roughly mimic Turners three phases of rite of passage (Bourne, 1975). A number
of other studies have noted the ritual aspects of Basic Training (Arkin, 1978; Weitzel,
1976; Bernstein, 1987). William Weitzels analysis of Basic Training also notes its
similarity to a rite of passage in the minds of volunteer recruits, and focuses upon the
ways in which this ritual fails for some of the incoming recruits (Weitzel, 1976).


Of course, for as long as people have been organized into fighting groups, they
needed to be trained in proper techniques and procedures. Even hunter-gatherer societies
train their young men in proper hunting techniques (Gilmore, 1990). However, it was
during the Enlightenment that military training began to be codified, based mainly on
rites of animal training based on repetition and negative reinforcement (OConnell,
1989). The physical discipline of these early training programs were later supplemented
by psychological discipline, as well, with attempts to de-emphasize prior social
characteristics, especially status markers such as criminal activity, fashion, or academic
achievement (Janowitz, 1972).
Basic Training in its current form was established in 1973 with the formation of
the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Prior to that, most
training was conducted in haphazard fashion at hastily constructed locations, without any
standardized form. Even in the years between 1973 and 2003, the form and focus of
Basic Training has shifted in response to institutional needs. (Chapman, 1991)
During the 19th Century, most military training was conducted by the junior
officers and NCOs of the unit a soldier was assigned to. This program of training shifted
slightly prior to World War II, when the Army conducted training at Recruit Training
Centers, usually thirteen weeks long. After the beginning of the war, however, trainees
were assigned to a division or other large unit and conducted eight weeks of basic
training and participation in military exercises with that unit.
After the war, training continued at designated training centers, usually on larger
bases such as Fort Benning and Fort Dix. However, the training was still not
standardized, as one soldier reported eight weeks of Basic Training, while Sergeant


Banks related: in 1969, when I went in, we all went through the same Basic Training.
Whether you were gonna take and be a sniper, or take and be what I did, you went
through the same three months. Then you would take your test to find out what you were
gonna be. Jerry Mortons memoir of his own training in 1966 shows a haphazard
approach to the assignment and training of incoming soldiers: the lit building was the
only place to go. No one was there to tell us what to do. As if we were a species of
herding animals, our group assumed a subtle movement. . . The level of military dress
was not the same. Some men wore civilian shirts with fatigue pants. Others had the
reverse. Military shoes and boots were intermingled with a variety of civilian footwear.
(Morton, 2004, pp. 13-15) As I shall show later, the very idea of mingling civilian and
military uniforms is taboo during Basic Training today. The first day of Army life
focuses on the receipt of the military haircut and military uniform, which will not be
changed until after graduation.
Institutionally, the largest difference between Basic Training today and Basic
Training during this time was the shared training of all potential soldiers. This was most
likely due to the assignment of a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) after the
completion of Basic Training rather than at the time of enlistment. Today, a potential
soldier will know which MOS he will be assigned to (and sometimes even his assigned
unit), with his start date for Basic Training based on when his other training will begin,
before even signing his enlistment contract.
Additionally, the environment of Basic Training has changed significantly over
the years, most notably through an increase in the privacy available to privates in Basic
Training. This will be discussed fully later, but the removal of open bathrooms and


shower stalls, and at some locations the introduction of dormitory style rooms rather than
the open barracks, allows for greater privacy, and therefore a stronger feeling of selfdetermination during the training process.
The rituals of indoctrination practiced in many different armies and historical
periods suggests that Arnold van Genneps analysis of cross-cultural rites of passage still
maintains in the modern world. In many ways, of course, Basic Training is more than
simply a rite of passage into the Army life. For many recruits, Basic Training is the first
time in their lives they are challenged, and through those challenges learn not only a
sense of self-worth, but ways in which to deal with these challenges, as well as a sense of
accomplishment after overcoming them. Pamela Martin showed how recruits in Basic
Training dealt with stress over the course o their nine weeks of training, and found that
dropout rates from Basic were unrelated to any factor besides age (older recruits were
less likely to drop out), and of particular interest, [the] study also suggests that recruits
with higher levels of initial psychological distress show more reduction in distress by the
end of basic training. (Martin, Williamson, Alfonso, & Ryan, 2006, p. 159) These
findings reinforce earlier results from a study at Fort Dix, which found that:
One of the effects of basic training was an improvement in the recruits
personal adjustment as measured by his perception of himself as being in
good physical and psychological condition and in positive relations with
his peers. Thus basic training did succeed in developing self esteem and a
sense of social solidarity among recruits. On the other hand, attitudes
towards the institutional aspects of military life and of authority figures in
the Army (officers and noncoms) became more negative (Christie, 1953;
reported in Janowitz, 1974, pp. 79-80)
The loss of respect for authority in this study highlights the failure of Basic
Training to fully indoctrinate soldiers into the mechanized institution it appears to
be. Recruits are not programmed during Basic Training, but take in the


information presented to them, and then make their own decisions based on that
new information. Thus, when presented with leaders who give contradictory
commands and seem to disrupt the lives of recruits for no purpose (a common
occurrence at Basic Training), recruits will respond with greater distrust of the
authoritarian system they live within.
During Basic Training, the most obvious symbol of this authoritarian system is
the drill sergeant. Conversely, the problem child or consistently underperforming
recruit symbolizes the rebellion against this authority. Studies have focused on how drill
sergeants represent total control to the recruits under them (Katz, 1990) and the role the
drill sergeants must play as a role model rather than a martinet in the new all-volunteer
force (Faris, 1975). In contrast to the ideal of the drill sergeant, the problem child is a
private who fails at Basic Training, often these privates failures serve to draw the
remaining privates together as a stronger group (Schneider, 1953). When failures do
occur, the washed out recruits have been shown to express their failure in ways they find
more socially acceptable, blaming outside influences rather than their own flaws
(Schroeder, 1984). Unlike the recruits discussed by Schroeder, the problem child
typically remain among the others, and their symbolism is based on these interactions.
As symbols of rebellion, failing recruits reflect the unbreakable rules of the military, and
represent to other recruits what violations will be overlooked and condoned, and which
will not.

Violence and the Military


For as long as science has turned its eye on war and violence, there have been
arguments regarding its origins. Violence is obviously a part of any predators genetic
heritage, and human beings are no different. However, most researchers do not believe
that war is simply animal aggression writ large. Instead, there are many different theories
about the origins of organized violence. Some researchers believe that warfare began as
a result of group organization to resist attacks by stronger predators (Ehrenreich, 1996),
or that warfare was preceded by a long period of ritual, individual combat before mass
warfare originated (Gabriel, 1990; Turney-High, 1971). Some even trace warfare to the
raiding activity of our primate ancestors, based on evidence of chimpanzee violence and
paleontological evidence (Gabriel, 1990; Wrangham, 1996).
Martin van Creveld notes how the language of the military serves to prevent an
association of violence and killing with the use of a weapon designed for that purpose).
For example, the change from War Department to Department of Defense belies the
actual purpose of the office, which is still to wage war for the United States, and weapons
engage or suppress the enemy, provide antipersonnel capability, and are often put
on display as if they are simply toys for grown ups to play with in the same way as water
pistols and remote control cars are played with by children (Van Creveld, 1991, pp. 292294). Of course, he elides the fact that before mass media war itself was glossed over in
this way, admired by its practitioners, and lauded in song and cultural memory. The epic
poems of Beowulf and the Iliad, for instance, spend only so much time on the death of its
heroes in order to make those deaths spectacular, not tragic. This is not, in some sense, a
new thing, to disguise our killing selves, but rather a continuation of a human tradition
from ages past.


Perhaps the best known philosopher of war is Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian
army officer from the Napoleonic Wars. Although most of his opus, On War, deals
specifically with strategy and tactics, he comes to one very important conclusion about
the existence of warfare in human culture. Total War, which Clausewitz hypothesizes
but claims has not yet existed, is the unleashing of the complete destructive power of an
army upon its enemy (Clausewitz, 1976). Although Clausewitz never saw Total War, it
has been argued by many military strategists of the Nuclear Age that World War II saw
the dawning of Total War on human culture (Roseman, 2000; Van Creveld, 1989).
Total War is total violence, unconstrained by law, code, or tradition. Nuclear
strategy is predicated upon the impossibility of Total War (Kaplan, 1983), an assumption
that has held true through sixty years of proxy wars conducted under the threat of nuclear
response. However, when considering the longue duree of warfare, one can see that the
system itself works to limit violence from spiraling into Clausewitzs Total War. Gilles
Deleuze and Felix Guattari name the basic destructive force which would drive Total
War the war machine, the chaotic drive inherent in all humans (Deleuze & Guattari,
1987). In any organized society, it would be essential to prevent the warrior classes from
unleashing rampant destruction, purely for the societys own survival. The
agriculturalists, as the first organized society, were the first to tame the war machine, and
were constantly overwhelmed by the horsemen of the plains, who embodied it. These
horsemen, or nomads, have given Deleuze and Guattari a name for their theoretical
position: nomadology. In contrast, the military represents the war machine tamed by the
State, coopted into its service.


According to Deleuze and Guattari, the history of conflict can be seen as a

conflict between the State, from Sumeria to the British Empire, and the Nomad, those
people who refuse to subjugate themselves to the State and instead live in the border
areas, feeding off of it without contributing to it. Based upon readings of military history,
Deleuze and Guattari found that these Nomad groups were more successful in the
prosecution of warfare against a rigid State.
In order to understand the concept of the war machine, however, the concept of
space as seen by Deleuze and Guattari must be discussed. For Deleuze and Guattari,
there is striated and smooth space. Striated space is that which has been measured,
controlled by the State, and smooth space is the open plain, the frontier, land without a
map, without borders or arbitrary lines imposed by humanity. In terms of the Nomad and
the State, the Nomad lives entirely in smooth space, unbounded by structural rules
limiting movement, or in the case of modern civilization, emotion. The State, on the
other hand, lives in the striated space of control of movement, emotion, and activity.
Due to his existence in smooth space the Nomad is unfettered in his approach to
the world, compared to the member of the State, whose universe, psychological as well as
physical, is restricted and ordered, predetermining his decisions and restricting his
movement, physical and symbolic, to linear directions. In terms of military history, this
is the explanation for the traditional success of barbarians over civilization in a
constant cycle of invasion and incorporation, with successive waves of invaders
conquering and then assimilating into the civilization they supposedly conquered and
being invaded by a new wave of advancing hordes. (Deleuze & Guattari 1987;
Toynbee, 1950) Without the restrictions of striated space limiting the inventiveness and


adaptability of the Nomad, their success in warfare was virtually guaranteed. Military
historian John Keegan claims that eventually the agricultural communities developed a
critical mass of population that allowed them to organize society and technology to
resist these invaders (Keegan, 1993). In his account, the war machine was eventually
overcome by the State, coopted by it, and through that discipline able to overcome those
forces which use the raw power of the war machine without the strategies of the State.
The military then, represents the taming of the war machine, and the conversion of its
destructive power to an instrument of the State.
The important point about this, however, is that the war machine is not
necessarily the drive for violence. It is, instead, a metaphor for the creative, adaptive
aspect of the human psyche. The war machine is that chaos which has not yet been
delineated by the State, in the same way as the frontier is that land which has not yet
become striated by the State. By living on this frontier, the Nomad embodies the war
machine. The State, and its soldiers, attempts to categorize and delineate not just the
land, but the people on that land, removing them from smooth space and onto striated
space. The military is the States attempt to control the war machine itself, to move the
warrior from smooth space to striated space.
For the military, and the soldier who represents it, the war machine is not
removed so much as constrained, disciplined, and focused for the needs of the State.
Questioning rules, questioning authority, acting in accordance with ones own needs
rather than the needs of the State are all expressions of the war machine. While these are
effective traits for soldiers to have in battle, outside of the chaos of that situation, the
military requires its soldiers to remain within the rigid set of rules it has set up to ensure


that its status as a positive institution is not blemished. Therefore, within the soldier, that
randomness, chaos, and questioning of authority that is the war machine has to be
harnessed. The military does not want its soldiers to be stone cold killers, although as we
shall see, the ability to kill if necessary is valued by members of the military. Instead, the
military wants soldiers who can harness their inner war machine and then release it when
given the command.
Within military theory, the necessity for discipline to harness the war machine is
discussed often. Samuel Huntington views the military officer as a professional, one
whose job is to control violence, not to create it (Huntington, 1957). Admiral James
Stockdale stresses the absolute necessity for integrity among military personnel, which
will provide soldiers with the grounding necessary to maintain their equilibrium in
ambiguous situations (Stockdale, 1986). The laws of war are a modern invention with
ancient roots that attempts to control the actions of soldiers, limiting their ability to wage
war to certain situations and against certain people (Taylor, 1970). All of these works are
examples of how the military has attempted to control itself, its soldiers, and the
destructive measures it uses to achieve its goals.

Rites of Passage
Destruction and violence form the basis of Rene Girards discussion of sacrifice
in his work Violence and the Sacred (1972). Sacrifice is a running motif in much of
military literature and rhetoric, and many of Girards ideas are relevant to this discussion.
The scapegoat is the essential element of a sacrifice, as an outsider of some sort becomes
the focus of the aggression and disorder of the community, and is sacrificed in place of


that displaced aggression, releasing it from the community and returning it to harmony.
The ritual violence of a sacrifice is also frequently required when an act of non-ritual
violence sparks an upward spiraling pattern of violent retribution, which returns us to
Deleuze and Guattaris idea of the war machine. The uncontrolled violence of the war
machine mirrors the spiraling violence of Girard.
Girard also identifies differentiation, or more precisely the lack thereof, as
inspiring a sacrificial crisis. He sees the liminal in this way as separated because of their
propensity for violence, rather than Victor Turners idea that the liminal by its very
nature can cause a social crisis. The resolution of this contradiction will not be found
here, as it is sufficient merely to note that the liminal status of the initiate in a rite of
passage is associated with a perception of social danger. In addition, death is a powerful
symbol in many rites of passage, hardly surprising considering Girards realization of the
importance of sacrifice to deal with fractures in society. Van Genneps discussion of
rites of passage points out that symbolic death is a means of severing the connection to
the previous life and moving on to the next.
A simple framework derived from Van Genneps approach separates the rite of
passage into three phases. The first phase is separation, in which the ritual participants are
removed from the outside society in preparation for their change in status. Second is the
transitional phase, in which the participants move from their prior status and are trained
and prepared for their new position. Once the transition is completed, the participants
must be reintegrated into society with their new status, usually through a discrete ritual
that announces to the participants and to the society who the new members are, and that
they have officially been transferred to their new status.


This chaos and separation is the hallmark of Victor Turners work on ritual.
Turner builds off of the work of Arnold van Gennep, who isolated one class of rituals in
his work Rites of Passage. According to van Genneps analysis, among less complex
societies the distinctions among social classes are more marked than among those more
complex societies (Van Gennep, 1960). These distinctions are important for the regular
conduct of society, and when an individual is moved from one state to another, a ritual
must be performed in order to remove the person from the first state and re-instate him to
the next.
Van Gennep divides these rites of reinstatement, or rites of passage, into three
parts. First there is separation, when the initiands are removed from regular society, then
a transition where the initiands learn their new roles and the importance of structure for
the community, and finally a reincorporation where the initiands are returned to society in
their new statuses, whether as men, women, shamans, or some other marked status.
These three phases are also marked by varying associations with the sacred, typically the
transition period being one in which the initiands are considered sacred, and before and
after their separation and incorporation profane and capable of interacting with the real
Victor Turner developed the association between the sacred and the transitional
phase, what van Gennep called the liminal, or threshold. His attention was focused upon
the activities that occurred during the transitional phase, feeling that it was during this
phase that the significant activities occurred, both for the initiands and for the society
they were welcomed back into. During the transitional phase, normal hierarchies are
broken down, and all initiands are equal, which causes an evocation of what Turner calls


communitas. These two factors, communitas and liminality are central to the analysis of
most rites of passage.
Turner uses a structuralist model of binary oppositions to explain the difference
between liminal situations and the regular structure of society. Although his list is long, a
number of points are particularly relevant. First, there is uniform clothing worn by the
neophytes, as well as silence and an acceptance of pain and suffering (Turner, 1982).
These all fall along the lines of a separation from the regular structure of society, and an
attempt to make the neophytes into a tabula rasa upon which the rules of society may be
written. During Basic Training, recruits wear identical uniforms 5 , receive identical
haircuts, and all recruits wearing eyeglasses are issued identical glasses. Recruits are
only allowed to speak in specific situations, and especially during punishment must
stoically accept their punishment without complaint or dispute.
Although the transitional phase is supposedly without structure, Turner notes that
on its own a form of structure does arise. He calls this anti-structure, since it is usually
different in noticeable ways from the regular structure of society. In the first place,
liminal structure is characterized by complete submission of the initiands to their
instructors, the inverse of the complete equality of the initiands (Turner, 1987). This
authority is the exemplar of how the initiands will fit into society once they are
reintegrated, the liminal period is one in which the initiands realize that the structure of
society is the right and proper way for society to be organized. The drill sergeant at Basic
Training, as we shall see, is this exemplar of military identity, and commands total
control over the actions of recruits during Basic Training.

With the singular exception of the nametape over the right chest pocket


Rites of passage are traditionally found in less complex societies, especially those
in which roles are clearly defined, and transitions from one role to another require a
public identification of the transition. In modern society, there are few roles which
exhibit this definition. Although there may be differences between an accountant and a
clerk, for example, or an executive and a mailroom attendant, their lives are lived along
the same lines, in the same places, and with the same general rules. On the other hand,
soldiers are separated from the civilian world, wear distinct outfits, and live under a
completely different set of rules (the Uniform Code of Military Justice). Thus, the roles
of civilian and soldier are strongly differentiated. In addition, soldiers have one privilege
that most civilians do not: they are allowed to kill.
This ability to kill is not, of course, given freely to members of the military, or
granted exclusively to them. Police officers, for example, are also granted the ability to
use lethal force in certain situations. Soldiers are also highly restricted in how and when
they are allowed to use lethal force. Nonetheless, the capacity for violence is something
which must be dealt with by society. Ideally, then, society will have some way to control
the violent members of its group. Traditionally, the ways in which society controls its
members is through the use of rites of passage (Van Gennep, 1960), so it is not surprising
that the military rite of passage has remained extant in modern culture when many other
rites of passage have disappeared.
Army Basic Training appears to be a classic example of a rite of passage because
of the process that accompanies it. Painting the event with a broad brush, it appears to
follow the typical, frequently simplified template developed by Turner and van Gennep.
The first thing that happens to recruits is that they are taken from their civilian lives, their


civilian roles, and placed into their training battalions. Each recruit is issued standard
uniforms, and each is given the exact same haircut, the baldy 6 as it is called in Army
parlance. Once separated from their previous lives, the recruits are placed into their
training companies and allowed to mix with one another, under the all-seeing eye of the
drill instructor. Through the transition of Basic Training, each recruit is taught to interact
with the other members of his platoon and company, is made into a member of a Band
of Brothers. (Ambrose, 2001) Finally, after Basic Training is completed, recruits are
integrated into Army society with a graduation ceremony, typically calling up ancient
traditions and heritage to incorporate the soldiers not just into the Army today, but into
the long line of soldiers that have gone, and died before.

Critical Anthropology
The rise in anthropology of the subfield of critical anthropology has accomplished
a great amount in exposing power dynamics and hidden messages and problems within
institutional systems of various sorts. However, most critical anthropologies, such as
medical, corporate, or legal anthropology, have followed on the heels of more descriptive
ethnography. With a limited body of ethnographic literature on military life, however,
critical military anthropology proceeds first from theory rather than data. Although there
have been a few recent exceptions (Ambrose, 1992; Ben-Ari, 1998; Gusterson, 1991;
Hawkins, 2001; Simons, 1997), the majority of anthropological and ethnographic work
touching upon military affairs has focused on a reified idea of violence, or discussed the
effects of the military and/or violence on those surrounded by it (Simons, 1999). It is
hardly surprising, then, that the military often seems a polluting, profane, element in the

The high and tight, another military haircut is only common after graduation from Basic Training.


lives of those it touches. As I will discuss in the remainder of this dissertation, there are
certainly elements of liminality, and therefore an Other-ness, to soldiers, but it must be
remembered that soldiers themselves are not the institution of the military, but simply
members of it.
Cultural relativism, which can allow for tribal practices most Americans would
view with disgust or horror, arises from the anthropologists attempts to explain those
activities through the eyes of those members of the culture which practice them. Without
preliminary attempts at description and a particularist approach to military culture,
critical military anthropology can be blinded by a preconception of the military as evil
and contagious. Previous studies of the military by some anthropologists have fallen into
this trap. For instance in a number of articles and books Catherine Lutz describes the
negative aspects of military life, or life near the military, almost exclusively (Lutz, 2001,
2002, 2004, 2005). Similarly, Lawrence Radine discusses the means that the military
uses to indoctrinate and control its soldiers, without any examination of the positive
aspects of social control generally accepted by the academic community, such as selfdiscipline, self-awareness and self-esteem (Radine, 1977). There is no question that the
military lifestyle is different in numerous ways from the civilian lifestyle, or that
members of the military have a number of different and distinct views compared to the
general population of whatever culture they come from. The issue at hand is the value
attached to those views and lifestyles, and whether military culture should be accorded
the same objectivity as other cultures studied by anthropologists.
A balanced analysis of military life is a difficult endeavor in todays world. On
the one hand there are those who appear to see the military as an institutional force,


almost contagious in its influence over soldiers as well as civilians. For the most part
these critics are in the academic field. On the other hand, however, there are an
abundance of strategists and military consultants who seem to view the military as the
only organization large enough and prepared to deal with international events on behalf
of the United States. For these analysts, the military should be used as a the first line of
offense in every situation, and most importantly, that all that matters is strategy, tactics,
and the effectiveness of that armed force.
These polar approaches can only hamper any efforts to study the military in an
objective fashion. Military anthropologists who abjure the critical approach and use a
more empirical one, are thus facing attacks on both fronts. As academics they are
frequently looked at as purely abstract and distinctly unhelpful people by those who
would simply advise the military on strategy. As military theorists, they are viewed as
collaborators with the military establishment by academics, some of whom find drug
dealers, violent prisoners, or fraternity gang rape all worthy subjects of study (Bourgois,
1996; Rhodes, 2004; Sanday, 1990; respectively). This does not imply that these works
glamorize their subject matter, but is simply a note that these subjects are considered
acceptable in academia in a way which studies of the military do not seem to be.
Soldiers are, of course, a distinct group within American society. In terms of
boundaries, they are those who have, or could, cross the threshold into the realm of killer.
There is an element of pollution that is attached to such a crossing, which will be
discussed later. However, the rhetoric of modern America has also shifted post-Vietnam
and individual soldiers are no longer held accountable for the pollution of their spiritual
selves; instead, the pollution has been shifted to the institution itself (Huebner, 2008).


Although it may seem as if this approach advances the cause of the individual soldier, in
actual fact it removes from them any responsibility or agency and reduces them to
unthinking nodes with the institutional structure. Although within the legal structure of
the Army soldiers can be ordered to perform actions they would otherwise choose not to
do (cleaning toilets being a classic example in film and literature), discussions of other
subaltern groups show how resistance can be found even within rigid power structures
(Bhabha, 1994; Ong, 1987; Scott, 1987; et al.). Soldiers are also expected to disobey
illegal orders, and I have even see soldiers directly disobey legal orders when those
orders appeared to put their units at risk.
The advantage of an anthropological study of the military is the particular
advantage that anthropology brings to any study. By its very exploratory nature,
anthropology allows a researcher to combine theory and data in a way which other
studies do not allow. Sociological studies of the military are common, and varied, but
tend to focus on quantifiable data without investigation into the meanings attributed to
the data by the subjects. On the other hand, most non-quantifiable studies of the military
have been heavily theory driven. Works such as Catherine Lutzs Homefront (2001),
Carolyn Marvin and David Ingles Blood Sacrifice and the Nation (1999), and Carol
Burkes Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight (2004) are based on a
theoretical idea, which may be tempered with data, but is rarely informed by it.
In this study however, I have attempted to express as much ethnographic data as
possible to support my arguments. Symbolism exists everywhere, but I try to show those
places in which symbolism arises from the military system, those places in which the
military system delivers symbolism to its new recruits, and those places in which what


might be perceived as symbolic or deep structure is in actuality simply a fallout from the
bureaucracy within which military members must live. In addition, it cannot be forgotten
that soldiers in the Army are individuals, with their own thoughts, ideas, and agency.
Although they may be constrained by the institution, studying the institution as such
removes the identity and voice of the soldiers who make it up, and are at the end of the
day the ones who must risk themselves in support of the institution, and the political
leaders of the nation who direct it.
As pointed out by Laura McNamara, the lack of anthropologists willing to engage
with the military can actually result in a military that assumes a cultural approach that is
incorrect, and potentially more damaging to the people they engage with around the
world than if anthropologists were willing to approach military leaders and strategists
(McNamara, 2006, p. 13). It is thus an imperative for any moralist to actually engage
with military leaders rather than boycotting a system which they feel is somehow morally
corrupt. One of the best ways to do this is to begin with studies of the military from an
ethnographic perspective. As Catherine Lutz points out in an editorial comment, the
recent release of films discussing Iraq from the soldiers perspective should inspire
others to consider taking seriously military voices in the way that we, as anthropologists,
have other subaltern, marginalized, disruptive ways of knowing. (Lutz et al., 2007, p.
327) She continues:
But so far as we know, there are no anthropologists now writing
about the war in Iraq in English or whose work has been translated
into English. The discipline can, we believe, learn something from
filmmakers like Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes [2006]) and
journalists like Thomas Ricks (2006), who make it their job to
listen carefully and closely to a wide array of voices within the
military ranks and do justice to their diversity. It is easy commonplace - for anthropologists to have an opinion on the


war and to think that our opinions are worth hearing. But those
opinions are more informed, nuanced, and will carry further if they
are shaped by the kind of close, yet open-minded, encounters with
ground-level realities, and practice, whose importance we, and our
disciplinary forebears, have worked so hard to promote. (ibid.)
Unfortunately, less than six months later this same author was one of the founding
members of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, formed in protest to the
development of the Human Terrain System, a program to place anthropologists within
those same ground-level realities which she states will produce stronger arguments
regarding the War in Iraq in particular, and war in general. Although there are definitely
problems with the current makeup of the Human Terrain System, as McNamara points
out it is through engagement that meaningful dialogue and understanding will be created
between the anthropological and military communities.

This work is hopefully a

preliminary step in that process, as an engagement and description of the ways in which
the enlisted soldier negotiates the bureaucracy of the Army and his own identity.

The predominance of sociological studies of military life leave a very particular
gap in the evaluation of military life. As Pamela Martin points out in her study of
dropouts from Basic Training, no information regarding reasons for dropping out is
available for this study. An additional limitation was the inability to track individual
soldiers over time, to assess individual difference. Future studies may extend the work in
this area by being able to more specifically monitor and target particularly vulnerable
individuals. (Martin, 2006, p. 159) The limitation mentioned by Martin is common
among many sociological studies, and it is the value of ethnography to focus on the


individuals of a group, and examine the differences from one individual to the next. The
in depth knowledge that ethnography provides of its subject matter, in this case Basic
Training, is invaluable in an exploratory capacity, which considering the dearth of
knowledge regarding Basic Training at this time, opens up the subject for continued
Anthropology is at heart the study of people in their own words and in the actions
of their own lives. As such, in order to understand the soldiers of the United States
Army, participant observation, living with and joining with soldiers in their lives,
provides an understanding of the deep structure of Army life, and how soldiers
themselves create and maintain their identities as soldiers. As I shall discuss further
below, being a soldier is more a performative act than a state of being, and it is through
Basic Training that incoming soldiers learn what it means to be a soldier, and how to
appropriately act as a soldier.
In order to capture the experience of Basic Training, in 2002 I enlisted in the US
Army Reserves, and left for Basic Training at Fort Benning on July 23rd, beginning my
training to become an Army soldier. Soldiers in Active Duty, Army Reserve, and
National Guard are all trained in the same locations, and in the same platoons, at one of
four Basic Training locations: Fort Benning, GA; Fort Knox, KY; Fort Leonard Wood,
MO; and Fort Jackson, SC. Of these, Fort Knox and Fort Benning are male only training
establishments, while the other two bases perform mixed gender training.
As there has not been a thorough study of Basic Training since the end of World
War II (Stouffer et al., 1949), there are too many elements of Basic Training to examine
in a single study. The first and most obvious lack of discussion is a multi-faceted


examination of gender issues in the U.S. Army. Although I discuss masculinity as central
to the identity of the soldier, it is only in relation to this that gender is discussed. There
are two reasons for this. First, as Fort Benning is predominantly male, discussions of
females or feminism do not apply directly to my subject matter. Second, the scope of this
research is more concerned with other elements. Specifically, my project is to examine
how Basic Training attempts to impose an identity on incoming soldiers, and how those
soldiers deflect such impositions and express their own agency within the context of such
a large and near-total institution.
The lack of discussion of PTSD among soldiers is also significant. As much as
Basic Training is wrapped in the possibility of combat, the experience, although stressful,
did not seem significant enough to cause post-traumatic symptoms among privates. It is
a possibility that the failure of certain privates to adapt is reflective of PTSD, and some
symptoms, such as Private Evans and Private Jacksons emotional outbursts, may have
been expressions of this. However, the focus of this discussion is instead on the
dynamics of the other members of the platoon with these privates, and not with the failing
privates themselves. As objectifying as this approach might be, other researchers have
addressed this issue well enough (Grossman, 1995; Nadelson, 2005; Martone, 2008; to
name a few), and my study would not add much of value to these discussions.
The particular backgrounds of individual recruits are also left out of this
discussion. Although there is the occasional mention of a privates background as an
illuminating feature, the Basic Training class I belonged to truly was a cross-section of
the civilian world. Soldiers in support roles, which are the topic of this study, have truly
been diverse. In the same way, racial and ethnic backgrounds are not considered, as one


of the main elements of Basic Training is the removal of these features through
uniformity and general de-emphasis of these traits. As with socio-economic
backgrounds, in the social interactions among privates at Basic Training, ethnic heritage
did not seem to significantly affect those interactions.
The effects of military life on family relationships is only discussed in terms of
how a recruit is separated from those relationships through indoctrination. After Basic
Training, soldiers who are, or become, married, have to learn to deal with a new set of
bureaucratic challenges, commendably laid out by John Hawkins (2001) in his discussion
of soldiers deployed during the Cold War. During Basic, however, the imposition of
family life into the military world is disallowed, and it is only through separation that it
becomes an issue for privates in Basic Training.
Finally, there are a number of elements of Basic Training itself which are not
addressed, or poorly addressed, in this study. For instance, grenade training is one of the
significant elements of Basic after rifle training is completed, but does not compare in
symbolic value to the rifle, and is therefore not discussed. Similarly, the obstacle course,
climbing tower, bayonet training, and night-fire course, while important milestones in the
progression through Basic Training, are not as important to the dynamics between the
recruit and institution as the gas chamber, rifle qualification, and FTX.

Anthropological Locations
Although anthropology was traditionally the study of the exotic, preferably in
locales far removed from the society of the researcher, this paradigm has shifted in the
past decades, with more anthropological work conducted at home in the same culture


as the anthropologist in question, or at the very least not far removed. The notions of
primitive and civilized have been called into question with such force that many
studies eschew the attempt to locate the pristine native, and instead look at the developed
world (Grinker, 1998; Borneman, 1992, 1997; Hawkins, 2001). Marc Abeles notes that
anthropology in France has incorporated discussions of modern French culture into its
literature, reclaiming intellectual territory from French sociologists, who anthropologists
had granted a sort of monopoly on the study of the present. (Abeles, 1999, p. 407)
Closer to home, studies such as Phillipe Bourgois In Search of Respect (1996) look to
urbanized citizens as subject matter to develop ideas regarding the dynamics of power
and powerlessness in American culture.
These studies are influenced by the examination of what the field of anthropology
should be, and how historical assumptions about the subject matter could interfere with
the robustness of the discipline. Even basic concepts such as what constitutes a remote
location versus a close location are challenged as symbolic interpretations rather than
geographical definitions (Ardener, 1987). Ardeners study appeared in the Association of
Social Anthropologists collection, which came out of an entire conference devoted to
anthropology at home, and the implications for anthropologists of varying ethnicities
and backgrounds in focusing the anthropological lens at their own cultures. Maryon
McDonald (1987) points out how the focus on studying our own cultures has actually led
to a more robust level of analysis, as the illusions of discrete areas and cultures are more
difficult to maintain. McDonald, like Ardener, also challenges the idea that foreign or
different groups must be found in geographically distant areas. The imaginary
boundaries separating two cultures within the same geographic areas are just as real to


the members of those cultures as a political boundary or even a geographic one such as a
river or mountain. With reference to military versus civilian culture, this boundary is
identified by a number of features. At the geographical level, there are frequently distinct
changes in geography from the civilian world to the military, such as a clear line of
landscaping marking the point at which the ordered military world ends and the
disordered civilian world begins (Lutz, 2002). On a symbolic level, there are other
identifying features of this change, both unmistakable (the military uniform) and subtle
(the military haircut).
The environment of the military is one which straddles the two realms of
traditional anthropology and anthropology at home. On one hand, the military is part
of modern American culture, and members of the military live in and interact with those
of mainstream culture. There are many similarities between normal American culture
and military culture. However, at the same time military culture is distinct from
normal culture in ways distinct from other subcultures. This ethnography approaches
the study of the military from a more traditional approach, as an attempt to understand a
culture about which there is currently little ethnographic knowledge.

Research Techniques
Rather than being a cultural critique of American culture, this research embarks
on the more modest attempt to add to our understanding of the Army subculture. As
such, I relied primarily on the techniques of participant observation in collecting data,
supplemented by later interviews with five of my former drill sergeants and sixteen
soldiers I had developed strong affiliations with. In addition to these primary informants,


ongoing conversations and discussions with numerous other soldiers at my Reserve unit
and while deployed added to the background data for this project. Participant observation
allowed me to build up what Charles Briggs has called meta-communicative competence,
an understanding of the background ideas and assumptions of a culture (Briggs, 1986).
In addition, participant observation in this frame provided an insiders view of Basic
Training, from the point of view of the troops themselves. As a method of data collection
among military personnel, participant observation has been successfully used in a number
of previous studies (Simons, 1997; Moskos, 1970; Cromer, 1988; Katz, 1990). In these
cases, the researcher has been a separate figure in the research, distinct from the
Traveling with the other members of my Basic Training platoon, both literally and
figuratively, not only allowed me to build rapport with my subjects, but provided me with
a sense of experience which a more detached approach could not have allowed for. The
military experience is one which is based on shared experiences, war stories of various
sorts told from one soldier to another. These experiences are built from physical pain,
emotion, and an immediacy which can only be shared by other soldiers. Just as Jeanne
Favret-Saada argues that understanding the emotionally charged atmosphere of Bocage
witchcraft is only possible through engagement with the subject matter, and the subjects,
directly (Favret-Saada, 2007). By embracing the soldier role, going through Basic
Training and experiencing the same things in the same way as other soldiers, by being
caught up in the experience, I was able to engage with my subject matter, life in Basic
Training, in a way which I would not have been able to had I followed a more traditional
approach of observation balanced by participation.


The balance of these two elements of research, participation and observation, is

typical of most anthropological studies. However, a number of scholars have begun to
question this dichotomy, and reject the importance of objectivity as typically understood.
The distinction between researcher and subject is one which has been seen as an artificial
one in anthropology, which works to maintain the hegemony of a Western, positivistic
approach to social science (Ewing, 1994). Immersion in an exotic culture allows a
deeper understanding of the subject matter than simple observation or quantitative data
analysis could hope to obtain. Although the military may not be as exotic as other
cultures in the world, it is distinctly different from mainstream American culture, often in
surprising and novel ways. Vincent Crapanzano discussed how his interaction with a key
informant deepened as soon as he removed the distinction between observing the life
around him and engaging with it (Crapanzano, 2007). West discussed how his original
attempts to examine Makonde sorcery scientifically fail, and it is only after he
immerses himself in his informants worlds, reexamining his own approach to his data,
that he gains the necessary insight into the world of his subjects, and thus his own
conceptions of the world (West, 2007). My own approach corresponds with these, as my
own immersion, becoming my own informant, brings a fuller understanding of the
subject of study.
The advantages of this approach have already been discussed above, and at this
point I must address the challenges posed by this mode of research. The level of
immersion of my fieldwork did pose a potential problem. Basic Training is an
emotionally and physically draining environment. Looking back at Basic Training, the
only real emotion I can clearly recall is a general and overwhelming sense of frustration.


Sleep deprivation combined with the lack of any sense of control created great
interpersonal friction, and anger without any particular focus. At the same time, and
often within the same hour, my feelings of frustration and anger would quickly swing
from negative to positive emotion, and I would feel accomplishment and pride in the
other members of my platoon. These swings in attitude were consistently overshadowed
by a lack of trust in many of my fellow soldiers. As my stress level grew, one of the
greatest fears I wrote about was that the actions of my fellow privates would not only get
the platoon in trouble, but would cause the drill sergeants to remove the small privileges
we had been granted. Over the course of nine weeks, although I made strong friends, I
also grew increasingly frustrated with the inability of many fellow privates to simply
stand still in formation or otherwise follow rules which I found simple. These
frustrations built up such that by the end of Basic Training, I was more excited about
getting away from my fellow soldiers than having any sense of accomplishment.
As a private at Basic Training, I did not have the ability during the process to step
back from my participation. Although this granted me tremendous insight into the lives
of privates in Basic Training, it also meant that in addition to being the object of my
research, I was also a subject. At times, the experience of Basic Training was
overwhelming, and many of my field notes express the frustration I felt at the
environment I was in. For example, I used the word hate 22 different times in the notes
I sent home from Basic, and on one occasion listed the Top Ten things I hated about
the Army:
I hate not being able to sleep if I need it, I hate not being able to eat or
drink when I want to. I hate not being alone, I hate standing in formation
for hours, I hate listening to conversations about cars, farts, or how
someone wants to beat up the guy who slept with their girlfriend. I hate


the fan. I hate formations. I hate group punishment. I hate fart jokes. I
hate cleaning up other peoples messes. I hate immaturity in general. I
hate the misogyny displayed by everyone.
As one can see, there are actually eleven items in my list, as I was so
overwhelmed in writing this note that I failed to keep track of how many things
there were.
My personal feelings regarding the experiences at Basic Training
fluctuated over the course of nine weeks, and in many ways my own experience
reflected the experiences of other soldiers going through Basic with me. There
were periods of intense frustration, especially with regard to the apparently
mercurial whims of drill sergeants, which soured many of my feelings about
Basic Training. Group punishment in particular aggravated many interpersonal
relationships, as like many older privates in Basic Training, I quickly became
frustrated with the apparent inability of younger privates to simply keep their
heads down and avoid punishment.
These personal feelings developed into interpersonal conflicts with other
members of the training platoon, especially those labeled as problem children
through the course of the training cycle. Due to these conflicts, there is a lack of
data in my field notes, and this dissertation, from the problem children
themselves. Rather, the focus of this work is on the ways in which proper
soldiers dealt with the problem child. Although this may limit my perspective, I
feel it is also reflective of the dynamics of Basic Training. The majority of
privates graduate from Basic Training without even being known by name by the
drill sergeants, with only a few privates standing out. These privates typically


stand out as a result of drastic failures or remarkable excellence. As a study of the

social dynamics of Basic Training, how the group interacts with these particular
individuals is the focus of my research.
The emotional stress of Basic Training also affected my perceptions of the
drill sergeants and their training methods. For the most part, drill sergeants at
Basic Training come across as uneducated and uninterested in any knowledge
beyond their own soldier skillsets. There were a few notable exceptions to this,
such as Drill Sergeant Saburi who always displayed a fondness for those he called
his college boys. However, coming out of graduate school and joining the
Army, I was off-put by the ignorance displayed by most of the drill sergeants, and
other privates and I were sometimes even insulted with regard to our education.
Looking back on this experience, I likely took these comments too personally, as
drill sergeants in general will attempt to demean every private, using whatever
methods they have at hand: physical ability, mental ability, personal hygiene, etc.
At the time, however, I was offended by these comments, and quickly lost respect
for the drill sergeants who made them. As I was removed further from the
experience, I realized that many times drill sergeants would actually go out of
their way to assist soldiers who could not perform properly, but consistently made
the effort, and defend them against insults from other privates.
At the completion of Basic Training, I set out to make my dissertation as
critical of the experience as possible, as with the events of Basic Training still
fresh in my mind, there was very little positive I found I could say about it. This
emotion was tempered later as I was able to remove myself more from the


experience, to the point that a number of privates I had gone through Basic
Training with remarked during my AIT that I was a much calmer and more
likable person. As a result, I developed the strongest relationships with these
soldiers, and those soldiers who I only knew from Basic Training were less
receptive to follow-up interviews.
I feel that despite the problems, my method allowed me to observe and
understand the events in Basic Training in a way which a more formal or
quantitative approach would not provide. Although quantitative data can be
enlightening, many times they fail to address any underlying reasons for observed
events, simply positing likelihoods based on other results within the data. The
ethnographic approach I used, although emotionally draining, provided me with a
deeper understanding of the processes and interactions, the backstage
performances, of the privates going through the training process.
Following Basic Training and AIT, I returned to my civilian life as a
graduate student and was able to critically reflect on my experiences at Basic. As
I mentioned previously, many of these reflections were far from positive, but over
the course of the last years, and especially after a combat deployment, I began to
notice elements of Basic Training which were positive in their influence on
incoming soldiers. There is no question that had I written this dissertation during,
or even immediately after, my experience at Basic Training, the emotional impact
of the event would have overshadowed the data I collected. After stepping back
and removing myself from the experience, however, I was able to examine not
only the dynamics of other soldiers, but myself. This does not mean that I have


been completely objective, nor should it. The emotional impact of the event is
one of the basic building blocks of the event itself, and the my own emotions,
whether they be pride, fear, or anger, allowed me to connect with other soldiers
and my source material more strongly than had I simply observed the events as
they occurred. Although I can not claim complete objectivity in this research, I
do feel that the combination of intense immersion followed by separation and
reflection provides the element of reflexivity essential to the ethnographic
When joining the Army, I did so in response to the attacks of September 11th, with
the full expectation of a deployment to Afghanistan in my foreseeable future. At the
same time, I did so with the understanding as an academic that the military after these
events would be pivotal to the American viewpoint of other countries, and their
viewpoint of ours. Although I would not characterize myself as a pacifist, I did believe
that violence, even from the military, should be an option of last resort, and as such I
joined, as a Reservist, the military specialty which seemed most suited to such an
outlook. During Basic Training I had many doubts about my choice of career path, as
well as my choice to join the Army in the first place (although most privates in Basic
Training go through that doubt), but it was at AIT when the words of an instructor hit
home to me and reassured me that I had made the correct choice: When I joined the
Army I had one goal, that I would never fire my weapon in anger. To this day, after
fourteen years and three deployments, I have managed to maintain that. I have also
managed to serve my time in the Army without having fired my weapon in anything
other than a training situation, a philosophy which sets me apart from most soldiers,


combat arms or support personnel. While serving, I always attempted to maintain an

emotional distance from the events occurring around me, reflecting on those events as
much as possible. As a Reservist rather than an Active Duty soldier, this distance has
been easier to maintain, as I was only required to act as soldier for one weekend a month,
and could return to the life of graduate student and scholar upon the completion of a drill
All Army Reservists negotiate two identities during their service, as when they
are not deployed (an admittedly frustratingly common occurrence), they must maintain a
civilian career while surrendering one weekend a month and two weeks a year to the
Army, not to mention any of the multitude of other roles which each person plays over
the course of their lives. A Marine Reservist, Buzz Williams, describes his drill
weekends as a process of constant reintegration, from civilian to Marine, and then back to
civilian. This process holds true for Army reservists as well, as each weekend of drill I
would have to mentally prepare myself to play the role of soldier, and then return to the
role of civilian (and graduate student) every Sunday night. Thus, although in one sense,
going through Army Basic Training was an act of going native, after that training was
complete I returned to my life as a civilian, able to reflect on my experiences in Basic and
over drill weekends. This same process held true after my deployment, as Reservists,
unlike Active Duty soldiers, go through a week-long decompression process upon their
return and are officially released from Active Duty in the same way as any soldier
leaving the Army after the completion of their contract.
Joining the Army, however, was a very distinct and real step for me, a process
which began with my first discussion with a recruiter in the summer of 2001. After a few


months of administrative processing, I departed for my Basic Training site the end of the
next summer and began a total immersion in Army life as seen through Basic Training.
The choice of site was not my own, and the choice to remove discussion of gender
dynamics from my study was based in part on being assigned an all-male training
location rather than an integrated one. I began taking field notes immediately upon my
departure from my home, a decision which I realize now was short sighted, as the
military indoctrination process begins not with Basic Training but with the first
conversation with a recruiter, if not earlier. Be that as it may, upon arrival at Fort
Benning I did my best to note incidents of infraction and punishment, choosing to focus
on those activities which were censured by the authorities rather than those which were
praised. This approach was a double edged sword, as drill sergeants and other instructors
will punish recruits for even the slightest infraction, especially in the early weeks of
Basic, but will also praise recruits so sparingly that had I focused on that element my
field notes would have been too short to gather any workable data. Over the course of ten
weeks, I was able to refine my perception of punishments and separate out those which
were real from those which drill sergeants seemed to impose simply out of whim or as
an excuse for more physical training.
During Basic Training, there is very little free time for any private. Even should a
private complete a task early, for example, he is expected to either help other privates, or
clean his weapon or equipment. However, privates are expected to carry a notebook with
them to take notes on instruction, and every evening privates are allowed an hour or two
of free time to write letters home and take care of personal business. Thus, I would use
such opportunities as I could to take notes in the field, and then record them in the


evenings. In addition, during fireguard 7 duty or other administrative assignments, I took

the opportunity to copy out notes and expand on ideas I did not have the time to discuss
in my other notes.
In order to ensure privacy, each morning I mailed my notes in a previously
addressed and posted letter to my home. During my stay at Basic Training, I kept my
research hidden from the other privates and the drill sergeants, as the knowledge of my
research, even more so in the emotionally charged atmosphere in Basic Training than in
many other field sites, would have distinctly changed the interactions between recruits,
drill sergeants, and other Army personnel. This modification to the standard research
protocol was approved by the Universitys Institutional Review Board and recommended
by the Armys Training and Doctrine Command authority. Upon my arrival at Basic
Training, however, I did inform the Battalions Chaplain of my research so that one
person in the command structure would be aware of it should any problems occur. On
the final evening of Basic Training, I informed every member of my platoon about my
research, and collected their contact information in order to contact them after my
completion of AIT for further interviews and research. When contacting drill sergeants
for later interviews, I also informed them completely of my purpose, and that I had been
taking notes on their activities as well as the other recruits during my time at Fort
The process of building rapport with research subjects is essential to the work of
ethnography, and studying Basic Training while performing as a private provides
unequaled opportunities to build such rapport. The main technique used to build rapport

Fireguard is a requirement during Basic Training when two privates must be awake at any given time.
During these fireguard duties, one private will clean the barracks while the other must sit at the door to the
barracks to guard against intruders.


is to share the experiences of the research subjects (Bernard, 2000), which as a private
under the authority of the Drill Sergeants, and by extension the institution of the Army, I
has no choice but to do. Privates during Basic Training live in austere shared conditions,
with 30 bunkbeds in one large room, a bathroom with six stalls and four urinals, and eight
open showers. Thus, acquiring access to the backstage performances of other privates
was relatively easy to obtain, as over the course of nine stressful weeks it is sublimely
difficult for any person to maintain the public/private distinction so common in regular
life. During Basic Training, all privates share positive and negative experiences, as part
of the team building program designed by the Army. Thus, any time my platoon was
punished, I shared the punishment, and when the platoon was rewarded, I shared the
reward. During each day, privates are not allowed to be alone for any reason, and
frequently perform training as an entire platoon of sixty privates, or at the very least as a
squad of fifteen.
The results of this rapport could be seen vividly when those members of my
platoon who shared my military specialty attended Advanced Individual Training (AIT).
Fifteen members of my platoon were Psychological Operations or Civil Affairs
specialists, and we joined a class of almost ninety students at Fort Bragg from other Basic
Training locations. Despite our minority representation, however, the privates from Fort
Benning quickly established themselves as leaders in the social hierarchy of the class, as
well as being assigned official leadership positions by the drill sergeants. This seemed to
be a direct result of the social capital accumulated during Basic Training. 8

During Basic Training at Fort Benning, privates are separated into platoons based on their specialties,
whereas at other locations, privates are assigned to Basic Training platoons independent of these job
choices, and thus do not build the social capital which privates at Fort Benning appear to do.


Another advantage to the social dynamics of going through Basic Training with
other recruits is that almost all of the members of my Basic Training platoon lacked
specific knowledge of Army life and culture. Basic Training is at its foundation the
introduction of civilians with limited or no experience with military life to the institution
of the Army. Army life consists of more than a shared set of values or skills. Instead,
Basic Training indoctrinates new recruits into how things are done the Army way,
which includes everything from personal hygiene to interpersonal relationships. As a
participant of Basic Training, a private in the terms of the drill sergeants, rather than an
outside observer who would occasionally cooperate in experiences with the privates, the
rapport built quickly and easily with other members of my platoon, even when there were
inevitable personality clashes.
Perhaps one of the most distinctive elements of Army life in this case is the
introduction to the new language utilized by the Army. As we shall see in Chapter Two,
Army language is a distinct element of the soldier identity, and a soldiers ability to use
appropriate terms builds what Sarah Thornton calls subcultural capital for the soldier.
Although a number of privates are familiar with Army language and other elements of
Army culture upon entrance to Basic Training, this is a time when all members of group
learn the particulars of Army life, and thus Basic Training is imbued with rapport
building experiences, likely to an extent not found in many other research locations.
After graduation from AIT, I arranged to return to Fort Benning to interview drill
sergeants and my former company commander regarding their ideas of Basic Training
and what they perceived of privates during each cycle. Interview techniques have been
used in a number of previous analyses of military attitudes (Avant & Lebovic, 2000;


Dowd, 2001). Interviews were semi-structured in order to allow me to touch upon the
important subjects for each interview, but allow the individuals to expand upon their own
personal experiences when they care to (Bernard, 2000). Most of my former drill
sergeants were very helpful, and upon arrival at Fort Benning I was provided with access
to drill sergeants whenever they were not required for training duties. Interviews with
drill sergeants focused on their techniques of instruction, why they handled recruits in
specific ways, and what they were hoping to accomplish with their instruction. Drill
sergeants and the company commander were also asked about what qualities they look
for in recruits, as either positive or negative features, and how these qualities are dealt
I interviewed each drill sergeant as they were available, which resulted in some
interviews being performed in public and loud places, while some were conducted in
offices separated from other distractions. Each interview lasted approximately forty five
minutes, although two lasted significantly longer, at an hour and fifteen minutes and an
hour and a half. I also had the opportunity to interview my former Company Commander
and receive an officers view of the Basic Training experience. Although I could not
deny my military affiliation to my informants, all personal interviews were conducted in
civilian clothes to separate the researcher and the participant from any institutional
affiliation with the military.
In addition to these interviews, I had an additional opportunity to observe the
dynamic of Basic Training, this time from the perspective of a graduate from the training.
This experience was one which enlightened me to the extent of my own indoctrination
into Army culture. After graduating from Basic Training, and knowing that I would


return for a more distanced view of the experience through interviews and strict
observation, I had promised myself that I would remain empathetic towards the recruits
going through Basic after me. However, my first response upon seeing a private being
punished by a drill sergeant (including the apparently requisite yelling by the drill
sergeant in question) simply inspired a feeling of amusement, as after my own graduation
I had realized that the experience of Basic Training, while exhausting and agonizing at
the time, was in many respects simply absurd in afterthought. Rather than empathizing
with the recruit being punished, I found myself relishing the fact that I had undergone the
same discipline and would not need to do so again. This was a disturbing realization, but
one which allowed me to approach my subject with more self-awareness and
understanding of the processes involved in Basic Training, than if I had simply analyzed
my field notes without a second, distanced, visit to my field site.
After conducting these interviews in the summer of 2003, I received deployment
orders to Iraq for the next year. Like my visit to Fort Benning, this deployment served to
make me more aware of the importance of Basic Training, not only as an instructional
exercise but an indoctrinating one. Although this took me away from academic research,
I capitalized on the opportunity to expand my insights into the identity of the soldier in
the post-September 11th world, which is more encompassed in the combat experience and
specifically the war in Iraq. 9 A second deployment in 2007 served the same purpose.
During these deployments, although there was limited time to do in depth research, I did
take notes on observations and relevant statements from soldiers deployed in the various
companies I was attached to. Many of these observations highlighted the differences in

The association of Iraq with the current military is so strong that Afghanistan is still frequently referred to
by military theorists as the other war, or occasionally the forgotten war.


outlook between older soldiers who had joined prior to September 11th and younger ones
who had joined afterwards. These observations guided my thinking with regard to the
ever-changing identity of the contemporary soldier, and how that identity is created by
the individuals involved and not determined by an external structure.
Upon return from this deployment, I made contact with the members of my
platoon for further interviews, as well as serendipitously meeting a soldier in my Reserve
unit who had been in my same training company, but a different platoon, who also agreed
to an interview. Due to geographic separation, all of these interviews were conducted
over the telephone, tape recorded and transcribed later. Each interview lasted more than
an hour, and frequently had to be cut short due to limitations on respondents time,
although I have followed up with a number of respondents in non-recorded conversations
or via email.
In addition to participant observation during Basic Training and overseas
deployments, firsthand and journalistic accounts of military training and combat
experiences form a large part of the data for this project. These accounts are becoming
increasingly common in the popular press, and many of these works I use as virtual
informants in addition to those informants I made direct contact. In the same way, there
are a large number of military blogs detailing not only combat experiences, but general
experiences with Army life and Basic Training as well, which I also use as supporting
data for this account.
These secondary accounts also highlight an attitude I found almost ubiquitous
among my informants: the desire to get knowledge of military culture into the
mainstream. Many military bloggers, for example, are attempting to get out the story of


their own missions and experiences in combat zones, positive and negative, which they
see as being missed by the mainstream press (Memmott, 2005). Marilyn Strathern notes
a tension between informants and researchers based on a capitalistic approach to the idea
of labor, as the researcher will benefit, from the labor of her informants, even if only in a
symbolic way (Strathern, 1987). The interest which soldiers seem to have in getting their
stories out, however, seems to belie this tension in my research. Every single one of my
informants expressed strong support for my research project, some even stating that they
wanted their real names specifically associated with their quotes about the Army. 10 Also,
the rapport and shared experiences of Basic likely mitigated any idea of labor possessed
by my informants, as I myself performed the same physical and emotional labor in
training as they did.

Data Analysis
Analysis of field notes from participant observation were analyzed for changes in
experience over the course of training. On a broad level, I first looked at the structure of
Basic Training, how recruits are categorized, organized, and divided into platoons and
squads. 11 In addition, physical descriptions of camp life, barracks arrangement, and
schedules were examined to refresh my own memory of the Basic Training experience.
These analyses were facilitated by the fact that my field notes were a combination of
analytical and emotional responses to the Basic Training environment. The atmosphere
of Basic Training was such that even my best attempts to maintain impartiality with


A request which I did not feel I could honestly honor. All names in this dissertation are pseudonyms.
A squad is typically ten men, overseen by a sergeant or corporal. There are typically three or four squads
in a platoon, which is commanded by a lieutenant. Companies are commanded by a captain, and usually
contain three platoons.



regard to drill sergeants and fellow recruits were often doomed to failure. This served me
well in my analysis, however, as the emotion expressed in my notes assisted me in
remembering not only my observations, but also my participation.
The ways in which soldiers and their instructors interacted formed a large part of
my analysis. The interactions between the recruits and representatives of the Army were
originally analyzed not only for methods of instruction, but for disciplinary techniques.
How instructors chose to impart information is also important in this analysis. Whether
information is imparted in a classroom setting, as a helpful hint, or whether a drill
sergeant screamed orders at a recruit were noted, as were the frequencies of which
recruits received punishment, and whether those punishments were individual or group
punishments. Also of note were the differences between how a drill sergeant interacted
with his own platoon versus how he interacted with other platoons. The sanctions and
punishments imposed on recruits were analyzed for similarities, and to see if they
followed general trends.
Interactions among recruits were also important for determining how Basic
Training acts to change, or fail to change, incoming soldiers attitudes and beliefs. The
common view of Basic is that recruits will get together and a pecking order will be
established, interpersonal conflicts will occur, and by the end of Basic Training these
conflicts will be resolved so that all soldiers will view themselves as belonging to one
team. This template is mirrored in many of the films describing both military
indoctrination and combat missions. As we shall see in the next chapter, the resolution of
differences and realization that all members of the group are on the same team is a
standard of military films, and part of the mythology of American culture in which the


military is a reflection of the civilian culture, and a symbol of its ability to overcome
adversity. How this process actually occurs, or whether it truly occurred at all, was one
of the main foci of my analysis.
Interviews were analyzed for the memories of soldiers about their own
experiences at Basic Training. Those memories which were best remembered, whether
negative or positive experiences, should reflect the experiences which had the most
impact upon the psyches of new recruits. If the events remembered by many different
soldiers were consistent, those events are the ones which were most important in the
transition from civilian to soldier. In the same way, if drill sergeants consistently
mentioned the same actions of recruits, those actions would reflect the attitudes most
often encountered and that most often impede or advance the process of Basic Training.
These preliminary analyses then led to deeper realizations about the underlying
structure of Basic, especially the emergent structure of interactions between recruits. One
of the main themes discovered in this analysis was the recurring notions of violence,
especially with regard to feelings regarding the under-performing recruits at Basic
Training. Discussions of violence of various sort obviously permeate military language,
as that is at its heart the focus of the institution, but many of these statements reflected a
direct desire to inflict violence on the under-performing recruits. In addition to violence,
soldiers discussing Basic Training also frequently focus on the ways in which Drill
Sergeants performed their roles, and the similarities of Basic Training to specific
reenactments in popular films, as well as reenacting those films in their own
performances as soldiers. Rather than a standard background of knowledge, then, Basic


Training rather seems to impart to incoming soldiers a collection of techniques and

devices with which they can create their own identities as soldiers.

Theoretical Approach
A number of theories are relevant to a study of military training and
indoctrination. Pierre Bourdieus theory of the habitus allows for an individual to have a
certain background that is resistant to, but not impervious to, changes in resultant
behavior. Most of the values and attitudes possessed by individuals are established prior
to enlistment in the military at age eighteen. Responses to stimuli are habitually
organized, formed by previous encounters and responses. If it is possible to change the
habitus, it would likely be through an intense conditioning program such as Army Basic
Training. However, as the studies by Bachman et. al. have shown, military recruits are
frequently socialized before entering military service, not socialized during
indoctrination. This does not preclude the possibility that additional socialization occurs
during Basic Training, which I believe it does, but it does show that Basic Training is not
the crucible in which soldiers identities are formed. Instead, identity formation begins
before Basic Training, and continues after it.
In the works of many authors, from heavily theory laden approaches such as those
taken by Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari, to more empirical studies such as those done
by Moskos and Segal, the military is often seen as a mirror of the larger society. Given
the flux of soldiers into and out of military life, this is hardly surprising, especially
considering the high percentage of servicemembers returning to the civilian world after
World War II in both America and Europe.


In his book Discipline and Punish, Foucault (1977) touches briefly upon the
discipline of the military changing from one stressing personal heroism to one in which
each soldier acts as if they are part of a machine, each a part in an industrial era factory to
produce war. Although Foucault does not explicitly draw the connection, when he then
discusses the changes in regular (civilian) society, he sees the same sort of change, from
individuals being in control of the their bodies to individuals being subjected to the gaze
of the overseeing power framework.
Foucault sees society as more and more organized over the last few hundred years
rationalization and mechanization of society acting through the control of the body and
therefore, through discipline, the social structure itself is rationalized. Foucault uses
two institutions for examples of this the prison and the army. A study of the modern
American army is effective in highlighting the ways in which this pattern continues to
hold true in the modern world. However, the actions of individual recruits during Basic,
challenging the structure and rules imposed on them by the institution, shows how the
attempts to rationalize/mechanize the modern body fails, and will likely always fail.
Even in this most rigid institution, soldiers press against accepted boundaries, challenging
rules of dress and style, behavioral limits, and subjection to authority.
The works of Foucault utilize examples from military history to elucidate his
concepts of order, structure, and chaos. This is hardly surprising, as the military world is
one in which concepts such as discipline and structure are the focus of the institution.
During Basic Training, these elements are present. However, there is also a great deal of
resistance to the institutional structure, non-conforming recruits who would be labeled as
deviant in other contexts due to their expressive and public acts of resistance to the


accepted rules of the group. Where Foucault sees society wrapping itself more and more
closely around individuals, resulting in a society reminiscent of Goffmans total
institution, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari see a barely restrained chaos, chaos
sublimated to the rule of society, but due to its nature will always break free of the
boundaries set upon it by the outside structure of society.
Like Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari use examples from military history to
highlight their ideas of the body and discipline. They see the history of civilization as a
constant interaction between agricultural society, existing in striated space with
regulations and boundaries, and the nomads or barbarians who are constantly moving in
from the borders (smooth space which has not been regulated) and taking over the land
controlled by these agriculturalists. However, these nomads are then incorporated into
the structure of the striated space they have moved into, and attacked again by new
nomads. Inherent to the success of the nomads in this conception is the war machine,
which continues to exist in regulated society by expressions of individuality, rebellion,
and deviance.
Deleuze and Guattaris concept of the war machine would also elucidate what the
goals of military training, what values the military is actually attempting to instill in its
soldiers, would focus on. A nomadological evaluation of the military would require that
the military is not, in fact, training enlistees to use violence, but are in fact, training them
not to use violence. Violence, the war machine as Deleuze and Guattari designate it, is
chaotic, volatile, and contrary to any organized system run by the State. The military, in
their view, is the way in which the State harnesses and controls the violent and
destructive tendencies of its citizens. Under this framework, military indoctrination


would focus on controlling the enlistees violence, training the soldier not to release his
aggression, but to harness it.
If the purpose of the military is as Deleuze and Guattari imagine it, then Basic
Training should not be focused on skills training, but should instead focus on control,
discipline, and how the recruits can harness their inherent aggressive tendencies.
Recruits finishing Basic Training and continuing in military life should not be
significantly different in attitude from civilian members of society, or from officers, other
than to express greater self-control and discipline. Additionally, if there are significant
differences in values, it is likely that those values are the ones which the military sees as
the best for control of violent tendencies. For example, loyalty, whether to a soldier or to
a country, will prevent a soldier from disobeying orders, moving on his own, and
generally releasing any aggression or violence upon unsuspecting targets.
The war machine is expressed in Basic Training by those who fail to adapt,
typically referred to as the problem child, and the regular privates 12 those who do
properly adapt. However, even among those recruits who socialize properly to Army life,
this adaptation is not perfect, and there is always chaos amidst the structure. Thus, the
structure itself is always in flux, changing and adapting. This adaptation comes from the
inherent differences which even the uniformity of appearance and action enforced during
Basic Training cannot overcome. Although some recruits will adapt better than others,
the total institution of the Army will never totalize its members into cookie-cutter
soldiers in an ideal form. Instead, each soldier will learn through Basic Training and
after how to manipulate rules and negotiate the institution.


Private is a generic term during Basic Training to describe all recruits.


The Army highlights this complexity of modern institutions, and the ways in
which those complexities are negotiated and even created by the members of a group.
The Army creates a family separate from what Americans understand as family. The
Army trains privates to perform the one act which is generally considered taboo by every
culture, and then trains them to hold it back. During Basic Training, new recruits are
indoctrinated into what the institution of the Army desires to define as soldier. At the
same time, they create the identity of the soldier for themselves by choosing which of the
accepted elements of Army indoctrination to take with them to later Army life.
Despite attempts by the drill sergeants at Basic Training to impose order and
discipline upon recruits, and to create the identity of soldier, the recruits themselves
pushed back against this imposition and attempted to create their own identities, modeled
not only against the impositions from above, but based on their own previous life
experiences and preconceived notions of what a soldier should be. These challenges to
the institutional definitions of soldier are indicative of Deleuze and Guattaris concepts of
nomadology and the war machine. In this analysis no structure is so rigid, no institution
fixed, such that change is impossible. Rather than structure, Deleuze and Guattari see
organizations as rhizomes, in constant movement and change, shifting to adapt to new
situations. Although still structural in their approach, as each person in an organization
would make up a node in the structure, these nodes are not fixed in any given pattern or
route, but are free to make their own choices, and thus to change the system itself. They
utilize the metaphors of striated (ordered) and smooth ,unordered) space, concepts which
hold true at both the individual and institutional level. The nomad, embodiment of the
war machine, moves through smooth space, outside the accepted and prescribed routes


given by society. Soldiers, on the other hand, are the embodiment of the war machine coopted by the State to serve its own purpose.
Both Deleuze and Guattari and Michel Foucault use the military as an analogy to
discuss the changes in civilian society. Thus the increased rationalization discussed by
Foucault with regard to the military is also a metaphor for the increased rationalization of
society as a whole. Eisenhowers military-industrial complex, for example, is merely
reflective of a lengthy incorporation of military, business, and government which had
been occurring since the sixteenth century (Childs, 2000). These metaphors are
frequently used by military theorists discussing contemporary missions and technologies,
as well. Network centric warfare, for example, progresses Foucaults analogies of 19th
Century life (mechanization of production as a metaphor for the mechanization of
individuals) into the 21st Century (networked computer systems as a metaphor for
networked individuals).
Many of the actions of American soldiers in Iraq are informed by the movies and
television shows (and personal Youtube videos) depicting military and para-military
personnel in action. Action movies are now the template for the proper behavior of
soldiers. Looking at the complaints of Iraqis about the behavior of American soldiers
breaking in doors, screaming and yelling, even unjustified killings shows how soldiers
are still performing as if they are characters in war films such as Black Hawk Down,
rather than acting appropriately as soldiers in a counter-insurgency or peacekeeping
mission. These performances are recursive, as not only do soldiers act out their fantasies,
they then film, edit, and replay their own amateur action movies. I have seen numerous
homemade films, from members of my own Reserve unit and from other veterans, of


spliced images and hand-held footage put to corresponding heavy metal music in a
montage of action scenes that are reminiscent of Hollywood war films.
Also, there is Pierre Bourdieus concept of the habitus. The habitus is a means
for resolving the dichotomy between free will and programming by society. The habitus
allows humans to have agency while allowing for them to act in measurable, repeatable,
and apparently robotic ways. (Bourdieu, 1990) Using the habitus, individuals are then
more likely to follow standard patterns of behavior, rather than invent new patterns at
every instance. Change is possible, however, it is simply a slow change as new
generations are raised and change the habitus as they feel necessary and appropriate.
Military change will reflect civilian change because the habitus is not substantially
different between the groups, since the habitus would be formed during childhood and
adolescence, and before indoctrination into the military.
The indoctrination elements of Basic Training also serve to highlight the ways in
which individuals create their own meanings and complicate any standardized approach
to the indoctrination process. Over the course of Basic Training, recruits slowly
accumulate symbolic capital, usually identified after graduation by specific achieved
milestones. Thus, the gas chamber, weapons qualification, and the FTX are seen as
points after which they were more accepted by the drill sergeants. Actions that would
be met with quick and harsh censure in the beginning of Basic Training are slowly
accepted by the drill sergeants, especially those things, such as initiative, which are
desired in soldiers at war.
Army Basic Training can be seen as a classic example of the rite of passage,
complete with inversions of regular structures and absurdities such as sweeping a lawn


and the ever repeated hurry up and wait (Pellegrini, 1999). However, rather than
having any specific beginning or end, Basic Training as a rite of passage is a phased
process, in which initiates do not move from one status to another, but rather build their
soldier identity slowly, over the course of numerous interactions and small steps towards
indoctrination. This process does not begin with a trip to Basic, the first military haircut,
or swearing an oath, although these are convenient milestones. Rather, it begins with
enculturation and the acceptance of modern mythological stories about the military,
presented through films, television, and popular fiction.
Nor does it end with graduation from Basic Training. Instead, identity creation is
a slow process of repeated interactions with other soldiers and slow acceptance within the
military community. At the end of Basic Training, recruits move to Advanced Individual
Training (AIT), and remain in their liminal status. After graduation from AIT, soldiers
must then establish themselves within a unit, should they stay in the Army, there again a
series of steps towards acceptance as a proper soldier: becoming an NCO, or a senior
NCO, deployment, etc. In addition, the symbolic values of certain careers and their
association with the pinnacle of military identity, the combat infantry, affect how much
of a soldier a soldier is perceived to be.
Thus, the rite of passage is considerably more complex than the simple template
frequently accredited to Turner and van Gennep. Rather than a simple three-stage
process, Basic Training is a series of stages through which recruits become encultured. It
is likely that some of this complication is due to the nature of the total institution which is
Basic Training. Recruits are regulated from wake up to lights out, separated from their
families and friends, and placed in a strict hierarchy imposed on them by the authorities


of the institution. Although his dominant focus was on asylums, Goffmans idea of total
institution also includes institutions purportedly established the better to pursue some
worklike task . . . army barracks. (Goffman, 1961, p. 5) The key fact of these
institutions is the handling of many human needs by the bureaucratic organization of
whole blocks of people, (Goffman, 1961, p. 6) in the case of Basic Training, these
blocks are the Company and platoon level groups. However, in the contemporary Army,
it is only Basic Training that conforms to such rigid control over a soldiers life, and after
graduation from Basic and AIT, drill sergeants describe Army life as the easiest job in
the world. You get up, go to work at nine, come home at six, just like everywhere else.
The only difference is you all wear the same clothes and do some exercise in the
The other item which belies the idea of the Army as a total institution is the status
of inductees during Basic Training. These privates are in the process of becoming
soldiers, not soldiers yet, and going through Turners liminal stage of transition.
Goffmans total institution is challenged by Turner as much as Turner is challenged by
Goffman. The interaction between the institutional imperatives, Goffmans total
institution, and the liminal, in-between and unstructured existence, of recruits in Basic
Training reflects the struggle of the individual to create meaning and express their
individuality within any ordered system. Even in the total institutions which Goffman
studied, he found numerous examples of inmates who worked the system, within the
constraints of Central Hospital (Goffman, 1961, p. 219). In addition to this, the
experience of Basic Training is different from many of the total institutions discussed by
Goffman such as prison, mental asylums, or monasteries, in that the inmates at Basic


Training are being incorporated into the group of staff, not permanently assigned to or
departing from the institution at the end of service.
Turners structure and anti-structure reflects the dynamic between
institution/organization and chaos. The loss of any outside structure leads to liminality in
the ideal form of the ritual and thus to anti-structure. However, this presentation of the
rite of passage elides the complex and intricate nature of the rite of passage as seen
through the eyes of participants, especially one conducted in the modern, industrialized,
world. Just as rituals among developing cultures are changing in response to
development, developed areas are constantly adapting to new situations, and the rites of
passage in this community (America) are heavily influenced by external factors,
including the structure of society from which recruits come.
For example, Turners concepts of liminality are applicable in some specific
instances, but do not completely define the existence of the recruit during Basic Training.
Although in theory all recruits are equal in Basic training (all called privates, for
example) there is a structure which exists in basic, a hierarchy imposed on the recruits by
the institution into which they are joining. Structure is imposed on the platoon through
the use of platoon guides and squad leaders. However, anti-structure is also developed as
soldiers create symbolic capital through their understanding and use of appropriate Army
phrases and social capital as they form their own primary groups and hierarchies outside
of the imposed structure of squads and platoons from the drill sergeants.
Incoming recruits do remain liminal to some extent throughout their process
through both Basic and Advanced Individual Training (AIT), both spatially within a base,
and symbolically. At Fort Benning, Sand Hill is the area which hosts all of Basic


Training, contrasted with main post where soldiers who have completed their
indoctrination reside and work. These soldiers, referred to in Army slang as permanent
party are not allowed to interact with recruits in any way besides official instruction.
The only soldiers allowed to interact with recruits outside official training are the Drill
Sergeants, the exemplars of the soldier identity and the representation of military
authority. These rules are not always followed, of course, and violations do occur,
resulting in punishments for both recruits and permanent party soldiers. As with the
other rules defining Basic Training, these rules are constantly challenged by recruits and
soldiers, who define themselves through their negotiation of the institution and often by
their successful breaking of military rules.

The identity of the soldier then, is one in constant flux. Although the institution
of the military attempts through indoctrination with Basic Training to define that identity
and codify it, individual soldiers express themselves through a variety of means. These
expressions reflect the larger tension between individual and institution, here played out
through the socialization process. However, people (here, recruits) are likely to push at
the boundaries of expected roles to varying degrees. A large part of the process of Basic
Training is learning what boundaries can be successfully pushed and what can not. As
with Durkheimian functionalist theory applied to crime and social control, behavior
which pushes these boundaries too far is labeled deviant (Erikson, 1966). Durkheims,
and later Edgertons, assertion that every society has its deviants holds true as much for
the United States military as it does for New York City street culture. It is these deviants,


challenging the status quo, the rules and boundaries of the structure which provide the
motivation for change. Although these figures exist in Basic Training, official
punishment is usually deferred to a later stage in their indoctrination, if at all.
This deferment can benefit the military however, in that it is deviance which
allows for the existence of the rhizome. The military must constantly adapt to new
situations, new enemies, and new technologies. By maintaining a small group of deviants
within its ranks, the institution maintains the ability to adapt more quickly to external
changes by allowing for internal change. Were soldiers who did not fit the mold, and
identity, of soldier removed from the institution, the military would be doomed to failure.
On the modern battlefield, for example, without soldiers like David Petraeus or Paul
Yingling, the United States Army would still be attempting to fight a conventional war in
Iraq (and very likely causing excessive casualties to American soldiers and Iraqi
civilians, as well as killing insurgents). Historically, figures like these were at the
forefront of military revolutions, generals and leaders such as Napoleon and Gustavus
Leaders, although important, are frequently examined to the exclusion of the
individual soldiers comprising their armies. Returning to Foucault, it is the training of
individuals in the rules of drill which allowed for the mechanization of armies and the
technological advance of gunpowder to be effectively utilized by the military. These new
techniques required a change of identity among soldiers, especially as the new
technologies required different attitudes and beliefs. Concepts such as bravery, for
example, changed with the introduction of gunpowder and the increase in distance
between combatants. What a soldier was expected to be in a post-gunpowder military,


their identities, changed in response to new technologies and revolutions. A soldiers

ability, and thus the militarys ability, to adapt to these changes is based on the failure of
complete indoctrination. Those soldiers who have been less than ideal under one
paradigm can easily become the paragon under the next.
After September 11th, and especially with the current war in Iraq, the military is
undergoing a new revolution. The soldier identity was previously based predominantly
on the ability to engage in combat in a maneuver warfare situation. The mythological
battle of the Fulda Gap 13 was what the military focused on training its soldiers for.
Today, however, soldiers must be trained for counter-insurgency -- combat outside the
comfortable doctrine 14 of large formations -- and diplomacy. This tension between old
and new paradigms is played out in the training received at Basic Training, which mirrors
the tension between the identity of soldiers and the institution. Frustrations with Basic
Training reported by recruits tend to focus on the outdated and irrelevant training
received, whereas frustrations reported by drill sergeants and instructors tend to lament
the loss of a traditional Basic Training experience such as they went through ten or
twenty years earlier.
While the drill sergeants express the traditional views of the institution, the
recruits bring to Basic Training previously held ideas and desires for what they wish to
become upon completion of the rite. As the recruits go through Basic Training, they each
forge their own unique identities, drawing from both their previously held ideas and the
new ideas they are exposed to by the institutional structure.


The Fulda Gap is an area between East and West Germany where Cold War theorists expected a
conventional war between the United States and the Soviet Union occurs.
A set of rules and accepted practices for officers to perform under.


Order of the Dissertation

Chapter two introduces the language specific to the military and discusses the
ways in which privates play with language as they enter into the environment of Basic
Training, and the Army. There is a large amount of slang and jargon used among
members of the military, sometimes across branches, and sometimes within a specific
branch. Learning military jargon is a combination of mimicry from various sources, Drill
Sergeants, other privates, and elements from a privates past, such as books or movies.
Privates use their knowledge of military slang, and the processes that slang refers to, to
enhance their own position within the loose hierarchy of Basic Training.
In conjunction with this, identity can be seen as performative rather than fixed.
As recruits act like soldiers, through the use of appropriate jargon as well as behavior,
their identity as soldiers becomes more entrenched. Even the ritual itself can be seen as a
performative experience, in which recruits act out the roles they have decided a soldier
should play based on prior experience. As with other rituals, the interaction with both
performance and mythology form a substrate upon which the ritual is built. Thus in
addition to language, this chapter will also discuss some of the formative myths of the
modern soldier, and how privates at Basic Training act out those myths in their own
The remainder of the dissertation is ordered chronologically, and each chapter
will approach the theoretical questions discussed above with a specific focus on
important events at each phase of training. Thus, Chapters Three and Four discuss the
initial separation of recruits from their civilian lives, and their progression through inprocessing into the Army to the experience of the gas chamber, which completes the first


phase of indoctrination towards becoming a soldier. Chapter Three will discuss how the
simple template so often used to discuss a rite of passage does not maintain in the
complex environment of a contemporary initiation rite. Rather than viewing Basic
Training as a single event forging the soldier identity, I argue instead that Basic Training
is a progression along the path to the soldier identity. Chapter Four addresses one of the
most common themes of military life: sacrifice. Probably the most common metaphor
used to describe the death of a soldier is the ultimate sacrifice. However, sacrifice is
also used in lesser forms, to signify the personal freedoms that a soldier must give up in
order to truly live the identity of soldier. This concept of sacrifice is acted out in the
ritual through the symbolic sacrifice of the problem child and the platoon guide. The
problem child, who chooses to not embrace the soldier identity, fails to perform properly
in the role of soldier, and as such becomes ostracized by those members of the platoon
who have chosen to perform as soldiers.
Chapter Five moves forward to the next phase of training, in which recruits are
taught to handle their rifle and perform in combat conditions. This training is juxtaposed
with the battlefield situations in Iraq and Afghanistan to highlight the ways in which the
institution of the Army holds on to outdated, and often times mythological ideas of
warfare. As the U.S. Army modifies its practices to deal with new styles of warfare, it is
the individual soldiers who will provide a bridge between the soldiers of the past,
symbolized through the rifle each soldier carries, and the needs of the future.
Chapter Six continues this idea of changes in warfare to discuss revolutionary
changes in the military, both in Europe and the United States. These changes are
contrasted again, in this case with the culminating event of Basic Training, the Field


Training Exercise. This chapter discusses the ideology of the American soldier as well as
his history, and how changes in that ideology, and thus to the identity the soldier must
perform, are just as, if not more, significant than technological changes. As such, the
choices that soldiers make in the field will be the ones which will affect how the Army
changes in the future.
Chapter Seven begins with a discussion of the graduation ceremony from Basic
Training, and the recruits introduction to their civilian families and friends as soldiers,
who now belong to a new family in the Army. Part of Basic Training is learning how
this new kinship system works, as well as exploring the different facets of fictive kinship
defined by the Army. Although mirroring traditional kinship to some extent, military
kinship is also novel and innovative. Soldiers construct these fictive kinship relationships
over the course of their lives, beginning in Basic Training but extending throughout their
Army careers, including reassignments and deployments.
Finally, Chapter Eight concludes with a discussion of deployed soldiers. Basic
Training provides a set of skills and an ideology which many soldiers feel require full
expression in a combat environment. Despite political rhetoric from both sides of the
political spectrum, soldiers in the field perform as they desire, modeling themselves on
historical, literary, and contemporary figures that they perceive to be true soldiers. As
soldiers perform their identities, the experience of a deployment allows them to perform
on the most proper stage available: war.


Chapter 2: The Use of Language in Basic Training

A Note on Army Terms

In order to better express the environment of Basic Training, I have attempted to
keep to the terms used by soldiers and privates as closely as possible. One consequence
of this is that the vulgarity inherent in most military slang remains in this text. Much of
the language that soldiers use every day among themselves is sexualized and graphic, and
in order to convey that to readers, I will not use euphemisms or replacement characters in
quotes or discussions of Army life. In addition, there are many distinct Army terms used
by both drill sergeants and privates, upon the first instance of these terms I have used
italics to indicate that the term is used in Army jargon distinctly from the standard
definition of the term, followed by a definition in a footnote. For acronyms, the first
instance of an acronym will be defined, after which only the acronym will be used. With
regard to capitalization, when a rank or title is used to refer to a specific person, that word
is capitalized, thus Drill Sergeant Redmond or Captain Curry. If the term is instead used
to refer to a class of soldiers, such as sergeants or captains, it will remain lower case. I
will also use the non-abbreviated address for all ranks, so that any soldier from the rank
of E5 (sergeant) to E8 (master sergeant) will be identified simply as sergeant.
Although the specific distinctions between enlisted ranks are important among active
duty soldiers, at Basic Training this social structure is flattened: all enlisted above E5
rank are sergeants (or drill sergeant) and all enlisted below E5 are privates. Those
few times when officers are mentioned, ranks will be used, as the rank distinctions
between captains (Company Commanders), lieutenant colonels (Battalion Commanders),


and colonels (Brigade Commanders) remain relevant, if infrequent, during Basic

The term private deserves some special attention. During Basic Training, all
incoming soldiers, regardless of rank, are called private by the drill sergeants and other
cadre. I have continued the use of that term when referencing all incoming soldiers to
Basic Training. At times when I refer to the category of potential military members, I use
the broader term recruit to incorporate potential soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines.
Through this work, I use the masculine pronoun to refer to military personnel. Although
there are females in the military in all services, the majority of recruits are male, and, as I
will show later, the soldier identity is enmeshed within the masculine. Finally, and on a
more practical note, my study does not include females, as Fort Benning is a male-only
training camp and only male privates attend. In fact, over the course of nine weeks, the
only interactions with any females occurred in the dining facility, where all females were
civilians, and at the TMC, or Troop Medical Center, where two of the medics at the
center were female NCOs.
Finally, intonation and prosody are important elements of military speech. Many
expressions are repeated from drill sergeant to private not only word for word, but tone
for tone. These forms of expression are essential for a number of linguistic features of
military language. However, as this is not a detailed work on linguistics, it would be
overly complex and distracting to attempt to write out quotes in the International
Phonetic Alphabet. Instead, I will attempt to indicate the importance of tone both in the
descriptive text and within direct quotes through the use of standard grammatical


identifiers, such as periods, commas, and ellipses. When necessary, I will also use
and to indicate rising or falling intonation.

Language as Performance
There are many different forms of military speech that could be discussed, so
much in fact, that a separate book could be written on military speech alone. This
research will instead focus on discrete examples of some of these forms, and show how
they are utilized by privates to create and express their identities as soldiers. Here I rely
predominantly on the theory of Mikhail Bakhtin, Victor Turner, and Richard Schechner,
supported by other works on language and performance. Mikhail Bakhtins notions of
heteroglossia and dialogism underlie most discussions in this chapter, as privates enter
the military without a clean slate, but rather previously informed about military life by
coworkers, family members, and literature and film. Turner and Schechters emphases
on performance also inform much of the thought for this chapter, as privates and drill
sergeants frequently self-consciously perform the role of soldier seen in films and
My approach to language as a performative act is strongly informed by the works
of linguists such as Nikolas Coupland and Penelope Eckert, who place their own work
within the context of speakers who manipulate language and use it for their own selfdetermined purposes. Coupland approaches language as a performance by the speaker to
identify themselves to others and build their own identities. For Coupland, language is
not composed of individuals with set behaviors expressing variation, but rather
individuals performing acts of speech as social practice (Coupland, 2001). Coupland


challenges the idea vernaculars are authentic speech products, and vernacular speech
[is] thought to be an anchor for solidarity and local affiliation, while standard speech
is seen as somehow inauthentic (Coupland, 2007, p. 183). Instead, Coupland takes the
position that authenticity of speech is instead constructed discursively, through the
actions of individuals performing that speech.
He quotes frequently from Penelope Eckerts ethnographic analysis Detroit
adolescents, Linguistic Variation as Social Practice (2000), and her descriptions of how
youths in Detroit construct their identities out of stereotypical as well as innovative acts.
Eckert grounds most of her discussion in linguistic practice, but also addresses the social
situations surrounding most of those practices, cruising, hanging out in the courtyard,
participating in the extracurricular social and athletic sphere, and doing academics [which
have] meaning in virtue of [their] association with a broader practice, a joint style, a
mutual set of values and orientations to the world. (Eckert, 2000, p. 171) In other
words, linguistic and social activities are expressions of group solidarity, a means for
creating identity in reference to social groups. Eckert locates most of these expressions
of identity outside of these larger social groups however, and in the smaller primary
groups of friends who interact intensely with one another. As we shall see in the next
chapters discussion of buddy groups, these smaller, overlapping clusters of individuals
are also the most intense arena for identity creation in Basic Training. Like Eckert, I will
separate my discussions of stylistic performance, discussing linguistic performance in
this section, and delay the discussion of other styles of performance for later in the


Although privates in Basic Training are learning prescribed language (military

jargon), they are also learning and experimenting with descriptive language and new
forms of expression which drill sergeants, officers, and they themselves have invented
and modified in response to new experiences. Privates entering the military act similarly
to those joining other subcultures, using language, clothing, and other elements of style to
express their identity within the prescribed limitations of the subcultural structure. The
institution of the Army creates bounded rules for acceptable speech, attempting to
remove sexist and demeaning language from a soldiers lexicon, but this frequently fails
as soldiers continue to act and speak in the ways which they themselves consider
appropriate to the role of soldier. In many ways, one of the primary lessons of Basic
Training is not the set of soldier skills that are taught, or the indoctrination of a specific
mindset, but rather instruction on how to negotiate the large bureaucracy which is the
military institution. Learning and playing with language is one of the ways in which
privates establish themselves within the military hierarchy while at the same time
expressing their individuality. As we shall see in this and later chapters, privates entering
Basic Training bring with them their own preconceptions and background, and choose to
incorporate elements encountered in Basic Training to create their own identity of

Slang and Jargon

In much the same way as Rabinow discusses the need to learn a new language for
his study of microbiologists (Rabinow, 1996, p. 17), studying the Army also requires the
learning of a new language. The first major element of military language, and the most


obvious, comes from the learning of proper radio language. In order to maintain clarity
in radio transmissions, soldiers are taught a phonetic alphabet unique to the military. 15
Each letter is given a specific associated word, and in addition to radio communication,
these words are also used in regular conversation between soldiers in place of single
letters. For example, when asked about a soldiers MOS 16 , most soldiers will not reply
with a description or title, but will instead reply with the number-letter combination
specific to their MOS. Thus, an infantryman is an 11-bravo, while a medic would be a
68-whiskey. It is interesting that this response is so ingrained in soldiers that even though
there are over one hundred and fifty careers possible in the Army 17 , with new job codes
added or changed seemingly every month, it is impossible to know every code.
Frequently, after a soldier has identified his MOS code, there is always a follow-up
description of the actual job identified by the code.
In addition to MOS, letters are used as identifiers for units, in acronyms, and as
ways to avoid direct cursing. Army companies are identified by letter, typically A, B, or
C, and pronounced alpha company, bravo company, etc. As acronyms, many phonetic
letters are used to exert the soldier identity among the speaker and his audience. For
instance, the most common expletive used by privates who are not instinctively cursing
is whiskey tango foxtrot, the phonetic abbreviation for WTF, standing for what the
fuck? In this case, the utterance is performative as it is almost never used in a situation
of actual stress or pain, but rather in the relation of stories from one private to another, or
sometimes even from a drill sergeant to a private. A similar means for expressing


See Appendix for the complete alphabet.

Military Occupational Specialty, each job in the Army is given a corresponding number-letter code that
identifies that specific job and its responsibilities.
According to http://www.goarmy.com


linguistic style while playing with language is the use of the term Blue Falcon.
Although not expressed in phonetic alphabet, the term refers to the similarly initialed
Buddy Fucker a soldier who will look after his own interests even when those
interests result in negative results for his fellows. Both blue falcon and whiskey tango
foxtrot are predominantly used by privates playing with their new language, expressing
themselves as soldiers and displaying their prowess with a new form of cultural capital.
Other common forms of military jargon are initialisms and acronyms. For
example, although many civilians will describe the military truck as a Humvee, in
actuality the abbreviation is HMMWV, which stands for High Mobility Multipurpose
Wheeled Vehicle, and it is only the pronunciation which is hum-vee. 18 Similarly,
exercise is always referred to in the Army as PT (pee-tee), physical training, and many
other acronyms become initialisms, such that the MEPS, or Military Entrance Processing
Station, simply becomes meps in military speak. Learning these terms, and then
expressing that knowledge through socially acceptable speech, is an important element of
displaying a privates knowledge of the military world.
During Basic Training, privates are exposed to many new words and phrases,
frequently as a direction from the drill sergeants on where to go or what to yell at a
particular point during training. These new words are frequently mangled or
misinterpreted by privates. Although misinterpretation is frequently seen as a form of
resistance (Bhabha, 1994), during Basic Training it is much more likely that
misinterpretation is simply that, a private mishearing a word or phrase and then repeating
it in a very loud game of telephone. This is not to deny the possibility that


After Basic Training, when soldiers are in units or deployed, a HMMWV is most often referred to simply
as a truck.


misinterpretation can be used as a form of resistance by privates, but this typically occurs
later in the training cycle, when privates have learned what they can get away with
around drill sergeants and what they cant.
The difference between Army language and standard English is only subtle.
Privates learn this new language through repetition of drill sergeants, popular movies, and
their peers. There is no codified system of instruction, and frequently the
misinterpretations lead to original and spontaneous new terms, especially among soldiers
who have previously accumulated symbolic capital. The use of terms from other
branches is quite common as well, with a patrol cap or PC often referred to as a cover,
originally a term from the Marine Corps. As we shall see later, this is likely borrowed
from the film Full Metal Jacket, a movie which many privates view as the truest
version of Basic Training, despite its depiction of Marine Corps Boot Camp.
In addition to the idioms of military life, however, there is also a particular diction
and coding used in Basic Training which carries over into a soldiers Army career. There
are many different forms of military speech, mainly defined through insults and mocking
of other soldiers, or in some case, the civilian world. The dominant metaphors used in
these insults are feminization and infantilism, typically combined to equate one with the
other. Although marching and running cadences reflect these military language codes,
the inculcation of these phrases comes through experiences of privates before, during,
and after Basic Training. I will discuss these different elements later in the chapter, and
limit my discussion here to the importance and effects of slang on group and individual


Nikolas Coupland has discussed the identity forming nature of slang in jargon in a
number of works, most significantly in his book, Style: Language Variation and Identity.
Although Coupland does not completely eschew William Labovs scientific approach to
the study of linguistic variation, he does suggest that sociolinguistics needs to move past
description of the speech acts and include discussions of the sociocultural context in
which speech is performed. In this text, he maintains that language is performed by
speakers, deliberate acts which speakers use to identify themselves to others. Through
studying linguistic utterances, it is possible for a researcher to determine social identities
and social relationships with sufficient flexibility and dynamism to capture some of the
qualities of late-modern social life. (Coupland, 2007, p. 30) This is primarily
accomplished through the examination of how people speak, the style of their speech as
it were. Penelope Eckert shares this approach in her discussion of high school speech
patterns, arguing that stylistic production is, in other words, the terrain for the
negotiation of social meaning and identity. (Eckert, 2000, p. 41) That these descriptions
of linguistic style mimic the sociocultural work of Erving Goffman is hardly surprising
considering the influence he has had on social investigation, and I will attempt to follow
in their footsteps and apply these ideas of style and variation to the realms of language
and performance in military life.
Linguistic proficiency is not only used to express identity, but can also be used to
establish position within a group or institution. For instance, hackers use their particular
slang and jargon not only to assert their identity, but to establish their position in a virtual
pecking order (Mizrach, 1997). Linguistic ability, then, can be seen as a variant of
Bourdieus cultural capital, what Sarah Thornton refers to as subcultural capital.


(Thornton, 1996) Much like Bourdieus cultural capital, subcultural capital is specific to
the subculture in which such accumulations occur. Although Thornton specifically
discusses the use of subcultural capital within an accepted subculture, the British rave
scene, the military is also a specific group of individuals operating with a different set of
rules, symbols, and accepted behavior from the larger society surrounding it. As such, I
will borrow Thorntons idea of subcultural capital and apply it in this specific case.
As Dick Hebdige discussed in his work on British punk, Subculture: The Meaning
of Style, expressions of style are one of the main ways in which a member of a subculture
expresses himself. Chapter Five will discuss the importance of the military uniform,
including those personal decorations which soldiers are allowed to wear with it. Here,
however, we will see how the use of military slang and jargon is used in the same way, as
a form of linguistic style which serves to establish a soldiers credentials within the
military subculture. At Basic Training, privates who have prior experience with these
linguistic forms use that experience to develop their subcultural capital, and those
privates who do not have the experience work quickly to learn the language in order to
accumulate their own symbolic capital. Language is not the only form of subcultural
capital available to privates, but in the beginning stages of Basic Training, familiarity
with military language places some privates in better positions to interpret for others, and
thereby gain a symbolic level of prestige within the platoon. As Basic Training
progresses, as well see, other forms of symbolic capital will become more important.
It is not simply vocabulary which is important for the establishment of this
subcultural capital; we should not ignore more subtle means that privates use to establish
their identities. Another way in which privates build up their subcultural capital is


through the use of proper linguistic intonation. Military intonation is almost standardized
in many of its uses. Many phrases are repeated in military speech, and often repeated in
precisely the same way. The processes by which these styles of intonation are created are
varied, and range from simple repetition and imitation of other soldiers, to specific
training in proper military dialect. For instance, the commonly heard military grunt
performed during marching and commands is specifically taught at Army leadership
courses: hun, too, tree, fower! and forrard, harch! are two of the most common
examples of this style of speech.
A counterpoint to this, however, is the imitation which leads to the similarities in
intonation used by firing range control officers during live fire 19 at every range I have
been to (at three different bases over six different visits). In this case, there is both a
script and near-scripted performance that accompanies the opening of live fire events.
During Basic Training, soldiers conduct live fire at over a dozen different ranges,
typically in two positions, the prone unsupported and foxhole supported positions.
The full details of these positions will be discussed in Chapter Six; they are mentioned
here only to explain the following script used by range control officers prior to firing:

Privates, at this time . . . take up a good supported firing position.

Ready on the left?
Ready on the left.
Ready on the right?
Ready on the right.
Ready in the center?
Ready in the center.
Privates, at this time . . . secure one twenty round magazine . . . and lock
and load.


Live fire refers to actually firing a loaded weapon. This is contrasted with a number of dry fire
exercises, during which a soldier mimics the act of firing a weapon, but without it being loaded.


You may switch your selector switch from safe to semi . . . and watch . . .
your lane.
Although there may be some slight variation to this script, it is the intonations which are
of particular import, as I never heard a range control officer deviate from the marked
intonations and pauses detailed above. Although this may be part of the instruction at the
Safety Officer course, when asking Sergeant Massey (my Reserve units range safety
officer), he never mentioned any specific training in the script. It seems more likely that
this is simply an example of mimicry.
Another important intonation accompanies the pronunciation of the word
private by drill sergeant at Basic Training. Although this word typically denotes a
rank, at Basic it is also used to identify a class: those soldiers who have not yet graduated
from Basic Training. What is distinctive about its use in this context is the drawl that
typically accompanies the utterance. When used as a rank, as in Private Smith, the
drawl is rarely pronounced. However, when addressing a group of privates during Basic,
drill sergeants will extend the vowels and shorten their pronunciation. Thus, it is
pronounced more as praah-vits in this context. As Coupland and others have pointed
out, the meaning of an utterance is dependent not only on the grammatical structure of
that utterance, but also on the context, and in this case the context is such that the
utterance moves from a simple descriptor of rank or class into an insult with implications
of stupidity and laziness. This intonation is also frequently used by soldiers in the active
military in a pastiche, either lower rank making fun of overly controlling leaders, or
leaders making fun of a careless mistake made by a lower rank soldier.


This repetition of both words and style is indicative of Bakhtins heteroglossia,

the multitude of voices which informs the behaviors of individuals. Under Bakhtins
analysis humans are heteroglossic, picking and choosing from the variety of voices they
have encountered over their lifetimes to create their own individual identity. The use of
the term individual in this context may seem a paradox, but as Coupland and Eckert have
pointed out, it is precisely through the play of these different voices, style, that a person
expresses their own sense of self. For example, Sergeant Walstrom from my Reserve
unit was known as an easy going leader, and almost never used direct insults or
punishment. When Sergeant Walstrom slipped into a southern drawl to call out a soldier
on his failure to properly clean a bathroom, and asked him what is your major
malfunction, prah-vit? he was using drill sergeant speech as a point of reference to
express his dislike of this stereotypical Army approach to dealing with mistakes, mocking
the typical drill sergeant approach of demeaning privates during Basic Training. The use
of drill sergeant speech among soldiers outside of Basic Training shows how
individuals pick and choose from the heteroglossic nature of their identity, mimicking a
person from their past in order to incorporate that persons voice into their own
expression of identity.
The drill sergeants are also the primary source from which privates learn military
slang. Slang and insults are particularly intertwined, as the majority of slang learned
from drill sergeants are insulting terms used to describe privates who have failed to
properly conduct themselves in maintaining their selves or equipment. For example, the
term soup sandwich is frequently used to refer to a soldier who does not know his job,
acts inappropriately, or dresses inappropriately. This term is actually a shortening of a


longer term, ate up like a soup and sandwich, which is split into two predominant
insults: soup sandwich, and ate up. These insults can be used interchangeably, although
soup sandwich was occasionally used in jest, while ate up was only used as a direct
insult. Thus, a soldier who makes a careless mistake or fails to dress appropriately on a
single occasion can be referred to as a soup sandwich, while a soldier who establishes a
pattern of mistakes is much more likely to be referred to as ate up.

Sounding Off
Yelling, or sounding off is another common feature of military language. Privates
should sound off whenever they speak. One stated reason for this, and for the yelling of
drill sergeant while punishing a private, is so that other privates in the platoon or
company can hear what is going on and learn from another privates mistakes. As we
shall see in a later chapter, this presents a conflict with another directive during Basic
Training, the privacy of a privates punishment. However, for this chapter, the effects of
sounding off will be the only feature discussed.
Sounding off can also refer to calling cadence, which will be discussed later, and
to shouting various slogans and phrases at predetermined times in their training. For
instance, before entering the chow hall, or DFAC, each platoon must shout command and
response slogans. Each platoon is marched to the door of the DFAC either by drill
sergeants (during the first three weeks of Basic) or the platoon guides 20 (during the last
six). The DFAC sits at the center of the Battalion area, and all five training companies in
the Battalion use it. There are two entrances on either side of the DFAC, and a company
will use only one or the other, depending on the schedule the drill sergeant have worked

The platoon guide is a private from the platoon designated to act as the leader of the platoon.


out with the Battalion. For the first three weeks of Basic Training, the drill sergeants
march each platoon from the company area to the DFAC, after this period, referred to as
total control 21 , the platoon guide is responsible for marching the platoon. The drill
sergeant or platoon guide will call cadences even when moving privates less than five
hundred yards in formation, and this holds true for the short march to the DFAC. I will
defer the discussion of cadence calling for later in this chapter, and for now simply focus
on some of the ritualized sounding off which occurs at Basic Training.
Each platoon is responsible for inventing their own phrases for many events,
although there are also some phrases prescribed by the drill sergeants and taught to the
platoons. Most of these phrases are incorporated into miniature rituals performed at
various points over the course of Basic Training, whether they are for entering the DFAC,
obtaining a weapon from the arms room, or responding to a formal formation. In the case
of second platoon, the command-response phrases for entering the DFAC were as
The two privates at the door shout: I need two, hi-ghly motivated,
hi-ghly dedicated, Wardogs to the DFAC door now!
The platoon responds: Weve got two, hi-ghly motivated, hi-ghly
dedicated Wardogs coming to the DFAC door now!
The first two privates in line shout in succession:
One Wardog on the way!
Two Wardog on the way!
At this point the two privates guarding the doors to the DFAC open the double doors and
allow the first two privates in line to enter. This does not end the ritual, however. Upon

During the first three weeks of Basic, all three drill sergeants are with the platoon at all times, except at
night, when only one drill sergeant per platoon is assigned to the platoon. The drill sergeants oversee
everything the privates do at this stage. Sometime after the first three weeks, privates are moved off total
control and there is only one drill sergeant in the company after hours and platoon guides and squad
leaders are responsible for overseeing the activities of the platoons. There will be a more complete
description of this process in chapter Three.


entering the DFAC, each private is required to approach the desk at which a civilian
employee sits and sound off with their name and the last four digits of their social
security number, referred to in the military by the shorthand name and last 4.
This is, of course, not the only ritualized form of speech during Basic. As I
mentioned, almost every group event is accompanied by some form of ritualized speech.
PT, or physical training, is replete with ritualized statements. It is during these times that
the combination of the two meanings of sounding off, both speaking loud and performing
the ritualized speech itself, is most clear. Whenever privates perform physical training,
whether it is during the scheduled morning PT or while being punished by drill sergeants,
the command-response phrases proceed along similar lines. Depending on the reason for
the exercise (punishment or scheduled training), the exercise begins in a slightly different
manner. If the exercise is part of scheduled training, each exercise is preceded by a
declaration of the exercise, the pushup! 22 by the drill sergeants, upon which the
privates respond by repeating the name of the exercise, and then assuming the start
position for the exercise. After this, the drill sergeant will begin to count the exercise,
typically what is called a four count: one, two, three. For the pushup, at each count
the private goes either up or down. At the fourth count, privates respond with the number
of repetitions that have been performed, beginning with one and incrementing one for
each successful repetition. Like using words rather than letters, when counting, soldiers
will not say ten, but instead will name each digit in the number, so after the ninth
repetition, the privates call out one zero, one one, etc. Note that because of this
counting, each repetition is in fact two pushups. Since there is no particular standard for


There are a huge variety of exercises performed during both disciplinary and scheduled exercise. Since
the pushup is the most common exercise, however, I will use it throughout my examples.


the number of repetitions that will be performed, the drill sergeants signify the final
repetition by changing their intonation on the final four count, speaking in a different
tone: one, two, three!
There are a number of variations on this pattern when exercise is a disciplinary
measure. If a punishment is in a group which is in formation, at attention, or otherwise in
a more formal position, punishment is typically preceded by the dreaded, front leaning
rest position . . . move! After this command, privates drop to the ground and assume the
front leaning rest position, Army slang for the starting pushup position, with the back
straight and arms extended. Depending on the inclination of the drill sergeant, privates
may simply be held in this position for an extended period of time, be ordered down, or
the drill sergeant may begin the four count. Each of these commands carries with it a
hidden meaning, as they each signify the likely extent of the punishment that is going to
If no order follows, the drill sergeant will typically insult and harangue the
privates for the offense which caused the punishment. If a drill sergeant begins a four
count, it is typically an indicator that the punishment will be light, as the counts do not
usually go above twenty or twenty five. This does not always hold true however, as on a
number of occasions, drill sergeants punished privates in excess of fifteen minutes
counting a four count. Even if a private can not keep up with the drill sergeants count in
these situations, the drill sergeant will continue to count at the same speed for the
duration of the punishment, although frequently insulting the private for his lack of
ability. Finally, if the command down is given, this signifies that the punishment is
likely going to be harsh, and the pushups will be accompanied by insults from the drill


sergeants for the duration. A typical situation would proceed as follows (all statements
are from the drill sergeant):

Down. What is your malfunction, privates? Why can you not follow a
simple order? Up. I said keep the bay clean, do you think the bay is
clean. Shut up! I dont think this bay is clean. Maybe you need to get
closer to the floor to see the dirt. Down. You see the dirt now? You see
the filth? I have to live in this shit, too, and Im not gonna let you get me
sick. Up. I have a family at home, I have a little girl who is the light of
my life. Keep your back straight! I am not going to get my daughter sick
because you privates dont know how to clean. Down. You all see the
dirt now, you close enough? Up. Theres sixty of you swinging dicks in
this one room, thats a lot of fucking dirt you track in. Maybe you dont
believe me. Back straight! Why dont you take another look. Down.
You see it? Thats filth, and I wont have it. I told you to sweep and mop
every night. Get off the floor! Dont think I cant see you resting on the
floor there. Your arms getting tired, thats fine, mine are just fine. Up . . .
Although the drill sergeant in this example seems to be speaking to specific privates at
various points, he is in actuality addressing every statement to the entire group, including
those moments when he gives specific orders to a private to keep his back straight, or to
keep his body off the floor. Here we have a virtual version of Benthams panopticon,
wherein the privates are not allowed to look at the drill sergeant as he punishes them, and
the drill sergeant maintains his power over the privates as he has unrestricted access to
their bodies and activities. In this way, the drill sergeant uses both language and the gaze
to exert his control over the privates, as no private knows for certain whether a statement
is addressed directly at him, or at a different private in the group. Of course, the
enforcement of the drill sergeants, as we shall see repeatedly throughout this work, is
constantly challenged by privates, who quickly learn to use their peripheral vision to
monitor the drill sergeant while they are being punished. Thus many privates will rest


their body on the ground for a few moments to rest, or arch or bow their back while in the
up position to relieve the pain and stress of the position, sneaking glances at the drill
sergeant to be certain he is not looking when they are doing so.
If a private is not in formation, there are a number of other commands used by
drill sergeants to order a private to prepare for disciplinary exercise. The most common
command is simply drop, followed by the more poetic beat your face. Both of these
commands typically mean that a private must do twenty five pushups, although
occasionally a drill sergeant will tell the private after he has completed his pushups, I
didnt tell you to stop, or a similar phrase. Occasionally a drill sergeant will be specific
with the number of pushups required, most commonly two-five or twenty five pushups.
The phrase drop and give me twenty, despite its popularity in fiction, was never used
during my rotation at Basic Training.
After the exercise is complete, privates must remain on the ground in their
exercise position, until the drill sergeant gives the command of recover, or on your
feet. After this command, privates are allowed to stand back up, and then repeat the
following phrase:
More PT drill sergeant, more PT
We like it, we love it, we want some more of it
Make it hurt drill sergeant, make it hurt
(double beat)
Make it hurt drill sergeant, make it hurt
If the exercise was disciplinary, the volume of this phrase seems to determine whether the
punishment will continue. If the privates shout loudly enough, the drill sergeants will
usually allow them to return to their previous activity, although this is not guaranteed.


This happened on a number of occasions, including once when Drill Sergeant Prince
smoked 23 the entire company for some unknown mistake, and relented after fifteen
minutes as the companys responses to his count simply increased in volume as the
punishment progressed. This event was used the next day by Drill Sergeant West as an
example for how privates show loyalty to the drill sergeants by sounding off loudly for
them. In his words, when you sound off, you get pumped, and we get pumped. Its
some good shit hearing that.
On another occasion, Private Silber remembers: Drill Sergeant Saburi took us
out right after dinner and did grass drills with us, and we were getting so, you know, we
stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and started getting into it, and getting loud when he
was calling stuff, and he was doing, for several weeks hes really pissed off at us routine,
but do you remember him smiling at the end of that? He was getting into it, too. He was
enjoying the fact that we were yelling back ten times louder than he could yell to us. And
you know that we were plainly having a good time out there. In this situation, the
volume of 3rd platoons shouting served to move the grass drills from a punishment into
a game, with the drill sergeant playing along, even dropping his pissed off routine
while the smoking session continued. Sounding off properly can even avert a
punishment, as for example when 3rd platoon lost the pugil stick competition and began
to chant bullshit at the drill sergeants who were refereeing the competition. Later that
day, DS Wright used 3rd platoons chanting as an example during his class on Loyalty,
stating that we had showed loyalty to our platoon, even though we had challenged the
drill sergeants.


Smoking refers to any punishment of calisthenics, typically a severe one, in the Army


If a group of privates is punished while in formation, there is also one command

which precedes the front leaning rest position: half right, face! The half right face
command requires the privates to turn forty five degrees to their right, increasing the
distance between each private so that privates can perform pushups without falling over
one another. The half right face command is frequently followed by a long pause from
the drill sergeants, which in itself carries a subtextual meaning. With the exception of
actual drill and ceremony, the half right face was never performed without the drill
sergeants ordering the platoon into the front leaning rest position. The pregnant pause
as it were, allows privates a moment to anticipate the upcoming punishment, as well as a
moment to prepare a landing spot for the upcoming command to drop to the ground.
There are also times when the drill sergeants will join in with a punishment,
ostensibly to show their superiority to the privates being punished. However, the joining
in can also be seen as an expression of the drill sergeants failure to properly instruct
privates. Most of the times when a drill sergeant does not join in, there are distinct notes
of anger in the drill sergeants voice, whereas during a punishment when the drill
sergeant performs the punishments along with the privates, the insults are rarely
performed. Joining in also helps to build group cohesion, as the drill sergeants shares
in the punishment with the privates. On one occasion, Drill Sergeant Saburi even
admitted a mistake, and then proceeded to do twenty five pushups in front of the platoon
for his mistake: No, I made a mistake 3rd platoon. I drop myself for you. This act
increased the respect the privates held for Drill Sergeant Saburi, as he showed himself to
be willing to accept his own mistakes, and punishment for the same, in the same way as
he expected the privates to accept their punishments.


As I will show in the next chapter, identity, and particularly masculine identity,
must be constantly reenacted. In that sense identity is at its heart performative rather than
static. Individuals must constantly perform their roles for their audience to reinforce their
identity to that audience, as there is nothing inherent within an individual which can
confirm a single identity. Language is but one of many tools used to perform identity,
and I will discuss other forms later in this work. In discussing performativity I follow the
interpretation of R. Claire Snyder, who adapts the concept developed by Judith Butler,
injecting it with individual agency. Snyder stresses the agentive nature of a performative
identity, as an individual chooses to act in accordance or not with a certain idea of what
those acts entail (Snyder, 1999, p. 4). Given that the identity of soldier and the role of
soldier are tightly intertwined, this approach is both more relevant and more appealing.
As language is such a recognizable element of any performance, it is hardly surprising
then that using military language is a performative act that reinforces the identity of
soldiers, serving as an identifier for others who share the knowledge of the military
Connie Ebles discussion of college student slang shows how students use slang
performatively, as a way for college students to identify to outsiders how they view their
own identity. Thus, among close friends, slang is used less frequently than when there
are less intimate friends in the group. Eble suggests that slang in this situation is
necessary to promote their identities as students and their solidarity with each other;
among close friends or lovers, however, demonstrations of solidarity are unnecessary.


(Frazer, 1997, p. 861) Privates in Basic Training perform in a similar fashion, evoking
military slang the most when they are outside their primary groups, and during Basic,
typically in a louder voice than when not using military slang. Thus, the use of terms
such as blue falcon and whiskey tango foxtrot, mentioned above, is complemented
by an increase in volume, and pauses around the terms to highlight the use of it, and the
knowledge of the performer of the phrase.
Habitual responses are also a strong element of the soldier identity. Many
consider the immediate response to orders a primary facet of what it means to be a
soldier, although as we shall see in Chapter Seven, this assumption is currently being
challenged from both within and without the military. It is true, however, that much of
the training a soldier undergoes is designed to create a quick and instinctive response to
specific stimuli. Linguistically, at Basic Training privates are trained to respond with
certain pre-scripted utterances when prompted by the drill sergeants. Almost unfailingly,
privates do provide these appropriate responses. However, assuming that a habitual or
immediate response is a Pavlovian one is a mistake. As we saw above, privates at Basic
Training receive a number of predetermined statements that they must say at various
points over the course of training. In addition to cadence calls and the commandresponse utterances, there are also a set of predetermined responses to other statements by
drill sergeant and instructors. For instance, when a drill sergeant asks a private
tracking? 24 privates respond with tracking drill sergeant, tracking! or when a drill
sergeant uses the Army grunt of hooah, privates will always respond with hooah.
However, these responses provide variety in a strongly uniform environment, and for
many privates the opportunity to say something besides yes, Drill Sergeant is welcome.

Do you understand?


All of these discussions so far have pointed to one of the most important elements
of military identity that it is at its very nature performative. As we will see below,
soldiers in the Vietnam War expressed themselves as performing their roles in the ways
they saw in film and literature. Soldiers in todays Army perform in similar ways, acting
out the roles they have incorporated into themselves through film, literature,
enculturation, and the indoctrination of Basic Training itself. It would be foolish to
assume that any one of these influences can fully account for the identity of an individual.
Instead, individuals, in this case soldiers and privates, pick and choose from their prior
experiences and create their own identities based on how they see themselves, and how
they want to see themselves.
For instance, soldiers take the military jargon they have learned and create new
slang, such as the expletive whiskey tango foxtrot. In this way, they incorporate the
new language into their own self identity. The ability to perform these innovations
reflects new status within the military subculture, and soldiers deliberately play at
innovative language. While cadence calling, this innovation pays extra dividends, as a
soldier can show off his skill with military language, as well as boost his subcultural
capital in the realm of performance. A soldier who creates new, well received cadences
can acquire increased reputation, and subcultural capital, by publicly displaying his
proficiency with military language and culture.
As an example of this, one soldier in my unit, Sergeant Redmond invented a new
marching cadence mocking soldiers who are on profile. A profile is an instruction
received from a military doctor which limits the tasks which a soldier can perform.
During Basic Training, the most common profiles were soft shoe profiles, meaning that


a private could not wear boots for a set period of time due to injuries to the feet, and
profiles which restricted a specific exercise, such as pushups or running. By inventing
this new cadence, Sergeant Robertson displayed his skill with military performance in a
number of ways. First, he showed an understanding of the poetry needed to construct the
proper rhythm for a marching cadence, and then combined that with the proper
understanding of the feelings most soldiers have for soldiers on profile. As we shall
discuss in Chapter 4, soldiers who can not keep up with the other members of the unit
physically or mentally are looked down upon, and frequently seen as less of a soldier
than others. By playing with military language and incorporating new elements into a
standard cadence, Sergeant Robertson increased his subcultural capital in the unit, as
other soldiers looked to him for advice on issues unrelated to his ability to write cadence.

Much like sounding off during punishment, cadence calling is frequently used as
a metric by drill sergeants for assessing the morale and drive of the privates in their
platoon. It is also perceived by them to reflect the respect the privates have for the drill
sergeants. During Bravo Companys rotation, both of these factors held true, as 3rd
platoon would sound off louder for our own drill sergeants, and would not sound off as
loudly when we had just been punished, especially when that punishment was perceived
as unfair. On one occasion, 3rd platoon was even forbidden to call cadence as
punishment for some slight done to a drill sergeant. When a drill sergeant from another
platoon marched the company and did not hear 3rd platoon, we were almost punished for
not sounding off until our platoon guide explained the situation to the drill sergeant.


Cadences replace the role of music among many privates in the Army. Over the
course of nine weeks, privates begin to replace pop songs with the cadences they have
been learning over Basic Training. There are likely some performative aspects to this as
well, as privates use the cadence calling to reinforce to themselves their new identities as
soldiers. For most new privates, music has been an integral part of their lives, and the
removal of popular music from their world is seen by many as almost physically painful.
During the last few days of Basic, when privates were allowed access to their personal
items, among the first things broken out by everyone in 3rd platoon were CD players and
mp3 players. Many privates who had not brought these items with them purchased them
at the PX on one of the trips granted to the platoons by their drill sergeants. During the
final two evenings at Fort Benning it was much more common to see privates with
earbuds or earphones than not as they indulged in the pleasure of hearing real music for
the first time in two months. The real music here is contrasted with the military cadence,
the only form of music allowed to privates during their ten weeks of Basic Training.
The military cadence has been used in the US military since at least World War II
(Burke, 1989). Cadences serve a number of purposes, and as Carol Burke points out, are
frequently censored or edited when released to the civilian world in books or CDs to
remove the most offensive elements. However, the sexualization of language is an
important element in the development of privates during Basic Training. One of the
ways in which sexuality is displayed is through the use of offensive or misogynistic
cadences. In addition, cadences are frequently used to express dissatisfaction with
military life, usually in an ironic way, and to assist in separating the new private from his
civilian life.


Many cadences center around Jody, the archetype for the civilian who will steal
the soldiers girlfriend while the soldier is away at war. The ubiquity of this figure in
early cadences was such that a common synonym for a cadence itself is a jody. The Jody
figure has been around for years, and has been commented on not only in reference to
Army culture but also to black popular culture (Hanchard, 1998) and American folk
music (Jackson 1967). The origins of Jody as a symbolic figure have not been
recorded, and are not necessary for this work, but it is important to note that the Jody
theme plays out in Army life, even, possibly especially, at Basic Training, in two major
ways. First, simply knowing the term Jody provides symbolic capital to the privates
who are then able to share that knowledge, and demonstrate their superiority over other
privates. Private Darren took great delight in using the term Jody in conversation without
explanation, and the drill sergeants had to explain to a number of privates what Jody
actually referred to in one of the cadences that was sung. Second, most privates at Basic
Training are just out of high school, or otherwise young enough to still be considered
adolescents by most standards, and are likely to suffer emotionally when their girlfriends
break up with them during their absence. Jody remains a strong symbol of the worry of
privates, many of whom will receive letters from the girlfriends breaking up with them.
During my time at Fort Benning, at least six members of my platoon received Dear
John letters at Basic Training, and one member of the platoon, Private Jackson, was so
worried about his wife leaving him that he broke the rules almost every night to sneak
downstairs and use the telephones to call her. Private Jacksons actions, and their results,
will be discussed more fully in Chapter Four.


Hanchard suggests that the phantom nature of Jody removes the blame for a
breakdown in romantic relationships from any structural or institutional system, and
instead the fault is in the inherent passions of human beings. During Basic Training, the
private is set apart from these inherent passions, and his separation, emotionally and
physically, from his female partner are willing, and presumably understood and accepted
by both partners. Should a girlfriend succumb to Jody in these instances, the blame is
entirely on the weakness of the woman in succumbing to the seductive nature of the
ubiquitous Jody.
The comparison is particularly telling when one considers that Hanchards
description of Jody is a man who is somehow feminine, contrasted with the masculine
identity of the American soldier. According to Hanchard, Jody is never all man; his
identity is generated and implemented by women, not men. (Hanchard, 1998, p. 487).
From a military perspective, this analysis highlights the distinction between the
masculine military world and the feminine civilian one. The privates girlfriend, who
leaves him for Jody, is not simply being unfaithful, but through the symbolism of the
phantom Jody, is reaffirming that both females and civilian males are incorporated into
the category of feminine, distinct from the masculine soldier, female to male.
Hanchard has to work to find instances of Jody in modern music, interpreting
lyrics and meanings to find the hidden and unnamed Jody described in the music.
Similarly, in Army culture, Jody is not a specific figure, and the mention of Jody in
cadence calling is vastly diminished from World War II. During my entire nine weeks at
Fort Benning, I did not hear a single cadence call mentioning the word. Rather, the term


was used by drill sergeants and other privates to refer to the unnamed man who would
steal away the privates girlfriend.
Carol Burkes discussion of cadence calling mentions some of the practical uses
of cadence calling as well, such as to ease strain by diverting attention from monotonous
and often strenuous labor or training (Burke, 1989, p. 424). This can be seen in one of
the punishments handed down from Drill Sergeant Saburi, who prevented 3rd platoon
from singing cadence for three days. Although at first this did not even seem to be a
punishment, after the first day, members of 3rd platoon began to feel the stigma, and
when Drill Sergeant Saburi finally allowed the platoon to call cadence again, volume and
intensity were significantly higher than before the punishment had been delivered.
Another practical use of cadence calling which Burke underemphasizes is the use of
cadence to keep soldiers in step as they march. Since almost every cadence follows a
standard 4:4 beat, privates can more quickly learn to place the proper foot down at the
proper time in a formation march. As platoons march, drill sergeants and platoon guides
will have to switch from one cadence to another, or stop calling a cadence as the platoon
approaches their destination. During these moments, the cadence caller will revert to a
standard marching call, marking the foot which is supposed to hit the ground: Left, Left,
Leftright. In addition, running cadences serve to physically train privates how to control
their breathing during running, which improves the running time on the PT tests
conducted over the course of Basic.
During Bravo Companys training, cadences worked not only to keep everyone in
step, but to keep everyone silent. When privates are not calling cadence, they almost
invariably chat with one another, and occasionally get into arguments. When calling


cadence, however, privates get caught up in the sounding off and do not have the
opportunity to engage in outside conversations. On one level, it is almost as if privates in
Basic Training, especially those of younger age, have the need to make noise of some
sort, and sounding off in a cadence allows them to make this noise while still maintaining
the discipline required by the military. This is a prime example of Deleuze and Guattaris
notion of the military, which seeks to harness the chaotic drives in individuals, in this
case the urge to make noise, and turn them to the purpose of the organized State. This
theme will repeat itself numerous times over the course of my discussion, from language
to control over the body and even expressions of individuality.
The ability of cadence to control the group of privates can be seen in other ways
as well. In one instance, returning from a monthly concert, 3rd platoon was being
marched by Drill Sergeant Saburi back to the company barracks with the other platoons
in the company as well as three or four other companies returning from the concert. As
there was a large amount of overlap in cadences, it was very difficult to hear the one
being called by Drill Sergeant Saburi. In addition, it was after dark and the anonymity
the dark provided allowed privates to speak to one another without fear of being noticed
or punished. As a result, rather than calling cadence, most of the members of 3rd platoon
instead spoke with one another, and as people bumped into one another in the dark, anger
began to rise, to a point where threats began to be exchanged. However, as the other
companies began to disperse and head back to their respective barracks, Drill Sergeant
Saburis voice became more clear, his cadences identifiable, and the developing
arguments were quickly forgotten as the platoon began to call cadences with the drill


Symbolically cadences serve to unite privates with other soldiers, past and
present, and to express dissatisfaction with Army life, albeit frequently with a touch of
irony. Sexism pervades many cadences as well, as does elitism and aggression, which we
will see later are essential elements of the soldier identity. The vulgar elements of
cadences, however, are more complex than a simple misogynistic or racist attempt to
dehumanize the Other for incoming privates. Most previous studies of military language,
while stressing the importance of vulgarity to military identity, rarely touch on the ways
in which that vulgarity serves to create identity (Carey, 1965; Howard, 1956; Berger,
1945; McDavid, 1939). These articles are predominantly a discussion of the various
slang terms used in different branches, and the meanings of those terms. Carol Burkes
Marching to Vietnam and Susanna Trnkas Living a Life of Sex and Danger are more
contemporary studies of military language, and rather than simply listing slang terms and
definitions, they approach the use of military language and how it is used to enhance
gender disparities, conjure up a mythical past, and create the military identity out of these
elements. Although I disagree with some of the finer points of their arguments, it is
undeniably true that the vulgar language and objectification of women is a large part of
military cadence, and military language in general.
Even for an institution like the Army which relies heavily on tradition and
heritage, language is a constantly changing field, and cadences frequently shift over time.
Carol Burkes discussion of Vietnam centered cadences was published in 1989, and only
thirteen years later, in 2002, many of the extended cadences seem to have been forgotten
by the generation of drill sergeants who grew up with the Vietnam experience second
hand. Although a number of the cadences Burke describes in her article are recognizable


by certain key lines, they are severely shortened in Basic Training, while others seem to
have expanded since her research was completed.
Following Burkes analysis, I will break down the cadences heard at Fort Benning
based on their symbolic purpose: to create group identity, to mock Army life, to celebrate
Army life, and to assert the primacy of the masculine. There are admittedly many other
categories of effect which cadences could be placed into, but these four categories seem
to reflect the most common styles of cadence. For each category, I will relate one
cadence which typifies the style.
A number of cadences are used to establish the primacy of the cadence calling
unit over other units in their vicinity. For example, a standard cadence from Bravo is as
Everywhere we go oh, people wanna know - oh
Who we are, where we come from
So we tell them, we are Bravo
Mighty Mighty Bravo
Rough - n - tough Bravo
Straight shooting Bravo
Better than Alpha, big dumb Alpha
Better than Charlie, chicken chicken Charlie
Better than Delta, dumb-dumb Delta
Better than Echo, icky icky Echo
We are Bravo, mighty mighty Bravo
This cadence is typically only called while marching near the other companies, expressly
to challenge the other companies for recognition as the best company in the battalion.
By far the most common cadences are those which mock Army life. Typical
cadences in this style comment on the false promises of Army life, or the starkness of it.
For example, a cadence I will call They say that in the Army follows a recognizable


pattern, as each phrase begins with that phrase, and then is followed by a series of pointcounterpoint responses:

They say that in the Army, the pay is mighty fine,

They give you a hundred dollars, and take back ninety-nine,
They say that in the Army, the women are mighty fine,
They look like Phyllis Diller, and march like Frankenstein,
They say that in the Army, the boots are mighty fine,
You ask for size eleven, they give you a size nine.
This cadence continues in this pattern, and can be used to discuss food, coffee,
bunks, barracks, etc. In addition to contrasting promises, many of these cadences also
contrast civilian life with Army life, and in fact, even this cadence typically has a chorus
of: Oh lord I want to go, but they wont let me go; Oh lord I want to go home.
Cadences discussing the positive elements of Army life are rarer than those which
mock it, and are frequently posed in the same point-counterpoint manner which might
make it appear to denigrate the Army. However, as language is predominantly based on
context, these cadences are almost always sung with full awareness of the irony, and a
celebratory feel at the points when the privates call out the relevant phrases. One cadence
which looks at first glance to be derogatory,
Here we go again
Same old shit again
Marching down the avenue
[X] more days and we'll be through
I won't have to look at you
So, I'll be glad and so will you
must be understood in context. The days being counted are not days until the soldier is
finished with the Army, but rather is a countdown of whichever school or base to which


the soldier is assigned. Given the constant immanence of graduation from Basic
Training, and the promise of a more relaxed life as a soldier upon graduation, this
cadence in actual fact reveals an ironic affection for the difficulties of Army life.
Finally, many cadence calls are expressly misogynistic or objectifying. These
cadences are not heard as frequently today as they were in the past, but they are still
known, and frequently repeated off the record by drill sergeants and other cadre. While
marching soldiers during AIT, one drill sergeant even stated all right, Im gonna get in
trouble for this one, but what the hell, before breaking into the cadence typically known
as Napalm Sticks to Kids. Drill Sergeant Redmond sang one cadence, mentioned by
Burke and never sung officially at Fort Benning, while safely within the barracks:

I wish all the girls were bricks in a pile,

And I was a mason, Id lay em all in style.
I wish all the girls were pies on a shelf,
And I was a baker Id eat em all myself.
The clandestine approach of the drill sergeant to this cadence reveals the amount of
concern which the Army has for even hints of sexual harassment. Of course, institutional
rules and individual behaviors rarely coincide, and during Basic Training this held true in
many ways, especially through the use of sexualized language and misogynistic
comments. Thus, even the exemplars of military bearing, the drill sergeants, can be
seen to break the rules of Basic Training on occasion, and by doing so, they instruct
privates in appropriate and inappropriate methods of rule-breaking within the institution.
In this instance, the message received by many privates, and expressed later in the co-ed
environment of AIT, was that violating the Army sexual harassment policy is acceptable


so long as it is not performed publicly, but remains a private performance among only
men in the military. This can be contrasted with the drill sergeant mentioned above,
whose calling of the Napalm Sticks to Kids cadence also violated Army norms, who was
female. The female drill sergeant expressed to the soldiers at AIT that rule-breaking in
this context, public display of extreme violence, was acceptable in a way which the
misogynistic cadence of Drill Sergeant Redmond was not.

Sexualized Language
Sexualized language is so much a part of Army life that to ignore it or gloss it
over would be to strip the interpretive power of any discussion of Army language. I will
not attempt to justify any of the speech discussed below, but I do feel that as this
language and symbolism is essential to Army life and to Army identity, it would be
deficient not to discuss it. In addition, as ethnography is a practice in which the voice of
the native should be privileged as much as possible, I will not edit the quotes or slang
words discussed. The extreme sexism of military language has been discussed by many,
and it is easy to view everything in military slang through a distinct Freudian lens,
equating everything from knives to rifles with male genitalia, and the firing of a rifle
round as the equivalent of male ejaculate (Trnka, 1995). Although this is one
interpretation, and sexism and the objectification of women are reflected in military
slang, it also must be established that the identity of a soldier is one that has been, and
still is, almost exclusively masculine. This is the central point of R. Claire Snyders
Citizen Soldiers and Manly Warriors (1995). Snyder examines the history of the concept


of citizen, in essence a member of a nation who is allowed full rights and

responsibilities, through two separate arguments, performative and gender.
The performative argument proceeds that civic virtue, being a citizen, is
something which is created through acts of civic duty. These could be voting, serving in
the Army, or going to see the fireworks. Citizenship is constructed from the actions of
the individual citizen, not endowed in that individual through place of birth or even the
citizenship of parents. As we shall see, soldiering follows the same process, as it is
constructed through the actions of individuals, and not bestowed upon them through the
simple process of completing Basic Training. I will discuss these elements further in a
later section of this chapter.
Snyders gender argument is that manly virtue, specifically soldiering, is one of
the predominant ways that societies have used to construct citizenship. A citizen soldier
expresses his citizenship by serving in the military. Serving in the military is also a
manly thing to do. This attitude, of course, feeds upon itself, and the assumption of a
male gendered identity for soldiers is then expressed a priori, that soldiers are, and must
be, male. Most of the female soldiers I have spoken with accept the requirement that in
order to perform properly as a soldier, one must behave in masculine ways. Although
there are some female soldiers who hold on to their femininity, most relinquish it while in
uniform, or at the very least attempt to remove it from their on stage performance.
Private Rohrbaugh, a female soldier in my Reserve unit, expressed the following disdain
for what she perceived as feminine identity after being in the room during a particularly
ribald series of jokes: I guess there are some females who would get offended, but you
cant expect to be in the Army and not hear that kind of stuff. Theyre [females who get


offended] just stupid. Indeed, on one occasion, Private Rohrbaugh attended a party with
other members of her Reserve unit, and apologized for wearing a dress to the event,
showing how important her lack of femininity was to her identity as a soldier.
In terms of military language, the deprecation of the feminine occurs most often
by conflating a soldiers masculinity with his ability to perform as a soldier. Thus, words
like pussy, girl, and vagina were the most frequent insults heard in Basic Training,
especially when contrasted with compliments in which a good soldier is said to be a real
man, or stone cold. This tradition holds over from previous years, and seems to
include period relevant insults, such as Shirlies and dollies from the Vietnam era (Ebert,
1993). On one occasion after inspecting a particularly well cleaned weapon, Bravo
Companys Executive Officer proclaimed, seeing a weapon like this gives me a hard
Foul language is a signature characteristic of military personnel (to swear like a
sailor or soldier is a common phrase in the modern lexicon), and drill sergeants exemplify
this more than most soldiers. Especially in the environment of Basic Training at Fort
Benning, in which there are almost no female soldiers present, sexist phrases and
misogyny predominate. On one occasion, I was assigned to a detail while a drill sergeant
spoke on the phone to a fellow drill sergeant at a different Basic Training location. While
speaking with the other drill sergeant Drill Sergeant Redmond told him: No, man, here
at Benning its all guys. Just a bunch of swinging dicks, and you dont have to worry
about that PC [political correctness] shit. Drill Sergeant Redmond was specifically
referring to the need to keep sexualized language out of his statements in order to avoid
the implication of sexual harassment.


The fear of sexual harassment charges permeates the hyper-masculine

environment of Basic Training at Fort Benning. The interaction of sexualized language,
gendered insults, and misogynistic comments serves to buffer the threat of femininity
from the privates going through Basic Training. As one of the few remaining traditional
rites of passage in modern America, the liminal state of privates with regard to other
soldiers and civilians is aggressively enforced by military regulation and the oversight of
drill sergeant. By setting the feminine apart from the role of soldier, and associating the
feminine with civilian life, the identity of soldier becomes imbued with hyper-masculine
The process by which this occurs is one which elides the masculine/feminine
dynamic while reinforcing it. Snyder discusses the hazing which occurs every year at the
Citadel military academy, which would be overtly sexual, were it not for the fact that
originally there were no women present to turn it into a sexual event. It is only with the
introduction of women, and the recreation of the gender duality, that horseplay, even
overtly sexualized horseplay which is reported to include such events as anal sex with a
banana and naked oil wrestling, becomes seen in a sexual light. By forcing male cadets
to consider the implications of these actions if performed on a female cadet, the sexuality
of the actions comes to light.
The dynamic which Snyder exposes in her discussion of hazing at the Citadel
carries through to experiences at Basic Training. Among the all-male environment at
Fort Benning, elements that would be sexualized, including group showering, wrestling,
and even giving foot rubs, are stripped of that power and are simply viewed as
expressions of likes or dislikes. However, underlying the surface message is the


implication that the feminine has no place in the world of the soldier, as the feminine
equates to the civilian. The civilian world is frequently portrayed as feminine, the abode
of girlfriends and wives, who will fuck you over. This dynamic between the feminine
civilian and the masculine soldier serves to enforce the identity of the privates going
through Basic Training, further separating them from what they once were in preparation
for assigning them new roles as masculine soldiers.
Although these roles are based around more than sexism, sexist language and
performance does form a significant part of the soldier role. The inherent sexuality of
language pervades Basic Training, such that many cadre 25 use terms like hard on, pussy,
or dick ubiquitously. Whether drill sergeant, officer, or range cadre, sexualized words,
insults, and slang are part and parcel of the Basic Training experience. In fact the term
dick is likely the most common vulgar slang used in the Army, frequently combined with
other terms to expand the range of possibilities open to the speaker. During my time at
Basic Training, I have heard it used literally, be careful who you stick your dick in when
youre back on the block, metaphorically, get your hand off your dick and pay
attention, and metonymically, I want every swinging dick downstairs by zero-fivehundred. At one point, Private Anders even attempted to explain that dick was an
acronym for Dedicated Infantry Combat Killer. This is more likely an attempt by drill
sergeants to use the term without censure. The ubiquity of the term, although not unique
to Basic Training, highlights the equality of the soldier with the masculine, as the most
apparent biological identifier of maleness becomes used as a symbol of the soldier

Instructors, drill sergeants, and other personnel at Basic Training who are not privates. Range cadre
refers to instructors and other soldiers who are not drill sergeants but are in charge of privates while they
are on the cadres respective training ranges.


Finally, the term is used in one of the common insults during Basic Training,
brokedick. A brokedick in Army slang is a soldier who is either sick or injured, and is
thus unable to physically perform his duties as a soldier. It is interesting that even in my
description, the sexualized double entendre of perform his duties is apparent, and
would have required extensive locution to avoid. This sexualized language serves a
number of purposes, mainly addressing issues of masculinity and manhood, and calling to
question the masculinity and manhood of those privates who are not successful at a task.
As such, the feminization of those privates who fail to conform is hardly surprising.
The use of language to feminize nonconforming males is not limited to the
military. The inculcation of proper gender roles begins at a young age, with young males
being discouraged from displaying any feminine traits such as emotion or intimacy
(Pollack, 1999). During childhood and adolescence, males who do not properly perform
their gender roles as expected have experienced ostracism, including teasing, bullying,
and possibly even physical violence (Rofes, 1995). The use of hypermasculine behavior
and language has been used in car dealerships, factories, athletic competitions, and even
landscaping companies (Talbot, 2003). In one case, the plaintiff in a sexual harassment
case was a straight male filing suit against another straight male, who had been harassed
simply due to his non-masculine-conforming appearance.
Donald Mosher and Mark Sirkin detailed a significant correlation between
masculinity and dominance and aggression in a 1984 study (Mosher & Sirkin, 1984).
They conclude that men who are disposed to believe in: (1) entitlement to callous sex,
(2) violence as manly, and (3) danger as exciting, will likely be more aggressive towards
less masculine males than will men who do not believe in these ideals. It is also


interesting to note that the dislike of non-masculine males is not restricted to heterosexual
men, but many homosexual males also report strong dislike for effeminate acting males
(Bergling, 2001). The negative reaction to the violation of gender roles is thus not
limited to hetero society. During Basic Training, although there is very little directly
stated misogyny or homophobia, the sexual undertones of most discourse reveal the same
trends. It is also likely that the extreme social pressure to perform in the hyper-masculine
role of the soldier precludes privates from expressing themselves in an effeminate
manner, regardless of sexual orientation. The dynamic at Basic Training in fact works in
both directions, so that not only are soldiers who are effeminate ridiculed, but privates
who are not perceived as good soldiers are feminized and insulted. Richard Moser
quotes from a Marine discussing his experiences at Boot Camp, Especially in the earlier
stages of boot camp, when people are real confused and disorganized, they always said,
Girls you cunts pussies. (Moser, 1996, p. 27) During my time at Basic Training,
the term girls was much more common than more graphic terms, although on a number
of occasions privates who disliked each other would refer to their counterparts as
pussy, or imply menstruation and femininity through such insults as his pussy hurts.
Privates are also warned about the corrupting influence of women in general, and
were even once warned away from female soldiers. Drill Sergeant West gave one
extemporaneous speech during a lull in training, warning the company that women will
fuck you over, and a good soldier has no need of them. He also described what he
called a BDU 26 skirt, when a female will wear BDUs that are too small and tight, so
that the hem of the top rides above the middle of the buttocks, displaying more of this
area than is technically allowed under regulations. Drill Sergeant Priest called a special

Battle Dress Uniform, the standard camouflage uniform worn by soldiers.


formation one evening during the third week of Basic Training and lectured all the
privates on ignoring the Dear John letters which they had or would receive. According
to the drill sergeant, privates shouldnt worry about their girlfriends back home, as after
graduation they would be in pussy heaven, and if any privates girlfriend broke up with
them they should blow it off, tell her to recite the general orders. Tell her to take the PT
test. Fuck her, you got better and more important things to concentrate on.
Drill Sergeant Priests comments get to one final point I feel the need to discuss
before moving on to my discussion of the origin of many of the ideas and preconceptions
regarding military masculinity begin. As much as the misogyny extant in the military
and feminizing speech serves to reinforce the cult of masculinity (which it does), it also
serves a more practical purpose for the drill sergeants and the institutional Army they
represent. By putting down women and the feminine, privates are less likely to be
emotionally hurt by the almost inevitable breakups which occur over the course of Basic
and AIT. In addition, warnings such as Drill Sergeant Wests, to avoid women entirely,
although on one level expresses a misogynistic form of fraternity, also serves on a
practical level to reinforce a guideline of behavior in which sexual contact between
soldiers is seen to be detrimental to unit morale, and potentially expensive for the Army
in loss of effectiveness and reputation should something untoward occur between

In addition to language, soldiers use many other tools to perform their roles as
soldiers and thus create their identities. Throughout the remainder of this work, the


different ways in which privates perform as soldiers will be discussed at length. Here I
would like to discuss the idea of mythology as a foundation for many of the performances
I observed during Basic Training, viewing mythology not only as a charter of belief in
Malinowskis interpretation, but also as a charter for performance, a set of scripts which
individuals follow in order to properly perform their roles in society.
Privates create their identities as soldiers based not only on their experiences in
Basic Training, but both before and after Basic through their interactions with other
soldiers, both real and mythical. By mythical, I refer to the mythological presentation of
soldiers in one of our modern mythological constructs, the cinema. Robert Bellah sees
three wars in American history as the major turning points for American civil religion:
the Civil War, World War II, and the war in Vietnam (Bellah, 2005), and it is hardly
surprising that of the two which occurred after the invention of film, the films made about
those conflicts have formed a mythological framework for understanding the social
drama of a national war, while one of the first films made, Birth of a Nation, was based
on the effects of the Civil War.
Victor Turner and Richard Schechner both develop ideas regarding how social
dramas are played out. 27 Schechner diagrams a feedback loop between social drama and
aesthetic drama (drama as played out in film and theater). Turner states:
the stage drama . . . is a meta-commentary on the major social dramas of
its social context. Not only that, but its message and its rhetoric feed back
into the latent processual structure of the social drama and partly accounts
for its ready ritualization [which causes permanent change in the
audience]. Life itself now becomes a mirror held up to art, and the living
now perform their lives. (Turner, 1985, p. 300)


Turner and Schechner collaborated on a presentation of African ritual in a theatrical setting, so it is not
surprising that many of their views would overlap.


Thus, the act of seeing a stage drama (or in this case, film rather than stage), provides the
audience with a set of scripts, or inclinations, that they will follow when they encounter
the social situation which the film discussed. Or, in Turners words, there was a lot of
Perry Mason in Watergate, meaning that when investigators into the Watergate scandal
realized they were in a high profile situation, they began to perform as they felt
investigators should, based on their prior exposure to crime dramas on television. This
also returns us to Bakhtin, as many of the voices which make up identity come from
both the performances of our peers and the performances of our cinematic counterparts.
An amazing number of soldiers in Vietnam have commented on their thoughts
and influences when they served their tours there. Ron Kovic, Philip Caputo, Oliver
Stone, and many other Vietnam veterans state that they went to war thinking they were
Audie Murphy, or John Wayne. (Wetta, 1992; Devine, 1995; Ebert, 1993) Out of an
entire class of Marine Corps cadets, when asked by director Delbert Mann why they
joined the Marines, over half of them responded that they were inspired by John Wayne
movies. (Wetta, 1992, p. 45) Thus, it would not be too strong a statement to say that a
generation of soldiers is inspired and molded by the war films of the previous generation.
Since the proportion of the American population that has actually encountered
combat is so low, it is mainly through films that people gain an understanding of what
war, and combat, is all about. John Keegan, a military historian, computes that only 30%
of those who served in Vietnam were combat soldiers, and it is likely that those who
actually saw action was less than half that. (Keegan, 1985) When one considers that only
500,000 troops, out of an American population of 250 million, were sent to Vietnam at its


height, it is only a very small portion of the population that has seen combat first hand. 28
Instead, it is the war film which brings to us the knowledge of what war is like.
Filmmaker and Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone states about his experiences in
Vietnam, I believed in the John Wayne image of America, and we were the good
guys, we were going to win. (Devine, 1995, p. 243) Rather than acting like soldiers,
many Vietnam soldiers acted like John Wayne acting like a soldier. At least, that is, until
they encountered true combat. One veteran describes a situation in which he was shot in
his first firefight. Seeing what looked like a bullet still in the wound, he remembered
John Wayne in Green Berets (1968) biting a bullet out with his teeth, and attempted to
perform the same action, only to discover that what he had thought was a bullet was
actually a bone. It was at that point that the soldier realized he was not in a movie, he
was truly in a war. (Devine, 1995, p. 243)
Over the years, many different narratives have been constructed regarding the
Vietnam War. Some of these present the soldier as a victim of circumstance, the
failure of the Vietnam War blamed on the political rather than military leadership,
while others provide a means for these soldiers to symbolically win the war by leading
expeditions to Vietnam to recover MIA veterans in Vietnamese labor camps. (Devine,
1995) In many films, veterans were frequently portrayed as mentally unstable due to
their experiences, although as with the symbolic victory of prisoner rescues, redemption
was frequently available through proper reintroduction to society. Two of the most
popular films depicting Vietnam, Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, however, break from
this tradition, as we shall see below.


Even considering the entire scope of the war, only approximately 2.5 million servicemembers deployed
to Vietnam, just over 10% of the population.


Film as Mythology
John Lyden address the issue of film as mythology in his book Film as Religion,
discarding psychological and ideological approaches to modern film, focusing instead on
what films mean for the audience. Lyden does not discuss the genre of war films, an
understandable exception as despite critical acclaim for a number of these movies, only
one, Apocalypse Now, is among the top 100 grossing movies of American history, and
that only when adjusted for inflation 29 . Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, arguably the
founders of the Vietnam sub-genre of the war film, are not widely accepted among the
general population in the way films such as Star Wars or Batman are. Among the
audience of current or potential soldiers, however, these films stand out as exemplars of
how a soldier should act. On the public, civilian stage, the western is the closest
approximation of the war film, as both express ideals of masculine behavior and violence,
and a clear delineation between good and evil, especially as the imminent arrival of the
railroad, and civilization, will bring with it the complex definitions of civilized life.
Although the traditional western was often based around a moral question regarding
when (or whether) it was justified to attack the bad guys . . . the western hero always does
attack, in the end, and we know that he has done what is right for he had no alternative.
(Lyden, 2003, p. 142) This idea of a clear separation between good and evil was eclipsed
even in westerns (e.g. The Unforgiven), in recent years, and in action films in general
heroes became more nuanced and more psychologically conflicted.
Andrew Huebner discusses the changes in depictions of American soldiers from
World War II to Vietnam. Huebner shows that in most narratives of the Second World

Reported online at http://www.the-movie-times.com/thrsdir/alltime.mv?adjusted+ByAG


War, as soldiers become hardened by war, they also become team players. (Huebner,
2008, p. 78) In Vietnam narratives, however, Huebner shows that the depiction of
soldiers as a cultural hero just because of his contribution to a worthy collective effort,
(130) shifted to depictions of soldiers as heroic due to their suffering during war. This
topic will be more fully addressed in later chapters, as the equation of suffering and
sacrifice is frequently made within the military community (Hawkins, 2001). The
Vietnam War did shift the narrative to one in which even the heroes would have flaws
and commit serious errors, sometimes even leading to the deaths of innocents, especially
civilians. Equations between the military in the 19th Century and its slaughter of Native
Americans, and soldiers in Vietnam are prevalent during this period, frequently with
direct parallels between those slaughters and My Lai (Huebner, 2008, p. 251). Films
from after the Vietnam era play with these parallels, suggesting that conflict and war are
too complex and varied to be depicted in the simplistic good vs. evil narratives of World
War II.
These films not only serve to inform soldiers of proper behavior, but also set the
groundwork for the identity of the soldier within the larger sphere of American life.
Robert Bellahs article Civil Religion in America (2005) laid the groundwork for an
understanding of how civil religion is a distinct and separate element of American culture
from traditional religion, and forms its own myths, symbols, and rituals. Soldiers and
other servicemembers are mythic symbols in American civil religion, as will be discussed
in Chapter Eight, but here we will simply focus on the mythical elements of the soldier as
portrayed in modern film, especially those of Vietnam. Bellah discusses the effects of
major points in American history, the Civil War and World War II, on civil religion, and


posits that Vietnam will be a third major turning point in American history: Out of the
first and second times of trial have come, as we have seen, the major symbols of the
American civil religion. There seems little doubt that a successful negotiation of this third
time of trial - the attainment of some kind of viable and coherent world order - would
precipitate a major new set of symbolic forms. (Bellah, 2005, p. 54) Looking back
thirty years, it seems obvious now that there has not been a successful negotiation of the
third time of trial, or Vietnam. Instead, the narratives which emerge from Vietnam are
those of failure, blame, and turmoil.
Richard Salter (2004) uses Bellahs idea of civil religion to discuss his
interpretation of D.W. Griffiths Birth of a Nation. This film can be seen as one of the
first mythological films in American history. Its narrative attempts to redefine the
identity of American through a retelling of history. In counterpoint to this film, Salter
sees Oscar Micheauxs Within our Gates as a competing narrative of American identity,
specifically from the Black Americans perspective. In Micheauxs work, the American
identity is one of common hardship and struggle, not common whiteness as presented in
Birth of a Nation. Perhaps the most interesting point of Micheauxs view, however, is
that the hardship and struggle which Salter discusses is directly linked to the struggles of
Blacks in the various wars of American history it is through their sacrifices as soldiers
that their identity as equal Americans is created. This topic will be discussed further in
later chapters, but we can see here that the conflation of sacrifice and military service is a
running theme in mythological presentations of the military.
This sacrifice is not as simple as it first appears. We will see in Chapter Four how
the varieties of sacrifice are played out among privates and drill sergeants, but even in the


mythological films we have mentioned, the sacrifice of the characters is varied. In Full
Metal Jacket, for example, Private Pyle sacrifices both his drill sergeant and himself in
his failed attempt to become a proper Marine. In Platoon, Sergeant Elias is murdered by
Sergeant Barnes, setting the stage for a classic social drama which is only resolved with
Chris murder/sacrifice of Sergeant Barnes at the end of the film. Both of these examples
return to Deleuze and Guattaris idea that the military is the harnessing of chaos and
violence for the use of the State, or civilization: the violence is here applied incorrectly
(Full Metal Jacket) and results in failure and death, and correctly (Platoon) to resolve the
internal conflicts of the main character and redeem him.
The mythological themes of sacrifice developed by Girard can also be seen here,
as it is through a sacrificial act that the violence of the system is brought back into proper
alignment. Focusing on Full Metal Jacket, the sacrifice of both Private Pyle and Drill
Instructor Hartmann serve as an awakening for Private Joker, solidified by his own
participation in a sacrificial act at the end of the film. For soldiers viewing the film,
however, there is a second effect, as Private Pyles death seems to serve as an outlet for
their own repressed anger at the problem children in their training platoons, a cathartic
release for a desire they are not allowed to express while in Basic Training. This might
be why, as I will discuss below, Full Metal Jacket is such a popular film among the
soldiers I have met, and why their reactions seems to differ so starkly from civilian
viewers of the films.

Full Metal Jacket as the Myth of Basic Training


The role of film as a mythological construct also helps to explain the performance
of privates and drill sergeants at Basic Training. As Basic Training is a rite of passage,
and we have seen that ritual enacts the mythological ideals, it is hardly surprising that
there will be films that carry mythological and definitive weight in the Basic Training
environment. When asked by my civilian friends which training film most accurately
depicts Basic Training, my response is always the same: Renaissance Man starring
Danny Devito. Should a soldier hear this response, however, there is always, at the very
least, a refutation, and sometimes even a full argument.
This emotional response I believe comes from the light presentation of Basic
Training depicted in Renaissance Man. Soldiers do not like to be reminded of how easy
Basic Training actually was. As we shall see later, each Basic Training base has its own
reputation for toughness which is built into the identity of the soldiers graduating from it.
The mythological story of Basic Training is not the description of it as it is, but rather of
how soldiers wish it would be. And that depiction, far and away the choice of most
soldiers, is Stanley Kubricks Full Metal Jacket.
After multiple viewings of Full Metal Jacket individually and with other soldiers,
it is clear to me that soldiers find different meanings in the film from most civilian
viewers, and that drill sergeants and privates in Basic Training will repeat many of the
attitudes, language and behaviors in the film. Privates will often mimic the actors in Full
Metal Jacket. Many of the lines in the movie are repeated by privates throughout Basic
Training, including descriptors like cover (hat) and get some when firing a weapon.
This was especially prevalent during the SAW 30 fire range, when privates would
regularly shout it as they fired the machine gun, emulating the murderous door gunner

Squad Automatic Weapon a light machine gun


from the film. Rifles at Basic Training are never referred to as a gun, and if a private
should slip up, there is almost always a repeat of the scene in the film in which the
recruits march around the barracks chanting this is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for
fighting this is for fun, while simultaneously yanking on their penises on the second half
of each statement. Deliberate imitation is also prevalent, as the day after weapons were
issued to the platoons for training, Private Darren repeated word for word the prayer
the recruits say before going to sleep:
This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine. My rifle is my
best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without
me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle I am useless. I must fire my rifle
true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I
must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed:
my rifle and myself are defenders of my country, we are the masters of our
enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but
peace. Amen.
Like the soldiers in the Vietnam War who acted like the depictions of World War II
soldiers, soldiers today learn how to act based on the depictions of the Vietnam War.
Drill sergeants are not immune to this mimicry, either, and in fact seem to model
themselves specifically after Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann, the drill instructor depicted in
the film. Many of his signature phrases, including holy dogshit! what is your major
malfunction? and unfuck yourself, are frequently repeated by the drill sergeants. Drill
sergeants will also reduce the stress level during rifle training, reminiscent of a fear that
one of the privates at Basic could go insane in the same way as Private Pyle and shoot a
drill sergeant with a loaded weapon.
Also, unlike most other films in which the misfit is portrayed as the hero of the
film, in Full Metal Jacket, the misfit, Private Pyle, is the antagonist for the first half of


the film, until his death at his own hands. The depiction of Pyle, then, is more accurate to
the feelings of privates in Basic Training towards those soldiers who match the type that
Pyle represents. On the other hand, Private Joker, although an outsider, always manages
to perform his military duties properly, and even excels such that he is assigned a
leadership position in his training unit. At the end of the film, Joker himself is no longer
even an outsider, but has seen combat and become a true Marine, killing the enemy in
cold blood and finding himself in a world of shit.
During my stay at the infirmary in the fourth week of Basic, the attending nurse
played this film for the privates confined to the infirmary, much to their delight. It was
apparent that most of the privates had already seen the movie multiple times, as they
would frequently proclaim lines before or with the actors, and maintained an ongoing
commentary during the entire screening. These experiences occurred on two other
occasions while watching the film with members of my Reserve unit. The most striking
element of viewing the film in the military context is the distinctly different approach to
the meaning of the film which soldiers bring. Soldiers watching Full Metal Jacket cheer
when Kubrick wants the audience to cry, and laugh when he wants the audience to be
horrified. For example, when Private Pyle is being brutalized by his fellow Marine
recruits, the privates cheered, and also laughed during the penultimate scene of the
movie, in which Private Joker shoots the female Vietcong sniper, expressing little
remorse. It is at this point that Joker has become a true Marine, the Marine which his
Drill Instructor has wanted him to be: a killer. While for most viewers it would seem that
this moment should bring about the catharsis of an Oedipus Rex, in which the fall of the


tragic hero is complete, for many soldiers this is the climax of a journey which they
themselves are pursuing, the crossing of the border of death.
It appeared to me that these potential soldiers were not horrified by the
transformation of Joker into killer, perhaps because they viewed this as their own path as
well. As each act of violence adds to the next, these privates proclaimed in louder voices,
cheering as the door gunner shoots down Vietnamese villagers, and laughing when
Private Joker kills a Vietnamese sniper in cold blood. Rather than accept the reading of
war and combat which Kubrick is attempting to force on them, one in which the military
is a dehumanizing institution, soldiers take this mythological story and have adapted it for
their own purposes. The tragic heroes become epic ones, and the narrative of a
dehumanizing military becomes one of ascendance.
Of course, Full Metal Jacket is not the only film to provide a script for drill
sergeants and privates performances. One of the most common phrases used by drill
sergeant to dominate privates is Are you eyeballing me? or some variation thereof.
Although it is likely that this phrase existed well before Officer and a Gentleman, the
intonation and speech patterns of the drill sergeant are strikingly reminiscent of Lou
Gossett, Jr. in the role of Foley. These two iconic figures, Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann
and Gunnery Sergeant Foley, are performed by drill sergeants, while Gregory Hines
Drill Sergeant Cass from Renaissance Man was never emulated by drill sergeants during
my training.

Basic Training is not a simple transition from a civilian identity to one of soldier.
Rather, it is multiple events occurring simultaneously for both privates and drill


sergeants. While privates are undergoing a rite of passage, they are also learning and
exploring a new world of language and performance. Privates are learning what
acceptable and unacceptable behavior will be in their new roles, and mimicking both their
instructors and mythological figures in their construction of their own identity. One
element of that identity which we have not properly discussed is the notion of sacrifice,
which will be discussed more fully in the remainder of this work. The idea of sacrifice
permeates the literature, film, and history of the military, albeit in slowly changing ways
as new soldiers enter the military and bring their own ideas with them.
This chapter sets the stage, then, for the examination of Basic Training which will
be conducted over the remaining chapters. As privates enter Basic Training, and begin
their transition to soldiers, they bring with them the narratives and mythologies they have
encountered prior to joining the Army. Many of the performances of privates during
Basic Training, and even the performances of the drill sergeants, are based on the
performances seen in these narratives. Although a number of privates enter Basic
Training with prior knowledge of military life, Basic Training is a period in which they
are surrounded by other individuals with similar opinions regarding the use of violence
and masculinity such that they can use that knowledge to build up subcultural capital. In
addition, the immediacy of events during Basic Training provides a context for them to
learn about military life, no matter their previous exposure. By mimicking, and
contrasting, the performances of drill sergeants, soldiers express their own identities as
closer to or further from the ideal of soldier. This ideal can never be achieved, as I will
argue, but Basic Training forms a common narrative for soldiers to use as a touchstone in
their relationships with other soldiers, a point of reference from which they can choose to


define themselves. The next chapter examines the first stage of Basic Training, the
separation of privates from their prior lives, and their indoctrination into Army life.


Chapter 3: Basic Training as rite of passage

Basic Training is the indoctrination process through which most civilians must
travel in order to be recognized as a soldier of the United States Army. The identity of
soldier removes certain freedoms which our civilian society views as inherent rights, and
replaces them with privileges not granted to civilians. The Basic Training program
mirrors the framework of the rite of passage described by Arnold van Gennep and
elaborated upon by Victor Turner. However, the simplistic three stage process of
separation, transition, and reincorporation which is most often perceived as the rite of
passage is, in fact, more complex. On one level, Army Basic Training can be seen in this
way, separation from civilian life, a transition through Basic Training, and then a
reincorporation in the graduation ceremony at the end of Basic. This is only the surface
of the process, though, and in actuality Basic Training is a series of stages through which
privates become accepted as more soldier-like by the Drill Sergeants. This process
begins before the entry into Basic Training, and is not completed upon graduation, but is
rather a defining symbol in the creation of the soldier, a shared experience which serves
as a touchstone for soldiers to develop primary-group bonds and camaraderie.
Basic Training does not follow any template for a rite of passage due to the
desires and behaviors of the initiates themselves, who act to complicate the ritual by
interacting with each other and with the instructors in novel ways. Also, the experience
itself, although an essential part of the creation of a soldier, does not change the identity
of an individual from civilian to soldier, but rather provides that individual with the tools
for him to create his own identity as he wishes. Locating the ways in which Basic


Training does not conform to the expectations of the institution (as a single rite of
passage from civilian to soldier) is the first wedge in my attempt to show how even total
institutions are not as rigid as they may seem at first glance. Instead, just as the ritual of
Basic Training is affected by the privates, the institution of the Army is also affected by
The most immediate evidence that Basic Training does not fit the classic model is
the partition of the event into smaller stages, and the deferment of soldier status until well
after the completion of Basic Training. The rite of passage of Basic Training itself is
actually a series of progressions towards the goal of becoming a soldier, a conclusion
which is always deferred to the next phase of a soldiers existence. Thus, once a private
graduates Basic Training, he must go to Advanced Individual Training. This does not
make him a soldier yet, however, as he must constantly perform as a soldier, repeatedly
reaffirming his identity, in order to be accepted as such. The identity of soldier, then is
more a horizon toward which a person travels, than a threshold over which he can step.
Van Genneps classic schema of the rite of passage begins with a separation from
the initiates community, followed by a period of transition, and ending with a
reincorporation phase. This schema has become the template by which many rites of
passage are viewed, although in specific cases such ideal patterns rarely hold. According
to van Genneps analysis, among less complex societies the distinctions among social
classes are more marked than among more complex societies (van Gennep 1960). These
distinctions are important for the regular conduct of society, and when an individual is
moved from one state to another, a ritual must be performed in order to remove the
person from the first state and re-instate him to the next. In industrialized countries, these


distinctions tend to be less marked, and the ideology of social mobility serves to erode
class and status distinctions even further. As van Gennep describes it, the internal
partitions of society are thinner and the doors of communication are opened wider
(van Gennep, 1960, p. 26). However, the distinctions between soldier and civilian remain
highly marked, in ways I will discuss later, and as such require a more rigorous transition
exemplified in Basic Training.
Van Gennep discusses a number of different rites in his book, and I will draw
mainly from his discussion of initiation rites, a term he prefers to the more frequently
used puberty rites by his contemporaries (van Gennep, 1960, p. 68). Van Gennep
details the distinctions between social and physical puberty, showing how the rites of
initiation to adulthood can occur both before and after physiological puberty, even in
modern societies such as Europe (66). The process of initiation can be generalized as
a double series: rites of separation from the usual environment, rites of incorporation
into the sacred environment; a transitional period; rites of separation from the local
sacred environment, rites of incorporation into the usual environment. (82) These
passages in social status are also often identified with a territorial passage . . . a change
of social categories involves a change of residence, (192), clearly seen in the move of
the private from his civilian home to a new home on an Army base as an active duty
soldier. 31 The transitional period itself develops a certain autonomy, which provides
an orientation for understanding the intricacies of the new role (192).


Reservist and National Guard soldiers obviously do not live on base. However, during their required
weekend training, they frequently remain overnight with their units. The multiple layers of Reservist
identity are only touched upon in this work in the context of my own position as an outsider in examining
the military.


The overall schedule of Basic Training follows this series of stages, as the process
of induction into the military is in actuality more complex than many movies and books
portray. Privates are first processed through an entrance center and then flown or bussed
to their training location. After arrival, privates are sent through at least a week in a
Reception Battalion, where they receive their first military haircuts, inoculations, and
other administrative processing. This would correspond to van Genneps first rite of
separation, followed by what is known in the Army as the shark attack, in which Drill
Sergeants initiate new privates into their training company in the typical way seen in
film, accompanied by shouting, intimidation, and physical punishments. Basic Training
ends with two graduation ceremonies, one for the privates alone, and a public graduation
ceremony approximately a week later to reintroduce the now-soldiers to their families in
their new status.
However, this graduation ceremony does not end the induction process of the
military, nor is the transitional period a single period of instruction. Following Basic
Training, all soldiers move on to their respective career training, where they are still
overseen by drill sergeants and separated from the remainder of the Army. Although
previously privates have been granted leave between Basic Training and AIT (Ebert,
1993), most privates today proceed directly from Basic Training to AIT without leaving
the confines of Initial Entry Training and the special status it conveys to other soldiers.
This period is outside the frame covered by this work, however. During Basic Training
the process is also not as simple as it might seem, as a number of events highlight internal
stages in the development of soldiers from privates. The first of these stages will be


discussed below, and the later chapters of this work will discuss the later stages in more
Victor Turners expansion of van Genneps work, and his focus on the transitional
phase of these rituals, uses a structuralist model of binary oppositions to explain the
difference between liminal situations and the regular structure of society. For example,
uniform clothing worn by the neophytes, as well as silence and an acceptance of pain and
suffering, distinguish them from members of regular society (Turner, 1982), are easily
identifiable features of Basic Training. This does not mean, of course, that all initiates
will follow these rules, and instead many privates will challenge these rules repeatedly
through Basic Training, and even into their Army careers.
Throughout Basic Training, privates wear the exact same uniform, shorn of any
distinctive markings except for a nametape above the right breast. The wear of the
uniform is rigidly defined in A.R. 670-1, down to how far the trousers may extend below
the top of the boot (no further than the third eye down), and the length of the uniform top
(no higher than the end of the hip pocket, no lower than the top of the cargo pocket).
Many drill sergeants at Basic Training even create their own rules for wear of the
uniform, identifying the proper way to lace the combat boots. In every situation I
encountered at Basic Training, privates were ordered to lace their boots right over left 32 .
After Basic Training, although uniform standards are sometimes relaxed, there are
still certain rules enforced by the chain of command, as I will discuss later. However,
even a number of the standard rules of military apparel are challenged by privates and
soldiers in their Army lives. On one occasion, Private Anders, frustrated by the orders of
drill sergeants to fix his uniform but not provided with proper tools, sewed his nametape

This rule does not appear in the uniform regulations, but is often maintained after Basic Training.


on to his uniform incorrectly in a deliberate act of defiance. When I asked him why he
did it, his response was its fucked up, man. Fuck them, referring to the drill sergeants.
This attitude continues in the Active Duty Army in a number of ways, with small
rebellions against regulations that soldiers feel are silly or stupid, no matter how simple
they might be. As one Master Sergeant complained to me my second time in Iraq about
young soldiers not maintaining the uniform standards for the new uniform: I mean how
hard is it to just follow the rules? Zip up your coat. 33
Silence and the acceptance of pain and suffering are interweaving elements of life
during Basic Training. Privates are expected to remain silent at all times, unless spoken
to by a drill sergeant, and accept the punishments meted out by the drill sergeants without
complaint. During my own time at Basic Training, the most common reason for a
punishment was the failure of privates to remain silent while standing in formation. This
rule was constantly challenged by privates, especially Private Huntley, who saw talking
in formation as a means of rebellion against the drill sergeants: you dont get it, man. If
I stop talking, doing what they want, then they win! That aint gonna happen. Despite
the apparent simplicity of the task, many privates in Basic Training seemed incapable of
following this rule.
Although the transitional phase might appear to be without structure, Turner notes
that a form of structure does arise, almost spontaneously and without reference to the
rules of the outside world. He calls this anti-structure, since it is usually different in
noticeable ways from the regular structure of society. In Basic Training, anti-structure
develops as privates form their own social groups, despite the imposed hierarchy of the
drill sergeants in assigning squad and platoon leaders. Drill sergeants also frequently

The standard rule of thumb for all military apparel is all buttons buttoned, all zippers zipped.


change these leaders over the course of the training cycle, such that the spontaneous
development of leaders from within the platoon is inevitable. These leaders achieve their
positions through the accumulation of various forms of symbolic capital, such as through
proper performance as discussed in the previous chapter, but also through the
development of social capital as privates form their own buddy pairs and other primary
groups and establish themselves as better or worse soldiers. Thus, the privates who
perform properly, both symbolically through the proper use of slang and appropriate
action, and achievement in physical competitions, gain more respect from the other
privates and achieve symbolic rank independent of any official rank assigned by the
The development of this symbolic rank can be seen in the example of Private
Brown, who attended both Basic and AIT with me. Private Brown was never assigned an
official leadership role during Basic Training, but consistently scored high on PT tests
and was recognized by the drill sergeants for this and placed in charge of instructing
weaker privates in proper exercise and strength training. In addition, Brown formed
relationships with privates within the platoon who were assigned leadership positions,
such as Argent and Parker. After graduation from Basic, Brown was assigned as platoon
guide for his AIT platoon, based on the recommendations of other soldiers who had gone
through Basic with him, and maintained that position for most of the fourteen weeks of
The liminal status of privates in Basic Training is also highlighted by their
separation from both the civilian and military worlds. The Army tradition is to enforce a
complete break with the civilian world, not only in terms of clothing and hairstyle, but


also contact with the civilian world (Janowitz, 1974). Privates are rarely allowed to call
their families, and may only receive letters from them. Privates are also separated from
any active duty soldiers besides drill sergeants, with strict regulations regarding how
indoctrinated soldiers may interact with incoming privates. In one incident during my
AIT, a sergeant in a personal relationship with a private was demoted, given six weeks of
janitorial duties, and then discharged from the Army for his offense.
Drill sergeants in both phases of indoctrination stress that privates must not talk to
soldiers, and will be punished if they do so. On two separate occasions my training
platoon was punished for interacting with indoctrinated soldiers outside the boundaries of
instruction. Interestingly, these punishments were both a result of Private Darrens
actions, as he approached an active duty helicopter pilot on one occasion, and members
of his Reserve unit on another without permission from the drill sergeants. Private
Darren was one of the platoons problem children, a status that will be discussed in the
next chapter.
Breakdown of the Model
Basic Training, it could be argued, is a distinct period of transition for incoming
privates, as their identities change from civilian to soldier. To some extent, this is true,
but within Basic Training there are many intermediate transitional points at which a
private gains a level of status that is not-quite private, and yet not-quite soldier. Basic
Training itself is divided into three phases, identified by color, as red, white, and blue
phase. In the parlance of much of Basic Training, however, two of these three phases are
identified as total control the first phase of three weeks, and BRM or Basic Rifle
Marksmanship, as the second period of three weeks. The final three week phase was


rarely referred to by any specific title, although it was still distinct from the previous two
phases in terms of interactions with drill sergeants and cadre, and ends with the
graduation of the privates from Basic Training.
This formalized approach to Basic Training has been slow in development, as the
institution has shifted in response to external and internal pressures. In the Nineteenth
century, training was sporadic, and often units would be created, trained, and then sent
into the field together with their instructors (who were usually experienced soldiers).
This training was so haphazard that in 1917 General Pershing refused to allow American
soldiers to fight in World War I until they had received proper training (Baker, 2008).
During World War II, the training process became more formalized, but was still
frequently performed by active duty units, and at the discretion of that units
commanding officer (Ambrose, 2001). Following World War II, and the maintenance of
a large standing Army for the first time in American history, the Army began to develop
a training system similar to the modern Basic Training program, with soldiers arriving at
a central location for training and then moving from there to their assigned units.
Formalized punishment also entered Basic Training at approximately the same time, as
dedicated instructors needed to quickly establish control over recruits. Jerry Morton
discusses his experiences in Basic Training in 1966, including many scenes that would be
familiar to a private going through Basic Training today: random punishments,
incongruous tasks, and yelling drill instructors (Morton, 2004). Missing from Mortons
descriptions, however, are the formalized training phases used by the Army today, which
developed in the post-Vietnam era. Morton does describe, however, his own sense of


accomplishment at various points in his training, similar to the identifying moments

discussed in this work.
In addition to these three phases of Basic Training, there is also the preliminary
stage of induction into the Army, from first encounter with a recruiter through the
Reception Battalion where privates are issued their equipment, get their shots, and
receive their first military haircut. This constitutes the closest equivalent to van Genneps
separation stage. Privates are separated from their families and thrown together in a
common uniform, from hair to boots. Reception is not truly the beginning of Basic
Training, however, as there are marked phases before and after Reception which are also
elements of the rite of passage.
The MEPS Station is where incoming privates receive their physicals, sign their
paperwork, and take their first oath. The station is also where privates begin their
separation from the civilian world, as immediately after their visit there, privates are sent
to their Basic Training locations and inducted into the Reception Battalion. Upon
completion of Reception, privates are bussed downrange 34 to join their Basic Training
Company, which they will belong to for the next ten weeks. 35 This experience is begun
with a vigorous hazing known as the shark attack in which drill sergeants yell and
threaten privates as soon as the bus ride from the Reception area to the Company area is
complete. This shark attack is almost exactly the same as the situations depicted in
movies about Basic Training and Boot Camp, likely performatively so. This is a second
ritual of separation, identifying to the privates that they are now really in Basic


Downrange refers to the next phase in a soldiers career. Thus, downrange at Reception is Basic,
downrange at Basic refers to AIT, etc.
Even though Basic Training is stated as a nine week program, it begins with Week 0, and is in
actuality ten calendar weeks long.


Training, and establishing the dominance of the drill sergeants over their lives in the
weeks to come.
The first three weeks of Basic Training follow this pattern, with drill sergeants
acting in the appropriate drill sergeant role in front of privates, only occasionally
dropping the performance while in the barracks with their individual platoons. The
majority of the privates days are taken up with classes teaching privates about how the
Army works, the importance of things like brushing your teeth and showering every day,
and introductions to Army heritage and culture. Although the calendar cycle mandates a
three week period of total control from the drill sergeants, the end of these first three
weeks typically coincides with the next major event in the development of privates, the
gas chamber. Going through the gas chamber is mandatory for all privates to graduate
Basic Training, and it is one of the strongest memories of soldiers discussing Basic
Training. To some extent, then, it serves as a ritual between the first stage of Basic and
the second.
The second stage of Basic is Basic Rifle Marksmanship. As with the gas
chamber, qualifying with the M-16 rifle is mandatory for every private at Basic. The
second three weeks of Basic Training is almost entirely devoted to learning how to
operate and maintain the M-16. Drill sergeants give classes on the various mechanical
parts of the weapon, how to take it apart and clean it, and how to properly aim and fire it.
This phase is completed with Qualification Day, another ritual in which the entire
company is taken to the official qualification range and each private must successfully hit
twenty three out of forty targets to qualify. Although some privates will not successfully
qualify on the first day, those who fail on the first day are sent back to the range in the


following days until every single private in the company has qualified on the range.
During this phase, many privates report feeling more respected by the drill sergeants.
The third stage of Basic Training has no specific name in the common parlance of
Basic, and if referred to at all is simply referred to as Blue Phase by drill sergeants and
privates. Most of the focus of training at this point is on the events leading up to the final
FTX and graduation from Basic. Privates practice drill and ceremony and combat
skills, including throwing grenades, practicing squad movement techniques, and
preparing for the Field Training Exercise (FTX) that signifies the end of training. The
completion of the third phase and graduation from Basic is the point at which privates are
no longer referred to with that all-inclusive term. Upon beginning AIT, privates earn the
title soldiers, even though their transition through the training process is not yet
complete. 36
Although there are always slight differences from Company to Company
depending on the training schedule and availability of different training areas, these
periods seem to remain roughly similar from cycle to cycle and base to base. In all
accounts I have read or in discussions with other soldiers, the major events of each cycle
have followed the same pattern, whether conducted at Fort Benning, Jackson, Leonard
Wood, or Knox. Thus, the gas chamber might come earlier or later in the first three
weeks, certain training elements such as the obstacle and confidence courses will be
placed somewhere in the second or third week of training, etc. However, the rite of
passage that is Basic Training can here be seen not as one point of separation, a long
phase of transition, and then a point of reincorporation. Instead, it is a series of stages,


This holds true for my AIT experience, I do not know the appellations used at other AITs, although I
suspect it is the same.


with each stage marked by a smaller ritual symbolizing the end of one phase and
movement onto the next. Thus, Reception is characterized by its own rite in miniature, as
is Total Control, BRM, and Blue Phase. As each of these nested rites are completed, drill
sergeants treat the privates with a bit more respect, until graduation when they are
officially accepted as soldiers. Of course, as soldiers, privates are still within the Army
hierarchy, and drill sergeants continue to enforce discipline and punish infractions right
up to the moment the privates board their busses to depart from Basic

The separation process for a new private has no definitive start point, no
particular ritual which can be pointed to as the moment when a civilian begins the
transition to soldier. Instead, this period is a process, beginning with the first
conversation with a recruiter and progressing through to the moment when a private is
finally assigned to a Basic Training company and begins Basic Training.
Soldiers almost always express negative feelings about their recruiters. There is a
feeling within the Army that recruiters will lie, cheat, or steal in order to get young men
and women to sign up for the military. Although my own personal experience with my
recruiter was not as negative as some others, even I felt that I had been sold on certain
things by my recruiter, when in fact the recruiter was either unknowledgeable or unable
to actually deliver on the promises he made. However, many soldiers describe even
worse experiences with their recruiters. They allege that recruiters told them blatant lies
in order to get them to join, such as promising a choice of unit, bonus money or GI Bill


money that they did not receive, or, more recently, promise that deployment will not
occur for a set period of time after graduation.
The recruiter brings each recruit to the Military Entrance Processing Station
(MEPS), where they go through a process of prodding and poking in order to complete
the bureaucratic requirements of joining the Army. This is also likely to be the first
introduction of a recruit to the Armys hurry up and wait mentality. This phrase is used
throughout the Army to describe the rushing of soldiers to a place in order to remain on
schedule, only to wait in line as there is almost always a bureaucratic delay with the
group before them. There are either one or two trips to the MEPS, depending on when
the recruit is scheduled to depart for Basic Training. Typically, the first trip entails the
processing and paperwork required, while the second trip is simply to wait for travel to
whichever Basic Training location the recruit is assigned to. 37
The entrance to the MEPS station outside of Baltimore is not particularly striking.
The building appears like any other office building in the small office park where it is
located, the only exception being the three or four uniformed personnel sitting behind the
equivalent of the reception desk. There is a small waiting room with a lunch room off to
one side, and a single pair of double doors which leads into the main section of the
station. The recruiter checks in and registers the recruit or recruits he has brought with
him, and then conducts them through the doors to a central waiting room to begin the inprocessing. At this point, the recruiter informs recruits to wait until their name is called,
and then either leaves the station to return to work, or waits outside in the lounge for the
recruit to complete the process. With the exception of answering general questions and

There are currently four sites where non-combat arms soldiers go through Basic Training: Fort Jackson,
Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Benning, and Fort Knox. Fort Sill also conducts Basic Training for soldiers who
will be in artillery units.


driving the recruit to the MEPS for the second time, after this the recruiter has no official
contact with the recruit.
There are two main segments of the MEPS processing procedure. The first, and
typically the longest, is the medical examination. Recruits receive a full physical
examination, including a test for hernia, and have their blood drawn for HIV testing and
blood typing. After the medical exam, recruits then go through the administrative portion
of the processing. Each recruit has his fingerprints recorded, which are stored on file and
matched up against the FBI database to check for a criminal record. Those recruits who
have not yet taken the ASVAB 38 do so, and a sergeant checks that each recruit has a
government issued ID, verifying information for the eventual issue of a military ID at
Basic Training.
After this stage, recruits are sent once more to the waiting area to wait to see a
career counselor who will actually prepare their contract with the military. The career
counselor will consult with the recruit and determine which career fields the recruit
desires, and what is available based on ASVAB scores and (supposedly) how full an AIT
training class is in the near future 39 . The counselor then prints out the contract, which is
approximately forty pages long, and goes over each page and each requirement the recruit
needs to fulfill or will receive from the Army in return for service.
The process of dealing with an Army career counselor is much like purchasing an
automobile. I have mentioned that most soldiers dislike their recruiters, but the role of
the career counselor in finalizing any promises the recruiter may have made to the recruit

Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a standardized test used by the Army to determine which
career fields a recruit can sign up for.
For example, I was informed when I signed up that I took one of the last openings for my AIT training.
Upon arrival at AIT, however, our class was informed we were one of the smallest classes they had
received, and there were at least six empty rooms with space for over a dozen more soldiers.


is frequently overlooked. Although I do not know under what guidelines career

counselors create contracts, they seem to avoid informing recruits of the full range of
options at the time they sign the contract. Sergeant Brigman expressed his frustration
with the career counselors practices, I am the only Psyop-er I ever met who didnt get a
bonus. And Im sure it was because I walked in, sat down, and said I want to do Psyop
to the counselor, so she didnt have to sell me on it or offer me anything, and she didnt.
In addition to possibly leaving items out of a contract, the speed with which the career
counselor goes over the contract with the recruit is also reminiscent of car sales. The
career counselor flips through each page quickly, and gives a very brief description of the
relevant paragraphs, pointing out where the recruit must sign or initial.
After the recruits sign their contracts, they are adjourned one final time to the
waiting area to wait for their last, and potentially final, action at the MEPS. Groups of
ten to twenty recruits are called and brought into the only well decorated room in the
center, freshly painted and with insignia of various units on the walls. On one wall is a
slightly raised area with a podium and a large American flag, and recruits are lined up in
the room and wait for the MEPS station commander to enter and administer the oath to
the group. The oath for enlisted soldiers was established in 1960 under the Title 10, US
Code; Act of 5 May 1960 (http://www.history.army.mil/faq/oaths.htm) as the following:
"I, <name>, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend
the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and
domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I
will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of
the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform
Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
It is significant that the oath ceremony is given after the paperwork has been signed. On
one level, this could merely represent the fact that the Army does not want to waste time


with the oath until the recruit has made a legal declaration of his intent to serve in the
military. However, the oath also represents the true intent of the recruit and is one of
the most publicly known examples of J.L. Austins performative utterances. Specifically,
it is a perlocutionary act, in which the recruit not only speaks, but does so with force of
intent, becoming a military servicemember simply by stating ones intent to do so. When
I asked the recruiter at what point I could walk away from the process, his answer was
up until you swear the oath, implying that even after I had signed legal paperwork
pledging my intent to join the Army, it was the ritual act of oath-taking itself which was
the essential element of joining the Army. The oath swearing ceremony is also repeated
on the recruits second visit to MEPS, before traveling to Basic Training. This second
ceremony highlights the importance of the verbal act of swearing to support and defend
the Constitution. Even if a recruit has signed a legal document, the MEPS station wants
to be certain that the ritual act of joining the military is complete, and thus every recruit
who ships to Basic Training must take it, and if a recruit happened to have missed
swearing the oath during their first visit, the second visit assures that the oath has been
The social environment in which this oath occurs is also important. Swearing this
oath without the correct trappings would not be performative. A performative utterance,
as described by Austin, requires the correct audience to receive the utterance, as social
statuses are inherently public things. Although Ronald Grimes states that ritual
contexts, more than any other make use of what [Austin] calls performative utterance,
that is, speech insofar as it accomplishes tasks rather than merely describing them,
(Grimes, 1990, p. 283) I would argue that in actuality, rituals, especially rites of passage


which change a persons status, do not make use of performative utterances, but are in
fact made from them. Erving Goffmans studies of social interaction highlight the
importance of the social element, and the public display of identity on the front stage of
the social world. The oath is a public expression of ones own stated purpose to become
a soldier. Being a soldier is what John Searle (1995) would call an institutional fact: a
fact which is recognized by the community, not one which is independent of that
recognition. Thus, it is only on the plane of the publicly accepted and conventional
definition of what soldier is that a person can become a soldier. Without an audience to
receive the oath, it is only so many words, a locutionary act, and essentially meaningless.
Once the procedural matters of joining the Army have been taken care of,
privates 40 are provided transport to the Basic Training site that has been selected for
them. Depending on the distance from the MEPS to the Basic Training base, privates
may be provided with either bus or plane tickets for travel. In my case, three other
privates and I were driven to the airport with our bags and paperwork and given tickets to
fly to Atlanta airport, the closest airport to Fort Benning, the location of our Basic
Training. Once at Atlanta, we were met by a Fort Benning representative who collected
the privates flying in from various locations on that day and directed them to busses
waiting to drive them the next three hours to Fort Benning, 120 miles to the south.

Upon arrival at Fort Benning privates are sent to Reception. Reception forms the
second phase in the multi-phased process of military indoctrination. It is during

From this point on, those recruits going to Army Basic Training will be referred to as privates, the term
used during Basic itself. Prior to leaving the MEPS station, however, recruits from all different branches
were processed together, necessitating the broader term.


Reception that privates receive their vaccinations, equipment and uniforms, and complete
the administrative paperwork required of all soldiers, such as financial records,
assignment of next of kin for life insurance, and other documents typical of any new
employee. While at Reception, privates have removed themselves from the civilian
world, but have not yet even entered the liminal world bounded by Basic Training. One
indicator of this is that privates at Reception are not allowed to exercise, perhaps the most
identifying feature of Basic Training. The environment at Reception is also at odds with
the common conception of Basic Training, as this illustration from my field notes
The bus arrived a little past midnight. For most privates, there had been
five or six hours of flying before a three hour bus ride from Atlanta
airport. By the time the bus arrived at Fort Benning, over half the bus was
asleep, the rest staring dead eyed out the windows at the featureless land
that makes up that area of Georgia. As the bus pulled up to the Fort
Benning Reception Hall, there was a strange calm. Despite depictions in
films, no drill sergeants jumped on the bus yelling and screaming, there
was no pushing, pulling, or serious rush. A pair of sergeants in patrol
caps 41 stepped onto the bus and explained that we were to get off the bus
and line up with our bags.
Nervously, we filed off the bus and lined up in front of a set of large glass
doors. Above the doors were black metal letters that read Welcome to
the U.S. Army. The building was early seventies architecture, brick and
cement set at non-right angles. Along the pathway that led from the bus
stop to the doors were a set of seven signs that would become very
familiar over the next ten weeks.
Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Selfless Service. Honor. Integrity. Personal
These are what the Army calls the Seven Army Values. After a sexual assault
scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Army invented these seven values as the core
of a moral definition of a good soldier. At every Army base, for training or regular duty,


A patrol cap is the short brimmed cap worn by soldiers in the field. The distinction in this case is that
between the patrol cap, which is worn by instructors and personnel who are not drill sergeants, and the
brown round or campaign hat which identifies drill sergeants at Basic Training.


soldiers are inundated with signs and posters listing the seven values. These items are not
only ubiquitous at Basic Training, but at every Army base and facility around the world,
as they are even found on bases in Iraq. Each value also has a short definition attached to
it, which is not displayed on the signs scattered around Fort Benning, but is displayed on
the posters which hang on most walls around the base:


Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit
and other Soldiers. Bearing true faith and allegiance is a matter of
believing in and devoting yourself to something or someone. A loyal
Soldier is one who supports the leadership and stands up for fellow
Soldiers. By wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army you are expressing
your loyalty. And by doing your share, you show your loyalty to your unit.


Fulfill your obligations. Doing your duty means more than carrying out
your assigned tasks. Duty means being able to accomplish tasks as part of
a team. The work of the U.S. Army is a complex combination of missions,
tasks and responsibilities, all in constant motion. Our work entails building
one assignment onto another. You fulfill your obligations as a part of your
unit every time you resist the temptation to take 'shortcuts' that might
undermine the integrity of the final product.


Treat people as they should be treated. In the Soldier's Code, we pledge to

'treat others with dignity and respect while expecting others to do the
same.' Respect is what allows us to appreciate the best in other people.
Respect is trusting that all people have done their jobs and fulfilled their
duty. And self-respect is a vital ingredient with the Army value of respect,
which results from knowing you have put forth your best effort. The Army
is one team and each of us has something to contribute.


Put the welfare of the Nation, the Army and your subordinates before your
own. Selfless service is larger than just one person. In serving your
country, you are doing your duty loyally without thought of recognition or
gain. The basic building block of selfless service is the commitment of


each team member to go a little further, endure a little longer, and look a
little closer to see how he or she can add to the effort.


Live up to Army values. The Nation's highest military award is The Medal
of Honor. This award goes to Soldiers who make honor a matter of daily
living. Soldiers who develop the habit of being honorable, and solidify
that habit with every value choice they make. Honor is a matter of
carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless
service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do.


Do what's right, legally and morally. Integrity is a quality you develop by

adhering to moral principles. It requires that you do and say nothing that
deceives others. As your integrity grows, so does the trust others place in
you. The more choices you make based on integrity, the more this highly
prized value will affect your relationships with family and friends, and,
finally, the fundamental acceptance of yourself.


Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral). Personal courage has

long been associated with our Army. With physical courage, it is a matter
of enduring physical duress and at times risking personal safety. Facing
moral fear or adversity may be a long, slow process of continuing forward
on the right path, especially if taking those actions is not popular with
others. You can build your personal courage by daily standing up for and
acting upon the things that you know are honorable.
(obtained from http://www.goarmy.com/life/living_the_army_values.jsp)
The attempt by the Army to indoctrinate privates with these values is seen by many, both
privates and drill sergeants, as a wasted effort. In addition to the signs displayed, soldiers
are required to wear an Army Values Tag along with their ID tags on a chain around
their neck, which one private described as stupid fucking bullshit. A drill sergeant also
described the values as follows: look, if you didnt come here with them, we cant put
them in you. In other words, privates must bring with them the proper predispositions to
live the Army Values. This accords with many other elements of the soldier identity,


in which the socialization process into Army life begins well before Basic Training, and
Basic Training is simply a public, performative step to change status, not to change
As we waited in line, two drill sergeants exited the building and stared us down.
The drill sergeants look of disdain is so standard and effective, it seems as if it is
something taught at Drill Sergeants School, an 11-week training program which is
reportedly a repeat of Basic Training, but stricter. Private Argent, who was 6 4 tall,
marveled at the ability of a drill sergeant to stare him down: Im still trying to figure out
how that guy who was damn near a foot shorter than me managed to look down on me.
That is an impressive trick and I am still trying to figure that one out.
One of the drill sergeants spoke to us in a loud voice, although he still didnt yell.
He told us to split into two groups, infantry and non-infantry. This was to be our first
experience with the elitism in the Army in which infantry (and to a lesser extent Armor
and Artillery) soldiers are given more respect, more attention, and more honors, than the
standard support soldier. Once we had separated, we were marched into the reception
hall where there were two rows of wooden benches. The infantry privates were directed
to one set, and the rest of us were directed to the next. As we stood behind a bench, we
dumped our personal bags out onto the bench in front of us so the drill sergeants and
other sergeants (called cadre) could examine our stuff for contraband. We were not
supposed to bring any of a long list of restricted items with us to Basic Training,
including but not limited to: pornography, tobacco, alcohol (including mouthwash or
aftershave), firearms, knives or scissors. Before they examined our stuff, each private
was sent into the amnesty room where he could throw away anything he might have that


he was not supposed to, no questions asked. In the amnesty room there was also a screen
similar to that in a Catholic confessional where a private could admit to a soldier on the
other side any disqualifying condition that he might have gotten past the recruiter and
MEPS personnel.
Once our bags were searched (which took about an hour), we were separated into
lines. Lines were only used while at reception, once transferred to the actual Basic
Training program, we moved to the more traditional squad-platoon-company
organization. A line was determined by what day you had arrived, and whether you were
infantry or support. Each privates name was called out by one of the cadre, who then
handed him a copy of his orders 42 with his line number written on the top.
Once all of the orders had been handed out, the drill sergeant informed us that we
would be given some food and then sent to our racks 43 . In line, we were sent in two
groups, the infantry and non-infantry to the DFAC (dining facility). Although we were
not specifically told to remain silent, no one spoke as we quickly ate our eggs, bacon,
biscuits and gravy. The first meal at reception is typical of every meal I would have from
then on, both in the United States and overseas. The breakfast menu was always the
Scrambled eggs
Bacon, sausage or gravy (only one meat allowed)
Pancakes, waffle, or French toast (one choice would be presented)
Although supposedly a rigid bureaucracy in which all of a soldiers life is planned
beforehand, in fact the Army is awash in flux and chaos when it comes to the details of


Every soldier has a set of printed orders which he must carry with him at all times, detailing where he is
supposed to be and for what dates.


an individual soldier at a specific time. The regularity of Army breakfast is the only
constant in an Army day, and I have since joked with other soldiers that the Army
maintains this one standard meal in order to keep one regular event for soldiers to look
forward to in the midst of constantly changing orders and missions while deployed.
Menus for lunch or dinner would vary by the day, although the standards
remained the same. There would always be a choice of three meats, one of which was
required by Army regulation to not be pork, which a private could choose one of, plus
breads, potatoes or other starches, and a salad bar which typically had jello and puddings
as well as typical salad vegetables. In addition to the regular line, privates would also
have the option of short order which included hamburgers, hotdogs, and grilled cheese
sandwiches, or a sandwich line which would have cold deli meats on white or wheat
Over the course of Reception, privates begin their first step into becoming a
soldier. It is at Reception that privates get their shots, have their medical records built,
receive their first military haircut, and are issued their uniforms. This process takes at
least three days, and for some privates as long as three weeks. The privates who remain
at Reception for an extended period are referred to as excess, and there are a number of
events that can cause a private to be held, the most common being the inability to pass the
physical requirements to move from Reception to Basic. Privates must be able to
perform 13 pushups, 25 sit-ups, and run a mile in less than eight and a half minutes. Drill
sergeants administer a PT test at the end of every week to identify the privates that must
be kept in Reception until they are in good enough shape to move downrange.


Although the exact schedule differs as groups enter Reception at different times
and have to be inserted into the process as they can be, there are two main symbolic
events that occur during Reception: the first haircut and the immunizations. There are
other events, such as being issued uniforms and boots, that are just as important from a
procedural viewpoint, but these two seem to be the formative elements of Reception for
privates, either at the time (the haircut), or in recollection (the shots, especially the one in
the buttocks).

The importance of hair in different cultures has been the subject of many studies,
including Carol Burkes analysis of historical hairstyles and masculinity (Burke, 2005),
Edmund Leachs discussion of the psychoanalytic approach to hairstyle (Leach 1967) and
Obeyesekeres response (Obeyesekere, 1981), and Kobena Mercers analysis of the
African-American hairstyle (Mercer, 1994). Burke notes the double standards of
hairstyle requirements for men and women in the military, in which men must shave, or
almost shave, their heads, while women are allowed to grow their hair but wear it up and
off the collar while in uniform. In fact, during my training, it was widely believed that
women were forbidden to shave their heads like male soldiers do, as it would bring
attention to their gender. This restriction has apparently been lifted in recent years,
however, as I have since seen a number of female soldiers with shaved heads or a high
and tight.
The military haircut is one of the defining features of joining the military in most
modern films about Basic Training or Boot Camp. The most likely reason for this is the


element of permanence involved in cutting ones hair to the military style. Unlike
receiving shots or putting on a uniform, once a private has had his head shaved, there is
no way to reverse or walk away from that effect. In addition, the military haircut is one
of the most distinct haircuts in the United States, whether it be the baldy as referred to
by privates at Fort Benning, or the high and tight style preferred by many soldiers, and
is received before any of the other trappings of military life are given to the recruit, such
as uniforms or boots, as the haircut is received on the first day at Reception, whereas the
uniforms are not issued until three or four days later.
Hair serves a very symbolic purpose among many societies, with the styling of it
reflecting internal conflicts and outward manifestations of those conflicts. The dispute
between Edmund Leach and Gananath Obeyesekere over the meaning of ascetics hair
highlights the symbolic importance of hair, and how a haircut can be a performative act.
Following these two theorists, I will show how the hair and hairstyle of privates during
Basic Training can be examined as both a symbol of public affiliation and private
For many privates, the haircut drastically changes their personal appearance from
what it was before. Personally, I found myself not recognizing myself in the mirror for
the first few days after receiving the haircut. For those who wear glasses or contact
lenses, this change is doubly abrupt, as medical personnel issue military eyeglasses, the
so called BCGs 44 within the first two days of Reception, as well. Although in the regular
Army, and even AIT, soldiers are allowed to wear glasses of their own choosing and cut
their hair to a number of styles within the regulations of proper appearance, during
Basic Training, every private must wear military issue glasses and sport the bald haircut.

Birth Control Glasses, called so because they look so bad no woman would want to have sex with him.


The sexuality implicit in the term BCGs, as well as the removal of hair as a personal
symbol and replaced with an institutional one, presents a scenario for which
psychoanalytic theory emerges as a valid analytic approach, if reined in from
overanalysis by the by the researcher.
Psychoanalyst Charles Berg considers hair to be universally a symbol of the
genital organs. (Leach, 1967, p. 81) Hair cutting and shaving, then, are forms of selfcastration and attempting to control aggression (Berg, 1950, p. 90). Freudian conflict can
then be laid out in the context of ritual haircutting and hairstyling, as the struggle between
the id and super-ego is played out in the socially visible, and important, arena of the hair
(Berg, 1950, p. 94). Berg uses his own clinical experience as well as anthropological
evidence to support this claim, and Edmund Leach, although disputing a number of
Bergs claims, is honest enough to point this out. He admits that hair rituals have sexual
associations, and these have been noted by anthropologists from the beginning of the
discipline (Leach, 1967, p. 82). A number of works, from studies of headhunters to
analysis of lesbian nuns, show a relationship between hair growth, cutting, and styling
that is implicitly or explicitly sexual (Hutton, 1928; Topley, 1954). Leach compares
psychoanalytical ideas of id and super-ego, and the sexuality implicit in them, with these
studies, which show that hair stands for the personality of the affected member (Leach
1967, p. 82).
It is undeniable that the hairstyle at Basic Training also has sexual connotations,
especially when one considers the separate grooming standards for females in the Army
(Burke, 2005). However, in this situation the hairstyle is not the choice of the individual,
but imposed on him by the institution, and any attempt to describe the hairstyle as self-


castration, to use Leachs example, fails in the face of that situation. Leach disputes
psychoanalysis in its efforts to place the individual at the center of culture by
distinguishing a difference between private and public symbols. Private symbols are
unique to the user, and alters the emotional state of the performer, whereas public
symbolism says something about the state of affairs (Leach, 1967, p. 85). Leach then
discusses in detail his own and Bergs views of ascetics in India and Sri Lanka. These
ascetics are characterized by neglected hair which soon grows into heavy matted locks,
which Berg views as an unconscious representation of the neglected penis in those who
are renouncing earthly things (Berg, 1950, p. 71). Leach argues that this is an ethnocentric argument, since the rules regarding ascetics are clearly laid down in the Hindu
scriptures, and the sexual overtones are included in those rules (Leach, 1967, p. 95).
Thus, the power of the symbol comes not from the repression of the members of society,
but rather from its constant use and acceptance. The matted hair is a public symbol in
Indian society, stating that this person has refused certain worldly ideas, and in the
context of Hindu culture, should be treated appropriately. Although there may be sexual
overtones, they are not unknown to the ascetic who ignores his hair.
Gananath Obeyesekere takes Leach to task in his discussion of ascetic hair. He
claims that Leach ignores the possibility that public symbolic communication can, at the
same time, have individual psychological meaning (Obeyesekere, 1981, p. 14), and that
he has used Bergs work as a straw man to attack all of psychoanalysis (Obeyesekere,
1981, p. 17). Obeyesekere addresses one further aspect of the symbolic actions that
Leach has discussed in his essay. Although the wearing of matted hair is a public
symbol, it is constantly reaffirmed and recreated by individuals acting in society


(Obeyesekere, 1981, p. 33). These ascetics are performing their identities on a public
stage, acting out their identities through the adornment of their hair.
Although there are constraints on the display of hairstyle in the military, soldiers
often act out their own identities in a similar way through their hairstyle. The symbolic
importance of the military haircut was highlighted at the end of Basic, when for
graduation privates went to the barber one final time before appearing in front of their
families. In 3rd platoon, the entire platoon was given direct orders from Drill Sergeant
Saburi that you will all get a high and tight, I dont care what you want. Anyone comes
back without the high and tight, I got something for 3rd platoon. A high and tight is a
distinctive military haircut that seems to be preferred by older soldiers, in which the hair
is allowed to grow longer on the top of the head (high), but shorn close to the skin on any
vertical surface of the head (tight). There was quite a bit of griping about that command,
and even some discussion as to whether it was even a legal order. However, it is likely
Drill Sergeant Saburi was attempting to establish, through the changing of the hairstyle
for 3rd platoon, that we had passed from being simple privates to being soldiers.
The actual hairstyle requested by each private was practically irrelevant at this
stage in Basic Training. Prior to the FTX the week before, all the privates had received a
standard Basic Training haircut (shorn to the skin), and barely enough hair had grown in
to even be seen, let alone styled. The importance placed on this haircut by Drill Sergeant
Saburi, and the resistance from privates to the order, is purely symbolic. The high and
tight represents, as Obeyesekere and Berg would point out, the return of the soldiers
symbolic genitalia as he moves out of the status of private and into that of soldier.
At the same time, the choice of hairstyle in the Army is one of the few fashion decisions


allowed to soldiers, and by resisting Drill Sergeant Saburis order, the privates were
beginning to express themselves as such, and take on the identity of soldier through one
of the few means of public symbolic expression available to them.
Kobena Mercers discussion of black hairstyles in modern America also reflects
the tension between public and private symbolization. However, her conclusions differ
from Obeyesekeres with regard to the psychological causes of hairstyling (Mercer, 1994,
p. 99). Arguing from a historical perspective, Mercer wants to point out that there is no
natural hairstyle for blacks in America, or even Africa, despite popular opinion to the
contrary. She argues this against the view that because it involves straightening, the
curly-perm hairstyle represents either a wretched imitation of white peoples hair or, what
amounts to the same thing, a diseased state of black consciousness. (Mercer, 1994, p.
97) In an argument against white supremacy, an article in The Black Voice implied that
the Afro or Dreadlocks were the more authentic black hairstyles. Instead, Mercer
counters, hairstyles in both Africa and America have run the gamut from shaven heads to
complex styles of weaving and braiding (Mercer, 1994, p. 111). Instead, Mercer suggests
that hair, as one of the most visible elements of blackness, is used as a symbol for black
identity. In the same way, hair is often used in the military as a symbol of military
identity, as we saw above with the emotional response to an order regarding hairstyle.
The interaction between public and private mirrors the interaction between
structure and individual in the creation of the Army as an institution. The individual
makes private choices displayed on the public stage within the structural rules of the
institution. After graduation from Basic Training, for example, soldiers are given more
latitude in their hairstyles, so long as the hair conforms to the shape of the head, and does


not fall below the ears, eyebrows, or collar (AR 670-1). In practice, however, there are
really only two similar, and easily recognizable, hairstyles: shaved to the skull or styled
into the high and tight. The military hairstyle is so iconic, in fact, that even when
traveling, soldiers can easily recognize one another. For instance, on a trip home from
Iraq for leave, and wearing civilian clothes, I was waiting in Kuwait airport when an
American man approached me and asked for a light for his cigarette. He was also
wearing civilian clothes, but his hair was styled in the high and tight style, and to me
was instantly identifiable as a fellow soldier. After sitting down in the chair across from
me, he mused, I dont know why they have us travel in civilian clothes, we can be seen
from a mile away. Stripped of uniform, and even with civilian facial hair, my hairstyle
alone was enough for a fellow soldier to recognize our shared status.

The immunizations are the second strongest memory of Reception for most
soldiers. Unlike the haircut, this is likely due more to the anticipation and fear of
multiple shots than any inherent symbolism. Given that many people in the United States
express a fear of needles, it is hardly surprising the trepidation with which incoming
soldiers view seven shots all at one sitting. These seven shots are all standard medical
vaccinations, usually received by privates in their childhood, but due to the differing
standards of healthcare among incoming privates, the Army requires that all incoming
privates receive the following immunizations: influenza, measles, mumps, rubella,
meningococcal, polio, and a tetanus shot (Army Regulation 40-52). In addition, the butt
shot is notorious among privates, likely due to its lingering pain and soreness. The


physician who administers the shot advises each private that the soreness will last two or
three days, and can be alleviated by massaging the area for a few minutes each night. I
do not know which shot the privates receive in the buttocks, although it is likely
penicillin or another antibiotic, although this is not required by the regulation discussed
The assembly line nature of this procedure is typical of many elements of Army
life. As a large bureaucracy, the Army frequently fails to conceive of its members as
meaningful individuals, but rather as items which need to be processed as efficiently as
possible. Robert Denhardts In The Shadow Of Organization (1981) examines this aspect
of bureaucracies, and identifies the increasing organization of society as a potential
problem in the development of individual identity. Michel Foucault uses the example of
military training for this good reason in his discussions of rationalization. However, as
noted in Chapter 1, the military stands apart from other institutions in the magnitude of
loss should the institution and its organization fail.
The efficiency of the Army, then, is not just organizational efficiency, but also the
attempt to minimize the risk of death for its members. In addition to this, although the
organization of the military is one of rigid production, the interpersonal interactions
between the subject and object of this organization must be taken into account to properly
understand the extent of alienation the organization inflicts on its members. There are
varying amounts of this alienation during Basic Training, and there are certainly some
elements of the training program in which a privates psychological and social well-being
is repressed for the success of the organization. It would be a mistake to label every
organized experience at Basic Training with this broad brush, however.


Although the administration of shots is organized in the fashion of an assembly

line, this should not be overanalyzed. It is true that soldiers are rarely viewed as
individuals, but as moving parts in a larger system. When administering shots for
example, each soldier goes from one stage to the next around a room in which every
piece of hardware is laid out prior, such that neither private nor medic needs to actually
think about the actions they are performing. Although this could be seen as mindless
repetition, and simply efficiency at the expense of identity, the social dynamics of the
situation must be taken into account.
In the case of the immunizations at Reception, the interpersonal interactions
between medical personnel and privates highlight the lack of alienation that the assembly
line process would suggest. Although privates are not allowed to talk to each other while
waiting in line, which I will admit adds to the alienation factor in this case, once each
private enters the room to receive his shots, the restriction on talking is essentially lifted.
There is one medic at the entrance to the room who interacts personally with each private,
in addition to verifying a name and social security number, the medic chatted with the
privates in our line, asking where they were from, and explaining the process they were
about to go through. Each private would move down a line of stations, organized around
the three walls of the room, receiving shots alternately in the left and right arm as they
traveled. At each station the medic assigned to that station was also friendly, politely
requesting the private shift their arm or body correctly to receive the various shots. 45 The
floor of the room was covered in gymnastic mats, and the medic at the first station
informed each private that if they should feel queasy or weak, they were able and
expected to lie down on the mats until they felt better. The final shot was delivered

Some shots are given in the bicep, some in the deltoid, and some in the tricep.


behind a privacy screen, and although there were some female medics at other stations,
only male medics delivered the butt shot.

Drill Sergeants
It is also at Reception that privates get their first introductions to drill sergeants,
and some of the mystique which surrounds the drill sergeant. This exposure is minimal
compared to the experience of privates downrange at Basic Training, but sets the stage
for those upcoming experiences. There were three drill sergeants at Reception that our
line came into contact with, Drill Sergeant Thomas, Drill Sergeant Douglas, and a third
drill sergeant whose name I never managed to get. Much like the drill sergeants at Basic,
the Reception drill sergeants seemed to have roles that they played within the context of
the training environment. Drill Sergeant Douglas was the most approachable of the drill
sergeants, and would frequently chat and be friendly with incoming privates, even to the
point of surrendering personal information. At one point, the support 46 privates were
waiting to attend a monthly concert and Drill Sergeant Douglas had moved them all out
of the sunshine and into the shade, expressing his dissatisfaction with the other drill

Drill Sergeant Douglas: Well, they can do what they like with the infantry
guys, thats their responsibility but youre mine, and I dont see any need
to have you standing out in the sun getting heatstroke.
Private: How long have you been a drill sergeant, Drill Sergeant Douglas?

support refers to soldiers who are not combat arms. In the case of Fort Benning, there is a distinction
made between support and infantry. In the regular Army, the distinction is usually drawn with the term
soldiers or personnel after the word support. In the context of Basic Training, all recruits are referred
to as private, regardless of rank, and therefore I use the term support privates. This is not a term used
within the context of Reception or Basic Training, as the distinction does not exist within the Basic
Training company, which are all either infantry or support personnel.


Drill Sergeant Douglas: Ive been on the trail four years. Last year was
supposed to be my last, but I told them Id do another one.
Private: Why was that?
Drill Sergeant Douglas: I like working with soldiers. All you guys, youre
new, I like showing you guys how things are gonna work. I didnt want to
do Basic, so I told them Id do another year, but only if I was here at
In contrast to Drill Sergeant Douglas, Drill Sergeant Thomas was infantry, and carried
himself with aloofness and occasional disdain. Drill Sergeant Thomas was representative
of another element of the Army Drill Sergeant, as well, in that he was the source of much
rumor and storytelling. The main rumor circulating about him was that he had been in
Somalia during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu and had killed three people with his Etool 47 . This was all based on the fact that there was a Sergeant Thomas mentioned in
Black Hawk Down. At the time, even I believed this rumor, at least that he had been in
Mogadishu, but later reflection easily reveals how this could not have been true. Drill
Sergeant Thomas wore no patch on his right shoulder, the so called combat patch, and
there is actually a picture of the Sergeant Thomas mentioned in the book, which looked
nothing like Drill Sergeant Thomas. However, the mystique of the drill sergeant is such
that these items of fact never seem to figure in to the adoration of young soldiers.
Another story floating around Reception regarding Drill Sergeant Thomas was that at
some point one private had gone up to him to ask him a question, and the drill sergeant
had warned him to stay out of my kill zone. The implied threat fit the rumor of Drill
Sergeant Thomas as both crazy and a killer, and added to his reputation.

Shark Attack

Entrenching Tool a small foldable hand spade


After the privates have completed Reception, they are organized into groups to be
sent downrange to the real Basic Training. At each Friday formation, the names of
those privates who would be leaving Reception are read off by the drill sergeants.
Privates pack all of their gear into a duffel bag and the civilian bag carried to Reception
from home, and then they carry their bags to the Breezeway to line them up along the
wall and wait with them until busses arrive to take them to the Basic Training area.
Much like fireguard 48 duty, there are elements of the nightwatch or vigils that are seen in
many historic European rites of passage (Eliade, 1958, p. 125). Privates are not allowed
to leave their duffel bags without another private to watch it, and are expected to spend
the night sitting with their bags until the busses arrive to pick them up first thing in the
When the busses arrive, the drill sergeants from Reception yell at the privates to
quickly pick up their gear and move to the bus. Military busses are all the same type of
bus as the yellow school bus used to drive children to and from school, although they are
often painted white and blue rather than yellow. Each bus has 11 rows of seats, so that 44
people can sit on the bus at one time. The drive from Reception to Basic is the only time
that there are 44 privates assigned to each bus, the usual number is 55, as drill sergeants
will cram an extra person into the aisle to stand while the bus is moving. Also, many
times privates are carried around base in cattle cars, literally tractor trailers with a trailer
designed to carry cattle which as many privates as possible are crammed into for travel


During Basic Training, and much of active duty life, an overnight fireguard composed of two soldiers
must stay awake and ready to respond to potential hazards.


(supposedly 100) 49 . However, even with two per seat on the bus ride to Basic, the bus is
still cramped, as each private must carry his duffel bag and civilian bag with him on the
I was positioned in a seat near the front of the bus and managed to overhear the
conversation between one of the Basic Training drill sergeants and the bus driver. It is
interesting how much different this interaction was from any other time I saw a drill
sergeant, as it was a calm and quiet conversation about how the drill sergeant was new to
the trail and this was his first cycle. It was so out of the ordinary, in fact, that it was not
until I had graduated Basic and returned home that I remembered the conversation at all.
In the over-stressed environment of Basic Training, I did not even remember it that
evening to record in my field notes.
This is also likely due to the first memorable event at actual Basic Training: the
Shark Attack. The shark attack is the term for the first encounter privates have with their
new lives and instructors at Basic Training. As the busses pull up to the barracks which
will house the new training company for the next nine weeks, the drill sergeants prepare
themselves to launch a surprise attack on the new privates. Although I expected it to
occur at Reception, it is at this point that the drill sergeant stands up on the front of the
bus and yells: Get off my bus!
The drill sergeants jump onto the bus and begin screaming at the privates to get
off the bus and line up on lines laid out on the grass. As each private manages to squirm
his way off the bus, another drill sergeant is waiting at the door of the bus to scream at
him some more, as well as two or three more drill sergeants waiting in the wings to

These cattle cars are so common that at the end of AIT, when busses were provided for our transportation
to our graduation ceremony, another private in my platoon exclaimed, Oh yeah, busses! paused, and then
reflected, Wow, you know somethings wrong when a school bus is your idea of a luxury ride.


chastise those who they dont think are moving fast enough. Privates are carrying
whatever luggage they brought with them to Basic Training, plus a duffel bag full of all
their uniforms and equipment they were issued at reception, and will frequently drop or
trip over their bags, only to be yelled at by more drill sergeants. It is not unknown for
drill sergeants from other companies to join in on a shark attack to be certain that there
are enough voices yelling at the new privates.
Once a private is off the bus, he is directed to stand at attention on one of the lines
laid out on the grass with his bags in front of him. As soon as all privates are off the
buses and assembled on the lines, there is a moment of silence. The first sergeant for the
company then introduces himself, and the drill sergeants, to the new privates. He then
instructs the privates to pick up their duffel bags and hold them over their heads. Once
the privates begin to lose their grip, he instructs them to place them back down in front of
them dress right dress 50 . Once the privates have dropped their duffel bags, the first
sergeant asks the drill sergeants if the privates have completed the task correctly.
Inevitably, the answer is negative. This cycle is repeated until the privates have
performed the task to the satisfaction of the drill sergeants. It is unclear at what point the
drill sergeants are satisfied, and most privates believe the drill sergeants will simply
continue this exercise until they are tired of it.
Once the drill sergeants have announced to the First Sergeant that the privates
have performed acceptably, the First Sergeant calls out the names of privates. When a
name is called each private is told to respond with the appropriate Yes First Sergeant!

Dress right dress is a common slang term in the Army for laying everything out in order, whether it be
items for inventory or soldiers in a formation. Dressing is a drill and ceremony term for being lined up
exactly with the men beside you, dress right is the standard, in which a soldier looks to his right and lines
himself up with the man on his right, ensuring as each soldier adjusts his position that the soldiers will be
properly in line with one another.


pick up his bags, and double-time 51 to the front of the formation. Once 60 (or however
large each platoon is) privates are called, they are moved from the grass into the
Company Area 52 to stand with their platoon. Four platoons are assigned in this way to
each company, numbered from 1st to 4th.
The first entry into the barracks is usually quiet. Privates have been exhausted by
their exertions on the field below, ready to be assigned bunks and wary of tortures to
come. The next assignment from drill sergeants is to get in alphabetical order, based on
the nametags that each private wears on his now sweat-soaked uniform. As with
everything that will be encountered from this point on, there is a time limit on the
instruction. Privates have one minute to get properly ordered in front of their bunks.
When the privates inevitably fail to complete the required task in time, they are
dropped 53 . While being screamed at by drill sergeants that the task assigned was simple,
and the platoon must be a bunch of idiots for failing to complete it, they are forced to stay
in the front leaning rest position. Private Fletchers memory of this is particularly vivid,
as he was personally involved in one of the failures:
the very first day, the drill sergeants, like, well we were supposed to give,
they took our id cards, we were supposed to be standing alphabetical, and
they took our id cards, and when he took mine instead of putting it on top,
he put it on the bottom of the stack. To this day I think he did it on
purpose, and so then when they called out our names, I was out of order,
and they called me out, and I had to stand out in the middle, not in the
killzone 54 , but by that big post that was by the killzone, and everyone was
doing pushups while I was watching. It was a combination of the drill
sergeant and Grissoms fault, I still remember that, because I tried to

Army slang for running

The open cement area where the company meets for formations and other company wide events.
While smoking refers to any physical punishment, being dropped specifically refers to being ordered to
drop to the ground and prepare to do pushups. Note that when a private is dropped, he is not supposed to
begin doing pushups, that is a separate order. Leaving privates in the pushup position is frequently used by
drill sergeants as a punishment rather than having them actually do pushups. This position is named the
front leaning rest position, likely sarcastically.
The killzone is a marked off area in the center of the barracks which privates are not allowed to enter


squeeze in between Grissom and Evans where I was supposed to be, and
get Grissom to move down one bunk, but he didnt believe that I was an F,
and he was like no.
He didnt believe you were an F?
No no no, I was like look, thats Evans, youre Grissom, Im supposed to
be here. And he was like No no Im supposed to be here, the drill
sergeant put me here, which he did but the drill sergeant had the id cards
wrong So when they came to pass out all the stuff I was in the wrong
spot, I remember that, like, I was so ready to go home that first day. I was
like what the hell am I doing here? My first day there and I was like
fuck, all these guys are gonna hate me already, and Ive only been here
like ten minutes.
Once they are released from this position, the privates are ordered to repeat the
task, usually failing two or three times before the task is complete, and being
dropped in between each iteration.
When the privates have finally assembled themselves in alphabetical order, the
drill sergeants order them to open their duffel bags and personal bags and spill everything
out on the floor. They are then told that this is their last chance to surrender any
contraband they may have left over from reception. In addition, any shampoo, soap, or
any other non-issue piece of equipment must be placed back in the personal bag to be
locked up. The drill sergeants wander around the barracks while the privates have
everything on the floor to be certain that everything is correct, and intimidate the various
soldiers by speaking whispered threats or comments in their ears about what they can or
will do to the privates if they mess up.
After the personal bags are packed up, drill sergeants give the privates one minute
to get all of their gear packed back up into their duffel bag. As usual, privates will fail
this, especially since after dumping all of their equipment on the floor, a lot of it has been


mixed with other privates. Once the task is accomplished, after more smoking 55 ,
privates place the duffel bags in a locker behind each pair of bunk beds. Each set of bunk
beds has two lockers between it and the wall, standing about seven feet high with two
doors and a lockable latch. Inside the locker is a small three drawer chest for storing
clothes and personal items, approximately 4 cubic feet in size.
Once the privates have been introduced to the harassment and punishments of the
drill sergeants, they are sent to the rear of the barracks and sit down on the floor.
Exhausted, the privates are no longer even capable of talking. Folders are handed out to
each private with paperwork to fill out, including medical information and personal
information. At this point, one private raised his hand and asked permission to use the
restroom. The drill sergeant responded to this question, Of course you can. Listen up,
men, you need to go to the bathroom, just go, you dont need permission to do every little
thing here. This is the first exposure most privates have to the personal side of their drill
sergeants. Although Marine drill instructors will never lower their faade, Army drill
sergeants see themselves not only as disciplinarians, but also substitute parents for many
of the privates, and are willing to relax within the privacy of the barracks or sometimes
on a detail 56 . It must be noted that in both cases, however, the drill sergeants are still on
Goffmans front stage, they are simply playing two subtly different roles. In fact, the
appearance of friendliness is often used by drill sergeants to stay abreast of rumors and
problems within their platoons and maintain the illusion of omniscience:


Smoking refers to both physical punishment, and the experience of being exercised so much that a
private is exhausted.
Extra-curricular assignment, typically cleaning an area outside the usual Company Area or assisting in
setting up a classroom or training area.


When you were on CQ 57 , at brigade, the drill sergeants, they be nicer to

you, calm you down?
They ask you questions? See how you were doing?
Yes, they did.
They were feeling you out. Finding out the stuff you thought you were
keeping secret. There werent no secrets from the drill sergeants, weve
been doing this a lot longer than you guys.
The stricter role played by the drill sergeant, both in public and private, is also staged,
with drill sergeants taking on different roles as necessary. Both roles are variations on
American father roles, a topic which will be discussed in chapter seven, and performative
expressions of the proper soldier.

Gas Chamber
The first major threshold which privates pass through at Basic Training is the gas
chamber. The gas chamber is a requirement for all privates to graduate Basic Training,
and is also a frequent point of reference and source of stories for soldiers later in their
careers. The gas chamber occurs sometime during the first four weeks of Basic Training,
depending on the schedule and availability of the facilities. It is alternately dreaded and
desired by privates, in one sense to get the experience out of the way, but also because
privates frequently see the experience as a step towards acceptance by the drill sergeants.
This belief comes from conversations privates have with those from other training
companies, typically during details when privates from different companies work
Drill Sergeant West expressed the fears of many soldiers about biological and
chemical attack from Saddam Hussein should the United States invade Iraq, telling the

Charge of Quarters essentially overnight duty to answer the phones or respond to emergencies.


company during NBC training that this is the one thing you need to pay attention to.
You dont know how to do this stuff, youre gonna be dead, in a really fucked up way.
Nine seconds, you better get it. Nine seconds is the amount of time the Army sets as the
standard for correctly donning the pro-mask 58 . This is counted from the moment a
soldier hears the alarm to when he has his mask on and properly sealed. After that a
soldier has an additional six seconds to complete the procedure, correcting the hood and
fastening it under the chin. Once on, the gas mask is uncomfortable and claustrophobic,
as breathing through the filter on the mask can be difficult, like attempting to breathe
through your nose with both sinuses stuffed up. In addition, the pro mask is supposed to
be equipped with eyeglass lens inserts for soldiers who require glasses to see, but at Basic
these were not provided. In order to get a proper seal on the mask, of course, a private
cant wear glasses under the mask, so he is restricted to whatever his natural sight may
be. In my case, this meant that while walking to the gas chamber I could not see more
than five feet in front of me, adding to my overall loss of equilibrium.
As with almost every experience at Basic Training, Bravo Company marched on
foot to the Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) range for training. This range is
frequently also the first encounter that privates have with the range cadre without the
presence of drill sergeants. Although there is originally an illusion that the drill sergeants
and the other cadre members speak with a single voice (that of the Army as an
institution), by removing the drill sergeants and asserting their own authority, the cadre at
this range also showed the privates that this single voice was a fiction. Over the
remainder of the training cycle, the conflicts between cadre and drill sergeants became


The current gas mask used by the Army is referred to as a protective mask, most often shortened to


more obvious as I developed a better sense of subtle (and not so subtle) cues of the
conflicts which existed between the two groups. Thus, Basic Training instructs privates
not only how to negotiate the institution, but that that institution is multivocal, comprised
of individuals with their own approaches to knowledge, instruction, and soldiering. After
a safety brief in which the instructors detailed the potential hazards to privates
(including not only potential problems from the CS 59 gas used in the chamber but also
snakes, spiders, and other animal threats), the instructors sent away the drill sergeants,
and asked the privates in the company if anyone was wearing contact lenses, as the CS
gas could melt the contact lens to the privates eyes if he were wearing them. The
veracity of this comment is disputed by a number of different sources, although it seems
likely that it is in fact untrue 60 . As mentioned before, rumors and urban legends are
commonplace throughout Basic Training, and this is yet another example. Regardless of
the truthfulness of the statement, telling this to privates at Basic Training allows the
authorities to maintain control over privates, through control of information and
knowledge. As the drill sergeants and instructors are the only information resource
available to privates, their control over privates understanding, and thus to some extent
their behavior, is complete.
After this briefing, privates were lined up by platoon, and each platoon broken
down into their squads, with each squad going through the chamber separately. 3rd
platoon went through the chamber last, and the interior of the chamber was already
somewhat filled with smoke. When given permission to enter, each squad entered


Tear Gas
Based on a number of non-medical websites, including Mythbusters.com, the CS gas will damage the
contacts and potentially worsen the experience for the recruit as the eye will not be able to properly flush
out the gas from the eye if there is a contact lens on the eye.


through a set of double doors on the front of the building, which is approximately 20 feet
by 20 feet, and circled the interior wall of the building until they are all lined up along the
walls. At the center of the chamber was a metal desk with a small stand to hold the CS
After the drill sergeant lit the CS canister, the gas filled the chamber so heavily
that we could not see more than a foot or two in front of us. The CS gas also began to
affect our exposed skin before we broke the seal of our masks. This likely contributed to
a number of problems that we encountered, most notably misunderstanding the
instructions of the drill sergeant and breaking the mask seal early.
The drill sergeant then ordered privates to break the seal of their mask and
allow the CS gas into the mask and against the face. Depending on the order in which
privates go through the chamber, the concentration of the gas can be enough to begin
burning the skin. After the seal is broken, privates are then instructed to reseal their mask
and clear it, blowing out and pushing the contaminated air out of the mask. After a few
moments, the drill sergeants direct the privates to stand in lines four people wide, and the
front rank then removes their mask, and must shout their name and last four 61 to the drill
sergeant before being allowed to leave the chamber.
In addition to serving as symbol of progression through Basic Training, the gas
chamber is also an example of how Basic Training has changed over the years to become
more codified and formal. In 1966, Jerry Morton describes his gas chamber experience
as much more haphazard:
A couple of sergeants who are already masked walk you and a few others
in the chamber. Your mask is still in its case, hanging at your side. Once

Last four is a common abbreviation used by the Army to refer to the last four digits of the soldiers social
security number.


everyone is inside and the door to the little building has been closed,
someone opens a small hole in one of the walls and tosses in a tear-gas
canister. The sergeants muffled cry of Gas! can be heard. Immediately
you stop breathing and put on your mask. (Morton, 2004, p. 74)
This description is vastly different from the ritualized gas chamber experience of Basic
Training today, replete as it is with the theater of the drill sergeants and instructors, and
formalized stages of wearing the mask, cracking the seal once, and then removing it.
According to Morton, the gas chamber experience also ends when the privates find and
open the door, as opposed to my experience with a drill sergeant serving as gatekeeper to
the exit.
Of course, the ritual of the gas chamber is not as ordered and regular as the drill
sergeants would like to make it. In the inevitable confusion of the smoke filled chamber,
privates scramble for position, fail to comply with instructions, and generally act as they
want, rather than as prescribed. Although privates were supposed to line up in orderly
rows, after we were given the order, 3rd platoon fell into more of a mob than ranks, and I
personally broke the seal of my mask early and inhaled a small amount of CS gas before I
was supposed to. As soon as I started coughing, I realized that resealing the mask would
be ineffective, especially considering the claustrophobic nature of the mask, so I removed
it and did my best to work my way forward to announce my information to the drill
sergeant and leave the chamber. In the thirty seconds which it took me to make my way
to the drill sergeant, I had already begun streaming saliva and snot from eyes, nostrils,
and mouth, and could barely breathe to croak, let alone shout my name to the drill
sergeant. However, the drill sergeant allowed me to leave the chamber. Unfortunately,
the sunlight outside caused my eyes to water even more and upset my sense of balance.


After leaving the gas chamber, instructors order privates to carry their mask and
weapon and circle three times around a large dirt field called Ground Zero. Upon
leaving the gas chamber, most privates were dripping snot and saliva from their mouths
and noses, and could barely see from the excessive tearing caused by the CS gas. With
exposure to air, the CS gas clears quickly out of the system, and by the third lap around
the field, I felt almost completely recovered, although my chest hurt for the next couple
days, and shaving the next morning burned my skin. In addition, every privates uniform
had to be washed that evening to get the CS residue out of it, otherwise the next day the
privates skin would begin itching again and he would smell of CS gas.
My experience in the gas chamber was not as bad as some reported, however.
Monroe Mann published his journal of his own Basic Training experience in 2002, and
related his experiences:

We were all marched into this dark, hot, tiny building. We all had our
masks on. There was a desk in the center of the room. A canister was
burning on it. CS gas was coming out. We were packed in. The first
three guys were told to remove their masks. They all started vomiting,
and spitting, and screaming. The pain! I was so . . . with much
trepidation, I took off my mask. For the 1st second I thought Id be ok.
Then it began. Never have I felt such burning in my lungs, my eyes. I
couldnt breath! [sic] Im choking, Im tearing. Saliva is dripping from
my mouth. Snot is flowing from my nose. So much pain! The Drill
Sergeant is screaming at me: Where are you from, Private? Whats
your first general order? ANSWER ME! Those are the questions I was
asked. I barely had enough oxygen to speak. I couldnt speak. I felt like I
would die.
All I can say is we all know how well our protective masks work now. I
will always have faith in my mask. I was feeling great until I took it off.
And thats the whole point.
(Mann, 2002, p. 36)


Later, talking to one of his drill sergeants, he reports that Mavie said well remember
today the day we were gassed for the rest of our lives. I believe it. It was horrible,
but a proud day. It took a lot to do what we did today. (Mann, 2002, p. 59) This is true
for every soldier I have encountered since Basic Training: the gas chamber is one of the
most memorable moments of their Basic Training experience. A contributing factor to
this is that the gas chamber experiences after Basic Training are typically easier, not only
because the soldier is already experienced with it, but because the actual physical
environment is not as powerful. First, there is rarely as much CS gas in the chamber, as a
regular company is approximately half the size of a Basic Training company, so there are
fewer CS canisters lit in the chamber. Also, it has appeared to me both times I have been
through as a soldier that they use less CS gas in the room itself than they did in Basic
Training. And finally, most units allow soldiers to choose their own pace to leave the gas
chamber after breaking the seal of their masks.
The Basic Training experience is, then, remembered more vividly than later gas
chamber experiences. Private Fletcher remembered his as like the worst experience I
ever had in my life, while other soldiers like to swap stories about their gas chamber
experiences. Typically, these are accompanied by one-upsmanship, as well, as each
soldier tries to outdo the other with how bad their particular experience was. One soldier
relayed his experience in the context of military confusion: Only about half of our
platoon got issued masks at Basic. Let me tell you something, when I went through we
had to go through without masks, some of us. That was some shit. In response to this
comment, another soldier in the group responded with: When I went through, the drill
sergeants told us we were a bunch of wimps because we needed masks, so we were like,


yeah, fuck that, so we dropped all our masks right there and walked into the chamber.
This was then topped by Sergeant Pirellis story: My old drill sergeant, I saw him at Sill
before deploying, he was like, you wanna hear a story? We had a cycle, I was
demonstrating the gas chamber outside and I had the grenade upside down, so when I
opened it it all shot up into my face. You wanna see someone high? For 3rd platoon,
the experience in the gas chamber is often remembered in relation to the experience of
Private Huntley, who left his equipment inside the chamber and had to return to fetch it
multiple time.
All privates must maintain control of their weapon and their mask at all times.
Upon leaving the gas chamber, each private must carry his rifle in one hand and his
complete mask in the other. If a private forgets any items in the chamber, he must return
to and find them without wearing a mask. In the case of 3rd platoon, one private forgot
his mask in the chamber and was forced to return for it, prompting ridicule from a
number of privates in his platoon:

Private Hanson goes through there, I remember rich boy from California,
fucking he goes there, and he goes in and he takes off his mask and he
freaks out and drops all his equipment and runs right out of the chamber.
So they catch him, and they start screaming at him, they being the drill
sergeants, the drill sergeants catch him and they start screaming at him,
and they throw his ass back in the chamber to go get his equipment. So he
runs in there, he grabs all of his equipment that he can and he goes out.
He misses the hood to his mask, and I just remember them going, you
know Private Hanson wheres the rest of your mask, and hes like I dont
know I couldnt find it and theyre like well you need to go back in there
and get it and he just turns around and was like Ill just buy a new one!
and that was just so funny. And I still tell that story to this day, and it
always makes me smile to think about that, I dont know why. Just the
misery and suffering of others I guess.


Private Ricardos enjoyment of the misery and suffering of others is specifically linked
to the suffering of Private Hanson, as over the course of nine weeks of Basic and fourteen
of AIT, Ricardo and Hanson consistently failed to get along. Hanson was known in 3rd
platoon as a problem child, a private who does not adapt well to Basic Training and
causes problems for the rest of the platoon. The specifics of the problem child
relationship will be discussed later in this work, at this point it is sufficient to note that
Ricardos enjoyment of Hansons failure in the gas chamber stemmed from his dislike of
the other private, and on numerous occasions privates from 3rd platoon expressed
satisfaction or happiness when Hanson was punished in some way.
The mistake by Private Hanson was dealt with in two ways by the drill sergeants.
First, as related above, they yelled at him and told him to go back into the chamber to
retrieve his equipment. After he had done so, however, later in the day, Drill Sergeant
West asked the platoon who had run out of the gas chamber, and when Hanson raised his
hand and admitted to it, Drill Sergeant West told him, thats all right, private. You hold
your head up high, you got a war story now. In addition to helping Private Hanson feel
better about his experience, the drill sergeant in this case was also drawing a connection
between the experience of the gas chamber and the ultimate purpose of the soldier: war.
This connection is one of the essential elements of Basic Training, and especially
after September 11th and the invasion of Iraq, is an essential element within the identity
of the modern soldier. This was especially true during my cycle at Basic Training, as the
war in Iraq had not yet started but was ramping up. Prior to September 11th, the
possibility of any soldier seeing combat was very limited, and typically on a strictly
volunteer basis. In fact, most of the time these deployments were fought for, and


awarded on a merit basis, rather than involuntary deployments. War was, then, a
mythological element of the soldiers identity, and not a practical one, although this
attitude was shifting, and continues to shift, in response to global events.
In this context, the gas chamber takes on a practical as well as a symbolic
significance. Not only is it a point of reference and source of stories for soldiers, but it is
also an essential part of the soldiers skill set on the modern battlefield. However, the gas
chamber is but one of the marked moments in Basic Training when privates feel they
have accomplished something of themselves, and moved further down the path towards
the soldier identity. As we shall see later, there are a number of other moments of
accomplishment, some which will be discussed (e.g. rifle qualification), and some which
fall outside the scope of this work (the obstacle and confidence courses).

Negotiation of the Ritual Performance

Basic Training is more than simply a rite of passage. It is also a process of

incorporation and socialization, which begins before the first day of processing and does
not end until after graduation. We will delay discussion of continued incorporation after
graduation for a later chapter, but the beginning of the socialization process, and its
parallels with other Western socialization processes, are relevant here.
One of the main comparisons made between the Army and other institutions is as
a national vocational education program. Recruitment advertisements frequently stress
job training, skills development, and college benefits. At the same time, however, the
institution of the military offers opportunities that fundamentally distinguish it from


domestic welfare programs. These opportunities are best thought of as status

transformations. (Berryman, 1988, p. 2) According to Berryman, these transformations

It transforms boys into men

It enfranchises the politically disenfranchised - not just in terms of
voting, but in terms of social acceptance) points out 3 examples:
Irish in Civil War, Poles in WWI, blacks in Vietnam. Many other
examples could be cited.
It confers legitimate careers on those from groups that hold
marginal social and economic positions in the country - Legitimate
might not necessarily mean respected, but the distinction
between criminal and solider is still a very strong one.
It transforms provincials into nationals removes an individual
from a local environment and globalizes his viewpoints
It provides a legitimate moratorium young men/women who
dont want to go to college dont have to go to work when they
join the military.
(Berryman, 1988)

The final four transformations will be discussed in later chapters, but the first
transformation in particular highlights the feelings held by many Americans that Basic
Training is a remnant rite of passage similar to other manhood rituals around the world.
Interestingly, however, with the exception of consuming alcohol, the initiates into the
Basic Training ritual are already considered legally adult by any standard of American
culture. 62
However, being accepted socially as a man and being legally adult are two
separate cultural constructs. David Gilmores study of masculinity in a cross-cultural
context, Manhood in the Making (1990), illuminates not only other cultures ideas of
masculinity, but our own. Gilmores definition of the masculine is complex,
incorporating aggression, protection, and production. In essence, Gilmore argues that,

There are a very few recruits who enter the Army at age 17 with their parents permission. However the
vast majority of recruits are 18 years of age or older.


unlike womanhood, there is no biological definition of masculinity, but it is instead

constructed and performed repetitively, and based on the ability of a man to separate
himself from the feminine and provide defense and resources for his family.
Gilmores definition of the masculine equates quite closely with the image of the
soldier expressed by drill sergeants and privates during Basic Training. Much of this, he
suggests, could come from the evolutionary history of human beings, in which the
archetypal activity of the male, hunting, is a situation in which the man tries to kill an
animal much more mobile than he; his quarry uses all its cunning and strength to escape,
and it may be bigger and stronger than the hunter. It is this challenging, winner-take all
aspect of the male roles that demands the kinds of toughness and autonomy that need
special motivation. (Gilmore, 1990, p. 120) Although the idea of Man the Hunter has
been increasingly called into question, and the universality of Gilmores idea is thus
problematic, it is hard to deny that in Western European culture this mythology holds.
The mythological power of masculinity pervades the military, as we saw in Chapter 2,
and Gilmores analysis, even if limited to this Western mythology, is quite useful in
discovering the underlying symbolism and motivation for many soldiers.
Performative masculinity, acting masculine or appearing to act so, is just as
important to the definition of masculine as any inherent quality of strength or power. Like
soldiering, masculinity is an institutional fact, dependent on the perceptions and
agreements of other members of the group as much as on any actual activity (Searle,
1995). Gilmore uses an example from the Mehinaku of Brazil, to show that the
association of masculinity is not only with provision, but with activity, and how closely
tied performance is to masculinity. Among the Mehinaku, the appearance of energetic


activity is just as effective as actually performing the work, they must simply be
perceived as active. During Basic Training, this holds true for both privates and drill
sergeants. Privates quickly learn how to sham or pretend to be working when they are
actually doing nothing, such as appearing focused intently on weapon cleaning or boot
shining when the item is already properly maintained, and how to sound off properly
and loudly regardless of whether they are being punished or rewarded. Drill sergeants
must always maintain the appearance of energy, being properly and fully dressed when
waking up privates in the morning, and not going to sleep until after privates have been
ordered to their beds.

Practical Elements of Basic Training

Within Basic Training, as we have seen, there is not one single process of
van Genneps separation-transition-incorporation, but a series of stages through
which a soldier progresses. In this chapter we have focused on the early stages of
incorporation, including the legal induction through the MEPS station, the
symbolic elements of Reception, and the first phase of Basic Training, typically
ending with the experience of the gas chamber. David Gilmore uses Erik
Eriksons concept of epigenetic stages of psychosocial development. He
interprets this as a step by step sequences of growth, which, when transversed,
confer upon the individual simultaneously an ego-identity, or sense of self, and a
cultural identity appropriate to his or her time and place. (Gilmore, 1990, p. 124)
The experience of the gas chamber is one of these steps, a progression along the
slow development of the soldier identity.


We should be wary, however, and remember that Basic Training is also intended
to train privates in the mechanics of life in the Army and how to properly fit in to the
institution of the Army. For many soldiers, the realization that Basic Training was more
than an extended hazing ritual marks a defining moment of their achievement of the
status of soldier. The practical lessons of Basic Training are frequently lost on privates in
the stressful conditions which mark Basic Training, and only realized later.
The stress itself is one example of this. During Reception, for example, Sergeant
Wells and other instructors would deliberately issue contradictory instructions in order to
punish groups with pushups. Although at first this may seem petty, in actual fact, this
was the only way for these instructors to keep privates exercising, as there is no regular
PT at Reception. This concept extended to Basic Training as well, as Drill Sergeant
Gould related: Look, we got nine weeks to get you guys in shape. And we can only do
PT for a half hour in the morning, so we gotta get some other way to get you exercise, so
you can pass that PT test. So we give you pushups. Finally, the contradictory
commands and unclear orders force privates to adapt to the chaos which is prevalent on a
battlefield. It is only after a combat deployment, even without seeing an actual firefight,
that I realized how important the skills of negotiating the Army institution were for a
soldier, as missions and orders will constantly change from one day, or even one hour to
the next. Learning to deal with this chaos and the capriciousness of officers orders is an
essential skill for any soldier.
Dealing with other soldiers, especially those you dont like or dont respect, is
also an essential training experience for privates in Basic. Due to recruiting goals, many
privates are admitted to Basic Training who likely should not be there for various


reasons. These privates will eventually graduate and go on to other units, and the more
qualified soldiers will have to deal with their limitations at that point. One infantry
soldier expressed his view on this, well, I figure youre gonna have to learn how to deal
with them, it might as well start here, so you get as much experience as possible. I dont
want that guy watching my back, and I wish he wasnt, but he is, so I have to know how
to take care of him and watch my back with him around. It sucks, but whatcha gonna
do? In an interview, when Private Ricardo was asked what he felt he had accomplished
he replied:

I learned how to deal with really ignorant people, I dont know, and just
like overall stress management. Like I used to freak out when I was a
civilian and now stuff doesnt really get to me.
What do you mean freak out?
Oh, I dont know like Id just get frustrated and angry. I wouldnt go so
far as to say anger problems because I wouldnt like go and lash out or
anything, but little small thing would just disturb the shit out of me. But
when I went through basic it kinda did in the beginning, but I dont know,
they pour on so much stuff that after a while your stress tolerance and I
guess it actually helps you, because when were in Afghanistan, stuff was
really hectic, but it didnt really get to me as much as I thought it was
Private Ricardos comment about Afghanistan parallels the infantry soldiers comment
that experiences in Basic Training are to prepare any soldier for combat, regardless of
their military specialty. Especially today, the specter of a combat deployment informs
everything a soldier learns and does at Basic Training. Two of the best known memoirs
of Operation Desert Storm relate the feelings of soldiers and marines about the
uselessness of their NBC equipment, only to discover the importance upon deployment


(Williams, 2004; Swofford, 2003). The importance of the gas chamber is not only to
experience the pain and discomfort seemingly ubiquitous in rites of passage, but to teach
a soldier to trust his gas mask to filter contaminated air on the battlefield.
In his memoir, Buzz Williams also describes a conversation he had with a former
Marine while going through Boot Camp at Parris Island. He prefaces his conversation
with the following thought: I thought I understood what was happening on the Island. I
had entered into a contract when I hit the yellow footprints. The drill instructors agreed
to provide emotional and physical stress. We agreed to take it. As he speaks with the
civilian, however, he begins to get a sense of the practical nature of the punishment
delivered by the drill instructors at parries Island. He describes his worst experience: we
were forced to drink water until we puked, and then we exercised in it. The civilian
explains to him the practical purpose behind this abusive punishment: youve never been
in a troop carrier making a beach landing. . . When that thing hits the waves, Marines will
start to puke their guts up. If the waves dont get to you, the vomit in your lap will.
Dealing with the stench is just the beginning of being ready for combat. Your drill
instructors are giving you the tools you will need to survive. (Williams, 2004, pp. 4042)
The rigid conformity imposed on privates also serves a practical purpose tied to
combat. During Basic Training every soldiers uniforms must be exactly the same,
whether hanging in a locker or worn, including every piece of field gear owned by the
private. Thus, every rucksack must be packed in the same way, every LBE 63 must be
worn the same. As with other requirements, this seems unnecessarily authoritarian at

LBE Load Bearing Equipment, also called an LBV or Load Bearing Vest, is a set of suspenders and a
belt made of webbing from which a private hangs his canteens, first aid kit, ammo pouches, and other
standard items.


first, however, by enforcing a standard of wear for each soldier, lets say its dark,
theres a firefight, I come up on my buddy, hes wounded. I dont want to go through his
pockets, oh, no, thats his compass, to find his first aid pouch. I can grab it, dress his
wound, and not expose myself. Thats why we do it. In addition, due to the size of the
bureaucracy of the Army, following orders to the letter is essential to relieving some of
the chaos mentioned above. Although it will not matter how you fold your socks, or line
up your uniforms, being able to follow instructions from an officer, or perform a task in a
standard manner, does.
Even the sleep deprivation enforced at Basic Training will eventually serve the
privates should they be deployed to combat. Learning techniques for staying awake
during monotonous boring lectures will assist a soldier to stay awake when on guard duty
or overseeing a radio during a long night. Overall, the entire bad experience of Basic
Training, from the gas chamber to the punishments, the heat to the humidity, serve to
allow a soldier to compare whatever situation he may be in to his experience at basic
Training and say, as Sergeant Brigman did, at least its not Sand Hill.
Finally, most activities in Basic Training serve both practical and symbolic
purposes. The uniformity of soldiers serves to create a group mentality and, in Turners
paradigm, creates the liminality and communitas necessary for a rite of passage.
Separating a private from his name, as all privates refer to each other by last name, and
refer to instructors by their rank, also has a practical use. The very uniformity of soldiers
requires them to develop an alternative method of identifying one another. As every
soldiers uniform displays his rank and last name, this is a convenient way to identify one
another. Also, as privates exist within the much larger bureaucracy of the Army, it is


very helpful to be able to identify an unknown soldier, as for instance when tasked with
delivering a message, by looking at the rank and nametape on the uniform rather than
being given a description which could necessitate numerous attempts at delivery in an
attempt to identify the correct person.
The importance of Basic Training and the socialization which occurs in Basic
Training has perhaps its greatest importance in the ultimate purpose of the soldier:
combat. The creation of primary groups in Basic Training is more essential to this than
any of the skills learned in Basic, perhaps even the riflery taught in the second phase of
Basic. The importance of the primary group, as detailed by S.L.A. Marshall in his
ethnographic work Men Under Fire (2000), is a more likely predictor of combat success
for a soldier than combat training or even prior combat. Marshall found that less than
30% of any given combat unit would fire their weapon during World War II
engagements, and that it would not necessarily be the same 30% from engagement to
engagement who fired. Rather, the best predictor of whether a soldier would fire his
weapon was how much that soldier felt his fellow soldiers were relying on him.
The battle buddy system was also developed as a practical response by the Army
to a number of different problems. In the first case, Army leaders and scholars, such as
S.L.A. Marshall learned the importance of primary groups on the performance of soldiers
in combat. This resulted in the adoption of the battle buddy system in Vietnam, when
each soldier would be assigned two other soldiers to be his battle buddy, who would
always know his whereabouts, and one of whom would be with him at all times. This
system was implemented for accountability in case of an attack, and to help new soldiers
incorporate into existing units. (Moskos, 1988)


During Basic Training, especially during the first three weeks, the battle buddy
system was strictly enforced by the drill sergeants. Interestingly, however, although there
were occasional violations of the policy, I did not hear of any private being physically
punished 64 for doing something alone. Rather, privates were simply yelled at and
ordered to get another private immediately. This is likely because, at least during Basic
Training, the importance of the battle buddy is to protect the drill sergeants. In a
variation on Turners power of the weak, drill sergeants carry a constant fear of being
falsely accused of physical abuse by a private, which can ruin a drill sergeants career in
the Army. Drill Sergeant Saburi explained this to 3rd platoon after a private tried to enter
the Drill Sergeant office:
look, you got to understand. The battle buddy system, thats for
your protection and ours. We dont want anybody saying anything
might have happened with a drill sergeant and lying. So we
always have to have that other private with you. You watch, we
drill sergeants want to have another drill sergeant with us, too. Just
in case. You get it?
On a practical level, then, the battle buddy serves to keep soldiers, both privates and drill
sergeants, safe.
Battle buddies are assigned to each private on the first day of Basic Training,
usually a privates bunkmate. However, over the course of the next weeks, the assigned
battle buddies shift away from the imposed assignments and drift towards actual pair
bonds and friendships among soldiers. As the battle buddy system is designed to
improve the development of primary groups, this is hardly surprising, since primary
groups are by definition a system of informal interpersonal relationships. Their value lies
precisely in their independence of formal organization. (Masland, 1957, p. 84) The

By physical punishment I refer only to ordering the private to do calisthenics or other heavy work. It is
expressly against the rules for a drill sergeant to touch a private at Basic Training


structure the Army attempts to force upon the privates, down to naming who their friends
will be, is counteracted by the liminal nature of the Basic Training environment. As the
drill sergeants for Bravo Company did not seem particularly interested in the specific
battle buddy any given private was accompanied by, they essentially condoned this act of
rebellion against the authority of Basic Training.
This brings us to the theme of organizational negotiation. Basic Training is rigid
with institutionally imposed rules and regulations. Although regular Army life is much
more relaxed than it was in previous years, Basic Training is still the exemplar of Erving
Goffmans total institution.
The ambiguity of rules is not restricted to Basic Training, of course. As Robert
Edgerton points out, every society incorporates sets of rules which are complex,
contradictory, or ambiguous, and that in these situations, they lend themselves to
argument manipulation and negotiation. . . rules are so constituted that at least some
people can manipulate them to their advantage. (Edgerton, 1976, p. 107) In Basic
Training, the knowledge of the drill sergeants provides them with a great deal of power,
and the ability to manipulate the privates as they need by selectively choosing which
rules to enforce and which to ignore.
Privates are introduced to these rules only when they fail to follow them, there is
no presentation of the rules, except, in the words of Monroe Mann follow orders!
(Mann, 2002, p. 56). Even this instruction is frequently problematic as drill sergeants
will give contradictory orders to privates, sometimes deliberately, and sometimes as a
result of mixed or incomplete messages from other drill sergeants or instructors. On one
occasion 3rd platoon was ordered down to the firing range, then turned back by the range


cadre in charge. When we returned to the holding area, Drill Sergeant Saburi yelled at
the platoon for not being on the range. When one of privates asked him what was going
on, our platoon guide 65 responded Nothing, just typical drill sergeant bullshit.
This is particularly a problem during the first three weeks of Basic Training, when
drill sergeants are attempting to establish their dominance over the privates as well as
condition the privates physically by imposing as much exercise as they can. For instance,
one of the universal rules in the United States military is that a servicemember will not
wear his hat indoors unless he is armed. 3rd platoon had been punished twice for
violating this rule, once for wearing hats indoors, and once for not wearing our hats
indoors, both times while carrying an unloaded weapon. When I attempted to determine
the exact rule for this by asking the drill sergeant whether we counted as armed with an
unloaded weapon, his response was simply, what do you think? repeated every time I
attempted to ascertain an answer. This ambiguity can also lead to problems later in a
soldiers Army career, as Private Argent related:
Any time youre doing the right thing theyll figure out a way to make it
the wrong thing. And that didnt teach me what ultimately was the right
way to handle certain situations in the Army. You know, to this day, I still
dont know exactly how to get along with a sergeant, and I can trace that
directly back to the drill sergeants always making whatever I did the
wrong answer. . . That kind of thing, its like well, you know what am I
supposed to do? I want to succeed and I want to do the things that Im
being asked, but now Im being punished for those very things, what the
fuck? So it just kind of left me spinning, because my person integrity,
motivation, or OCD is such that I just, I can not let myself do a
substandard job, you know I have to do the best job that I can in a given
situation and that was being, doing the right thing was being punished in
that particular case and that really, really upset me greatly, emotionally.


Platoon Guide: the private assigned to be in charge of the platoon


Over the course of Basic Training, of course, privates slowly do learn how to
negotiate the new and frequently unknown regulations surrounding their lives. The first
technique is shamming, avoiding doing exercises during PT by watching the drill
sergeants and resting when they are not looking in your direction. Shamming extends to
other activities as well, such as the numerous details 66 privates are assigned to. Sergeant
Brigman related the following story:

When I was at Basic, you know, you always had an entire platoon out
doing grass detail, when you really only needed like ten guys. So
everybody would stand around, and then the drill sergeants would come
out and smoke us for it. So our platoon guide, he was smart. He said to
us, look, I know theres too many people out here. Just try to look busy.
Here look, just point. And he was right, if youre just standing and
talking, you look like youre slacking. But when you point, you look like
youre busy. Here, watch. (at this point Sergeant Brigman mimed
pointing to various places in the parking lot)
It was also not uncommon for the drill sergeants themselves to be in on shamming. Drill
Sergeant Saburi would repeatedly tell 3rd platoon: The illusion of work is as good as
work itself. As we saw above, masculinity is dependent on the appearance of activity,
not necessarily activity itself. By providing the illusion of work, privates are
establishing their own identity as the masculine soldier, as well as keeping the image of
the drill sergeants properly reinforced as well.
Both privates and drill sergeants negotiate their way through the rules and
regulations imposed on them by the Army institution. The techniques used by drill
sergeants are often subtle, and frequently less necessary due to their higher standing in
the hierarchy, but they do exist. Privates, working without complete knowledge of the

A detail is an assignment, typically cleaning or grounds maintenance, given to privates


system they have been thrust in to, must test out different strategies, and constantly adapt
successful strategies as different drill sergeants will respond in different ways to the same

Negotiation of Identity
Basic Training roughly follows the pattern of a rite of passage, although with
more layers and variations than a simple template would suggest. Rather than a simple
transition from one identity to another, Basic Training is simply one phase, or more
precisely multiple phases, in the passage a person takes as they shift their identity from
civilian to soldier. As a touchstone event for almost every soldier in the Army, it serves
as a tool for communicating with other soldiers ones status and chosen identity.
In addition to its ritualistic elements, Basic Training is layered with practical and
symbolic lessons, from learning to deal with disruptive soldiers to embracing a new
hairstyle and the expressions that hairstyle makes. Privates at Basic Training also learn
how to negotiate the complex bureaucracy they will be faced with as they perform their
new role of soldier, and have their introduction to the performances which will be
necessary for them to maintain their identity.
There is definitely a transition involved in the course of Basic Training. Privates
must learn to adapt to their new environment, one in which every decision is
predetermined by outside forces, and violation of seemingly ridiculous rules is met with
swift punishment. As with any institution, of course, there are those who will not be able
to adapt, for whom Basic Training is not a step towards the proper identity, but rather
highlights their failure to take those steps.


As privates learn to negotiate Basic Training and their identities, in the new and
unknown environment, these failed privates, typically known as problem children face
stigma and the label of deviant. In the anti-structure which develops over Basic Training,
the problem child will typically fall towards the bottom of the new hierarchy. In
addition, there will be those who counter the problem child, and are perceived as natural
leaders and proper soldiers by the institutions representatives, the drill sergeants. These
privates are typically placed in the role of platoon guide, the nominal leaders of each
platoon, at least in the beginning of Basic training. As the cycle progresses however,
soldiers identities will remain in flux, and some problem children will adapt and be
reincorporated into the group.


Chapter 4: Sacrifice and Basic Training

The first three weeks of Basic Training are the most intense and stressful, as
privates are overseen every moment by at least one drill sergeant per platoon, and
frequently by three drill sergeants. This stress is intended to emulate the stress of
combat, the defining element of the soldier identity. The soldiers role is, then, inherently
linked to combat, and thereby to violence. As outlined by Rene Girard in Violence and
the Sacred (1972), wherever violence exists it will feed upon itself, resulting in greater
and more extreme cycles of violent retribution unless dealt with by sacrificial violence, a
violent act which stands outside and thus brings to a halt the cycle of retributive violence.
Although Girards work is an effective tool for examining cycles of violence, one of the
main assumptions of his work, that the scapegoat used by society is randomly drawn
from that society, has been questioned by more recent literature. In addition, studies of
masculinity show the associations of many male roles with violence, and how individuals
repeatedly perform those roles on a public stage to establish themselves as proper men.
During these first three weeks, as well, two iconic figures of Basic Training are
identified by the drill sergeants: the platoon guide and the problem child. The platoon
guide is the position granted to one private in each platoon to act as the leader of the
platoon. The problem child, on the other hand, is a private who consistently fails to adapt
to Basic Training or fails to perform correctly. While the platoon guide plays a
predominantly practical role in the platoon, the problem child plays a more symbolic one,
as I will discuss later. As a private who constantly stands out by making mistakes, he is a
deviant within the micro-culture of Basic Training, and is frequently ostracized because


of it. The ways in which the platoon deals with these two figures, and with the drill
sergeants as well, highlights the ways in which privates choose their own paths in the
construction of their new identities as soldiers.

Platoon Guide and Problem Child

The platoon guide and the problem child both fulfill roles as ritual sacrifices in the
mold of Girards ritual and sacrificial victims. Although these sacrifices are only
symbolic, these figures provide an outlet for the stress-induced emotions of Basic
Training. They also serve a symbolic purpose. By providing the private with a symbolic
example of either civilian life or military life, they allow privates to negotiate the ritual of
Basic Training and the transition from civilian to soldier with greater ease.
There are two distinct types of scapegoat during Basic Training. The first is the
symbol of the civilian world, what is called the problem child by most soldiers. The
second is the platoon guide, the nominal leader of each Basic Training unit who serves as
a focus for the aggressive response of privates to the apparently random orders inflicted
on them by the authorities, and who serves as a scapegoat for the drill sergeants when the
platoon he is leading makes a mistake that group punishment is not appropriate for.
During Basic Training, most privates will be nameless and faceless bodies to the
drill sergeants and other supervisors. However, there are two distinct roles within each
platoon that are always noticed by the cadre. The platoon guide or PG is the single
private ostensibly in charge of the training platoon. Although he has no rank or other
authority, at least not any authority recognized by the other privates, he is responsible for
the platoons behavior and obedience. The problem child is the label given to those


privates in a platoon who are not capable of adapting to or completing properly the
demands of Basic Training. Due to the use of group punishment during Basic Training,
the entire platoon is almost always punished for the mistakes made by the problem child,
resulting in anger and verbal aggression toward the problem child.
When the platoon fails a task or does not perform as expected, rather than
focusing on the individual soldiers who failed in their tasks, the drill sergeants will
punish the entire platoon for the failure. A common example of this is when a private
fails to keep his locker locked. All privates are required to purchase two combination
locks while they are at Reception, which they then use to secure their belongings. At
Basic Training, each private is assigned a standing wall locker, approximately three feet
wide by six feet high, with a single latch on the outer door. Inside the wall locker is a bar
for hanging uniforms and a three drawer chest for storing small items. The top drawer of
this chest is allocated for personal gear and has a small hasp to lock it closed. The first
combination lock is to lock the personal drawer while the second should be used to lock
the entire wall locker. In addition to uniforms and other issued gear, items such as
laundry detergent and boot shining kits are also kept in the privates wall locker.
After privates have left for morning PT (physical training), drill sergeants go
through the barracks to make certain that it is properly cleaned, swept, and all wall
lockers have been locked closed. Especially during the first few weeks of training, drill
sergeants pay close attention to the state of the barracks to enforce both regularity and
safety. On one occasion during the second week of training, a member of third platoon
had failed to lock his wall locker, and the drill sergeant not only pulled all of the privates
uniforms and gear from the wall locker and scattered them across the barracks, he also


opened the privates bottle of laundry soap and poured it all over his bunk, his battle
buddys bunk, and across the floor of the barracks. Thus, when the company returned
from PT, all the members of 3rd platoon were required to remain in the barracks and clean
the mess before they were allowed to go to breakfast.
In addition to this specific example, rumors spread throughout Bravo Company of
things the drill sergeants from Bravo and other companies had done to privates and
platoons that had failed to maintain their barracks. Stories of lockers being thrown out
windows or down stairs, bunks being toppled over, and kiwi (boot shining wax) wiped
across the barracks abounded during Basic. On one occasion, 3rd platoon had supposedly
been forced to watch while a drill sergeant stripped the wax from the floor of the
barracks, wrote Stupid on the floor in kiwi, and then rewaxed the floor, whereupon he
ordered the platoon to fix the barracks, an exercise requiring them to remain awake
throughout the rest of the night.
These punishments are usually delivered when an individual in a platoon can be
isolated as the one making the mistake. However, many times the platoon guide is
punished on his own for the mistakes of the platoon. When a platoon makes a mistake
which can not be labeled as a specific privates fault, or when the drill sergeants see a
mistake as a problem with the leadership of the platoon, the platoon guide will be called
into the drill sergeant Office or the Day Room 67 and punished privately. This tradition
extends back at least as far as Vietnam, as veterans report that they were punished in
private when they were leaders in their training groups (Ebert, 1993). Specifics of these
punishments were never mentioned to the other privates, and in many cases privates were
not even aware that platoon guides or squad leaders had been punished. In the case of

A room in the Company Area reserved for drill sergeants


3rd platoon, it was not until week 5 that Drill Sergeant Saburi, while yelling at the
platoon as whole, mentioned that Private Parker (the platoon guide) had taken so much
punishment for you guys. You dont even know.
The platoon guide is assisted by the squad leaders, also appointed by the drill
sergeants, who are in charge of ten to fifteen man squads. 68 Working with the squad
leaders, the platoon guide creates schedules for cleaning, responsibilities, and other tasks
assigned to the platoon. It is a standard procedure for the drill sergeants to change the
platoon guide frequently, in 1st, 3rd, and 4th platoons it appeared to members of 3rd
platoon that they had a new platoon guide every week. In the case of 3rd platoon, the
platoon guide remained relatively constant, with Private Parker the assigned platoon
guide for most of the training cycle. Private Parker was going straight from Basic
Training to Officer Candidate School, and on a number of occasions the drill sergeants
would tell him that learning to deal with 3rd platoon would be good training.
However, even in 3rd platoon, from week six to week nine, the drill sergeants placed a
nominal platoon guide in charge of the platoon. After the first change in the platoon
guide, however, Private Parker was reassured by Drill Sergeant Saburi that he was still
really the PG.
One of the major conflicts which occurs within Basic Training is the disputed
relationships of influence and authority within the platoon. Although the platoon guide
and the squad leaders are supposed to have authority, the recognized right to discipline
and control the platoon, in actual fact their leadership is usually based more on influence.

In Basic Training the squad is 10-15 people, with each platoon numbering between 40 and 60 soldiers.
There are four platoons per company, and five companies per battalion. The number of battalions in a
Basic Training Brigade was unclear during Basic Training, and still is, and is dependent on how many
active battalions there might be at a given base at any time. The Basic Training setup mimics, but is not the
same as, the organization of Army units outside of Basic Training.


Thus Private Parker was generally successful as a platoon guide due to the strength of his
personality, while Private Huntley tended to fail as a platoon guide because of his lack of
respect from the rest of the platoon. This resistance is typical of Army life, in which the
authority of a leader must be combined with influence in order to be effective. Parker
was successful as a platoon guide primarily because of the respect he was given from the
other privates, such that even when he was removed from the position, privates from 3rd
platoon continued to look to him for guidance. Private Huntley on the other hand, had not
gained respect from the platoon prior to his appointment to platoon guide, and despite the
authority of that position, the other privates at first refused to accept him, challenging the
rules of the institution.
Where the platoon guide is often a strongly performing private, most platoons
have unofficial positions referred to as the problem child. The problem child is a more
visible figure in Basic Training, in the sense that although I almost never knew who the
platoon guides were for any platoon besides 3rd platoon, I was aware of many of the
problem children from other platoons. In particular, Private Sands of 1st platoon was
notorious throughout the company for being mentally incompetent.
The problem childs mistakes most frequently get the entire platoon punished.
Although mistakes are made by every soldier throughout Basic Training, and the platoon
is frequently punished for it, there is a qualitative difference in response from both drill
sergeants and other privates depending on who makes these mistakes and how often they
are made. The incident mentioned by Private Fletcher in the third chapter, being forced
to stand in front of the platoon while they were being punished, highlights an important
distinction between the problem child and the other privates. As it turned out, Private


Fletcher did not cause any other major punishments for the platoon, and later became
both a squad leader and platoon guide for 3rd platoon, and the punishment from that first
day was never mentioned.
The problem child, on the other hand, makes mistakes consistently, and frequently
gets the whole platoon punished. Discussing Private Darren, one of the most disliked
privates in 3rd platoon, Ricardo stated: he would intentionally get us in trouble, hed
constantly talk back, he wouldnt clean up his stuff, he didnt want to participate in
anything, but hed do it all with a smile, a little shit eating smile on his face, and I just
wanted to kill him. In this case, the problem child was perceived as deliberately
enjoying getting the platoon in trouble, but on many occasions the problem children in
3rd platoon were perceived to be helpless or unfortunate, if still a problem.

Total Control
The first three weeks of Basic are referred to as Total Control. During Total
Control, there is always one drill sergeant per platoon with the privates, as well as one or
two more assigned to the company at large. Usually, after the first three weeks, the strict
oversight of the drill sergeants is relaxed and the privates are said to be off total
control. This is not always the case, however, as privates in Charlie Company (a
different company in my battalion) later reported that they had never been taken off of
Total Control for their entire nine week training cycle. While at AIT, a private from
Charlie Company, Private Cruz, informed me that, no, we were never off Total Control.
We just wouldnt do what the drills wanted us to do. Im here, [at AIT] and the drill
sergeants say do something, and you do it. When we first got here I was like, man, thats


weird. When I asked what he meant by weird, he responded, You know, like, in a good
way. You dont get punished as much as we did. In other words, Total Control implies
more than simply oversight from the drill sergeants. When a company is under Total
Control, the drill sergeants enforce the rules of Basic Training more strictly, and are more
likely to punish privates for mistakes. Also, the implication of moving off Total
Control is that the company has progressed to a more mature point in their rite of
passage, where they can be trusted by the drill sergeants to properly maintain their own
boundaries and enforce the norms the drill sergeants have required of them.
During the second week of Basic Training, for example, drill sergeants threw 3rd
platoons boots out of the barracks, then informed the platoon that they had done so
because the platoon had failed to properly shine their boots the night before. The platoon
had to collect all of the boots and redistribute them back through the platoon. Once that
had been accomplished, Drill Sergeant Redmond called the entire platoon to toe the
line 69 and then dropped the entire platoon. In this case, the stated reason for the
punishment was actually that the barracks was not properly clean rather than the mistake
with the boots. Although the drill sergeant explained why the boots had been thrown into
the Company Area, while the platoon was doing pushups, they were told: get down
there. Look at the floor! Can you see the dirt on that floor? Get your face down closer.
Down. 70 I told you I want this barracks clean before you go out for PT. Up. Now, who
thinks the barracks is clean? Lets take a look. Down. The lack of cleanliness in the


To toe the line is to assemble around the marked off killzone in the center of the barracks.
The commands of down and up are used when drill sergeants do not demand a specific number of
pushups, but will instead order privates down and up according to their whim. In this case, when a private
is down he is not allowed to rest on the ground, but must instead hold his chest off the ground by at least
a centimeter. Should a drill sergeant catch a private resting on the ground, he will stand directly over that
private and yell at him if he does not keep himself off the ground.


barracks, of course, was partly due to the fact that 3rd platoon had to devote extra time to
sorting out the boots rather than cleaning the barracks.
This aspect of Total Control is the source of many private comments regarding
random or thoughtless punishments from the drill sergeants. Many privates refer to
getting fucked with by the drill sergeants, or that they felt, any time youre doing the
right thing theyll figure out a way to make it the wrong thing, and thereby use an
excuse to punish you or the platoon. On many occasions, Drill Sergeants smoke privates
for failing to perform a task which is basically impossible. In fact, Drill Sergeant Saburi
informed me, yeah, we will give you an order, and we know you cant do it. But we
want to see that you try, if you dont we smoke you even more. However, most of these
punishments only occur during the first three weeks of training. After Total Control,
most of the punishments are directly related to the infraction which occurred. For
instance, although group punishment continued, drill sergeants would punish the platoon
for specific mistakes rather than seeming to invent mistakes to provoke punishment, such
as when Private Hanson would make a mistake during a drill and ceremony class or the
platoon was not prepared for a class on time.
Disorganization is kept to a minimum through the active policing of the drill
sergeants over the activities of the privates. One of the truisms of military life is that
morale suffers when soldiers are given nothing to do, or when training time is eclipsed by
busy work or mickey mouse. In Edgertons analysis of deviance, he points out that
boredom is one of the potential causes for deviance, as people will seek out new and
different experiences when they find themselves unchallenged by their current situation
(Edgerton, 1976, p. 98). During all phases of military life, but especially during Basic


Training, military leadership actively works to prevent deviance from occurring by

keeping soldiers and privates busy. During Basic, from 5:00 in the morning until 10:00
at night, and sometimes later, privates are kept constantly moving and working. Even
during the privates off hours in the evening, they are kept busy shining boots and
cleaning their uniforms for the next day.
As shown already in chapter three, Basic Training is a nine-week period of
liminality and anti-structure. Without the regular rules to follow, privates will ignore the
new rules of Basic Training and military life not yet enculturated into them. Thus, the
environment at Basic Training is already symbolically disorganized, as the organization
has not yet been created in the initiates, and it is only through constant monitoring of the
social interactions of privates, especially during Total Control, that the collapse into
disorganization, and then deviant activity, can be controlled.
Another symbolic aspect of tight social organization is the association between
cleanliness and being a good soldier. When asked about the most important elements of a
new private, the Company Commander replied: The things that I think make a good
private? Social skills. You need to know how to interact with other soldiers, be part of a
team. And hygiene. Some of these kids come in and its like they dont even know how
to take a shower. In other words, knowing how to remain clean, even the basics of
showering, are as important for proper integration in Basic Training as knowing how to
interact with people. Within military slang, the phrases ate up, soup sandwich, or the
complete, ate up like a soup sandwich, are all variations on this theme of cleanliness.
The phrases can be used to describe the physical appearance of a soldier, such as when a
uniform is dirty or not worn correctly, but it is also frequently used to describe a soldier


or private who is performing below the expectations of his unit. In fact, the phrase can
even be used to refer to an entire military unit, and is frequently employed to create a
sense of identity in comparison with other units who are ate up. For instance, when
referring to Charlie and Delta companies, on numerous occasions the drill sergeants
would refer to those companies as ate up, or messed up. From platoon to platoon
within Bravo Company, other platoons would also be frequently referred to as ate up,
although soup sandwich was almost always reserved for descriptions of an individual
Being ate up is most often used in reference to a problem child. When asked
about the people in the platoon he disliked, Ricardo stated:
I think we all had to be carried one way or another by other persons
strengths. But there were other people who completely relied on the team
to get them through basic training. Id go so far as to say ignorant for
someone who cant even make up their own bed after being taught every
single day for nine weeks.
Do you think that they did that on purpose, or because they were being
carried, they never learned how to do it on their own?
I think a few people may have acted like that. Three people, one of them
being Huntley, I think it was. . . there were two other people, I cant
remember their names.
Although Ricardo did not remember Hanson by name, he remembered him by his
nickname in the platoon, Doofy, and referred to him as the first actual dumb person
he had ever met, and it was this private Ricardo meant when he referred to a person who
could not learn to make his bed.
Making a bed in Basic Training is both simple and incredibly complex. As a
symbol of military life, it stands out in many films and stories, including Private


Benjamin, Biloxi Blues, and Full Metal Jacket. The bed clothes for an army bunk are one
mattress cover, basically a large pillowcase that wraps around the plastic mattress and ties
at two corners, a mattress pad, two cotton sheets, a pillow and pillowcase, and two wool
blankets. Although there are only these six elements to make a bunk, the specifications
for how each bunk must be made are so exacting and specific that the simple enterprise
becomes very complex and difficult. In addition the practice of maintaining the required
regularity in the barracks is made more complicated by the fact that many privates did not
receive a full complement of bed clothes, or received bed clothes that were damaged or
torn. Each private is assigned one of a pair of bunk beds. Privates who share a bunk bed
are supposed to be battle buddies, but in actuality most battle buddy pairs are formed
by choice among the soldiers in the general area of a privates bunk. For this reason, I
will refer to privates who sleep next to one another as bunkmates, a completely etic term.
Each bunk must be made properly each morning. Ideally, a private places the
mattress pad on top of the mattress, then cover both with the mattress cover (which holds
the mattress pad in place) and tie that off. On top of that goes one sheet. Some drill
sergeants will require that these sheets be folded with hospital corners, but Drill Sergeant
Redmond didnt care about that. This bottom sheet is lined up with the foot of the bed,
and the extra sheet extends over the head of the mattress and is folded under. The next
sheet is lined up with the top of the bunk and the excess tucked under the foot of the
mattress. Again, hospital corners are required by some drill sergeants but not those of
3rd platoon. Also, some drill sergeants require the top sheet to go over the pillow
(presumably to prevent the privates from pulling the pillow out at night, sleeping on top


of the bunk, and then sliding it back underneath in the morning so the private doesnt
have to make his bunk).
Once the sheets are finished, the first blanket is laid on top of the bunk in the
same way as the top sheet, lined up with the head of the bed and with enough excess
tucked under the foot of the bed to allow for a hospital corner. The sheet is folded once
over the top edge of the blanket, and then exactly six inches of blanket and sheet together
are folded a second time. Since privates are not allowed items such as rulers, most
privates will use a dollar bill from their wallet, which is six inches in length. For the
blanket, hospital corners are required, since they can actually be observed during an
inspection of the barracks. In addition, while there is leeway allowed for the placement
of the sheets on the bunk, the blanket must be lined up even on both sides and the top
edge must be perpendicular to sides of the mattress. Since the blankets are frequently
barely wide enough to cover the bunk, the blanket should be lined up exactly even on the
middle of the bunk, and frequently a private has to fight with the blanket to get the two
inches of slack on either side to stay wedged between the mattress and the bed frame to
maintain the even appearance.
The second blanket is then folded in half and placed over the pillow, down to the
fifth spring of the frame, and the excess tucked into the top of the bunk. The hospital
corners need to be made here, as well. After all this is done, the private should climb
underneath the mattress frame and pull all the blankets tight through the springs of the
frame. Drill Sergeant Briggs told 3rd platoon that you cant get through Basic without
scraping your fingers at least once on the metal frame. This was true for every soldier in


3rd platoon. A blanket must not be placed on the bed such that the US which is printed
on them is facing upward. This is only done when a soldier has died.
Thus, making a bunk at Basic Training is one of the many processes which seems
simple but due to the extreme rigidness in acceptable behavior can quickly become
complicated. After shining ones boots, however, it is the most important element of
learning how to perform the Army way, uniform and regular, rather than how any
private may have learned to make a bed prior to Basic Training. The standardization of
the process, however, makes it surprisingly easy to learn for most new privates. After
three or four times, making a bunk seems relatively simple, and after two weeks it is
almost second nature. Another important element of making a bunk is that it almost
always a joint process for two privates. Although it is possible to make a bunk properly
on ones own, to do so requires skill which many privates do not attain over nine weeks
of training. Instead, battle buddy pairs cooperate to make each of their bunks in turn,
reinforcing the ideals of teamwork and assistance that are the watchwords of drill
sergeants. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the inability to make a bunk is pointed out by
privates as an example of a poor soldier.

Social Disorganization Theory

The stress on proper maintenance and strict control in the beginning of Basic
Training is representative of a belief that deviance increases as social organization
collapses. Departing from an idea that people or personalities are the cause of deviant
behavior, social disorganization theory focuses on the realms in which deviance seems to
prosper (Weitzer, 2002). Social disorganization theory states that an environment in


which norms are perceived as easily broken will exhibit more norm violations, or
deviance. If social disorganization theory should be true, then, Basic Training should
exhibit very few, if any, incidences of deviance as it is so rigidly organized and overseen.
Rodney Starks first development of social disorganization theory outlines five
causes of crime incidence in urban communities: density, poverty, mixed use, transience,
and dilapidation (Stark, 2002). At Basic Training only one of these elements is present in
any strength: density. In any Basic Training class there are between fifty and sixty men
in each platoon sharing a barracks space approximately fifty by one hundred feet in size.
This area is further reduced by the killzone in the center of the barracks which removes
almost half of the available living area.
Drill sergeants rigidly enforce cleanliness and maintenance of this limited area.
The processes described by Stark seem to be consciously rather than subconsciously
applied to the prevention of deviant activity by the drill sergeants and other cadre. The
fifth element of Starks analysis becomes the focus for drill sergeants, in which any hint
that dilapidation could occur in the barracks is quickly dealt with through punishment and
lecture. Even references to good soldiers seem to revert back to an idea that cleanliness
and waste management are two of the most important factors in a private:
What should soldiers get out of Basic Training?
A sense of duty. If you have to wax the floor, you will do it the best, if
you have to take out the garbage, you will do it the best.
Here, the Company Commander for Bravo Company expresses the sense of duty that
soldiers should receive from Basic Training in terms of cleaning the barracks.
By enforcing strict standards of cleanliness, drill sergeants at Basic Training are
attempting to remove any possibility of deviance from their areas of control. Beginning


with the shark attack on the first day, drill sergeants are enforcing strict and exacting
rules of behavior among privates. By limiting the freedom of activity of privates, the
Army attempts to reduce the freedom of choice, and thus deviancy, from them. In the
same way, just as Starks social disorganization can be seen as a symbol of the
psychological disorganization that can lead to deviance, by rigidly maintaining standards
of cleanliness and order, drill sergeants attempt to maintain psychological order.
Cleanliness becomes iconic for proper behavior. Cleanliness is reflected in two
of the most common symbols of the soldiers identity: his boots and his rifle. According
to the Army Soldiers Manual, a military memorial is composed of helmet, ID tags,
inverted rifle, and boots, each with a specific symbolic message: The helmet and
identification tags signify the fallen soldier. The inverted rifle with bayonet signals a time
for prayer, a break in the action to pay tribute to our comrade. The combat boots
represent the final march of the last battle. (Army FM 7-21.13, Appendix C). During
basic Training, the boots and rifle take on an additional symbolism as the basic tools of
the soldiers trade. Soldiers who are not airborne qualified 71 are metonymically
referred to as legs, while the soldiers rifle is often seen as a reflection of the soldier
himself. During Basic Training, drill sergeants stress to privates that they must take care
of their feet, since a soldiers feet is how he makes a living. An extension of this is the
stress that drill sergeants place on proper shining of the soldiers boots. Anywhere from
two to four hours every night are devoted to properly shining boots, after training for the
day is complete and before mail call or lights out. If boots are not properly shined, this is
another occasion for punishment from the drill sergeants. On one occasion, some private,


Airborne units are units which are trained to parachute out of military planes, and generally considered to
be elite units.


and it was never made clear who the particular offender was, had not properly shined his
boots the night before. In response, the drill sergeants gathered up every boot in the
platoon and threw them off the balcony into the company area.
Over the course of the first few days, drill sergeants teach privates the proper
way to shine the black leather boots issued to them at Reception, and issue a shoe shine
kit to each private which includes a tin of Kiwi (boot shining wax), a large square
horsehair brush, and a small circular applicator brush. A new kit will also include a
shine cloth, a soft cotton square approximately 4 by 6, but many privates use one of
the brown t-shirts they have been issued as a shine cloth. A proper boot shine is spit
shined on the front toe of the boot and the heel, and brush shined on the remaining
leather. Ideally, the toe of the boot should be shined to a point that a soldier can see his
reflection on the boot. During the first few weeks of Basic Training, this ideal is actually
obtainable by most privates, although as the cycle progresses dirt and mud build up in the
folds of the leather and make this effect more difficult to attain. According to Private
Jones, there are some Basic Training platoons where the only requirement placed on
privates for maintenance of their boots is a simple brush shine, as a spit shine is not
tactical. Presumably this is because the mirror effect of the spit shine can be seen more
easily than the matte effect that a brush shine produces.
However, most Basic Training platoons demand that the toe and heel of each boot
be spit shined. A spit shine is time consuming, as a brush shine can be done in minutes,
whereas a spit shine can require up to three hours to complete properly. Although the
term suggests that saliva is used as an application agent, water was recommended by the
drill sergeants of Bravo Company as a more effective agent. In order to spit shine, a


small amount of Kiwi is dabbed onto the shine cloth and the cloth is then dipped into the
water and briskly rubbed in a circular pattern around the area being spit shined. The
standard for privates in Bravo Company was a spit shined toe and heel, but it is possible
to spit shine the entire boot if desired.
Within 3rd platoon the importance of a well shined boot can be seen by a bet
that Drill Sergeant Saburi made with the entire platoon. The drill sergeant bet the platoon
that if any private could shine his boots better than Drill Sergeant Saburis, the drill
sergeant would give the privates one hundred pushups. Although no private won the
bet, some privates, such as Demina and Rodriguez, focused as much of their free time as
they could on shining their boots in an attempt to win the bet.
The next element of soldier identity is the rifle each private is issued during the
second week of training. A clean rifle is stressed as the most important element of a
soldiers identity in many units. Even more important than a properly shined boot in
Basic Training is a properly cleaned rifle. After privates return from training every day,
the first thing they do is disassemble the rifle and clean every moving part within it. As
with the shoe shine kit, each private is issued a weapons cleaning kit which contains a
number of different cleaning instruments, including a collapsible metal rod and metal
brushes, fabric swatches, and a small bottle of a liquid named CLP (Cleaning,
Lubricating, Protecting). In addition to these, privates use a t-shirt or other rag to wipe
down pieces of the rifle, and q-tips and pipe cleaners to get to awkward and small areas
of the rifle which a rag or brush which will not reach.
One accepted fact about cleaning a rifle is that it will never be clean. When asked
by a company commander how long he thought it would take to clean the companys


weapons after a training exercise an NCOs reply was brutally honest: The amount of
time it takes to clean weapons is always the same: however long there is between when
we start cleaning and when we have to turn them in. In other words, weapons cleaning
is not complete when a weapon is clean, it is complete when there is no more time to
spend cleaning it. This can be metaphorically applied to Basic Training as well, as
privates do not graduate when they are ready to become soldiers, but rather when their
prescribed time at Basic Training is complete.
One of the limiting factors on weapons cleaning at Basic Training is the limited
amount of proper cleaning supplies. Although each private is issued a weapons cleaning
kit, the tools included in those kits are inherently limited, and after Basic training many
soldiers purchase their own cleaning kits, which include items such as dental picks and
extra brushes to better clean the elements of the rifle. The limitations of these cleaning
kits, combined with the truism that weapons are never clean, means that at Basic Training
privates will frequently be punished for not having their rifles clean even after an
extended period of cleaning. At one point Bravo Company was smoked for wasting
time and not having their weapons clean after four hours. Although the members of
Bravo Company had spent the entire four hours cleaning, the rifles were not clean
enough for Drill Sergeant Priest. Drill Sergeants and even Company officers frequently
inspect the rifles during the course of a cleaning session, usually with the threat that if a
drill sergeant or instructor found a problem with the rifle, the private would be given
push-ups. Should a private clean a rifle particularly well, however, especially if
inspected toward the end of the allotted cleaning time, positive response were not


uncommon. On one occasion, the Company XO (second in command) after inspecting a

weapon remarked, man, seeing a weapon this clean gives me a hard on!
This dynamic was quickly exploited by privates during Basic Training, as many
would wait until the final ten minutes of allotted cleaning time to present their weapons
for inspection. It was guaranteed that a weapon presented before this period would be
found dirty by the drill sergeants, who would punish the private. However, a weapon
presented just before the end of a cleaning period would almost always be accepted,
regardless of how much extra time a private spent cleaning it.
It is not simply the equipment of a private in Basic Training which must be clean
and regular. Everything about the barracks must be completely regular as well. As we
have seen with the regulation of the bunk, all of the other elements in the barracks are
highly regulated and must be ordered, uniform, and clean. The lockers of each private
must be laid out in exactly the same way. The personal drawer is the only area in the
locker which does not have to be exactly the same as every other privates. However, the
two remaining drawers and the uniforms hanging along the bar must be laid out exactly
the same. In the middle drawer of the cabinet the toiletries of the private must be laid
out. In the bottom drawer of the cabinet the shirts, socks, and other clothing items are
also laid out.
In order to maintain regularity, these clothing items are never worn, and remain in
the drawer for the entire nine week period. Drill sergeants even recommended to 3rd
platoon to purchase an additional set of socks, t-shirts, and underwear to tight roll and
leave in place in the clothing drawer, preferably all of small size in order to enhance
the regularity and to prevent a private from actually choosing to wear the displayed item.


In addition, although there is a technique to roll t-shirts and underwear in such a way that
they will remain rolled, in order to enhance the regular and uncluttered appearance of the
drawer, the clothing is instead rolled and then taped tight with a piece of the ubiquitous
ninety-mile-an-hour tape 72 .
Hanging from the bar are all of the uniforms issued to the privates. Although
each private had a slightly different issue of equipment (some privates received three sets
of PT uniforms, some two for example), each locker had to be laid out in the same order
as all other lockers. In the case of 3rd platoon, this meant that from right to left, a private
had to display summer PTs, winter PTs, summer BDUs, and winter BDUs. The
distinctions between these uniforms were subtle, especially between the summer and
winter BDUs, which actually had to be explained by the drill sergeants during the first
week. Simply put, the summer BDU fabric has visible threads in a small square pattern
built into the fabric while the winter uniform appears solid and has a corduroy-like
pattern to the fabric.
The most important distinction between the two uniforms, however, is the cap that
is worn. The summer cap is made of the same fabric as the summer uniform and tends to
be more rigid and maintain its shape. The winter cap is made of a more nylon type cloth
with a flap that runs around the back of the head to each ear which can be flipped down
for more insulation if the weather should be cold. Due to the softer fabric of the winter
cap, it tended to lose shape and appear collapsed. For this reason, some privates would
wear the summer cap with the winter BDUs, which is one of the cardinal sins of military
life. At my reserve unit, Sergeant Matthews, one of the most easy-going sergeants I had
ever met, called out a soldier who had mixed uniforms and informed him, Man, look,

Green duct tape used by the Army


you cant do that. It would be better to wear different color boots than to mix summer
and winter. Although there was no physical punishment, Sergeant Matthews was known
for not worrying about proper soldier behavior, and his response was noteworthy as
one of very few times he would intervene to correct a soldier, and highlights the
importance of the uniform for the soldier identity.
The taboo of mixing uniforms also shows the ways in which privates learn to
negotiate the bureaucracy of the Army. As mentioned previously, there are so many
regulations within the Army that it is virtually impossible to not break any rules, and even
drill sergeants will deliberately bend or break the rules as they see fit. The uniform,
however, is sacrosanct, and even a minor infraction such as wearing a summer cap with
winter BDUs is met with rigid enforcement. Just as privates learn which rules they can
ignore during Basic Training, they also learn which rules they cannot.
While in the locker, however, the only important distinction between the two
uniforms is where they sit in the locker. The front of all uniforms must be faced to the
left, and the top button and top button only of each uniform fastened. The uniform pants
should be buttoned all the way up and draped over the bottom of the hanger that holds its
respective top. The crotch of all the pants faces the front of the locker when the uniform
is hung up. Any deviation from this exact layout can precipitate punishments from the
drill sergeants, especially during the first three weeks of training.

Sloppiness and the Problem Child

Although there is a general acceptance that being a soldier involves working as a
member of a team, here we can see that in the view of other soldiers, in many ways being


a successful member of a team requires cleanliness. Problem children are known not
only for making mistakes, but for failing to maintain proper standards of cleanliness and
order for themselves and their areas. On one occasion during a break between lectures,
after going to the latrine, Private Sands used his hand to wipe himself since there was no
toilet paper in the latrines, and walked out of the bathroom stall with his hand soiled. At
the time there were over twenty privates in the latrine, all of whom saw Sands come out
of the stall. In order to clear a path for Private Sands, I had to call attention to his
situation to be certain that no one would accidentally bump into the private while he
made his way to the sink to wash his hands. This event became a defining moment in the
construction of Sands as a problem child, to such a degree that his status as such was
known not only to his own platoon, but to the entire company.
Within 3rd platoon, Private Hanson was also frequently identified as a problem
child. In the case of Hanson, nicknamed Doofy by the rest of the platoon, he was
known for being sloppy and not properly maintaining his locker or personal areas. Three
specific examples of Hansons mistakes will be discussed here in relation to the
construction of the problem child as sloppy. First, Hansons personal sloppiness is
reflected in his inability to keep track of essential items. Hansons locker was notorious
for its lack of organization. Any time Hanson would have to go somewhere, he would
simply throw his equipment and uniforms into his locker and close it without hanging up
or organizing his clothing and equipment. On one occasion, he misplaced his boot laces
and left his boots out for display completely unlaced. In response to this, numerous
privates in 3rd platoon verbally assaulted him, calling him stupid, or a dumb-shit, for
his mistake. When the boot laces were eventually found stuffed inside his locker, this


again provided an opportunity for privates to insult him, saying that he was ate up, and
insisting that he clean his locker every night and make certain it was organized. Even
Private Lee, recognized by the platoon as being laid back or cool, about most things,
took the opportunity to berate Hanson for his lack of cleanliness.
On another occasion, Hanson left his locker unlocked when the platoon traveled
to the field for training. On this occasion, 3rd platoon took his uniforms and gear out of
his locker and hid them in other lockers around the barracks. When Hanson realized his
equipment was missing, he became very upset and broke down in tears. Although the
platoon quickly relented and returned Hansons equipment, this was again tied to insults
and comments about Hansons status as a problem child and as a fuck-up.
Finally, early in the cycle private Hanson precipitated a group punishment for his
failure to properly maintain the standards of military address. Although it is acceptable
to refer to other privates simply by their last name, this practice is strictly forbidden when
talking to or about any non-private associated with the company. Thus, drill sergeants
must always be addressed as Drill Sergeant [name]. While speaking with Drill
Sergeant Saburi, Hanson referred to Drill Sergeant Redmond simply by his last name.
Rather than punish Hanson for his mistake, Drill Sergeant Saburi punished the entire
platoon, calling us out into the company area and forcing us to do pushups.
These three examples show three different ways in which the problem child is
seen as sloppy or ate up. First, Hanson was seen as physically sloppy. In losing his
boot laces, he demonstrated that he was not properly organized, and when they were
discovered the state of his locker was blamed for the mistake. Second, Hanson was seen
as mentally sloppy. Failing to lock his locker was viewed as just one of many mistakes


that he had made, and as a result by the end of the cycle Hanson was given menial tasks
such as sweeping or cleaning any time the platoon had to organize a detail. Finally,
Hanson was seen as socially sloppy, not paying attention to the proper forms of address
and the rules of interaction between soldiers.
Other problem children demonstrated similar forms of sloppiness over the course
of the cycle and in many ways this sloppiness was what defined them as problem
children. By failing to properly follow the rules, or not performing according to the
prescribed norms of Basic Training life, the problem child embodies the social
disorganization which the military seems to be so terrified of.

Functionalist Theory
The very existence of the problem child indicates that despite the drill sergeants
attempts to enforce rigid organization, deviance does still occur. By failing to adapt to
the requirements of Basic Training, especially the rigid standards of regularity, it is
possible to see the problem child as the deviant among the Basic Training platoons. The
responses of the platoon to the problem child mirror the effects of the deviant as
discussed by sociologists Kai Erikson and Rodney Stark. The functionalist theory of Kai
Erikson claims that the deviant, by challenging the accepted norms of society, draws
attention to those norms, and by repressing the deviant activity, the group can reaffirm its
own belief system. Rodney Starks social disorganization theory suggests that deviance
arises from undisciplined areas, and when those areas are properly maintained, deviant
activity will concurrently decrease.


The study of deviance has been a major field in sociology, yet sociological studies
of the military tend to ignore the effects and often the existence of deviant members of a
military unit, presenting the military not only as a total institution, but as one in which the
members have already been totalized, sublimating their own desires, needs, and actions
to the demands of the institution itself (Goffman, 1961). However, Robert points that
although the vast majority of individuals in any society will be able to conform to the
dominant type of that society, since most temperaments will be sufficiently plastic to be
molded by the force of that society. Those few who cannot be molded will be deviants.
(Edgerton, 1992, p. 10) Edgerton agrees with Erikson and Durkheim that as a result of
the inherent variation among human beings, there will always be some members of any
culture who do not act in accordance with the norms espoused by the majority of the
group. He states unequivocally that due to this, deviance occurs in all societies.
(Edgerton, 1992, p. 73, italics original). It would thus be foolish to assume that deviance
does not also occur in the military.
Accepting Edgertons conclusion, that deviance is ubiquitous, then, a discussion
of the origins of deviance within Basic Training would be superfluous. What is of more
concern is how the Basic Training platoon deals with the inevitable deviants its members
discover during the training cycle. For this examination, the functionalist approach to
deviance, based on Eriksons modifications to Durkheims theory, has particular merit.
The functionalist argument here is not being used to explain the existence of deviants
within the Basic Training platoon, but rather to explain the interactions that occur
between privates and drill sergeants and then relate those back to Girards concepts of


Functionalism is an amalgous theory that grew out of Emile Durkheims turn-ofthe-century work in French sociology. Durkheim worked under a number of assumptions
which must be taken into account for any examination of functionalism. Durkheim
believed that every aspect of society performed a function, that there must be a reason for
subcultures and deviance. Society is founded on cohesively interacting groups, who each
work to keep society working. Under this framework, then, crime and deviance have to
serve a cohesive, positive purpose for society.
A number of theorists have applied Durkheims functionalism to the study of
deviance. Arguably, the first major attempt was by Kai Erikson in his article The
Sociology of Deviance. The purpose of deviance is to reinforce the norms of the greater
society, as a deviant violates accepted rules of conduct, and thereby draws attention to
those rules (Erikson, 1966). By violating these rules, the deviant causes the non-deviant
members of society to come together in protection of those rules which were broken. It is
this coming together that is essential to functionalism, since Durkheims hypothesis was
that deviance existed in order to strengthen community bonds in the face of deviance.
What deviance does for the system is to inform the members of society what the
acceptable patterns of behavior and social norms are. Without deviance, the boundaries
could not be known, and boundary maintenance, an essential of aspect of society, could
not be performed. Within this context, deviants must be observed violating the rules of
society; the interactions between the deviant and the authorities are vital to the
maintenance and control of boundaries. If deviants are hidden, or if they only interact
among themselves, they are irrelevant to the maintenance of the social system. For the
same reason, punishment must also be public.


The functional process is highlighted by significant deviant acts. When these acts
are observed they must be dealt with publicly, otherwise they do not inform the groups
members of the boundaries. The censure and punishment of deviants must be very public
acts in which the members of the group participate to illuminate and ratify normative
boundaries. Without identification with the boundaries of the community, created by this
participation, the boundaries would not be upheld.
Under the functionalist framework, the problem child at Basic Training acts as the
deviant. By not adjusting properly to Army life, whether not cohering with the training
platoon, failing to learn basic tasks like making a bed, or losing personal equipment, the
problem child represents the failure any private might suffer if he does not actively
engage in incorporating Army values and identity. Drill sergeants will focus on problem
children in their platoons when dealing out punishment pointing out to the entire platoon
that it is Private Darrens or Private Huntleys fault that the platoon is being
punished. On one occasion, Private Randal was discovered with a checkerboard drawn
on the bottom of his personal drawer. Although Randal maintained later that he had
simply drawn the board because he was bored, it was immediately seized upon as an
opportunity to highlight to the rest of 3rd platoon that deviant activity, violating rules,
would not be accepted. The entire platoon was ordered to toe the line, 73 while Drill
Sergeant Redmond placed Randal in the center of the killzone and stalked from private to
private with the offending drawer in his hand, glaring at each private, occasionally
laughing. Drill Sergeant Redmond then stated that he would not be punishing us for
Randals mistake, but would let us off. Five minutes later, Drill Sergeant Saburi entered


toeing the line means that all privates must stand with their toes on the line separating the killzone
from the remainder of the barracks. It is most often a prelude to a platoon-wide punishment.


the barracks and again ordered everyone to toe the line. Drill Sergeant Saburi then
ordered the entire platoon to the front leaning rest position and ordered Randal to
smoke us. Although at first Randal balked, he eventually acceded to the drill sergeants
order and began the ordered counting typical while performing pushups.
As noted before with Private Fletcher, the practice of punishing everyone in the
platoon except for the offending private is a standard practice for drill sergeants. With
only a few exceptions, group punishment was the method of choice for mistakes of both
individuals and groups. There are likely a number of reasons for this. First, as discussed
in chapter two, the mythological presentation of military training is Full Metal Jacket, in
which Private Pyles mistakes become cause for punishment for the entire platoon. Also,
as William McNeill argues, group performance of any sort enhances the feeling of group
solidarity, whether it be punishment, marching, or dancing (McNeill, 1995). Finally,
when the individual responsible for the punishment is separated from the group during it,
that individuals mistake or deviance is highlighted for the group, and as they engage in
group activity, even if it is negative, they become complicit in the censure applied to the
deviant, even if he is not being physically punished.
By highlighting the privates mistake, and then forcing him to stand while the
remainder of the platoon is punished, the drill sergeant isolates him from the rest of the
platoon, artificially creating the deviant role envisioned in Functionalist theory. This
isolation is necessary to prevent privates from sympathizing with him, especially during
the first few weeks of Basic Training, which David Schneider shows is a distinct
possibility (Schneider, 1947). However, it should be noted that the isolation of the failing


private sets the scene for Eriksons rite of transition, moving the offender away from the
other privates both literally and figuratively.
There is one another important contrast between the experiences of Fletcher and
Randal. Fletchers punishment occurred on the first day of Basic Training, following on
the heels of the shark attack and in the context of the drill sergeants asserting their
dominance over the platoon. Although the mechanics of his punishment were similar to
Randals the social context of the punishment had a strong influence on the effect of the
punishment on the other privates. Private Randals punishment occurred at the beginning
of Week 3, after the drill sergeants had established themselves as the authority, but were
still uncertain about which privates would require extra discipline, and which would
eventually incorporate properly into the group. Also, Fletcher was punished at a time
when most privates still did not know each other, and in the midst of a dozen other
punishments (I do not actually remember the event which Fletcher recalls so clearly).
Private Randal, on the other hand, was punished after the privates knew each other, and
could thus stand out as an individual, even in the uniform environment of Basic Training.
Two other occurrences in Bravo Companys training cycle highlight the way in
which the drill sergeants isolated problem children and presented them as deviants to the
rest of the platoon in order to achieve this reinforcement of acceptable and unacceptable
behaviors. Private Evans was one of the first problem children identified by the drill
sergeants, and over the course of six weeks was progressively isolated and demeaned by
the drill sergeants and the rest of the platoon. In contrast with Evans processual change
from private to problem child, one significant rite of transition during the seventh week
of training highlights the way in which drill sergeants identify deviants and then


explicitly hold those deviants up as symbols of what the military does not want its
soldiers to be.
Private Evans was one of only three privates that were removed from Basic
Training. Private Nicholas, and a third private, who was only with the platoon for three
days and whose name is not recorded or remembered by any members of 3rd platoon,
were released for medical reasons. On the first day of Basic Training, Evans broke into
tears when the drill sergeants informed the platoon that they would not be allowed to see
their families between Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training. Although this
act of weeping was not mentioned for the next six weeks, when Evans was finally
released, Drill Sergeant Briggs mentioned that he thought of the platoon as his boys,
and it was difficult when one of my boys is older than me, and then he breaks down
crying in front of you. What the hell is that? By crying, Evans was failing to properly
perform the role of the masculine ideal of soldier.
It was not until later, however, that Evans was explicitly identified as a problem
child by the drill sergeants and the rest of the platoon. Although there was no specific
moment at which Evans was identified as a problem child, by the second week his
separation from the rest of the platoon was officially begun when Drill Sergeant Briggs
informed 3rd platoon that they should avoid him and not let him affect us. Over the
course of the next four weeks, Evans was more and more isolated as the drill sergeants
encouraged the other members of the platoon to avoid him. After Evans was separated
from the rest of the platoon symbolically, the drill sergeants began to separate him
physically as well. First, Evans was put on suicide watch and forced to wear a bright
orange vest at all times. Next, the drill sergeants had 3rd platoon move his entire bunk


away from the other privates and placed in a special location just outside the drill
sergeants office. The entire event was almost celebratory, with four privates separating
Evans top bunk from Fletchers bottom bunk and carrying it across the barracks to the
office. The mattress and bedclothes were taken off the bunk and then it was carried
carefully so as to avoid stepping on the wax of the killzone in the center of the barracks.
Two soldiers carried Evanss wall locker across the barracks, as well.
The exaggerated response to Evanss deviance was a result of his claims that the
drill sergeants were abusing him. In order to protect themselves from official censure or
reprimand, the drill sergeants wanted to make certain that there would be an abundance
of supporting statements from other privates that no abuse had occurred. Various rumors
circulated about what Evans had claimed the drill sergeants had done to him, rumors that
seemed to develop outside of anything Evans had said himself. Private Fletcher was
Evanss assigned battle buddy from the beginning of the training cycle, and he had never
even heard some of the rumors:
I never heard the heated van. That whole choking thing was, like I dont
know, I never heard Evans say the Drill Sergeant tried to choke him, I
heard him say that he, whatd he say, Evans basically said that the drill
sergeant, like, handled him inappropriately, meaning that, he put his hands
on him when he shouldnt have. And the drill sergeant, the way he
explained it, was that he put his hand on his shoulder, like high on his
shoulder, near the neck not choking, but like to just get his attention. And
I think that Evans definitely confused that with, like, sort of aggressive,
attempt at choking. But locked in a heated van thing I never heard of.
On one occasion, Drill Sergeant Redmond called the platoon around the killzone to
discuss Evans, and some of the rumors that were circulating about him. He mentioned
that Evans had claimed that Drill Sergeant Briggs had attempted to choke him, and that
Drill Sergeant Gould had locked him in a van with the heat on during one field exercise.


He immediately discounted the rumors, stating he said that Drill Sergeant Gould locked
him in the van with the heat on. How do you get locked in a fucking van? You just open
the goddam door if youre too hot. These rumors were also discounted by other privates
later, it was something that I think Evans always knew, if they had done something like
that he would have really, sort of, like that would have been his out. But Evans knew that
there was no kind of factual basis for any of that, so he never pursued it. Regardless of
the facts of the matter, however, the rumors required the drill sergeants to take extra
precautions when dealing with Evans.
Through these events, Evans was isolated from the platoon. Concurrently with
these acts of isolation, the drill sergeants would also take the opportunity to denigrate
Evans, pointing out that he was not a good soldier, that he was a cry-baby, and that the
members of 3rd platoon should not associate with him as if his inability to adapt to Basic
Training were a pollutant that could pass from Evans to other privates. In some ways,
this idea of pollution was quite true, as Fletcher, assigned to be with Evans more than any
other private, complained to the drill sergeants: they saw it was kinda wearing on me,
like I was missing a lot of the classes, I was missing like rifle training, and I went to
them, and I was like look, Im not, I didnt say this but basically I was trying to tell them
that Im not his babysitter and they need to put someone else on him. Although it is not
clear whether the drill sergeants concern was based on Fletchers complaints or previous
experience with privates similar to Evans, the fear of the platoon losing morale was
strong enough that contact with Evans was restricted and he was isolated from the rest of
the platoon to keep his pollution to a minimum.


The second event occurred with four privates identified as problem children by
the drill sergeants. In this case, the four privates were pulled out from the other members
of the platoon during the seventh week of training. All the members of 3rd platoon were
ordered to toe the line by Drill Sergeant Briggs, and he then called out Randal, Huntley,
Darren, and Jackson to the center of the killzone. Drill Sergeant Briggs then explained
that the Army has a policy called blackballing in which members of a unit can
unanimously vote a soldier out of a unit. After a theatrical pause, he then stated I dont
think well have to do that, men. These men can be good soldiers, they just need some
help. Now, is there anyone in this platoon you want to kick their ass? After the first
private, Parker, volunteered an answer, Drill Sergeant Briggs then went around the
platoon asking each private to answer the same question. Of the four privates Drill
Sergeant Briggs had called out, most of the platoon named one or two in their response.
In these two events, Evanss isolation and the black-balling ritual, one can see
how the drill sergeants actively place the problem children into the role of deviant. By
highlighting the ways in which these privates were failing to properly embody the soldier
identity, and calling them out and physically isolating them from the other privates, the
drill sergeants create the process which Erikson and other functionalists observed
operating naturally in society.
The processes described by functionalists can be clearly seen in the isolated
community of a training platoon during Basic Training. The problem child is the
example the drill sergeants use to teach the privates going through Basic Training what
unacceptable behavior for a soldier will be. However, as most problem children will
graduate from Basic Training, they can also be a symbol of acceptable rule breaking. In


3rd platoon, Private Hanson, despite his graduation, was seen as a failed soldier, while
Private Huntley was seen as wasted potential: a good soldier waiting to be developed.

Violence and Masculinity

The interaction of deviance and social control in Basic Training will only get us
so far in an analysis of the underlying themes of Basic Training and the transition from
civilian to soldier. If the deviant, or the problem child, is held up as the symbol for what
privates do not want to become, then what process do those privates use prevent
themselves from doing so? The answer to this question necessitates a shift away from a
study of deviance and towards Girards theory of the scapegoat.
Expressions of violence towards or regarding a problem child are relatively
common in discussions when this figure is mentioned, in both interviews and casual
conversations. Stories shared by soldiers are almost always of those people in their units,
from Basic to retirement, who are the failures, the fuckups, the problem children.
Private Brown expressed his dissatisfaction with Private Victor, If theres one guy I
would never want to be in a foxhole with, itd be Victor. I think Id shoot myself first,
save the enemy the trouble. The dissatisfaction is also frequently discussed in terms of
retributive violence: there was this one guy, man, couldnt do anything right. Wed
stand in formation, hed wander off, disappeared on his own. I wanted to kill that guy so
bad, or there was this one guy, at reception, he wouldnt do shit. Yknow, I was
already tense because I hadnt had a cigarette in a week, and with the drill sergeants and
all, I just went off on the guy, pushed him against his bunk and screaming at him to get
his shit together. During Basic Training itself, physical punishment is frequently


threatened against a problem child, such as blanket parties as depicted in the film Full
Metal Jacket.
The association between violence and manhood is prevalent in much
anthropological literature, from both a biological (nature) and cultural (nurture) approach.
David Gilmores cross cultural examination of manhood, Manhood in the Making (1990),
shows not only a striking similarity between definitions of manhood in human groups
from band to states and foragers to industrialists. Many of Gilmores findings are
particularly relevant to the rite of passage of Basic Training, especially his realization that
a large portion of manhood in most cultures comes from a separation of the boy from
his maternal relationships and the development of a new, independent individual,
especially one who then contributes back to society. An interesting counterpoint to
Gilmores discussion here is Susan Jeffords Remasculinization of America (1989), and
her discussion of Vietnam as a symbolic mechanism for American maleness to gain
control of the reproductive process.
Although approaching the issue from two different theoretical viewpoints, both
Gilmore and Jeffords are essentially pointing out the same fact: a man in our culture is
one who contributes to the life cycle, not one who withdraws from it. Gilmores
discussion of masculinity highlights the ways in which a male is created culturally, as
opposed to the female, which cross culturally is based predominantly on biological
markers such as secondary sexual characteristics and the act of childbirth. For a male,
however, being a man is something which must be earned and maintained through a
constant effort, especially by facing danger. Gilmore accepts that events like childbirth
or menstruation can be both dangerous and frightening for a woman, but he notes the


important distinction that male initiation and maintenance is based on a purely voluntary
exposure to danger.
In Basic Training, the prior selves of the privates, their civilian roles, are
sacrificed in order to emerge from Basic Training as a new self, the soldier. The
elements of the private that are sacrificed range from the mundane to the spiritual, from
the sacrifice of warmth and food to the sacrifice of the freedom to live life on your own
terms. It is through this sacrifice of the self that the rite of passage can be completed.
Once a private has sacrificed the civilian elements of himself, he can properly transform
into a soldier, and be prepared to act in his new role in society. Although an
anthropological analysis, using Girard, Turner, and others can account for some of the
factors involved in this transformation, the sociological and psychological viewpoints of
Pierre Bourdieu, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari are also useful theoretical constructs
with which to view the process of military indoctrination.
In addition, the role of the warrior, exemplified in myth, must be explicitly
contrasted to the modern soldier. As previously discussed, the focus on the combat elite
of various militaries in previous scholarship is likely due to our mythological idea of the
military and an attempt to connect to that mythological narrative. Georges Dumezils
analysis of the warrior in Western myth, especially the warrior as a hero of Western
myth, provides a counterpoint to the role of the soldier presented to privates during Basic
Training. Although both the warrior and the soldier embody the use of violence, the way
in which that violence is constrained or released is a focal point for the difference
between these two categories.


Rene Girard and Sacrifice

Cycles of violence are the main focus of Violence and the Sacred (1972).
Specifically, Girard was postulating a mechanism by which societies used ritual to
prevent the spread of retributive violence by taking the violent act itself and placing it in
the hands of authority. In order to stem the cycle of revenge killings and retributions
created by an original violent act, the group uses the abstract violence of a ritual
killing. In other words, as paraphrased by Tom E. Driver, the violence in sacrificial
ritual takes the place of violent acts that would otherwise be committed against members
of society, (Driver, 1998, p. 103). In his work, Girard discusses the scapegoat, that
figure which becomes the focus of a communitys aggression and violence. In Girards
original analysis, he claims that this scapegoat is somehow randomly chosen, and it is this
randomness which makes the ritual sacrifice so effective. Since the sacrifice itself could
be any member of the community, all of the members of the community identify with the
sacrificial victim and through his sacrifice are expunged of their own violence.
Another important point that Girard makes, and one that is particularly relevant
during Basic Training, or any rite of passage, is that violence comes from a cultural
situation in which there is a lack of differentiation between group members. As shown in
the last chapter, one of the most important features of any rite of passage is precisely that
lack of differentiation. All privates in Basic Training wear the same clothes, down to
underwear and socks, and are trained to walk and talk the same. By removing the
individuality of the private, and by removing the rules of the civilian world, this rite of
passage provokes a sacrificial crisis. In Girards words, the disappearance of natural
differences can thus bring to mind the dissolution of regulations pertaining to the


individuals proper place in society that is, can instigate a sacrificial crisis. (Girard,
1972, p. 56) This sacrificial crisis is resolved in a number of ways during Basic Training,
the most evident being the sacrifice of the self discussed above.
Although, as with any work, there have been criticisms of Girards approach, his
analysis of the use of violence to prevent violence has been used by many later
researchers to study diverse topics sexuality to the unification of post-Cold War
Germany. The majority of critiques of Girards work focus on his attempt to transfer the
concept of scapegoating to every social institution. This critique is legitimate; however,
there are many situations in which Girards analysis of scapegoating is highly useful,
specifically in those areas of society in which violence is a prevalent subject.
Many authors have taken parts of Girards theories and reworked them to better
fit the social situation they were examining. Of particular importance to the study of the
modern military and Army Basic Training are performance theorist Richard Schechner
and anthropologist John Borneman.
Richard Schechners incorporation of Girards theory into his own work on
performance suggests another means for modifying Girards original ideas and bringing
them more into line with the needs of modern researchers. In his discussion of theater
and ritual, Schechner (1988) proposes that the violent sacrificial act does not have to be
real, or enacted upon a real person at all. Instead, an actor can stand in for the scapegoat
through the cathartic theatrical experience. The symbolic sacrifice of the civilian self in
Basic Training bears out Schechners ideas that the sacrifice does not need to be literal in
order to create an effect in the group participating. In addition, as we will see later, the


problem child is scapegoated symbolically and fantastically by soldiers in Basic Training,

achieving Girards effect with the necessity to resort to actual violence.
John Borneman points out another flawed assumption in Girards claim that the
sacrificial victim is selected at random. Discussing the collapse of the Berlin Wall in
Germany, Borneman points out that the choices of sacrificial groups have been
predictable and hardly random: most often gypsies, Jews, and perceived foreigners.
(Borneman, 1997, p. 20). Borneman proposes a modification to Girards theory to
account for the deliberate choice of sacrificial victim by a group, avoiding the assumption
that Girard has made that violence is somehow inherent in human nature (21). During the
training cycle of Bravo Company, the sacrificial victims were also deliberately chosen.
The problem child, who will be discussed later, is also a deliberately chosen member of
the group. The problem child usually personifies the failure to complete the transition
from civilian to soldier, and as such, constantly reminds the privates in Basic Training of
their previous lives.
The civilian self is the focus of the sacrificial efforts of the drill sergeants,
constantly denigrated and compared unfavorably with the new self as the soldier in the
US Army. When privates are physically injured and cannot complete their training, they
are referred to in feminized and sexualized ways, as pansies, pussies, or a brokedick. The lives of privates in Basic Training are always compared to life back on the
block, where life was unregimented, and privates had no discipline. As we saw
previously with the discussion of Jody, the feminized male is symbolic of the civilian
male, and thus represents the failure of the private to properly sacrifice his civilian self.


Sacrifice of the Self

At Reception, when the soldier first arrives at his Basic Training location, soldiers
lose the first part of themselves to the military machine: privacy. Living quarters at
Reception is a trailer jammed with as many bunk beds as possible. There are no lockers
or any other way for privates to store their personal possessions, and the duffel bag that
holds all of the military clothing and equipment they have been given is locked through
the bars of each soldiers bunk bed. The only personal possessions allowed to be
unlocked are boots, running shoes and shower shoes, which are placed under the bed.
In addition to his privacy the new soldier must also sacrifice his creature
comforts. Sleep is not only highly regulated, but is also interrupted for various overnight
duties and at the whims of the drill sergeants. One of the strongest memories of Private
Fletcher is, getting smoked at 2 oclock in the morning, or also, when we were all
pulled out to the killzone 74 at like ass oclock just because somebody didnt clean the
laundry room. In addition, according to the drill sergeants, the Training and Doctrine
Command requires that a soldier be provided with only four hours of sleep per night, a
rule which is frequently imposed. Although technically lights out in the barracks is at
2100 (9:00 PM), and wake up is at 0500 (5:00 AM), in actuality most privates will not
get to sleep until after 2200 and will wake up well before 0500. One reason for this is the
fireguard duties discussed in the last chapter. In addition, although 0500 is the official
wake up time, in actual practice, privates are supposed to be awake, dressed, and ready to
move downstairs to formation at 0500. The barracks must also be clean and beds made
by this time as well. Therefore, most platoons will wake themselves up at 0400 or 0430


The implication of being called to the killzone, or being told to toe the line, is that the privates were
heavily punished for this offense.


in order to have the time for all privates to get up, clean themselves and clean the
barracks before the official wakeup time. Even on Sundays, privates are only given one
extra hour to sleep in the morning, with official wake-up at 0600.
Sleep is not the only, or even the most significant, thing that soldiers are required
to sacrifice for the Army. Exposure to the elements is a running theme in Basic Training,
and drill sergeants and cadre will conduct training regardless of the weather conditions on
a particular day. During Bravo Companys Field Training Exercise, just prior to the
graduation ceremony, the training was ended early due to an incoming hurricane. With
that exception, weather never prevented the Company from completing its scheduled
training. This ideal of ignoring the weather is highlighted by the most frequently
repeated drill sergeant mantra, if it aint raining, we aint training! This statement sums
up the approach drill sergeants have towards Basic Training and the privates
responsibilities. In the civilian world, rain shuts down the world. In the military one,
rain is simply one more factor which makes a soldiers life miserable.
Cold and heat are also elements that a soldier is expected to take in stride. In his
description of military life, Army officer Andrew Exum points out that many who have
been in the military have experienced a different kind of cold. A cold that is not
transitory. A cold for which there is not a light at the end of the tunnel, no warm
department store a few hundred meters ahead, only more cold. (Exum, 2004, p. 27)
Even the very basics of what civilians take for granted, such as a warm building or
clothing, are sacrificed to the Army during Basic Training. The expectation, as well, is
that at some point, these sacrifices will be necessary again, while deployed or perhaps
only in the field on training missions.


Privates are also separated from their civilian lives through the restriction of
telephone calls. Phone privileges are rarely granted to privates, with the exception of a
single phone call home at the beginning of Basic Training to let families know that you
have arrived at training safely. Without phone access, the accepted method of receiving
communication from the civilian world is through regular postal mail. The ritual of mail
call on most evenings becomes a highlight of the Basic Training experience. It is
interesting that with the development of modern technologies, even soldiers deployed to
Iraq and Afghanistan usually have better email and telephone access than privates in
Basic Training. In Bravo Company, it was a standard procedure for a drill sergeant to
require push-ups for every letter received by a private. In addition, if an address on the
outside of a letter showed something that the drill sergeant could find upsetting, amusing,
or offensive, he would give the private extra push-ups. For example, on one occasion a
private received a letter with Specialist rather than Private on the address label, for
which the drill sergeant gave him twenty-five pushups, and on another occasion a private
received pushups for a letter from his mother with flowers on the outside of the envelope.
Mail call, supposedly the privates link to the civilian world, thus becomes another
instance in which the Army works to remove the civilian aspects of the privates
The privates name is another link to the civilian world which is removed from
him at Basic Training. In the civilian world, the informal first name is used to refer to
someone of the same or lower status level, with last names reserved for those of higher
status levels. In the military, however, last names are used almost exclusively, with the
specific honorific tied to the soldiers rank attached. If the status difference between two


soldiers is not too great, a higher rank soldier (such as a sergeant or staff sergeant) may
refer to an enlisted soldier by their last name only, or a lower ranking sergeant, but with
the attainment of NCO rank the honorific Sergeant is almost mandatory, even when
speaking with a lower rank NCO. In front of enlisted soldiers, the honorific is required at
all times, even when the NCOs are of the same rank.
At both Reception and Basic Training, privates at Fort Benning were punished for
violating this rule of military culture. At the very least, a soldier who fails to use the
honorific for an NCO or Officer will receive a command to repeat himself. More
frequently, and especially during Basic Training, physical punishment is the standard
response to the failure of a private to use a drill sergeants full title. The prime example
is the stereotypical mistake of privates and civilians to call a sergeant sir. The response
made to civilians is the standard I work for a living response seen in film and
television. However, the response made to privates is I work for a living while the
private is forced to do push-ups in front of the offended NCO. On one occasion, the
entire 3rd platoon was punished by Drill Sergeant Saburi simply based on the rumor that
they had been using the last name only of drill sergeants. While he was punishing the
platoon, Drill Sergeant Saburi explained in an atypically calm fashion that, Im a drill
sergeant, so is drill sergeant Redmond, and we earned respect for that. You need to show
that respect to us for that.
The formality of the military extends beyond honorifics, to the naming
conventions in military language itself. Among privates at Basic, the last name becomes
the standard to refer to another private when speaking to them or about them. A persons
first name represents a number of things about being a civilian. First, of course, is that


the first name is the way in which he has been referred to by other members of his
civilian life, and is thus representative of that civilian world. Second, however, is the
association with the first name and the privates old status as a member of a group of
individuals that know him well enough to know his first name. In the military, the last
name removes that element of individuality and the association with the civilian world it
symbolizes. In addition, the formality of military associations, with the use of honorifics
and formal naming conventions, is in direct contrast to the informal civilian identity.
Thus, by removing the first name, privates at Basic Training begin the separation of their
old civilian selves from their psyche.
Another symbolic sacrifice made by privates, and the last one to be discussed
here, is the sacrifice of leisure activity. The regulation of a soldiers time extends to more
than simply a prioritized training schedule. Even when a private is not training, there are
specific tasks assigned, whether it is shining boots (a daily requirement), or performing
extra duties at the Company, Battalion, or Brigade offices. Even activities which would
be considered enjoyable by most privates in the civilian world are now so regulated that
the enjoyment is leeched out of it. According to one informant, anything thats fun in
the civilian world, the Army takes the fun out of it. Firing a rifle may be fun, but after
two weeks of constant drills, I was hating the thought of firing a rifle.
The ability of the private to deal with all of these changes is not the same for each
new soldier. Depending on the upbringing and attitudes of the privates, each will make a
different adjustment to the requirements of military life. For every private, some
sacrifice must be made. Exposure to Army life, sleep patterns, prior identity, and civilian
relationships will be weaker or stronger in each private depending on these differences.


Janowitz points out that it is a fundamental error to assume that the military
establishment is some sort of self-contained organism which digests and assimilates
foreign bodies. The orientation which the civilian society gives to privates officers and
enlisted men will either assist or retard their assimilation of military roles. (Janowitz,
1974, p. 67) In other words, the amount of prior exposure each private has had to
military life will affect how much they need to sacrifice in order to properly perform as a
soldier. The sacrifice to the greater good allows military values to be more readily
internalized for the private. The punishments for making mistakes are almost always
accompanied by a threat that the mistake will cause the death of a fellow soldier.
Sometimes this threat is specific, such as when soldiers sleeping during sick call were
informed by the sergeant on duty yeah, its only sick call so what? You know what?
What if youre sleeping on duty and somebody sneaks up and kills your buddies? They
dont care if youre sick, and sometimes it is merely implied, such as when a drill
sergeant yells at privates for not properly responding to orders quickly enough.

The most important element of the contemporary military is its status as an AllVolunteer force. Privates in the contemporary Army have volunteered to join, to put
themselves through the rigors of Basic Training, and to surrender themselves to the needs
and jurisdiction of the military organization. Although there may be debate about the
structural elements of American culture that led to this choice, there is no legal or
authoritative punishment involved in the choice to avoid military life as there was during
the half of the 20th century that draft existed. In the same way, they have surrendered the


ability to make decisions regarding their lives to the drill sergeants. For many younger
privates, in fact, this results in their perception of Basic Training as a game in which
the drill sergeants will win if they should start acting in accordance with the drill
sergeants desires.
There is always the threat of violence hanging over the private-drill sergeant
relationship, which the drill sergeants are more than happy to exploit, but the ability of
the drill sergeants to inflict any punishment is actually in the hands of the private himself.
During the entire nine weeks of Bravo Companys Basic Training, there was only one
incident in which a drill sergeant reportedly physically overpowered a private. However,
even this incident occurred out of sight of the other privates. Instead, the punishments
meted out by drill sergeants are predominantly exercises such as push-ups and other
calisthenics, or administrative punishments, imposed simply by verbal threat and force of
personality. Unlike the in the civilian world, where a citizen is born into and must accept
the structure of authority surrounding him, in the military the recognized right inherent
in the authority figure is granted by the subject himself.
The agency of the privates in Basic Training is a very important element of the
sacrifices which occur through their rite of passage. The sacrifice itself could not be
made were the privates unwilling to make it. The reason for this is that the sacrifice is of
and from the private himself. The rite of passage in Basic Training is a series of
eliminations, separating the old civilian from the new soldier. Each elimination of self
moves the private closer to his new status as soldier. Essential to this shift, however, is
the realization that the private used to be a civilian, and will be a soldier.


In his discussion of politics and ritual, Paul Connerton notes that there is no new
beginning without a recollection of the original, that such a new beginning would actually
be impossible without the memory of what came before (Connerton, 1989, p. 13). At
Basic Training there must be the sacrificial victim, the memory of who you were, to get
to a new person. Military identity is frequently seen as defined against its civilian
counterpart. It would be more accurate to say that the military is more correctly defined
as former civilian rather than not civilian. The mechanisms for this sacrifice are
many and varied, and would not be possible were it not for the existence of specific ritual
victims in the Basic Training environment.
The first sacrificial victim is the soldier himself. By changing both physically and
mentally over the course of Basic Training, the private sacrifices parts of himself to the
needs of the military. Beginning with a sacrifice of individual appearance, the military
then asks the private to sacrifice time, rest, and comfort. As the drill sergeants insult his
connections with the civilian world, the private will eventually sacrifice his civilian
relationships, both romantic and genealogical, while creating a new fictive kinship with
his fellow privates. By standing in formation for extended periods and walking in step
with one another, private is forced to act in accord with the Armys wishes, to move
when the he is told, and thus to think in accord with the Armys wishes (McNeill, 1995).
The physical punishments demanded by the drill sergeants are essential to this
process of sacrifice. Armando Favazzas description of self-mutilation, highlights the
psychological effects of violence upon the body. Favazza (1998) discusses how selfmutilation, especially of a ritual sort, is frequently an attempt to remove a part of himself


through physical pain. The mutilator is not killing himself, but rather, using Girards
understanding of scapegoating, is attempting to kill something inside of him. .
During Basic Training, a similar transition occurs. The new private has been
separated from his previous, civilian, life, and his old habits and behaviors are no longer
appropriate in his new environment. In order to adapt, to act in a way that is appropriate
to his new surroundings, those elements of his psyche that are inappropriate must be
removed. Symbolically, then, he must kill off these elements in order to properly
transition to his new role of soldier. Through the pain of physical punishment, fatigue
from lack of sleep, and emotional distress from stress, overwork, and constant emotional
assault from the drill sergeants, privates can kill off their prior selves.

The fantasies of violence against the problem child highlight his status as the
ritual victim of Girards theory. In addition, the problem child is often cast as the deviant
in a functional sense. Combining these two ideas, we can see how the scapegoating
process works to bring a society back into line, as the deviant becomes the ritual
sacrifice. By being different from the group, the deviant does indeed highlight the rules
which need to be followed. However, for as long as the deviant is allowed to exist within
the group, he also highlights the fact that the group remains differentiated, is composed of
many different heterogeneous parts. Girard views the differentiation of society as
essential to its maintenance of social order, and it is the lack of differentiation, of
deviance, that leads to conflict (Girard, 1972, p. 56). The lack of differentiation is also an
essential element of warfare, as pointed out by Lawrence Leshan in his book The


Psychology of War (2002). Leshans idea of the mythological timeframe will be

discussed in detail later, but in brief, when a group mobilizes for war, the worldview of
that group shifts from one based on reality and realization of difference to one in which
everyone is assigned into one of two groups, us and them. Differences in both
populations are eliminated in the drive to war. It must not be forgotten that Basic
Training is about the construction of the soldier identity, and a large part of that identity
is to engage in warfare when told to do so. Thus, the removal of differences in the
American Army is an essential element of preparing privates for warfare during Basic
Training. However, at the same time, the removal of differences also initiates Girards
sacrificial crisis.
The resolution to the sacrificial crisis is sacrificial violence, in which a scapegoat
becomes the focus of the communitys violence and is killed in order to remove the sins
of the community return to a harmonious existence. The parallels between functionalist
theory and Girards schema are relatively obvious. Both involve an individual chosen
from the group to represent the violation of the rules of that society, who is then
separated and removed from the community in order to reinforce the lines of acceptable
and unacceptable behavior. During Basic Training, drill sergeants and other instructors
attempt to remove deviants from the group by strictly policing that environment and
preventing any privates from expressing deviant behavior. However, this is rarely
successful, and when deviance does occur, drill sergeants then use the deviant, or
problem child, as a symbol to other privates of what will happen to them should they also
decide to rebel against the system. The deviant, who becomes the ritual sacrifice in
Girards discussion, highlights the problems of society, and by removing the deviant from


society, solidarity is restored to the group. Thus, the deviant, by marking the lack of
differentiation among the other members of the group, creates solidarity by standing
outside the group.
During Basic Training, privates are supposed to become undifferentiated. This
uniformity is marked as the drill sergeants specifically restrict the privates ability to
dress, style his hair, and otherwise express himself through his physical appearance.
Privates must all look the same and, ideally, act the same. In addition, the rite of passage,
as seen under van Gennep and Turners outline, moves initiates out of the regular rules of
society, erasing previously held norms, statuses, and to some extent personal histories.
Without this guiding framework, then, all initiates are the same, without identifying
social features in the same way as the uniformity of appearance breaks down physical
features. Thus, in the highly organized and uniform environment created in Basic
Training, the lack of differentiation can quickly lead to Girards sacrificial crisis.
The crisis is ideally resolved by a ritual sacrifice which will reinforce the
solidarity of the group as well as allow them to maintain some of their differentiation.
The sacrifice in Basic is symbolically the civilian self of the private. However, such a
purely symbolic act is not likely to overcome a minimum of eighteen years of
enculturation in the civilian world. A more tangible sacrifice is needed, one which
directly represents the civilian world and, as a surrogate victim, one which also represents
the military world as well. It is highly unlikely that two months worth of any kind of
training will overcome such an established identity that most privates have. Instead, the
soldier identity is constructed over a large period of time: growing up (everyone I have
interviewed so far has a family member who was in the military), choice (even given


structural considerations, joining the military is a decision made by each private), and
constant exposure after Basic Training. To hasten the process, then, a symbolic ritual
sacrifice is necessary.
This victim should, therefore, be chosen from the training unit at Basic, the
platoon, but should represent those elements of the civilian world which the Army wishes
to remove from its privates. The problem child fulfills this role admirably, and in many
ways becomes the symbolic sacrifice, the ritual victim of the Basic Training ritual.
However, due to his separation from the community the sacrificial victim is insufficient
as a surrogate for the sins or shortcomings of the group. There also needs to be a victim
who is a member of the community itself. In Girards readings of history and
ethnography, this victim is typically a leader or other powerful figure in the group, such
as a king or chief. This person stands out from the group, yet is still seen as a member of
the group (Girard, 1972). Girards term for this figure is the ritual victim, opposed to the
surrogate victim, who stands in as a surrogate for this ritual victim.
The problem child and the platoon guide are the embodiments of these two roles:
the surrogate and the ritual victim. A platoon guide is frequently a problem child who
has been assigned to the role in the hopes that the leadership and responsibility will help
the private to better assimilate into Army culture. One technique drill sergeants use to
encourage conformity among privates who are not learning their soldier roles as well as
others is to place them in the role of platoon guide. This is frequently a successful tactic,
to the point that one informant stated, if I could give advice to anyone going to Basic.
Id tell them to fuck up real bad in the beginning, and then straighten up and do


everything right. Thats how you win soldier of the cycle. 75 In 3rd platoon, one of the
main problem children, private Huntley, was actually placed in this leadership position
and for the two days he held it, became much more focused and did not get smoked 76
once by the drill sergeants. The platoon guide is a member of the platoon, then, but at the
same time set apart. This distinction can be seen in the following interaction between a
drill sergeant and the platoon guide for 1st platoon:
Private Marko, out front.
Moving, drill sergeant!
Asked of the platoon: Does anybody like Private Marko?
Good. Youre not supposed to like him. If hes doing his
job right, you wont like him. Private Marko, do you care
if these privates like you?
No drill sergeant!
Good, you shouldnt.
The duties of the platoon guide place him in a separate category from the other privates,
outside of the regular social interactions that create the group unity in the first place.
The platoon guides are frequently given punishment by the drill sergeants for the
mistakes of the platoon. Symbolically, the platoon guide takes on the sins of the rest of
the platoon, and suffers in place of the rest of the platoon as the ritual victim. However,
the platoon guide is also the representation of the Army to the platoons, and as such can
not be sacrificed by the platoon. Instead, the platoons, and the drill sergeants focus on
the problem child. The problem child is typically the source of punishments received by
the platoon, and is disliked because of it. As the representative of what soldiers should


One soldier from each Company (4 platoons) is granted the Soldier of the Cycle award. Although
there are no specific benefits for this award, it looks good on a soldiers record when he is being considered
for promotion.
Punished with push-ups or other physical exercises to the point of exhaustion.


not be, the problem child becomes the surrogate victim, replacing the old civilian self and
the platoon guide as the actual victim of the sacrifice.
This interchange is played out in the punishments at Basic themselves. Platoon
guides are frequently punished by the drill sergeants, but almost always in private. While
the platoon guides take on the sins (mistakes) of the platoon, and suffer for it, this
suffering does not occur where the platoon can see it occur, and sometimes occurs
completely without their knowledge. According to Private Oldman, Yeah, a lot of stuff
went on in the drill sergeant office that the other guys didnt really see. I cant tell you
how many times I was down in the front leaning rest 77 for something one of the guys in
my platoon had done. As mentioned above, these punishments are almost never
discussed with the rest of the platoon. During Bravo Companys entire training cycle,
with the exception of the one instance in which Drill Sergeant Saburi mentioned it, I
never heard about any of these private punishments.
The punishments of the problem children, however, are conducted in public and
in full view of other units or individuals that happen to be nearby. This raises an
interesting dilemma for privates during Basic, however, as even though public
punishment is the standard, there is a veil of privacy created by the drill sergeants through
the use of joining the punishment session. If a private is caught watching a
punishment, he is asked to join the session with those privates being punished for the
original offense. For instance, on one occasion Private Huntley was called out by Drill
Sergeant Prince for talking in formation and told to do side-straddle hops and grass drills


The front leaning rest is the misnamed starting position for a pushup. When a punishment session is
going to begin, Drill Sergeants will order Front leaning rest position move! Although pushups will
sometimes follow, it is also quite common for a Drill Sergeant to simply leave the private in the position
for an extended period of time.


next to the company area. Private Brand was caught watching the session by Drill
Sergeant Prince and called over and forced to join Huntley in his punishment. Due to this
technique, it is possible for anyone to be included in a punishment for a soldiers
mistakes. In contrast, because the platoon guides are punished behind closed doors, their
punishment is never shared by other members of the platoon.
Private Evans separated himself from the other members of the platoon from the
very beginning of Basic Training, and thus was never truly seen as a member of 3rd
platoon. However his status as an outsider was enhanced by the extra separation
prescribed by the drill sergeants. Because of this separation, 3rd platoon was never
punished for any actions of Evans. The other five privates were distinctive in their
inability to conform to the new standards of basic and consistently got the platoon in
trouble due to their actions. After one punishment Private Huntley, who had provoked
the punishment, expressed no sense of remorse that his actions had caused the other
members of his squad to be punished along with him: You dont get it. I cant be
smoked. Whatever they do. If I dont talk, or do what they want, then they win. In this
case, the problem child refused to conform to the group standards, either from the
perspective of listening to authority, or imagining that his actions could affect the other
members of his group. Private Hanson was known in 3rd platoon as ineffective, forgetful,
and sometimes referred to as an idiot, or retarded by the other members of the
platoon. Hanson, however, was viewed as not responsible for his own actions, and
although one private expressed how in the hell are they gonna let that guy graduate? He
hasnt done shit here! he was also supported by the rest of the platoon, albeit in a
manner that reinforced his inability to conduct himself as a soldier: If I have to, Ill


fucking carry him out of the FTX on my back. I just want to get through this, graduate,
and get the hell out of here. In contrast to Hanson, Private Randal was viewed as a
problem child purely based on his ability to get the remainder of the platoon punished.
After being smoked for thirty minutes after the drill sergeants found a contraband item in
his personal drawer, his bunkmate stated, He just doesnt care. They can pull him out
and embarrass him. And hell stop it for a few days, but hes just not worried about it.
Finally, Private Darren was viewed by 3rd platoon as dangerous due to his almost
sociopathic self-involvement. Darren was suspected of having stolen money from
another private, and was frequently seen as a malingerer. On Sunday afternoons, the
platoon would perform the big clean, wiping down, sweeping, and mopping the entire
barracks from the ceiling to the floor. Darren would frequently avoid helping out with
this work, and on numerous occasions would violate direct orders from drill sergeants for
no obvious reasons.
The blackballing ritual described above is exemplary of the ways in which
feelings regarding the problem child are expressed. Drill Sergeant Briggs placed the
discussion in terms of physical violence, terms to which the privates of 3rd platoon
quickly adhered. Although Jackson was rarely mentioned, Randal, Darren, and Huntley
were frequently named as the privates the other members of the platoon would most want
to beat up. Drill Sergeant Briggs then asked the platoon who they thought were
redeemable, and could be made into good soldiers. He put it to a vote, asking the
platoon as a whole to raise their hands as he went through each of the four soldiers he had
pulled out into the killzone. Of the four, Randal, Huntley, and Jackson received almost
unanimous votes, while Darren was voted for by less than half of the platoon, including


two of his bunkmates and Private Parker, the platoons PG. According to the two
bunkmates, hes not gonna change, man, and After that, he came up to me and said I
noticed you didnt say yes, and I looked him right in the eye and said, no, I didnt.
Hes useless.
These problem children go through a process of support and then isolation that
has been detailed in previous work on Basic Training by anthropologist David Schneider.
In Schneiders analysis, when soldiers enter Basic Training, they are all focused on
dislike of the authorities. Due to this focus on the drill sergeants and instructors, those
soldiers who have chronic physical problems, labeled as the sick in Schneiders
account, become a symbol of the authorities attempts to make everyone do the things
they dont want to do. When the sick express complaint, they usually have the support of
the platoon in the beginning of the training. However, as the training progresses, and the
remainder of the group realizes that they are capable of performing the tasks set by the
drill sergeants, the amount of sympathy decreases, and the sick become isolated as the
platoon gains more new experiences of Army life which the sick are not able to share in.
In the training cycle of Bravo Company, this pattern of support and isolation
extended not only to the physically deficient of 3rd platoon, but the other types of problem
children as well. The experiences of Private Evans are an excellent example of this
pattern. In the beginning of the training cycle, following the pattern that Schneider
detailed, Evans was supported and given positive feedback from other privates and the
drill sergeants. Although the drill sergeants support was behind closed doors, according
to Evanss battle buddy, I definitely think they [the drill sergeants] tried to help him out
in the beginning, and that in the beginning all of us were talking to him, even Grissom


after he had a scuffle with him would talk to him, and Huntley I remember, and you
know even the drill sergeants at first, the captain, he met with the chaplain once, and you
know all these people.
After the first three or four weeks of Basic, the interaction between Evans and the
rest of the platoon shifted to one of isolation and insult. Describing Private Evans, I
think he like over dramatized a lot of stuff, or that he was being a baby about it.
Private Fletcher even told the drill sergeants that he was not his babysitter. The insults
directed against Evans were also very feminizing, describing him as the opposite of the
ideal masculinity that a soldier should exhibit. Evans was described as whiny, or a
pussy. The identity of the soldier is so tied up with masculinity that comparing a
private to a female is not simply an insult, but a reflection of the privates status as a
potential soldier. Even the drill sergeants in their interactions with other privates would
single private Evans out as a punk, you know, he was a girl. On one occasion, 3rd
platoon was instructed by Drill Sergeant Briggs, dont listen to Evans, hes a little crazy.
Just stay away from him and dont let him affect you.
Although not as clearly highlighted as Evanss interactions with the platoon, the
other problem children were also separated and isolated in various ways over the cycle.
Henry and Victor, the physically deficient, were frequently labeled as girls or pussies
by the other members of the platoon. Private Henrys experience was the classic example
of Schneiders analysis, as his chronic pain originally received sympathy from the
platoon and specifically his squad mates, but as the training cycle progressed, he became
more isolated and ridiculed by the other members of the platoon, including gratuitous
nicknames such as shin splints or that pansy, in the words of another private in 3rd


platoon. Private Victor was frequently teased about his sexual preferences, being referred
to as a faggot by one private during Basic, and as a girl or a wimp by another.
Schneider suggests that when people dont adjust well to military life, they will
use these chronic problems as a way to keep themselves from conforming to the Army
lifestyle, separating themselves from the rest of the platoon. The isolation of the sick
soldiers is only seen among those who exhibit chronic problems most frequently,
rheumatic, asthenic [chronic weakness], gastro-intestinal complaints, and occasionally
cardiovascular complaints, and chronic headaches. (Schneider, 1947, p. 324) Privates
with acute problems, such as tooth extractions, athletes foot, mild nearsightedness or
farsightedness, minor abrasions, and so forth are never observed to function socially, in
the same way as the sick privates are (ibid.). Chronic problems are the ones focused on
by other privates not due to the type of physical disability, but because the private
expressing those problems is isolating himself, whether intentionally or unintentionally,
from the rest of the platoon. The sick private is not joining with the other privates or
progressing in the transition from civilian to soldier. Instead, the sick are seen to be
holding on to the civilian element of themselves by not joining in the transition of the
other privates. For the other varieties of problem child detailed here, the civilian
symbolism holds true as well.
Schneider sees a practical outcome of this process, in which privates with
psychological problems express their dissatisfaction and psychological distress through
physical complaints, such that the Army can use the process of physical disqualification
to weed out the psychologically as well as physically unfit soldiers. (Schneider, 1947, p.
328) In addition, to this, however, another effect in the training platoon occurs, via the


isolation of the sick privates. The sick private becomes isolated both socially and
psychologically from the rest of the group. This isolation creates the scenario which is
essential to the creation of Girards surrogate victim. The surrogate victim must come
from outside the group involved in the sacrificial ritual (Girard, 1972, p. 102). By
isolating the sick private, that private becomes separated from the group itself, allowing
him to become the surrogate victim.
This isolation rather than assault accords with the main focus of Army training,
which is not to unearth or enhance the violent tendencies of privates, but to train them to
focus that violence and control it appropriately. The technique of isolation rather than
retribution serves to train privates to avoid releasing their anger and violence at an
incorrect victim, a fellow soldier. Schneider notes that the sick are not actively and
aggressively sought out and attacked by the group, which is functionally congruent
with the psychological orientation of aggression in army basic training. The social value
is on aggression against the enemy, not amongst the group. If the group members attack
each other indiscriminately, this may have the effect of heightening the general level of
aggression, but it will also militate against co-operative team work. (Schneider, 1947, p.
It is at this stage of Basic Training that the ritual process begins to fall apart.
Although an essential element of Girards schema is that retributive violence can not
occur, otherwise the violence will feed upon itself, the proper use of violence is sacrificial
violence, which serves to move the aggression and violence of the group away from
itself. If privates were to simply vent their anger on one another at will, expressing their
violent tendencies without control, the sacrificial act would never occur. The problem


child is isolated from the rest of the group, made to appear feminine and weak, those
attributes of the civilian world which the military is trying to remove from its privates.
However, there is no ritual sacrifice, either tangible or symbolic that completes the ritual.
During the training cycle, the requirements of the ritual and the requirements of the Army
come into conflict.
Army Basic Training, in addition to being a rite of passage, is also an
institutional training program in which there are institutional and bureaucratic goals
which inform the process. The first obstruction that the ritual process encounters is the
inability of privates to express their dissatisfaction with the problem child. One
technique used by the drill sergeants to maintain order is to imply that the other members
of a platoon will physically punish a problem child. When a problem child messes up, it
is a standard to punish everyone in the platoon except for the offender, who is forced to
stand in front of the platoon as they are punished, or in some cases, actually lead the
punishment itself. While this is occurring, the drill sergeants will threaten the offender
with an implied physical response from the platoon in retaliation for the group
punishment: if you dont straighten up, well be doing this [punishing the entire platoon]
every day. And I can guarantee you, these guys are gonna get pissed at you, and peer
pressure can be a bitch (italics added).
However, it is generally known that such punishments do not occur. The blanket
party seen in the film Full Metal Jacket in which all the members of the platoon beat on
Private Pyle, their problem child, with soap wrapped in socks, does not seem to happen in
Basic Training. During Bravo Companys entire cycle, blanket parties were only
mentioned in the context of threats or desire. During a stay in the infirmary, the film was


shown to sick privates, and the blanket party scene was greeted with cheers by all the
privates in the infirmary, as if they were cathartically releasing their own dislike of the
problem children in their various training units, which they knew they would not be
allowed to actually perform. The idea of the blanket party as punishment for a privates
mistakes was a constant specter over 3rd platoons training, despite specific orders from
the drill sergeant and officers that if one should occur those responsible would be
immediately kicked out of the Army. These direct orders were frequently belied by the
implications in many statements by the drill sergeants when delivering group
punishments, or threatening the same. Drill Sergeant Briggs would frequently make
mention that after the drill sergeants went home for the evening, who knows what might
happen up here. If we find out about it, well have to take action, the implication being
that if the drill sergeants did not find out about it, no action would be taken. Also, the
threats of blanket parties were frequently used by privates to attempt to monitor their
peers and prevent them from violating the internal rules of the platoon.

Failed Sacrifice
The desire for a sacrifice is unfulfilled, as problem children of all sorts are
graduated from Basic and moved to their next phase of training. According to the Bravo
Company Commander:
Theres a problem getting rid of privates from here, and it
frustrates the drill sergeants. Theres a lot of men that they
want to get rid of, but that all has to go through the First
Sergeant, and hes got to answer to me and the Sergeant
Major, and we have a directive to keep people here as much
as we can. The Army needs people, and we have pressure
to graduate as many as we can. And, really, theres a lot of


privates that the drill sergeants want to get rid of in the

beginning of the cycle that turn out all right at the end.
The Army, then, has institutional needs that overshadow the ritual needs of the process
itself. These institutional needs can create tension not only in a failure of the Basic
Training ritual, but in a general sense of distrust in the institution by the soldiers
Private Darren is seen by many members of 3rd platoon as a failure of the Army.
Darren was known as a liar and was suspected of having stolen money from another
private at Basic, a cardinal sin and one which could have gotten him discharged from the
Army if it was proven. While interviewing a number of members of the platoon, their
dissatisfaction was evident. One private stated, dont get me started on Darren, man.
Im so happy hes out, while another, upon learning of his discharge said simply, better
late than never, I guess. Even a drill sergeant expressed his dissatisfaction with both
Darren and the institutional rules which prevented them from removing him from Basic
Training: Yeah, some of the guys from your platoon were down here when they came
through for airborne. They said Darren had been kicked out for stealing. I wish we could
have done something about him here, but we got a lot of pressure to get these kids
through, yknow? 78 In fact, news of Darrens eventual discharge was met with evident
glee by Ricardo, and his frustration with Darrens graduation from both Basic and AIT
are also expressed in the following interview:
I heard it through a big chain of events, and I think McClelland and I went
out drinking that night.
To celebrate, or just happened to be going out drinking?

In fact, Darren had not been discharged at that point, this was simply rumor or miscommunication.


To celebrate. Because Im sorry, for as much as a lot of people dont like

the military and theres a lot of negative aspects to it, the army is a better
place without Darren in it.
Do you think he should have been kicked out earlier?
Oh my god, I would have kicked his ass out in Basic.
Do you think the drill sergeants should have?
Yes. Why they didnt, I dont know. It always seemed to me that no
matter what, in AIT or airborne school, or everyplace else, and this is one
of the things I have against the military, is that people who legitimately
want to get out, or should get kicked out dont, but the people who really
do want to be in there, but for some whatever reason whether its medical
or mental, or whatever, theyre kicked out. And thats one thing I dont
agree with, and he should have been kicked out as soon as he started doing
all this stuff in basic. I think like right after basic, right after we
graduated, they should have been like Im sorry you didnt qualify, get
the fuck out
In the case of 3rd platoon, only two privates were discharged from Basic Training,
Evans and Nicholas. Evans has been discussed previously, although it is important to
note that even after his departure, the drill sergeants continued to evoke his memory in an
attempt to create a ritual victim: all right men, look, dont be like Evans and give up.
Private Nicholas was diagnosed with a physical disorder within his first week of Basic
that prevented his completion of the training. Nicholas did, however, remain with the
company for six weeks, acting as an administrative assistant to the commander and the
drill sergeants. Although constantly disparaged by the drill sergeants for his physical
deficiencies, his departure was quiet and unmentioned.
The failure to sacrifice the problem child, either symbolically or literally, thus
results in a problem for the entire ritual. This can be seen in the lack of any consistent
description of what Basic Training does for the privates. Even the leaders at Basic


Training, the officers and the drill sergeants seem confused as to the purpose of the
training. In one interview the Bravo Company Commander responded with different
answers regarding the purpose of Basic Training: no, thats not what Basic is for. Basic
is just for getting those basic skills into a soldier, This is a rite of passage, so it should
be hard, and Basic is about introducing soldiers to the Army, and to Army life more
than introducing them to any specific knowledge. The ambiguity of Captain Hunters
responses is telling, but his third response returns me to the theme of this work. Basic
Training, as the first introduction for many to life in the Army, is predominantly about
teaching privates how to negotiate their way through the Army institution.
Perhaps one problem that occurs in the discussions of the purpose of Basic
Training is that the concept of a soldier is not clearly defined. Although more than 90%
of soldiers are non-combat troops, the identity of being a soldier is defined by the purpose
of the military, which is to kill those people their commanders tell them to kill. Noncombat soldiers incorporate the ideals of the infantry into their own identity, to such an
extent that it is essential to understand what the definition of a soldier actually is.
Following the framework developed here, the soldier is, in actuality, a ritual sacrifice of
his own, sacrificing not only his civilian world, but potentially his life, in the interests of
the nation.


Chapter 5: The Soldier, his Rifle, and the changing Battlefield of the 21st Century

The second three weeks of Basic Training are almost exclusively devoted to
learning how to handle the M-16 assault rifle. The rifle (or musket) has been the weapon
of the soldier since the introduction of gunpowder and the innovations of the 16th Century
when militaries became predominantly national institutions rather than privately owned
mercenary companies. The full details of these changes will be discussed in the next
chapter, while here I will discuss the importance of the rifle to the contemporary soldier.
One significant difference between Basic Training in 2002 and Basic Training in
2007 highlights the attempt, and the resistance, to shift training to more directly
applicable skills for incoming soldiers. During Basic Training immediately after
September 11th, the training program was essentially the same as before that event. In
recent years, the Army has claimed to have increased the exposure of privates in Basic
Training to weapons such as the SAW machine gun, AT-4 rocket launcher, and Claymore
mine. However, my discussions with soldiers who have graduated Basic Training in the
past two years suggest that these changes are not as significant as reported. The
fundamental basis of rifle training, however, remains the same. This chapter will focus
on the rifle training at Basic, while the next chapter will address the other weapons
learned at Basic Training.
The rifle, of course, is the standard weapon of every soldier, from cook to
infantryman, and also serves as a link to soldiers of other countries and other times. As
the focus of soldier identity, I will devote the majority of this chapter to discussing this
phase of Basic Training, and show how the rifle forms the basis for an identification of


soldiers with their new roles, and how that identification is shifting in response to a
number of new approaches to warfare.

The Rifle
The rifle in the Army is always referred to as a weapon or occasionally as a rifle,
never a gun. It is unclear whether this specificity comes from an actual Army
requirement, or from films such as Full Metal Jacket. Using the term weapon rather
than rifle, and especially to the overly generic gun creates a connection with soldiers
from the past. As will be discussed later, a large part of military indoctrination is
incorporating the new soldier into his fictive kin network. This network includes not
only the fictive kin group of the present, but also in the mythic past. By referring to the
M16 as a weapon the military culture can become more tightly knit, as a gun is
carried by civilians, and can refer to any number of firearms. A weapon, on the other
hand, is the instrument of a soldier, regardless of where or when that soldier serves.
Whether discussing a Roman legionary, medieval knight, or Revolutionary War
Minuteman, the term weapon refers to that which all soldiers have in common, namely,
the right to carry a weapon and use it at the order of their commander. Thus, through the
use of this distinct term, the rifle as weapon creates a symbolic link between the modern
soldier and other soldiers throughout history.
These links extend beyond the naming of the rifle, however. The history of
warfare is one in which opposing militaries engage in a dynamic of response and counterresponse: armor leads to heavier weapons which leads to heavier armor, ad infinitum
(OConnell, 1989). With the exception of certain drastic changes, such as the invention


of gunpowder, this is the dynamic which drives most military innovation. These drastic
changes, or revolutions, are the subject of the next chapter, but it should be noted that
even with revolutionary changes, certain fundamentals return to the development of arms
and armor over the ages. For example, modern soldiers wearing Interceptor Body Armor
in Iraq are the equivalent of men-at-arms in the Middle Ages wearing breastplate and
helmet on the fields of Crecy or Agincourt; soldiers riding in armored tanks are the
equivalent of knights riding armored warhorses. Manuel de Landa takes this analogy to
an even more abstract level when he compares modern radar to a siege fortification, a city
wall of computerized and magnetic particles that protects our citizens from incoming
weapon fire (de Landa, 1991). At the core, warfare and other forms of organized
violence are grounded in the culture of the groups performing the fighting, and will
consistently return to the expectations of that culture. Soldiers prefer to see themselves in
mythic terms, often as mythological heroes figures such as John Wayne or Audi Murphy,
and attempt to live within certain mythological frames distinct from the civilian world.
As we saw in Chapter Two, language can also be used to set apart from the military
from the civilian world. The Army insists on the specific differences between a clip
and a magazine. A clip is often referred to in police and even military movies as the
ammunition holder for a gun. However, in the Army, the ammunition holder for a rifle is
always referred to as a magazine. The clip in the military refers to the container on
which bullets are strung and packed for shipment. In the case of an M16, a clip holds 10
bullets, and is used to load a magazine, which can hold thirty bullets. As we have seen,
the military uses many elements of language to separate incoming privates from their


previous lives. As the rifle itself is such a strong symbol of being a soldier, the language
surrounding the rifle is very specific.
During Basic, the rules and regulations prescribing proper action with the rifle are
very strict. Just as the soldier himself must be disciplined and restrained, the rifle is the
extension of a soldier and must be just as disciplined. Although the Army does not
incorporate the soldier to his rifle as powerfully as the Marine Corps, for instance, it is
still often viewed as an extension of the soldier himself. From the very first time
touching a rifle, a soldier is expected to conform to the rules of the Army in handling it.
Issuing the weapon at Basic Training is a complicated process. As with everything
done in Basic Training, there is a ritual associated with it, entailing shouting various
slogans such as We need one Bulldawg to the Armory now! This call is then
responded by the next soldier in line Number 1 on his way (etc.) who moves from
formation to the line waiting to get into the arms room where the weapons are held under
lock and key by a Company armorer. Once all the soldiers of a platoon are lined up, each
soldier enters the arms room, where he must shout out his name and last 4, which is then
repeated to him by the arms detail, and then the arms detail shouts the serial number of
his weapon, pulls it off the rack, the soldier reads and confirms that the serial number of
the weapon he is given is the same as the one that is on the paper list, and signs his
weapon out.
Once the soldier has his weapon, he leaves the arms room and immediately clears
the weapon by pulling the charging handle 79 to the rear and visually inspecting the
chamber to be certain there is no round in the chamber that could be accidentally fired

The charging handle is a handle on the back of the weapon which pulls the bolt back to prepare for
loading the weapon, it also opens the dust cover on the weapon so that the chamber of the weapon can be


(called an accidental discharge or AD). After the weapon has been cleared, the soldier is
allowed to return to his formation. The fear of an accidental discharge is such that
deployed soldiers are punished for an AD under any circumstances, even when firing into
the clearing barrels 80 designed to catch a bullet if a weapon is not properly cleared
before entering a base.
While carrying a weapon, soldiers in formation must modify a number of their
standard drill and ceremony maneuvers. Attention, parade rest, and present arms
(saluting) are different when a soldier carries his weapon, and there are also several new
drill and ceremony movements that a soldier must learn with his weapon. At attention,
the weapon is held along the leg of the soldier, with the barrel or front sight post in his
right hand and the butt of the weapon on the ground. At parade rest the weapon is held in
the right hand leaning slightly forward while the other hand is pressed into the small of
the back. Present arms 81 is performed by holding the weapon diagonally in front of the
body so that the barrel of the weapon points straight up and over the right shoulder (this
position is called Order Arms, and is one of the basic positions the weapon is held in
while carrying a weapon during Drill and Ceremony), and then on the given order, rather
than saluting, the weapon is held directly vertically in front of the soldier with the top of
the weapon directed towards his body.
Attention and parade rest are simply modifications to the standard drill and
ceremony movements, in which the hand carrying the rifle must be modified to reflect
carrying something in that hand. The difference in present arms is more significant,
however, and like the ubiquity of the term weapon, reflects a universalizing attempt by

A large barrel full of sand to provide a safe place if a round should accidentally fire after the weapon has
been cleared.
This is a drill and ceremony order calling for a salute.


the military to bring together disparate historical elements of soldierhood. For a soldier
without a weapon, the orders present arms and order arms are orders to salute and
drop a salute, respectively. The exact origin of the salute is unknown, but most traditions
mention knights greeting each other by raising visors and the tradition of doffing a hat to
show respect (Soldiers Handbook, 1-14). With a weapon, however, the present arms and
order arms commands are directly linked to a swordsmans salute, according to the
Armys Field Manual for Drill and Ceremony. The two commands for a soldier carrying
a sword or saber rather than a rifle directly mimic the salutes seen between fencers in film
or at official competitions (FM 22-5, K-5). Thus, regardless of the weapon involved,
sword, rifle, or some other arcane weapon, the performances learned by a private connect
him to other soldiers in other armies past and present. In fact, in the manual given to
privates, the connection between privates learning drill and ceremony and the founding
myth of the United States Army is explicitly drawn: many drill procedures used by the
United States Army today were developed during the Revolutionary War. (Soldiers
Handbook, 4-3)
The handling of any weapon in Basic Training is one of the most controlled acts for
privates. This holds true as much for scissors as it does for the rifle, and privates are not
even allowed to keep a nail file attached to their nail clippers. Although clippers are
required at Basic to keep finger and toe nails properly trimmed, if the clippers brought to
Basic Training include an attached nail file, this file must be broken off on the first day of
Basic Training. Given this extreme discipline, then, it is hardly surprising that while
handling a rifle, drill sergeants strictly monitor and manage the actions of privates.


On the first day that privates were given their weapons, they reported immediately
to the classroom. Once seated, the drill sergeant ordered the privates to place their
weapons down on the table with the barrel pointing to the right. This results in the dust
cover always facing up, which is the military prescribed way of laying down a weapon.
The first day with a weapon is completely classroom instruction on the weapon itself,
from the very basic first steps of trigger, grip, barrel, and all the other parts of the
weapon, down to the incredibly specific such as the bolt cam pin and the firing pin
retaining pin 82 .
During this first day, privates are not even allowed to touch their weapon after
laying it on the desk in front of them. The symbolic value of the rifle is such that within
moments after Drill Sergeant Redmond gave that order, over a dozen privates had already
begun playing with the rifle. This playing was predominantly in the context of showing
off, expressing the prior knowledge these privates had with military life. Like the
expressions of linguistic ability discussed in Chapter Two, privates use this prior
knowledge to attempt to build symbolic capital among their fellow privates. However,
unlike linguistic expression, playing with firearms is strictly censured in the military. In
order to stop privates from moving outside the accepted boundaries of behavior with
regard to their weapons, Drill Sergeant Redmond ordered all privates to place their hands
on their heads while delivering the course of instruction on the various parts of the
After the first day of instruction, the next week of Basic Training is devoted to
training drills to accustom the private to the weapon and familiarize him with the basics
of marksmanship. On every firing range on every base I have seen, there are oversized

See Appendix


displays of the four principles of proper marksmanship: Steady Position, Aiming,

Breathing Control, and Trigger Squeeze. These basics are also in the Smart Book 83 that
all privates are required to keep on their person at all times. In addition to these
principles, there are a number of fundamentals taught by drill sergeants and other
instructors, the predominant one being the cheek-to-stock weld.
The cheek-to-stock weld is one of the most important features of Army Training,
and one of the most difficult for privates to master. During Basic Training, the technique
most often taught to establish a good position is to place the nose against the charging
handle at the rear of the weapon. During 3rd platoons BRM training, Drill Sergeant
Redmond told privates: I want to put your nose right up against that charging handle.
Dont get scared of breaking your nose, cause if you do, thats good, it means youre
good. This technique is not perfect, however, as Sergeant Brigman reported later in his
career after scoring his first Sharpshooter84 qualification: Those MPs are good.
Remember in Basic, they told you to put your nose up against the charging handle? He
told me to pull my face back a bit and just be comfortable. My score went up six points.
Unlike the discipline of handling a weapon, then, the specifics of marksmanship
technique are mostly up to each individual soldier. Like the cheek-to-stick weld, where
to aim a weapon while firing is also a subject of debate and individual preference.
Depending on the range to the target and the style of the instructor, a target should be
aimed either low or center mass, with the sight of the weapon aligned on the exact center

The Smart Book is the term drill sergeants use to refer to the IET Manual given to all privates their
first day of Basic Training. This book compiles all of the information required for an enlisted soldier to
know, as well as introductions to Army life, the Code of Conduct and Soldiers Creed, and short
biographies of military figures and medal recipients. The only other reading material allowed during Basic
Training is religious literature of a privates respective faith.
There are three levels of qualification for any weapon in the Army: Marksman, Sharpshooter, and Expert.
Expert is the highest rank, followed by Sharpshooter and then Marksman.


of the target. During 3rd platoons time at Basic, we were instructed in a variety of
techniques, depending on the drill sergeant or the range instructor at the time.
These variations were subtle, and reflect individual differences in the approach to
firing a weapon. Despite a mandatory Army way of firing a weapon described in the
IET Manual and training manuals, different soldiers apply different techniques to this
standard task. A number of these techniques also relate to manipulating the system in
order to appear more proficient. Just as high school students are often taught test-taking
techniques to improve scores on standardized tests that do not reflect any increase in
knowledge, privates are taught marksmanship techniques which will improve their scores
on qualifications, but not necessarily improve their marksmanship. For instance, the
instructor who told our squad to aim low couched it in terms of scoring better on the
range, not improving our chances of hitting the target: Look, aim low. Most people
buck a bit, anyways, right? So a lot of you are going too high. Also think, what is gonna
happen if you hit that berm? Youre gonna kick up some rocks and dirt. Maybe you
dont hit the target, but that rock might, the target goes down. Thats what were aiming
for here, right? Also, if a private is consistently qualifying on ranges, the drill sergeants
do not interfere with his technique, although when privates such as Hanson or Prince
consistently failed, the drill sergeants focused on them and forced them to perform as
closely as possible to the instructions given in the training manuals. Thus, so long as
privates were performing properly, their individual differences were not of issue to the
drill sergeants, it was only when a private was not properly performing that they would
correct his actions. The structural requirements, in this case, although restricting the


boundaries of privates performance, do not prevent the exercise of individual decisions

with regard to even this important skill.
Soldiers are allowed, and expected, to pick and choose from a variety of techniques
to properly fire their weapon. On the other hand, they are severely restricted in how they
are allowed to act while holding it. This reflects, on the one hand, the practicality of
handing loaded weapons to teenagers. On the other hand, we can see in this dynamic
Deleuze and Guattaris theory of the military. The means by which a soldier uses his
weapon is the release of the war machine, and thus does not require the same regulation
as the handling of the weapon, which is the potential violence of the war machine
restrained by the needs of the State.
The strict discipline of weapon handling is also indicative of how drill sergeants
inform privates of acceptable versus unacceptable behavior within the Army. Although
playing with language, for example, is accepted and occasionally encouraged, playing at
being a soldier is not. A weapon, as the symbol of soldiers throughout history, must be
treated with respect. As with camouflage face paint, which will be discussed later,
although play is permissible in some instances, in others it is not, and the drill sergeants,
as representatives of the Army, make this clear to privates through intensive training and
strict discipline.

Rifle Training
The main two drills used to instruct privates are dime/washer drills and shadow
box drills. Both drills are done with partners. In the dime/washer drill, the firer gets in
the prone (or any firing position, really, but at Basic it is done in the prone) and assumes


a firing position. The partner places a dime or small washer on the end of the weapons
barrel, and the firer pulls the trigger on his weapon, allowing the hammer to fall. Ideally,
the firer should be relaxed enough that he does not jerk the weapon as he pulls the trigger.
In practice, whether or not the dime falls from the barrel is a matter of how well placed it
is. If the partner has placed it on the center of the barrel, approximately evenly weighted,
it will likely not fall. If placed to one side or the other, the vibration of the hammer
falling will likely rattle it off the end of the weapon regardless of ability.
Shadow box drills are performed with the firer and partner approximately 25 meters
away from each other. The weapon is placed securely on a special box, which grips the
weapon at the hand guard and the pistol grip, and is fastened securely with Velcro straps.
The firer gets in a prone position and sights on a piece of paper held by his partner. This
piece of paper is (ideally) stapled to another box, and the partner is also given a plastic
silhouette with a hole in the center. The firer motions with his hand for the partner to
move the silhouette up, down, left or right, and when the silhouette is centered in the
weapons sights, instructs his partner to mark the spot. The hand signals are not
standardized, and there is much confusion as to whether one should use a thumb or a
finger to point a direction. It is very easy to get frustrated with this drill, as well, and
settle for a good enough. The speed with which the partner moves the silhouette can also
affect the results, as it can affect the concentration of the firer. In addition, although this
exercise is meant to practice getting a good sight picture, moving your arm too much to
signal your partner can result in a shift of either your body or the box the weapon is on,
destroying the sight picture you had just set up. The procedure is repeated three times,


and to qualify the firer must place his three marks within the large circle, which is 4 cm
in diameter, and ideally they should be within a 1cm circle.
These two practices, however, cannot prepare the private for the actual firing of the
weapon. Before firing rounds on a live range, Bravo Company spent a day at the
Weaponeer range, which is a computer with a rifle attached to a pressurized air system to
mimic the kick of a rifle and a laser to simulate the fired bullet. There were only ten
systems available for use, and almost 250 privates, so the remainder of the company
spent the day practicing dime/washer drills and shadow box drills while waiting to use
the Weaponeer. For the entire three weeks of BRM, these two drills are practiced during
any extended period of dead time, such that by the end of the phase, privates are usually
completely sick of the drills.
The dime/washer drill is also an example of the directive of Basic Training to look
busy. As discussed in Chapter Three, soldiers must always maintain the appearance of
busyness. As both a regular soldier and during Basic Training, soldiers with weapons
will almost always be seen performing dime/washer drills or disassembling and cleaning
their weapons. From within that performance, however, these are almost always
busywork, and most soldiers relax and carry on conversations while performing for the
public audience. However much the Army attempts to enforce its rules on soldiers,
soldiers quickly learn how to respond to those rules, publicly performing as necessary but
in actuality acting as they wish within the disciplinary constraints. Thus, privates will
perform dime washer drills while wasting time, putting on a faade of work while
frequently spending the time talking or resting.


As a practical matter, the dime/washer drills not only serve to waste time in a
culturally appropriate way, but also teach soldiers how to hold themselves in the proper
position to fire on a qualification range. There are two main firing positions taught at
Basic Training 85 , the prone and foxhole positions. In addition, these positions can be
labeled supported or unsupported. In the prone position, the soldier lies on the ground
with his body slightly angled to the left 86 , and the butt of the rifle pressed against his
right shoulder with his right hand on the pistol grip and his index finger extended straight
along the side of the rifle so that it does not touch the trigger. His left hand supports the
barrel of the rifle and the soldiers weight rests on his elbows, which are supposed to
form a tripod with the hips to support the soldier. Drill sergeants in Bravo Company
informed privates to open their left hand while firing, as the left hand should simply
support the weapon barrel vertically and the right hand and arm should pull the rifle
tightly into the shoulder. The soldiers ankles should rest on the ground with both feet
pointed outwards, a position which is painful, or sometimes impossible, for some
soldiers, to prevent the soldiers body from shifting in response to the recoil of the rifle.
The rifle should be held high enough above the ground that the soldiers head does not
have to dip in order to see through the sights and therefore disrupt a natural point of aim.
After a few minutes in this position, the elbows of every private begin to get sore.
The small of the back is arched tightly and will frequently cramp up after an extended
period. In addition, the tip of the elbow is forced into the ground, frequently gravel rather
than sand or softer dirt. In order to prepare privates and keep them from enduring too
much pain, drill sergeants focus on certain exercises to strengthen the muscles in the arms

This was true in 2002. According to newly graduated soldiers, Basic Training no longer teaches the
foxhole position, and instead uses a prone position and a kneeling position.
This description assumes a right handed soldier. If a private is left handed, the instructions are reversed.


and back. In addition to push-ups, there are specialized exercises to strengthen the small
of the back and the shoulders for support during firing a rifle. In addition to sit-ups,
push-ups and other calisthenics, the main exercise used to strengthen the arms and back
in preparation for this position is to place the elbows of the private on the ground, and
place the heels of both hands under the chin. The private then lifts his body off the
ground so that only his elbows and the toes of his boots are touching the ground. After
holding the body in this position for a few moments, the back and stomach muscles begin
to stress and get painful. However, after performing this exercise numerous times, it is
possible to hold the body off the ground for an extended period, and ideally, to stay in the
prone firing position for extended periods without affecting your firing position.
Strength training can only assist with part of the pain of the prone position.
Leaning onto the elbows drives them into the ground and creates painful stress on the
joints, frequently exasperated by hard-packed dirt or even gravel in most of the areas
where training occurs. Although technically privates are not allowed to wear any
equipment not issued to them in Basic Training, drill sergeants will allow privates to
purchase elbow pads to wear under their uniforms, stressing by example that performance
on the firing ranges is more important than some of the rules of Basic Training. So long
as the elbow pads are worn under the uniform, and thus can not be seen, drill sergeants
will allow privates to wear them. Like other examples of rule breaking discussed earlier
(misogynist language, shamming work, and group leadership, for example), through
selective enforcement drill sergeants instruct privates not only on the rules of the Army,
but also on what rules they are allowed to violate.


In the foxhole position, the soldier stands in a foxhole, at most firing ranges actually
a cement sewer pipe approximately four and a half feet high placed vertically into the
ground, leaning against the front of the pipe and resting his arms on the ground outside
the foxhole. For shorter soldiers, there are wood pallets or boxes to stand on and elevate
the soldiers body high enough to place his elbows outside the foxhole. The position that
the drill sergeants tell privates to acquire in the foxhole is with the hip opposite the firing
hand pressed up against the side of the foxhole with the back leg braced as strongly as
possible against the bottom of the foxhole. Acquiring the textbook position is difficult, as
frequently the soldiers elbows can not rest properly on the ground, forcing the soldier to
either perch them on the lip of the foxhole, or to leave his rear elbow unsupported. Most
foxhole firing is performed from a supported position, in which the barrel of the rifle is
not supported by the soldiers arm, but is instead rested on top of sandbags. Where the
soldiers left hand is placed during shooting is again up to the individual soldier, but is
typically either placed between the sandbag and the barrel, or is used to pull the rifle
tighter against the shoulder by pressing against the magazine well. On one occasion,
Private Christopher actually urinated in the foxhole while firing by using his left hand to
unbutton his trousers and simply used his shoulders and right hand to shift the weapon to
each target 87 . The difficulty of developing a proper foxhole position is one of the reasons
why firing from the foxhole is usually less accurate for a soldier firing on the range than
firing from the prone. Theoretically, the foxhole position should be the more accurate,
since with the barrel of the weapon supported it will shift less. However, because of the
difficulties associated with firing from the foxhole, and the fact the privates constantly


This story earned Private Christopher a substantial amount of subcultural capital as well, as it
demonstrated his ability with the weapon even while distracted by his bodily requirements.


train in the prone unsupported position, typically the privates will perform better in that
After a week training without rounds and dry firing 88 their weapons, privates are
ready for firing with live rounds. There are a number of different ranges used to practice
firing, and to date I have found no explanation for why there was such a variety. The
first ranges were 25 meter ranges to practice zeroing and grouping. Stealing the example
back from statistics textbooks, grouping is firing for precision, in which the position of
the bullet holes on the target does not matter, only the tightness with which the holes are
formed. Zeroing is firing for accuracy and precision, and is used to adjust the sights of
the weapon to each individual soldier for proper targeting.
Zeroing and grouping are both done in the prone supported position, in which the
barrel of the rifle rests on sandbags as in the foxhole position described above. This is to
provide the best stability for the rifle, as the purpose of these ranges is not to establish the
accuracy of the soldier, but to get the private familiar with the rifle and to establish the
muscle memory for a good sight picture 89 . Grouping must be accomplished first, and it
is essentially the same as the shadow box drills. Each private fires at a 25 meter target,
attempting to hit the same point on the target as many times in a row as possible. A
soldier must score three shots within a 4cm circle in order to qualify. An entire day was
devoted just to grouping, and some privates had still not qualified by the end of the day.
They continued into the next day while the majority of soldiers moved on to zeroing.


Pulling the trigger and allowing the firing hammer to fall on an empty chamber.
A good sight picture is a generic term in Army marksmanship, and typically means that the soldier is
positioned properly while holding the weapon, and can easily see through the firing sight of the weapon to
the target without shifting his position.


During zeroing, there is usually more interaction with the drill sergeants. During
the grouping phase, the drill sergeants tell a private what he was doing wrong, whether he
were jerking the weapon, or not breathing correctly, or whatever the problem was.
During zeroing, in addition to these criticisms, however, there is also a more direct
interaction, in which drill sergeants will tell a private to remember a set of numbers, (left,
right, up, or down) and then repeat it to them when they came to adjust the rifles sights.
Over the course of three weeks of BRM, drill sergeants will slowly allow privates to
adjust the sights on their own weapon, but in the beginning of the cycle, they will not
allow a private to touch his weapon on the range except to pick it up and pull the trigger.
Drill sergeants almost never specifically instruct privates on how to adjust their sights,
the privates must learn to do so by first mimicking drill sergeants, and then displaying
competence in the performance, performing properly as soldier.
During this phase, drill sergeants are more relaxed than during the first three weeks
of training. According to Drill Sergeant Saburi: We dont want you guys to fail. This is
important, we have to get everybody through this. You saw we were nicer to you during
BRM 90 , we dont want you to be stressed out. During the training cycle, when 3rd
platoon had left a locker unlocked, Drill Sergeant Briggs yelled at the platoon and warned
them: You guys are getting off easy! But you better straighten up, after next week,
were back in Drill Sergeant mode, and if you fuck around like this, I will smoke you til
you drop! The importance of qualification, and of the rifle itself, is highlighted by this
relaxation of discipline. As with shooting below the target on a range, the subtext of this


Basic Rifle Marksmanship, the three week block of Basic Training which focuses almost exclusively on
shooting a rifle.


message was that qualification with the rifle, probably the core skill for any soldier, was
more important than perfect discipline.
However, drill sergeants do not completely forego strict discipline, and maintain
their appearance of surliness and skirting the edge of violence. In some ways, although
the drill sergeants are not as confrontational with privates during BRM, they stress the
fact that they are more willing to cross over the line into violence if necessary. When 3rd
platoon went to the first live fire range, all three drill sergeants related stories about
attacking a private who was not acting appropriately on the range. Drill Sergeant Briggs
described the following: A couple cycles ago, we were on the range, and this little shit,
the Battalion Commander comes up to him and he points his goddam weapon at him. I
grabbed the weapon out of his hands and knocked him over faster than shit and the
colonel just looked at me and said good job, drill sergeant. Dont think I will hesitate to
fuck you up if you fuck up on the range. In the same way, Drill Sergeant Redmond
stated When were on the range, I will fucking kill you if you point that weapon at me or
anybody else, when we were preparing to march to our first live fire range. Drill
Sergeant Briggss statement is particularly enlightening since he implies that on the
range, the usual rules of non-contact between drill sergeants and privates are lifted, and
the drill sergeant is allowed to strike a private he does not like. On one occasion, I
fumbled my weapon and accidentally pointed it at the tower which sits above every range
so that the range cadre 91 can oversee the shooting, and Drill Sergeant Redmond directly
threatened my life should I fuck up again. Although I believe that Drill Sergeant
Redmonds death threat was, in fact, idle, his expression of willingness to cross that line

Range cadre are those instructors at each range, be it grenades, M-16, gas chamber, etc., who are not drill
sergeants but are responsible for teaching privates the specific skills when drill sergeants are unavailable or
unqualified to do so.


exemplifies how seriously drill sergeants and other instructors take safety procedures on
the firing range.
Most firing ranges are laid out in a standard way, except for two unique ranges that
Bravo Company fired on. The standard ranges in the Army have pop up targets. They
are organized in lanes, each lane is numbered, usually from one to thirty. Each lane has
two 50m targets, and then one of each at 100, 150, 200, 250, and 300 meter distances.
Each target is set behind a berm 92 which hides the machinery which moves the target up
and down. In addition to the six distances already mentioned, many ranges have
additional targets at other distances for specific purposes that were never used at basic
Procedures on the range, as indicated by the performances of drill sergeants, also
reflect the strict discipline of Basic Training. This discipline continues in the regular
Army, although soldiers are expected to maintain their own discipline and are not
subjected to the strict oversight of drill sergeants, although their own sergeants are
expected to maintain safety. Safety and discipline on the firing range are two of the
unbreakable rules of Army life, and performance on the range is scripted much more
rigidly in this situation than almost any other. This rigid scripting likely accounts for the
similarities across the Army in such things as commands from the tower, which I
discussed in Chapter Two, which almost always follow the same script with the exact
same intonation. The abundance of distinct terms on a firing range also highlights the
importance of this place to the Army as a whole.


A berm is a large mound of dirt, usually found behind a firing range at Basic Training. In general
practice, it is formed when piling the dirt from a ditch alongside the ditch. Originally used in medieval
military engineering, the continuation of the term is another example of the symbolic connections between
modern soldiers and their historic forebears.


Before entering the range, soldiers must put in their ear protection and they are each
designated a firing order and a firing point. Firing order is the group that each soldier
will be firing with (first, second, third) and the firing point is the location on the range
where the soldier will be firing from. On most ranges there are approximately thirty
positions for soldiers to fire at targets from. Each point is designated as a lane, and given
a number which identifies it. Soldiers advance into the range through only a designated
area (usually two red posts towards the center of the range), with the butt of their
weapons pressed into their stomach and holding the weapon so the muzzle is pointing
towards the range and up in the air. This position is a standard for the Army, and every
time a soldier goes to the range, even after Basic Training, he is ordered to keep your
weapons up and downrange at all times. The private walks quickly towards a range
safety, who uses a clearing rod, a long metal rod, to slide down the muzzle and tap the
bolt of the weapon to be certain there is no bullet in the weapon. In order to accomplish
this, the bolt of the weapon is pulled back to show there is no round in the chamber. The
soldiers then walk to the ammo point, where a detail of privates is assigned to filling
magazines, and obtain two magazines of twenty bullets each, and head out to their firing
points. The privates are usually lined up in two rows, so that one line can turn right and
the other left and spread out from the center of the range.
Running is never allowed on the range, but speed is encouraged. The Army calls
this a range walk and defines it that one foot must always be on the ground at all times.
Range walks are different for each soldier but it is generally agreed that if done properly
it always looks somewhat ridiculous.


The foxhole is covered by a wooden lid, which is placed to the rear and left of the
foxhole, and each soldier places his weapon on the lid (ejection port cover skyward) and
stand back behind the trail that runs from the entry point of the range to the firing points.
Once all privates have made it to their positions, the tower issues commands to the
Privates; at this time, enter the foxhole and take up a good foxhole
supported firing position.
Privates; at this time, take one twenty round magazine and; lock;
and load.
Ready on the right? Right side is ready. Ready on the left, left side
is ready. Switch your selector switch from safe to semi and watch; your
The range cadre all have the same inflection, and talking with soldiers from other Basic
Training sites, this holds true across the entire army. There are standard steps for each
stage of the firing process, and the command to perform each step is given from the
control tower. First, the soldiers obtain their weapons and magazines and get into the
foxhole, preparing the sandbags as best they can. Although soldiers are always told to
take as much time as possible, the rushed feeling is still left over enough that the
sandbags are rarely positioned perfectly. It must be noted that I have never heard of a
drill sergeant rushing a soldier getting ready, and I have heard them yelling at range cadre
for starting the targets without waiting for their notification. As soon as the sandbags are
positioned properly, the tower asks each side if they are ready, and the drill sergeants use
a white or red paddle to let the tower know yes or no.
Once shooting has finished, the soldier must put the safety back on his weapon,
remove his magazine, and lock the bolt to the rear. Ideally, there should be no more
rounds left at the end of each round of shooting, as the private should have fired all


twenty rounds from the magazine. After locking the bolt to the rear, the weapon is placed
next to the foxhole and the soldier steps to the rear of the foxhole away from the weapon.
A range safety, usually one of the drill sergeants, inspects each weapon to be certain
there is not a round remaining in it, and then signals the tower to move to the next phase.
After this is done, the tower gives the order to get in the prone position, and then repeats
the orders to lock and load and then to watch their lanes.
For a qualification, the targets pop up forty times in a pre-determined sequence.
Although it was never made clear during Basic Training, the sequence of targets is the
same on every range in the Army when a soldier fires for official qualification. This
information is openly available on the internet as the standard score card, although I have
not heard of any soldier memorizing the sequence. However, when personally serving as
a range safety (the position which drill sergeants serve during basic Training), I have
noticed that on almost every safety paddle the target sequence is written out in pen or
marker. One piece of information that the drill sergeants did relay to 3rd platoon,
however, is that the 50 meter left target is always the first target to popup, regardless of
the pattern, and that this holds true of every range in the US Army. Again, as with the
aiming point, soldiers will negotiate the rules of the Army, in this case informing each
other of the targets which are due to pop up on the range to give the firing soldier an extra
second or two to prepare to fire. Although marksmanship is important, it seems that the
act of qualification, the emblem of ability rather than the ability itself, is more important.
The targets are green plastic dummies, torso and head, that are placed behind small
mounds (berms) which presumably conceal the activating mechanism. One drill sergeant
in Bravo Company for 4th Platoon inspired his platoon with a shout of Kill Plasticman!


every time they prepared to go to the range. The targets remain upright for different
lengths of time, depending on the distance; the farther a target is, the longer it stays up
for. During the sequence, a number of times two targets will appear at the same time,
requiring not only accuracy but some amount of thinking on the part of the soldier to
decide which target to shoot at. When the target has been hit by a bullet, it drops back
down, so you can have some idea about whether or not you hit it. Running between each
lane are red and white posts that designate the boundaries of your lane and your
neighbors. Although they are supposed to prevent you from firing into someone elses
lane, it does still happen. Although this is usually by accident, there were consistently
rumors of drill sergeants instructing previously qualified privates to enter the range and
fire on another privates lane in order to get him to pass, and also rumors that drill
sergeants themselves would take over for a private to get him to pass BRM.
No matter how much discipline the Army tries to enforce on a firing range, of
course, there are always factors which will affect the structure of the environment. On a
number of ranges these factors were environmental, but there were also human
influences, as each private, drill sergeant, and range instructor approached the activity at
the firing range with his own desires and behaviors. Many times the human and
environmental factors would interact, as when rain caused the range instructors to attempt
to close a range we were on at the time, while the drill sergeants argued to keep the range
open. The end result of this was that the privates in Bravo Company sat for an hour on
covered bleachers until the rain stopped and the drill sergeants won the argument by


The berms at different ranges have varying degrees of exposure, at some ranges
only the head of the target is visible, at others the entire target is. At one infamous range,
so much of the range was covered in waist high grass that the Captain and the First
Sergeant grabbed privates gloves and e-tools and began cutting down the grass so that
the targets would be visible. That the two highest ranking soldiers in the Company were
willing to engage in what would otherwise be work for privates highlights two factors
about firing ranges in Basic Training. First, as mentioned before, the instructors at Basic
Training will do whatever they can to insure a good score on qualification ranges, not
necessarily an improvement in actual marksmanship ability. Second, the discipline of
firing ranges is such that privates could not be allowed onto the range except for in the
prescribed firing locations, so that only the drill sergeants and other instructors could be
allowed onto the range itself to conduct this clearing procedure.
Another problem encountered during range fire was an inaccurate amount of bullets
in a magazine. Each magazine is hand loaded by the ammo detail chosen by the drill
sergeants. Although each magazine was supposed to have twenty rounds, many times a
soldier would be shorted two or four rounds, or sometimes ten. Because the bullets
alternate as they go into the magazine, it is never possible to be missing an odd number of
bullets from a magazine as this is readily apparent, the top bullet would be on the wrong
side. In addition, there is a speed loader attached to each clip of bullets as they come
out of the box, allowing a soldier to line the clip up with the magazine and use his hand
or the edge of a table to quickly slide all the bullets into the magazine. Since bullets
come in clips of ten, it is easy for a soldier to fill a magazine with one clip, and then
move on to the next magazine thinking the one he was working is complete.


During firing, a soldier can get an alibi if he has a serious malfunction, or some
other incident prevents him from having a reasonable chance of shooting all the targets.
Because the weapons used in Basic are old and heavily used, they jam quite frequently,
sometimes as many as five or six times in a firing sequence. Supposedly, a jam would be
cleared by the use of SPORTS, an acronym that the Army uses for: Slap the magazine,
Pull the charging handle, Observe a round being ejected, Release the charging handle,
Tap the forward assist, Squeeze the trigger. Rarely was a soldier able to get past
Observe, however, as usually a jammed round was seated tightly in the firing chamber
and the weapon had to be completely turned over and shaken in order to get it to come
out. Also, on those occasions when a magazine was incorrectly loaded, if a private could
get the attention of a drill sergeant quickly enough and convince the drill sergeant he had
not been given a proper load of ammunition, he could receive an alibi as well.
All of these problems highlight the difficulties of attempting to impose order on the
chaotic system of the Army. Not even considering the complexities of an actual combat
environment, the task of providing for more than two hundred soldiers on a single firing
range is so complex it seems to guarantee mistakes. The United States Army is one of
the largest bureaucracies in the country, and from the perspective of the privates in Basic
Training, the myth of the ordered military machine quickly collapses. As one soldier
from my unit discussed: I joined the Army thinking that it would make sense, you know,
everything dress right dress, orders issued and followed. But, I guess, I needed,
deployment is what it took to show me that it doesnt work like that at all. Its kind of
depressing. The issue of deployment will be discussed in the final chapter, but the
counterpoint to this statement was the response from the soldiers team leader: You


didnt figure that out at Basic? In other words, most soldiers realize during Basic
Training that the rules of the organization are often contradictory, and even fluid as the
smaller elements of the organization, platoons and squads, are expected to break the rules
in order to accomplish the task assigned to them. Semper gumby is a catchphrase used
in many military units, both Army and other branches, reflecting the necessity to remain
flexible and adapt to the environment rather than rely on the arcane and inflexible rules
the Army supposedly maintains.
After firing on the range, privates spend the remainder of these days cleaning their
weapons, or pretending to do so. Once the soldier has fired his rounds at the target, he
must grab his (empty) magazines and his weapon and range walk to the exit point. There
is a milk crate to deposit the magazines, and then he must get rodded off the range in
the same way as when he got rodded on. During this procedure, the weapon must still
be pointed up and downrange, and never pointed at the tower or the cadre while being
rodded off 93 . Before being rodded off, the soldier must state no brass no ammo! in a
loud voice. Attempting to remove a round, either fired or unfired, is a serious crime
during Basic Training, and the threat of court-martial for an offense was raised by both
drill sergeants and Captain Hunter.
Once all privates have qualified on a range, or the range instructors have decided to
shut down the range, each platoon forms up for the final shakedown before leaving the
range. For the shakedown, all privates must remove their helmets, empty their pockets
into the helmet, and wait for a drill sergeant to pat them down and examine the contents
of their helmet. This process is one of the few times when drill sergeants and privates

Before leaving the range, a barrel rod (any long metal rod that fits down the barrel of the weapon) must
be inserted down the barrel and tap the back of the firing chamber to insure that there are no bullets
remaining in the weapon by mistake.


seem to break down their barriers and enjoy themselves, a tradition which continues in
regular Army life. The drill sergeants will push, pull, and smack privates as they pat
down the private for brass 94 . Although sometimes painful, I did not see any malice
between the drill sergeants and privates, simply expression of playful masculine
aggression. It is also one of the few times when drill sergeants will actually physically
touch privates during their training, following from the distinction mentioned above that
during BRM, drill sergeants will relax some disciplinary oversight, but along with this
the boundaries between private and drill sergeant are also relaxed.
After a private has qualified on the range, he must spend the remainder of his time
cleaning his weapon until everyone else has finished qualifying. There were usually trees
and shade of some sort, and each range had two or three tables, which looked ten or
fifteen years old, on which a soldier could lay out weapon. Many times, however,
privates would simply sit around and talk to each other, sometimes pretending to clean
their weapons, but many times not even bothering with that. When a drill sergeant
catches a private not cleaning his weapon, it usually results in group punishment, as
everyone who has finished qualifying is called out by the drill sergeant and forced to do
some kind of corrective training. On one occasion, the entire company was called out to
stand at attention in a mass formation, and then the drill sergeant walked away, leaving
the privates standing in the sun. Halfway through the day of qualification, Drill Sergeant
Rivers assembled the entire company who had already qualified and yelled at them for
not cleaning their weapons, then smoked the entire company for fifteen minutes. It was
rumored later that Captain Hunter had caught one of the privates sleeping underneath a
tree, although this was never confirmed.

The casing of a bullet, ejected from the rifle as it is fired.


Weapon cleaning is also a time when privates first begin to break rules, sometimes
with the assistance of drill sergeants. When an M-16 is broken down to be cleaned
there are eight separate parts that must be rubbed down and then scrubbed with a rag, a
wire brush, and/or a plastic toothbrush. The Army authorizes only the use of CLP
solution to break down the carbon and dirt that can build up on a weapon when fired,
although many soldiers will use brake cleaner, shaving cream, or other non-authorized
agents. On one occasion, privates used a pressurized stream of hot water from the
laundry room sink to rinse the dirt and carbon out of the barrel. These unapproved
techniques for cleaning are often an open secret among soldiers, and drill sergeants for
3rd platoon even obtained brake cleaner on one occasion to speed the cleaning process at
the end of the Field Training Exercise. As with so much of Army life, privates learn in
Basic Training how to negotiate the rules of the Army, which rules can be broken, which
can be bent, and, most importantly, how to best break the rules without getting caught.

Trained Killers
As we saw with the gas chamber discussed in Chapter Three, Basic Training is
more a set of stages along a path toward becoming a soldier than a single rite of passage.
BRM represents the next major stage in this process, and once BRM is completed, the
private again moves closer to the identity of soldier. At the conclusion of BRM, when
all the privates had passed the qualification, Drill Sergeant Redmond called 3rd platoon
to the barracks and told us proudly, You can be proud. Youre all trained killers, now.
The element of killing is inherent to the definition of soldier. The implement of death


which the American soldier uses is the M-16 rifle 95 . Once privates have completed
BRM, and been trained in the use of that instrument, they can be accorded more respect
by the fully initiated soldiers, the drill sergeants, who are training them.
Today, privates still train heavily on the M-16, but reportedly receive more
intensive training on the other infantry weapons, such as the SAW or the AT-4. The
training in these weapons for Bravo Company was notoriously sparse, as they are viewed
as combat weapons, and thus the domain of the infantry. On the modern battlefield,
however, those distinctions are becoming less clear. Rather than classic maneuver
warfare typified by early 20th century missions, the operations in Iraq are predominantly
counter-insurgency and nation building; these missions are consistently avoided by the
US Army, even in the face of the facts on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The notion of the trigger puller has been mentioned previously, in reference to the
role of death in the identity of the soldier. However, its sociological implications are also
particularly relevant. Andrew Exum discusses the prevalence of the trigger puller in
his experience as an officer in an infantry unit: most servicemen, it should be said, are
not trigger-pullers. For every man who pulls a trigger in combat, seven men and
women exist to fill supporting roles behind him. (Exum, 2004, p. 95) Here, Exum is
simply noting the ratio of combat arms personnel to support personnel. In low intensity
conflict, however, like the current war in Iraq and the wars most likely to be fought in the
future, support personnel are no longer behind the lines, and are much more under threat


Since upgraded to the M-4, a variant on the M-16 which is smaller and lighter. This is actually another
example of the symbolic shift of soldier identity in the Army. Before 2003, only Special Operations and
Airborne infantry units were issued the M-4, the elite combat soldiers of the Army. Today, almost every
soldier deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan is issued an M-4 rifle.


of contacting enemy forces. As such, the symbolic importance of the rifle, as a link to
other soldiers, is augmented by the practical importance of the weapon.
As jobs for support soldiers become less common, and contractors take over the
roles support soldiers used to play, these support soldiers will be placed more and more
into combat roles. In fact, there have been so many occurrences of non-combat arms
soldiers engaging in combat that the Army created a new medal in 2005, the Combat
Action Badge for actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy. (HQDA Letter
600-05-1, 2) Most often, contractors in Iraq are thought of as either Blackwater paramilitary professionals, or food service and other housekeeping staff. However,
contractors take over many other roles previously performed by soldiers themselves
around their camp.
Sandbagging details, for instance, are now frequently performed by contracted
workers rather than soldiers. Although preparing sandbags was not a significant element
of life during my Basic Training experience, the imagery of soldiers detailed to fill
sandbags in order to fill time is a common one in the army. Cleaning latrines,
landscaping, and other tasks are also significant memories of soldiers from Basic
Training. Grass detail is one memory that stands out in many informants minds. For
instance, Sergeant Brigman remembers: There were fifty guys and a hundred square feet
of grass. How are you gonna find space for all them? That was when our PG showed me
a trick, just stand around and point, it makes you look busy, but youre not actually doing
In Iraq, however, these duties are performed by hired contractors. Typically
Filipino or Indonesian during my tour, these workers filled sandbags, cleaned latrines,


and cleaned laundry under the supervision of American contractors, and one American
soldier assigned to guard duty. Thus, soldiers are freed from these tasks normally
associated with military life, and more of their focus is directed towards combat and
combat operations. To return to Exums term, when soldiers no longer have to provide
for themselves, or look after themselves, all they are is trigger-pullers. The weapon
and the soldier become one and the same.
Considering the new missions being performed by the military, this identity of
trigger-puller can become problematic. Traditionally, the militarys job is to engage with
the enemy, clearly demarcated by uniforms and other traditions formalized in the Geneva
Conventions and other elements of the Law of Land Warfare. These rules were presented
to Bravo Company in a single class, entitled The Law of Land Warfare on one day of
the training cycle. This was the only class taught by an officer, the Executive Officer 96
of the Company, and discussed treatment of prisoners, use of weapons, and other topics.
The material from this class did not appear on any Basic Training tests, and so the drill
sergeants did not reinforce the lessons. To this day, the only piece of information I
remember from the class is that weapons must be appropriate to the target being fired at.
For instance, a tanks cannon cannot be legally used to fire at a human being, as it is a
designated anti-vehicle weapon. Soldiers constantly manipulate these rules in the field,
however, and any number of soldiers I spoke with while deployed expressed the opinion
that they would fire any and all weapons at an enemy in combat, regardless of the scale
of the weapon. Another example of rule bending applies to the rules for taking prisoners
in a conflict. A standard tactic discussed during my training was one in which two
squads overrun an enemy position. After the first squad runs through the enemy position

The Executive Officer, or XO, is the second-in-command to the Commanding Officer.


and shoots the enemy, the second squad advances and shoots each body once as they
move through. This tactic manages to avoid the rules of the Geneva Convention, since,
as one informant put it: Once the engagement is over, you have to take prisoners. But
the engagement isnt over until that second squad stops moving, get it? By interpreting
the rules in their favor, soldiers negotiate their roles with regard to the overarching
institutional imperatives.

Counter-Insurgency and the Loss of the Rifle

The importance of the rifle as a symbolic connection with the past brings up an
unfortunate element of Army bureaucracy, its unwillingness or inability to easily change
to new situation. This does not mean that change is impossible, as even on an
institutional level, the Army is slowly changing to embrace the realities of the new
battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rifle is symbolic of the maneuver warfare
battles historically fought in the wars in Europe, with World War II being the most
symbolic of these. The modern conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the likely
conflicts the Army will be engaged in in the future, will be predominantly low-intensity
conflict, characterized by counter-insurgency and police actions. These types of conflict
require a much different set of strategies and tactics than those of maneuver warfare. By
connecting with the soldiers and wars of the past, it is easy to continue to think in these
ways. Luckily, the rifle is also symbolic of the importance of the individual soldier in
these battles, and can potentially be used to avoid the temptations of the technophilic
strategy of focusing on high cost military gadgets rather than face to face interactions
between soldiers and civilians.


Of course, the military does not shift quickly to new strategies, especially when
those strategies fly in the face of three hundred years of training. Especially after
Vietnam, military leaders have avoided performing counter-insurgency or stabilization
missions rather than training in what was likely to be the primary conflict of the new age
(Boot, 2002, p. 318). Military decision makers are notoriously slow to shift their
positions on tactics or equipment, and cling to possibilities of control and discipline even
more strongly, even when they are engaged in conflicts which necessitate these changes.
As Krepinevich points out: to date, U.S. forces in Iraq have largely concentrated their
efforts on hunting down and killing insurgents. The idea of such operations is to erode the
enemy's strength by killing fighters more quickly than replacements can be recruited.
(Krepinevich, 2005) Even three years later, maneuver units are finding it difficult to shift
their strategy from combat to counter-insurgency (Gentile, 2008). It is here that the
importance of the problem child becomes apparent. The deviance of the problem child,
especially one such as Huntley who is reincorporated to some extent back into the group,
allows for the institution to have some internal flexibility. Were every soldier to follow
the rules of the Army to the letter, there would be no innovation or adaptation.

The Appearance of Soldiers

Although the wear of the Army uniform may seem like an insignificant factor in
effecting institutional change within the military, a close look at the history of the
uniform, and its effectiveness (or failure) as a symbol of institutional identity highlights
the ways in which soldiers express their individuality, and as such change the institution
around them. Historically, in the 16th Century, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden


ushered in one of the first military revolutions through a number of innovative changes to
the Swedish Army, one of the most obvious of which is the introduction of a standard
uniform for all soldiers in his army. I will discuss the revolutionary aspects of this
change in the next chapter, I note it here to point out that even something as simple as
shared clothing can serve to change the fundamental elements of a bureaucratic
institution. One need only look at the controversies over school uniforms in public
schools to see this same idea fought out in the civilian world.
The uniform is an essential element of the soldier identity, tying him not only to
the mythical past, but to other soldiers around the world. In the case of the modern
Army, this fictive kinship group is the entire military. In fact, even though each branch
maintains a subtly different uniform, the similarities in uniform are more striking than the
differences, and there is even an association between uniform wearing professions
outside the military, simply based on the existence of a uniform. As Sergeant Brigman
expressed, I keep my BDUs in the back of my car, so if I get pulled over, the cop will
see it. I havent gotten a speeding ticket since joining the Reserves. Brigman is
expressing his confidence that the connection between his uniform-wearing identity and
the uniform wearing policeman has prevented him from receiving a ticket.
The uniform at Basic Training is an important symbol of the privates new status
as both a member of the military, and at the same time as only a potential member of the
military. Uniform decoration is not allowed at Basic Training. While the standard for
regular soldiers includes an American flag on the right shoulder, a unit patch on the left
shoulder, and rank insignia on the collar, at Basic Training privates are only allowed to
wear a nametape and the US Army tape on their uniform. In addition, the beret is not


authorized for wear by Army privates going through either Basic Training or AIT.
However, according to the Army Regulation prescribing the proper wear of the Army
uniform, In accordance with chapter 45, section 771, title 10, United States Code (10
USC 771), no person except a member of the U.S. Army may wear the uniform, or a
distinctive part of the uniform of the U.S. Army unless otherwise authorized by law.
Additionally, no person except a member of the U.S. Army may wear a uniform, any part
of which is similar to a distinctive part of the U.S. Army uniform. The nametape and
US Army tape on the breast of the uniform top, as a distinctive part of the uniform, set
the privates apart from a civilian wearing a camouflage suit in a very distinctive way.
In addition to this, there are a number of items of regalia which a soldier must
earn to wear. Although ribbons and medals fall into this category, tabs such as Ranger or
Special Forces Tabs, and badges such as the Expert Infantry (EIB) or Combat Infantry
Badges (CIB) are also important identifiers of the authenticity of a soldiers identity.
Most of these items are only earned after attending a special school, or in the case of the
CIB, after actually experiencing combat. The importance of these are such that during
World War II, the Army instituted the Combat Medic Badge to honor medics who were
assigned to infantry units, but because they were not in actuality infantry, could not earn
the CIB. During the war in Iraq, the Army also created the Combat Action Badge, to be
awarded to soldiers who were not medics or infantry who had seen combat. To return to
Carolyn Marvin for a moment, this badge is to elevate soldiers who have crossed the
border and touched death, but who fail to qualify for the other awards which indicate
such an elevated status.


Response and Counter-Response

As clear symbols of a national and military organization, the uniform symbolizes
maneuver warfare, and the ritualized aggression that goes along with it. One of the
elements of this ritual warfare is the symmetric response discussed by Robert OConnell
in Of Arms and Men (1999). The symmetric response in warfare is the development of a
weapon roughly equivalent to the weapons of the enemy. Thus, to stay with the theme of
this chapter, during the Cold War the Soviet Union developed the AK-47 assault rifle,
which was met with the American M-14, and then M-16, assault rifle in response. Tanks
are met with tanks, fighter jets with fighter jets, and so forth. As a symbol of the
paradigm shift in warfare, however, international terrorism has responded to American
military power with a counter-response, or a response in which military technology (here
meaning any means by which humans modify their natural environment) is designed to
counter the enemys weapons, rather than simply outdo them.
This type of response is usually reserved for inter-species conflict, or, as
OConnell succinctly puts it, hunting. Whether a lion hunting gazelle or a man hunting a
deer, predatory activities are characterized by an increase of lethality based on the desire
to kill the opponent as quickly as possible. OConnell describes the exaggeratedly
predatory nature of the Pacific War during WWII: flushing Japanese out, turkey shoots,
and shot down like running quail are metaphors used by American soldiers in their
descriptions of Pacific War combat (OConnell, 1989, p. 292). German submarines were
known for traveling in wolf packs, and today the counter-submarine technology such as
sonar and infrared detection is still referred to frequently as submarine hunting. It is
interesting to compare this with the hunting metaphors used today in the discussion of the


War on Terror begun in 2001. In fact, the first HMMWV I was issued in Iraq came with
a Terrorist Hunting License affixed to the front windshield, which a Sergeant Major
stopped to examine for its expiration date on one occasion.
In Iraq, recent changes, predominantly due to the establishment of Robert Gates
and General Petraeus, suggest that perhaps the military has finally shifted its tactics to
meet the new battlefield. Of course, many are not so optimistic. Michael Scheuer
discusses the ways in which the American government, and especially its intelligence and
military departments, create an image for production and dissemination to higher
authorities: it is a process of interpreting the world so it makes sense to us, a process
yielding a world in which few events seem alien because we Americanize their
components. (Scheuer, 2004, p. 165) Thus, when opponents use tactics that seem
strange to us, such as suicide bombs, especially when carried by women or children, we
condemn them using our own understanding of appropriate and inappropriate behavior,
forcing the conflict back into our own definitions of what the conflict should be. The
author continues by discussing how bin Laden has completely changed the face of
warfare. Without economy, cities, homeland, or regular military, there are no targets for
the militarys impressive array of firepower to focus on. In this instance, Donald
Rumsfelds now-famous statement that there are no good targets in Afghanistan,
suggests how much the battlefield has changed, and how little military leaders still
understand it.
One contemporary example of this is the further mechanization and
impersonalization of warfare on a battlefield which demands greater and greater
personalization. John Keegan discusses the development of mechanized troop carriers,


lauded as a means to carry soldiers to battle in comfort: a greater alienation of the

soldier from anything recognizably human or natural on the field of battle, a steeper
reduction of his status to that of a mere adjunct to machinery, the software in the
system? (Keegan, 1976, p. 340) This impersonalization continues today, with the 1114
HMMWV variant or the even more heavily armored MRAPs that allow soldiers to sit
comfortably within the armored box of a truck and not need to interact with anyone
outside the truck. As noted above with Manuel de Landa, weapon systems today are
symbolically linked with the weaponry of soldiers in the past. Mounted patrols are
conducted by miniature mobile fortresses in which the soldiers shelter comfortably inside
armored walls, protected by a 21st Century turret which oversees the defenses. The turret
itself becomes even more impersonalized with weapon systems such as the CROW, an
automated system with which soldiers can control a heavy machine gun from inside their
HMMWV without ever needing to even look out the windows, and truly turns warfare
into a Nintendo game.
Keegan continues in his discussion of the impersonalization of warfare,
suspecting that battle has already abolished itself. (Keegan, 1976, p. 343) To some
extent this is correct, as there are no more battles as Keegan describes in his book: man
to man, face to face combat between two soldiers. Modern combat, such as the battles in
Iraq, are a series of quick potshots by insurgents, raids by the Coalition, and information
operations by both sides in an attempt to keep civilians from getting hurt, and to keep
them favoring whichever side is putting out the information. These operations are rarely
embraced by Army units as they essentially remove the rifle from the equation, and by
extension, the soldier. Soldiers, in general, desire to deploy, and to fight in combat.


Proximity to combat is what gains a soldier status in the military community, be that
soldier in combat or merely supporting it. This idea will be fully explored in the final
chapter, and for now I shall move on to the next removal of the soldier from the

Information Warfare
The media figures heavily into our understanding of contemporary warfare, and
our presentation of war itself. The press and the military have always had a relationship,
despite modern attempts to deny this. Over the last century, journalists and
photographers have worked hand in hand with military units to produce reports of combat
and victory, such as when to make a more exciting newsreel, the Vitagraph
photographers and the Rough Riders then staged a mock battle at Santiago Bay after the
real fight was over; they gave captured Spanish troops guns whose cartridges had
gunpowder but no bullets, then choreographed an American charge against them. This
fake footage became part of the official record of San Juan Hill. (Gibson, 1994, p. 20)
This continued through World War II with the flag raising on Iwo Jima and it was only
after Vietnam that the relationship between these two institutions became more
confrontational than collective.
After Vietnam the military shifted its focus to the importance of information, and
how to control that information. Information warfare, already being adopted by the
military, became one of the buzzwords for the 1991 Operation Desert Storm. Rather than
allowing the media to control their actions, the military fed the media that information it
wanted known. For example, filming amphibious operations was the precursor to a feint


by naval forces on the day of the invasion, an additional amount of misdirection the
military used to disrupt the Iraqi battle plan (Jeffords, 1994).
Following complaints of being handled during the Persian Gulf War, the
military has worked to incorporate the press into its units through the process of
embedding. One interesting element of the embedding process required of the press is
a mini Boot Camp that reporters go through before joining units. In addition to
preparing reporters for working alongside servicemembers, it also builds a rapport
between reporters and the military, as they now have experiences to share akin to the
experiences shared by soldiers who have all gone through Basic Training. Although
there are still complaints of handling, the military sees its relationship with reporters as
more positive, and much more important, than previously. Every soldier, in fact, from
four star general to the lowest private, receives training on how to talk to the press before
deploying to Iraq. Realizing that it cannot control the flow of information, the military
has advocated the empowerment of individual soldiers, training them to be aware of what
information is important and what is not. 97 This increase in information operations over
combat operations, however, removes the rifle from the identity of the soldier.
From a structuralist viewpoint, this separation can be seen to increase the agency
and freewill of soldiers within the military organization. The origin of the soldiers
firearm was based on coordinated volleys of fire, and thus by removing the rifle from the
soldier identity, the soldier is also removed from the mechanization of the military.
However, this approach denies the desires of the soldiers themselves, who desire to go
into battle. It is not only officers in Iraq who desire combat missions and a visible enemy

A recent dictate by the Army, however, restricting soldiers abilities to blog or email sensitive
information which includes any information regarding operations suggests that the military is returning to
the attempt to control information flow.


to fight, it is also the soldiers themselves. The conflict between the needs of the military
(performing counter-insurgency and stability operations) and its desires (maneuver
warfare) continues to play out, and likely will for many more years, on the battlefield
The battlefield is also changing in response to other factors as well. Over the past
two decades the appearance and organization of the military has been examined by many
scholars, both military and civilian, professional and amateur. Prophecies of integrated
systems, AI assisted command structures, and even science-fiction fusion-powered
armored exoskeletons have dominated this future world. Many of the changes predicted
by these thinkers, however, are untenable in the face of the future enemy, an enemy
which will not face an American army on a clean battlefield, but will skulk in shadows,
hide behind civilians, and use other camouflage and guerilla tactics to accomplish its
mission. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while proving the abilities of many of our
high-tech developments, have also shown the limitations of technology when our forces
rely upon it too heavily, rather than relying on training, instinct, and the human ability to
come up with creative solutions at a glance.
In a collection of wargames among different branches of the military, Adams sees
the development of a new soldier, typified by the development of the Armys Land
Warrior system (Adams, 1998). George and Meredith Friedman see a battlefield full of
integrated systems, computerized data processing, and unmanned vehicles (Friedman &
Friedman, 1996). William Owens sees technology as a means to lift the fog of war,
providing commanders computerized access to the scope of the battlefield (Owens,
2001). All of these authors share a view of the United States as standing on the threshold


of a new era, in which inherent capabilities with computers, weapons technology, and
other developments will provide America with the tools to dominate the next century.
What they fail to discuss is that their advances would remove the requirement for soldiers
on the battlefield, in harms way. Virtual reality training and drone systems, such as the
current Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), would remove the soldier from the
battlefield in an even more concrete way than the shift to information warfare. Given the
desires of soldiers to be on the battlefield, it is not likely that these prophetic visions will
come true any time soon.
A remotely piloted battle machine would not be mourned by family or friends if it
should die, nor will its loss result in a public outcry and recall of forces form the combat
zone. It would be the perfect soldier, expendable and interconnected, there would be no
delays in transmission due to filters between soldier and commander, since an officer
could as easily access the information obtained by such a machine as the pilot, both
safe in friendly territory. However, in order for war to be effective, to be a solution to
problems aroused between two nations, it must be destructive. Although ideally two
nations at war could release armies of robots rather than human soldiers (or resolve their
disputes with a chess match) this will never happen. The importance of actual physical
damage can not be stressed enough when engaging in conflict. The physical destruction
of a nation, the death of its citizens, carries with it a power that the destruction of a robot
will never convey, a power which is almost religious in its impact on the human psyche
(Ehrenreich, 1997; Hedges, 2002; Bellah, 2005). War, in the words of journalist Chris
Hedges, is a force that gives us meaning.


Carolyn Marvin and David Ingle discuss the importance of death, and the link
between death and sacrifice, in creating mythological stories which serve to form a totem
for the group. For Marvin and Ingle, the ability of a violent event to create identity is
based on how many bodies touch blood directly and how many other bodies are linked by
personal ties of blood and affection to them. (Marvin & Ingle, 1999, p. 87) In his
discussion of the Balinese cockfight, Clifford Geertz implies that his lie to the authorities,
covering for his neighbors, enables him to become accepted in his village (Geertz, 1973,
p. 416) However, he also goes in to great detail describing the violence and bloodiness of
the cockfight, and it just as likely that it is this, Marvin and Ingles touching of blood and
the potential shared victimization by the police, which creates this bond with the Balinese
for Geertz. Looking at American history, the amount of casualties incurred during events
seems to increase the mythological value of those events. Comparing wars, the Civil
War, World War II, and Vietnam claimed the greatest number of American lives, while
World War I and the Persian Gulf War claimed a significantly smaller number 98 .
The second reason that human soldiers will continue to be essential to the
battlefield is that the ability of a human being on the ground to make creative choices,
intuitive analyses, and to decide on a course of action is essential to the waging of war.
This is especially true in the wars that will likely be waged in the future. The likelihood
of two forces meeting on a battlefield is becoming smaller and smaller as other nations
realize that in such a situation, American forces will always emerge victorious. Until


From Marvin and Ingle: Civil War: 1,094, 453; World War I: 320,710; World War II: 1, 079, 119;
Korean War: 157,771; Vietnam War: 211,454; Persian Gulf War: 843; These are totals of wounded and
dead. It is interesting to note that the difference between Korea and Vietnam in total losses is only 1500
soldiers, while there were 50,000 more wounded in Vietnam. It is likely not the actual death of a soldier
which creates symbolic power, but the symbolic death, which includes debilitating injuries as well as
mortal ones.


recently, military wargames, training exercises in preparation for deployment, were

played against armored columns, conventional combatants, and not special forces or
guerilla enemies (Adams, 1998). The importance of human common sense in these
wargames has also been stressed, common sense that goes above and beyond anything a
computer would be able to compute.
Especially with the recent confirmation of General Petraeus as commander of the
United States Central Command, the importance of the individual soldier has returned to
the calculations of military theorists. Fighting counter-insurgencies requires a thinking,
breathing individual on the ground, not only to respond to potential attack, but to be
empathetic with the local population and interact with them as one human being to
another (FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency). Despite rapid advances in technology, the
necessity for these interactions remains vital, as does the possibility that people, on either
side of the conflict, can potentially die.
The contemporary soldier, then, looks remarkably like the soldiers from any point
in history. He is between the ages of 18 and 30, in good physical condition. As John
Keegan has pointed out, the experience of the soldier himself has not changed much in
the history of military conflict. On the level of the individual soldier, the experience of
battle does not significantly change. Whether combat is conducted with swords, rifles, or
precision-guided missiles, the soldier still carries fifty to sixty pounds of equipment, a
weapon with which to kill the enemy, and the fear that he will be the one that is killed. In
essence, a soldier is still simply a sacrifice for his nation.
The full extent of the sacrifice motif will be discussed in the final chapter, but as
we have seen in Chapters Three and Four, and have seen in this discussion, the ideas of


sacrifice and violence permeate the military, and are introduced to privates at Basic
Training. Whether it be a symbolic sacrifice of the civilian self, or a sacrifice fantasy of
the problem child, group identity is formed and reformed out of the choices and actions
of the individuals in that group. The weapon of the soldier ties him to other soldiers
sacrifices throughout history, and to the sacrifices which they made. This bond is the
subject of Chapter Seven, as the full range of weapons available to the soldier has not
been completely discussed, and will be the subject of the next chapter.


Chapter 6: Military Revolutions and the Field Training Exercise

Although not a stated purpose of any training, over the course of eight weeks,
privates have learned from their drill sergeants not only what the Army requires them to
know, but also how the Army requires them to act. Within these constraints, privates
have also learned what rules they can bend or break, and the proper ways in which to
break them. By learning what activities the drill sergeants punish for, what the drill
sergeants dislike, and what the drill sergeants deliberately overlook, privates quickly
learn how to challenge the structure of Army regulations. As a culminating exercise, the
FTX, then, also highlights the ways in which privates have learned to negotiate Army
culture over the previous weeks.
The Field Training Exercise, or FTX, is the penultimate event of Basic Training,
and represents the culmination of the skills taught over the course of nine weeks of
training. It is during the FTX that privates get to act as real soldiers and perform the
roles that they have been trained for. As the closest representation of actual warfare at
Basic Training, the FTX simulates the experience of combat for new soldiers, and
supposedly allows them to act as soldiers for the first time, assuming the new identity
which will be conferred upon them at the completion of their training. However, the
FTX presents a battlefield more appropriate to the early twentieth century than the early
twenty-first. Most of the assumptions of Basic Training, culminated in this FTX, seem to
be based on an idea that warfare does not change, and the tactics used by soldiers
therefore also need not change.


The changes on the modern battlefield are not unique to the current era. Over the
past centuries, advances in weaponry and other technology have required changes in the
way which armies engage in warfare. These changes then affect the roles and identity of
soldiers as they work within the institution of the military. In addition to technology,
however, changes in ideology have also cause significant changes in the way warfare is
conducted. At its fundamental level, as we saw in the last chapter, warfare is about
violence and sacrifice, and thus ideological changes will affect the military as much, if
not more than, technological changes.
Even when the Army does change, it often changes only in response to new
technologies, and many military historians view those technological advances as the
causes of changes in military techniques. The current battlefields in Iraq and
Afghanistan, however, reflect a change in warfare as significant as the invention of the
nuclear bomb, and not due to technology, but ideology. By providing privates outdated
tactics, reflecting outdated ideologies of warfare, the Army fails to properly prepare those
privates for the realities of the battlefields they will find themselves fighting for their
lives on.
Before moving on to the discussion of the Field Training Exercise, and its import
to the identity of a soldier in the contemporary Army, I must step back a moment to one
of the first things a soldier is required to learn at Basic Training. In addition to the chain
of command discussed in the next chapter, each private is required to memorize the
Soldiers Creed:
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United
States and live the Army Values.


I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in
my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment
and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United
States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier. 99
(Army Website: http://www.army.mil/thewayahead/creed.html)
It should be noted that the Soldiers Code of Conduct is also provided to privates in their
IET Manual, but was not required for memorization during my training. The Soldiers
Code of Conduct is a list of required actions for military personnel to perform in different
situations whereas the Soldiers Creed symbolically ties each new private to the other
soldiers in his unit, the Army, and history. In the same way, the chain-of-command ties a
soldier exactly into his military hierarchy and informs him of his proper place in the new
universe that he will occupy when he attains the status of soldier.
The Soldiers Creed attempts to define for the private who he should be, and
provide a broad set of guidelines for proper behavior as a soldier. Learning the role of
the soldier, however, is conducted over the nine weeks of training, and culminates in an
extended overnight exercise in which privates are supposed to put in to practice the skills
they have learned over nine weeks of Basic. On one level it is simply an extended final
exam of the learning environment of Basic Training. However, this final Field Training
Exercise (FTX) is also emblematic of the new status of privates as potential soldiers, and


This Soldiers Creed is the current one being used at Basic Training. During my time at Basic Training,
we were ordered to memorize a different creed, based on the idea of the soldier as a person who follows
orders and acts correctly. The impact of the change to the Creed will be discussed in the final chapter.


the final event of the exercise is a private graduation of the privates, separate from the
public graduation event which occurs a few days later. During this private ceremony,
privates are presented with a button to be worn on the lapel of the Class As 100 by the
drill sergeants.
The FTX also represents to a number of soldiers the failure of Basic Training to
prepare them for their upcoming responsibilities as soldiers. The tactics and training
received during Basic Training appear to be left over from World War II and Vietnam,
and there is often no relevance to the tactics needed on the battlefield in Iraq or
Afghanistan. Although this is not entirely true, there is some justification in the belief,
which will be discussed later. The problem here is that the military has undergone what
is referred to by military historians as a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) after the
events of September 11th and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The concept of the
RMA will be fully discussed later, but at its heart, an RMA is a paradigmatic shift,
similar to Kuhns scientific revolution, in the way a military conducts warfare. The most
frequently used examples of an RMA are technological advancements such as
gunpowder, the automobile, and nuclear weapons. However, social changes can also
serve to fundamentally change the nature of warfare, which this chapter will focus on.
Prior to Vietnam there was typically a clear delineation between the combat
soldiers who fought the enemy and the support soldiers (cooks, clerks, and other
institutional roles) who provided for those combat soldiers. This delineation was based
on the possibility that the combat soldier would be killed in service to his country, which
was much less likely for soldiers in support or in the rear roles. During Vietnam, of

The Class A uniform is the green dress uniform which resembles a modern business suit. A soldier
wears all appropriate medals and awards on his Class As, and before the introduction of the black beret for
all soldiers, wore a different hat than the cap worn with the BDUs or Class C uniform.


course, the use of insurgency tactics by the Vietnamese meant that any soldier could
potentially be killed. As we shall see, however, military culture after Vietnam changed
very little in response to that war, and the support soldier remained relegated to a second
class position. Although the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in greater
acceptance of support soldiers, there is still a hierarchy in which infantry soldiers are
considered the most important and most valued, followed by other combat specialties
such as tankers or artillery, and then support.

Standardization of Equipment
During Basic Training, privates are supposed to be trained in the standard tactics
which have been in use in the military since before World War II, mentioned above. At
the end of Basic Training, during the final rite of passage, privates conduct their Field
Training Exercise (FTX) which is supposed to [combine] all previously taught basic
combat training skills (Basic Training Overview). The ceremonial aspects of this
event will be discussed later in the chapter, but at this point the events occurring during
the training exercise itself require specific attention. Each Basic Training base performs
its own version of the Field Training Exercise. The most well known is Victory Forge at
Fort Jackson, but at Fort Benning the name for the event is Cold Steel. For the remainder
of this discussion, generic descriptions of the event, apparently common to all bases, will
be referred to as FTX, while events specific to Fort Bennings event will be referred to
with the proper name of Cold Steel.
Cold Steel officially began at 0600 on the morning of the 24th of September, but
preparations actually began well before that. Over the two days prior to the FTX,


privates are marched to a specialized training site and instructed in the proper ways to
perform many of the tasks that will be required. The two most memorable classes were
how to apply proper military face paint and how to build a hasty position. These
techniques will be discussed later in detail, but at this point it must be noted that in the
past ten years almost no soldiers in the United States Army have been in a situation
necessitating the application of woodland pattern face paint, nor has the construction of
hasty positions been a necessary element in constructing a defensive position. With the
integration of civilian support, large contracting firms, and other elements of the
rationalization of the modern military, defensive positions are more often than not
constructed of piled HESCO barriers (wire mesh covered bags filled with sand) put in
place by bulldozers and front end loaders. Patrols are almost always conducted in
HMMWVs, and the presence of soldiers is to be highlighted, not camouflaged, in the
stabilization and police actions conducted in the 21st century. I simply mention this here
to highlight the outdated techniques taught for the Basic Training FTX.
The entire day of the 23rd of September was spent preparing rucksacks and
LBEs 101 for the FTX. Standardization of all equipment, such as the lockers, boots, and
bedding previously discussed is one of the most important rules of Basic Training. For
the FTX, this enforced standardization extends to each soldiers personal gear as well.
The rucksack is an external frame backpack with three large exterior pockets and
top flap which is secured by two straps. Sewn along the sides and the back are various
pieces of webbing to allow for alice clips 102 to attach extra pieces of equipment to the


Load Bearing Equipment, essentially a vest worn outside the uniform that holds extra gear.
An alice-clip is a metal oval with a movable locking side. The alice-clip is used by sliding the strap of
the item you wish to label inside the oval, and then sliding the movable metal strip through the webbing on



outside of the rucksack. This expandability is essential, as it is almost impossible to fit

everything you need inside the rucksack. In addition, the rucksack is pear-shaped,
rounded on the inside and along the bottom of the main storage area, which means that
items such as boots, canteens, or other solid items must be surrounded by uniforms and
other soft material to fill out the shape. Luckily for privates, the interior of the rucksack
does not need to be standardized, simply the outside.
The standardization of equipment is particular to each platoon, likely due to the
hierarchy of the military. Since a drill sergeant is responsible for the training and
indoctrination of one and only one platoon, and he inspects the gear of only that platoon,
then so long as that platoons gear is standardized within itself, the requirements are met.
In the case of 3rd platoon, the three outside pockets were assigned to the privates
poncho, gore-tex jacket, and gore-tex pants. On the right side of the rucksack was a 2
quart canteen, and on the left side was the entrenching tool. The entrenching tool,
usually referred to as an e-tool in the army, is a small foldable shovel. When stored, it
measures less than a square foot, and expands to slightly longer than two feet when it is
used by a soldier. The size of the entrenching tool is frequently a source of humor for
privates at Basic Training, such as when Barrett stated while digging a trench,
Entrenching tool. Lets call a spade a spade, and call this what it is, a spoon. Stored
inside the rucksack were extra uniforms, boots, soap and other toiletries, chemical suit,
and any other gear that the privates were not wearing into the field.
In addition to the rucksack, the other standard gear that privates must wear on
their marches are a helmet, the LBE, an M-16, and Pro-Mask. Prior to the FTX, the LBE

the rucksack and locking it closed. The alice-clip can also be used to attach pieces of equipment to a pistol
belt, a vest, or any other piece of equipment.


and helmet are also prepared, and the three items, rucksack, LBE, and helmet are then
laid out in the Company Area in the same order as the company stands in formation.
The LBE is a pair of webbing suspenders, padded around the shoulders, attached
to an adjustable belt (pistol belt) by a pair of metal hooks that clip through a series of
metal rivet holes spaced regularly around the length of the belt. Attached to the belt is a
pair of 1 quart size canteens in wool insulated canteen carriers. Inside one of the
canteen carriers is a metal cup, shaped to mold itself around the canteen. Each canteen is
slightly curved to allow it to rest against the privates hip more comfortably. This curve
also makes the canteen a very effective field expedient 103 pillow, as the back of the
head rests comfortably inside it when laying down, elevating the privates head just
enough for comfort. Also attached to the pistol belt is a pair of magazine holders,
squared off pouches just large enough to hold three M-16 magazines. Attached to the
suspenders is a single first-aid kit, a sealed and sterilized pouch containing a padded
The straps and webbing attached to all of these items are adjustable to allow the
equipment to be worn by any size soldier, and will frequently dangle or hang down from
the soldiers equipment. In addition, many of the items of equipment, such as canteens or
the helmet strap can be easily lost during the running and crawling that privates are
expected to perform during field training. Because of this, the last step in standardizing
equipment is to tape down every adjustable strap once it is adjusted for the private and to
dummy-cord every piece of loose equipment. For taping, the army uses a variety of
green tape very much like duct-tape, called ninety-mile an hour tape. When Private

Field expedient is a phrase often used to describe any piece of equipment or jerry-rigged device used
to emulate an item which is not readily available when a soldier is in the field or away from his barracks
or regular living arrangements and does not have access to the proper equipment.


Brand asked Drill Sergeant Redmond why it was called ninety-mile an hour tape, Drill
Sergeant Redmonds response was because it wont come off when you go ninety miles
an hour. The nylon string used to attach equipment to rucksacks and LBEs is referred
to in the Army as five-fifty cord, apparently named such because it carries a tensile
weight of five hundred and fifty pounds. 550 Cord is a very versatile nylon cord of
thicker green fibers wrapped around a center core of smaller white fibers. To create a
dummy cord for a canteen, for example, a loop of cord is tied around the neck of the
canteen and then tightened so that it will not be able to slip off the threading of the cap
above the neck. It is then tied in a double knot and the knot itself is melted with a lighter
to be certain it will not slip. The other end of the cord is then looped around the pistol
belt, knotted, and melted in the same way. As a result, if the canteen should slip out from
its holder, the dummy cord will prevent it from becoming lost. Similarly, all other
equipment, including every piece of equipment attached together with an alice-clip, is
dummy corded to some other piece of equipment, either the LBE or rucksack.
Although these measures may seem extreme, in the field environment when
soldiers are running, diving, rolling around in mud and dirt, wrestling, and otherwise
placing stress on their equipment, the dummy cord and taped straps prevent many
accidents from occurring. On one particular occasion, my own canteen cover became
unsnapped during a training exercise and the canteen slipped out while I was lying on my
side. When I jumped up to begin running down the dirt track, the canteen which was
dummy corded to my belt was pulled along with me. When I reached the next resting
point, I fully expected the drill sergeant to begin yelling at me for damaging the
equipment as the canteen was dragged in the dirt and rocks of the trail I was running


along. Instead, he calmly told me to put the canteen back in its cover and continue the
training. This response was most likely the result of the drill sergeant (a two week
replacement for one of the regular drill sergeants on leave) being surprised that I had
dummy corded the equipment in the first place, as 3rd platoon was the only platoon to
have been given that instruction by our own drill sergeants. However, it was also a
response to the fact that I had shown the initiative to secure my gear before heading into
the field.
The M-16 and the Pro-Mask are received the morning of the FTX and are not
stored with the rest of the gear.
All of these items must be laid out exactly the same for each platoon, down to
which canteen carrier holds the canteen cup and which suspender carries the first-aid kit.
After all equipment was assembled and laid out, the platoons were sent to their barracks
to prepare for bed. On the morning of the FTX, each platoons drill sergeants inspected
the privates gear to make certain that every private had their complete gear in proper
order. Since many privates had either lost equipment, or maintained that they had never
been issued a piece of equipment, many items in the inventory of equipment are not
found in the FTX preparation. Knowing that an inspection would be coming in the
morning, the night before the FTX, privates pilfered equipment from other platoons.

Within the military community, this is usually not considered theft or a
violation of a social norm for military life. Within the military, the idea of stealing an
item of equipment from another soldier is usually given the label acquiring to


distinguish it from actual theft. Within the realm of acquiring, there are certain rules,
however. In 1984 Larry Ingraham detailed a pattern of acceptable theft in active-duty
Army life that continues today, and is learned at Basic Training. According to Ingraham,
theft was acceptable so long as the theft was not from a soldier who shared your barracks,
and was frequently supported by the command structure, so long as that command
structure did not officially know about the theft (Ingraham, 1974). There are thus two
different spheres of exchange, issued gear and personal gear, at work in the military.
This is, of course, in addition to the sphere of symbolic capital discussed in Chapter 3.
These spheres of exchange, like those in other cultures, serve to prevent the accumulation
of wealth and disrupt the egalitarian and socialist nature of military life (Sillitoe, 2006).
Even after Basic Training, all privates should be the same, as well as all Sergeants, all
Captains, etc, with the only distinctions being those given by the institution itself. These
distinctions are most often displayed on the soldiers uniform, as seen in Chapter Five.
At Basic Training the theft norm applies, such that on the night before the FTX,
3rd platoon was informed by Drill Sergeant Redmond, Every soldier in this platoon will
have every piece of their TA-50 tomorrow morning. 3rd platoon has CQ tonight, and
theyll be watching the gear for the whole company. I dont care how it happens, but you
do what you need to do. The implication in this statement is that the members of 3rd
platoon were supposed to steal any equipment they might be missing from one of the
other platoons. This actually occurred as three members of 3rd platoon at various times
over the course of that evening snuck down to the company area after midnight and
sorted through other platoons gear to find a piece of equipment they were missing.


This approach to ownership is hardly surprising considering that at Basic

Training, soldiers do not actually own any equipment (or anything at all) of their own
except for their uniforms and other clothing. One of the first rules of Basic Training is to
write your name in permanent marker on every single one of these items of personal
gear in order to prevent theft. Each privates locker must be padlocked at all times for
the same reason. Since every piece of military equipment is actually owned by the
Army, then, it is not actually theft to take an item of equipment from another soldier and
claim it as your own.
The permissible theft detailed by Ingraham is more extensive than that performed
in Basic Training. This is likely due to the lack of personal property at Basic compared
with life in the active duty Army. In Ingrahams study, even items such as a car battery
are within the sphere of exchange of acquiring so long as the original owner was
outside the acquirers immediate circle. At Basic, personal items of any sort were outside
the definition of acquire, although issued gear was within the sphere. However, as
privates at Basic do not own anything outside of their personal gear, there is no easy
comparison to make here.
It must be noted that although acquiring is accepted de facto, it is not accepted de
jure, and if a soldier is caught pilfering, there will be a punishment. Thus, Drill Sergeant
Redmond could not directly order the privates to steal the equipment they might be
missing, and had 3rd platoon not been standing guard over the equipment, it could not
have occurred. However, he also was aware of the limitations of the military
bureaucracy, and that a number of privates most likely had not been issued a complete set
of equipment. This held true for privates from other platoons as well, who would also


watch for opportunities to acquire items that they were missing. The ongoing pattern of
theft in the military is such that there was even a joke made about it by one of the
instructors: How many thieves are there in the Army? Just one, everyone else is just
getting their stuff back. The pattern of theft, though, displays the abilities of people in
bureaucratic institutions to negotiate the rules of those institutions in order to achieve a
desired effect. When the Army has failed to properly equip soldiers, soldiers take into
their own hands the process of equipping themselves.
The pilfering stopped at approximately 3:00 in the morning, however, when one
of the drill sergeants from 3rd Platoon entered the company area and began going through
his platoons gear and inspecting it. Although it is not entirely clear what Drill Sergeant
Richards was doing at the time, after the event occurred members of 3rd Platoon informed
me that he was going through all of their gear and if he found an LBE or rucksack that
was not laid out in the proper order, or not taped and dummy-corded properly, he had
torn the privates gear apart and scattered it around the Company Area.

Strategy and Military Revolution

The concept of friction is fundamental in discussions of strategy, and means of
mitigating its effects are central to the most recent idea of the RMA. The idea of the fog
of war or friction extends back to the famous Western touchstone of military theory,
Karl von Clausewitz and his book On War. According to Clausewitz, during any battle, a
breakdown in communication is guaranteed to occur. Due to the inherent disorder and
mutability of the battlefield, units will lose contact with their command hierarchy, receive
scrambled or outdated orders, and generally have to provide for themselves and their own


defense. This occurrence is what Clausewitz labeled as friction. It is more commonly

known as the fog of war.
More important to the military, at least in the time prior to the September 11th
attacks, were the advancement of technology and the integration of that technology into
strategy and tactics. The idea of a connection between technology and warfare,
especially as a driving force behind a military revolution, is broadly accepted by many
members of the military community. In the beginning of the 21st Century, just prior to
the September 11th attacks, most of the discussions of a new military revolution focused
on the evolution of battle tactics incorporating information networks, computers, and
other enhanced technologies.
Many theorists at the turn of the millennium looked at the success of the first Iraq
War and interpreted that success as the result of a vastly improved technology of the
American military, and especially that militarys adeptness at manipulating the flow of
information from the battlefield to the headquarters units, and from those headquarters
units to the viewing audience in the United States. Many theorists between 1991 and
2001 focused on the massive technological advances made in communications, satellite
imagery, and the cybernetics of collecting, processing, and distributing the information
collected using computers and trained professionals. These works all commit one major
mistake, however, conflating the concepts of friction and chaos. Although related, they
are separate concepts, and chaos can, in fact, work to alleviate friction on the battlefield.
This idea of positive chaos develops from Deleuze and Guattaris ideas of the war


Manuel de Landas War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991) borrows

heavily from Deleuze and Guattaris ideas of State, Nomad, and War Machine. The
machinic phylum is a central theme in de Landas work. The machinic phylum is that
point at which a collection of entities, be they organic or not, come together to form a
collective that is more than the sum of its parts. In the analysis of the military, this
machinic phylum was crossed in the 16th century with the development of effective
artillery and the rifled bullet, resulting in a military in which the destructive power of the
distanced artillery made individual soldiers useless, and the rifled bullet kept soldiers as a
unit from being obsolete. Similarly, in the 20th century the combination of the conoidal
bullet, which required a dispersion of troops across the battlefield, with the radio, which
allowed those troops to be symbolically linked together, precipitated a new machinic
phylum to be crossed. Maneuver warfare, the military term for the tactics developed at
the end of World War I and carried into World War II and beyond, represents a new
machine, a crossing of the machinic phylum, or, in other words, a military revolution.
In the 21st Century, the development of computers and the additional processing
power they represent is provoking another shift, a new machinic phylum to appear on the
virtual horizon. In this case, the symbol is not of a clockwork mechanism, or a motor,
but a computer itself, and specifically a distributed network. De Landa points out that the
success of the D-Day invasion was likely a direct result of the mistakes that occurred in
the airborne drops on June 5th. With the leaderships plan destroyed, individual soldiers
and small units were forced to take initiative on their own, acting without the total
supervision previously thought to be essential to successful warfare. By being allowed to


make their own decisions, the friction of the operation was distributed across the entire
network and thus easily overcome.
Human agency, then, allowing soldiers to make their own decisions within a
broader institutional framework, was what made the American forces so successful.
Were soldiers completely subsumed into the military institution, such that their agency no
longer existed, these individual decisions could not be made. Returning to our idea of the
problem child, it is hardly surprising that Private Argent said of Private Hansen:
the other day I caught myself thinking with all seriousness, Ill bet
Hansen would make a pretty good officer. I actually believe that.
Remembering my yelling at him and stuff at AIT when I put him
in a room and I said you fuck-tard the reason Im always pissed off
at you and yelling at you is that youre capable of so much more
than this bullshit that youre doing and that really offends me. But
just thinking about his personality and stuff like that Ill bet he
wouldnt make a bad platoon leader at all.
Hansen, as one of the platoons problem children, was chaotic and undisciplined, but it
was that very chaos, properly harnessed, that Argent saw in Hansen as a potential leader.
Indeed, as we saw in Chapter 4, when Hansen was assigned the role of platoon guide, he
did attempt to perform properly as a leader, assimilating back into the unit for a short
The realization that distributed friction and chaos is a preferable option is still not
completely accepted by much of the Army. In fact, as a soldier deployed with a unit
which was part of the Special Operations Command, there were constant complaints
about Big Army and their controlling approach to ordering their units on the battlefield.
Even today, despite much talk of network-centric warfare and other metaphors, most
military units are still modeled as a top-down, hierarchical structure with officers
controlling a battlefield via radio and email rather than allowing the soldiers and small


squads to conduct themselves as they felt appropriate. Only Special Operations units are
granted the privilege of independent operation with an understanding of the desired end
state, the big picture. De Landa, however, points out that by distributing Clausewitzs
friction across the entire war machine, the cumulative effect of that friction is drastically
reduced, much as the modern internet breaks large files into smaller packets and thus
avoids congestion as these files are sent across the internet. It is hardly surprising,
given this model and de Landas evidence, that the success rates of missions in Vietnam
were highest among Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Marine CAP units, even taking
into account the extra training these elite forces had (Boot, 2002). All of these units
specifically operated in the network model described by de Landa, small units with little
direction and the expectation of personal initiative.
Unfortunately, de Landa points out that the modern military is not moving to the
network model, but is instead attempting to create a more efficient bureaucratic
organization by increasing the amount of information available to commanders without
surrendering any of that commanders control over subordinate units. In order to handle
this increase in information, todays military commander surrenders more and more of
his autonomy and decision to computerized processes of data analysis and data sorting.
As armies get larger and larger, the amount of information a commander needs to assess
also increases, to a point at which most military commanders are no longer leaders, but
simply a manager of information flows. (de Landa, 1991, p. 80). Computer analysis
assists in this management by receiving and processing large amounts of data, but the act
of processing requires decisions regarding which information and which is important.
These decisions, once made by trained professionals who were part of the war machine,


the network of soldiers making up the military, are now being made by computers
programmed with strict logic and no connection to the war machine. De Landas
theoretical analysis thus returns to the same concerns that more straightforward analysts
have regarding technology: the surrender of human decision making to a technological

The Machine Gun

This technological ideal can be symbolized by the machine gun. Although not
originally embraced by the military, the Gatling Gun and its successors eventually
became the weapon of choice for infantry units. At Basic Training the importance of the
machine gun and the importance of the support soldier are starkly contrasted. The
support soldiers lack of value to the military is shown by the very limited training that
soldiers at Basic Training (rather than Infantry Training, a separate program) received on
the weapon, compared to three weeks of training with the M-16. One day of Basic
Training was devoted to learning the infantry weapons: AT-4 Rocket Launcher,
Claymore Mine, and Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW). Of the three, the experience of
firing the SAW has stood out in the minds of a majority of my informants. The SAW is a
small machine gun by military standards, only slightly larger than the M-16 and not much
more than twice as heavy. The SAW can fire 750 rounds per minute, significantly faster
than a standard assault rifle, and faster than the other main machine gun used by the
Army, the M240, although with smaller bullets. The larger the caliber of a weapon, the
more damage it does to an enemy, thus the SAW makes up for its smaller bullets by
firing more of them. For a small unit, these traits make it an advantageous weapon, as it


can be easily carried and ammunition can be borrowed from soldiers carrying M-16s if
Of the three infantry weapons, only the SAW was fired by everyone in the
company, select soldiers were chosen to fire one AT-4 round and one Claymore round
apiece to demonstrate the effectiveness of these weapons. One belt of ammunition for
the SAW however, was provided to each private to fire at targets on the firing range. The
targets at Fort Benning were four destroyed vehicles, two Russian tanks, a large truck,
and a Russian Armored Personnel Carrier. These targets were placed in a large field over
200 meters from the firing points and painted bright yellow to help them to stand out.
There were four SAWs set up along a line facing towards the tanks. The SAWs were not
to be touched by the privates for any reason other than to aim the weapon at the target.
The instructors on the range would open the top feed tray for the private, who would take
his belt of ammunition and load it into the feed tray and then close the tray. Then, each
private would lie down and place his shoulder into the butt of the weapon, hold it steady
with his non-firing hand across the top of the weapons stock and use his non-firing hand
to move the safety switch. There were enough bullets on each belt to fire three or four
times, and then the range instructors would hurry a private to put the safety switch back
on, stand up, and move away from the weapon to allow the next private to fire.
The only requirement when firing the SAW was to pull the trigger, there was no
instruction on how to aim the weapon or what to do should the weapon malfunction. In
contrast to the training with the M-16, in which Drill Sergeants and instructors were
patient and would rarely yell at a private, firing the SAW was chaotic, loud, and rushed.
Instructors yelled at privates to hurry, and then while firing would yell at privates in order


to simulate the battlefield. When a private was finished firing, the instructor would
then yell at him to move away from the weapon as quickly as he could. It seems that drill
sergeants and instructors dont particularly care about the level of instruction privates
received on these weapons, since they will not be using them in their career as soldiers.
Private Argent expressed his dissatisfaction with the approach of some drill sergeants at
Basic who told him, I dont know why were training you on this stuff, youre never
gonna use it, or made similar disparaging remarks about the status of Basic Training
privates who were not infantry.
The association with infantry is one of the strongest elements of the soldier
identity, extending back to the beginnings of the military. A soldiers apparent value is
frequently based on his proximity to the enemy, or what is referred to in the military as
the tip of the spear. This proximity to the enemy is tied up in the idea that a soldier is a
ritual sacrifice for his nation, which will be discussed more fully in Chapter Eight.
Briefly here, the possibility of killing or dying makes the soldier into a liminal figure,
crossing the border of life into the realm of death (Marvin & Ingle, 1999). Thus, the
infantryman, as the most frequent of these border crossers represents the truest
expression of the soldier, and other soldiers are then ranked according to their own
proximity to these infantrymen, or to the border itself.
During AIT, instructors and drill sergeants104 will reinforce to privates that their
MOS is important because of the importance of the support they will provide to the
infantry soldier. Alternately, the physical proximity of the soldiers to warfare is stressed.
Military Police, for example, are frequently reminded that they are the most deployed

At Basic Training, drill sergeants are chosen from any number of different specialties. At AIT, drill
sergeants and instructors are specific to the specialties being trained, so at Communications AIT, all drill
sergeants will be Communications Specialists, etc.


specialty in the Army, and are just as likely as the infantry to encounter combat on the
modern battlefield. The full importance of this symbolism will be discussed later in this
chapter with the discussion of the military uniform, as the symbolism of uniform
decoration highlights this distinction.
The machine gun, as a device exclusively for dealing death on the battlefield, thus
carries special significance. Since the only soldier who will carry a machine gun is one
who will be engaging the enemy, the gun itself becomes a symbol for the proximity to
combat which is so valued by soldiers. SLA Marshall found during World War II that
after primary group loyalty, the feeling that an individual soldier mattered was the next
most important factor in whether he would fire his weapon at the enemy and remain
fighting a difficult combat. Soldiers assigned to heavy weapons, in World War II the
Browning Automatic Rifle or BAR, were more likely to engage the enemy than soldiers
armed with just a rifle due to the responsibility they felt they had in carrying the heavy
weapon (Marshall, 2000, p. 76). The machine gun is thus important not only for its sheer
killing power, but as a symbol of the importance of the soldier carrying it. The
technology (the machine gun) will actually affect not only the mechanical ability of the
soldier to perform his job, but also the psychological state of the soldier wielding it.
This holds true for other technologies perceived as revolutionary as well. A
historical approach that focuses more exclusively on the soldiers involved in combat is
John Keegans Face of Battle. Its focus on battle as seen by the individual soldier is
particularly noteworthy and highlights the importance of military revolutions for the
soldiers themselves, rather than for the policy makers and generals who are preparing
grand strategy based on a rationalized army. Keegan examines three major battles in


history, battles which are also frequently identified as highlights of military revolution:
Agincourt, Waterloo, and Somme. The Battle of the Somme is the most relevant here, as
it discusses not only the style of warfare closest to the experience of the Basic Training
private, but also because the internal combustion engine and the machine gun are more
important for their use to the soldiers than technology in and of itself.
Keegan describes the failure of the artillery bombardment before the battle itself,
and then proceeds to discuss each type of encounter at the battle: artillery versus
artillery; artillery versus infantry; and infantry versus infantry though, if we treat
machine-gunners as a separate category, we also get infantry versus machine-gunners and
artillery versus machine-gunners. (Keegan, 1976, p. 246) It is the machine-gun which
makes the Somme such a historically relevant battle. The technological power of the
weapon vastly outstripped any weapons which had previously existed, and the eventual
result was a change in tactics by soldiers to disperse, no longer drawing direct support
from their comrades beside and behind them in the massed battles which had preceded
World War I.
The machine gun also serves as an example of how soldiers can affect
institutional change, and even the most remarkable technology can fail when misapplied.
The first workable machine gun in the United States, the Gatling Gun, was invented in
1861 to assist the Union Army in the Civil War. However, despite its technological
achievement, it was only purchased by individual commanders, and often used in place of
artillery rather than as a direct support weapon for infantry. In addition to its dislike
among Army bureaucrats, many soldiers refused to use the weapon, as they felt that it


removed the heroics from combat. 105 It wasnt until World War I that the weapon began
to be used in large battles, being reserved for Indian Wars and other colonial
engagements before that. (Keller, 2008)

The Professional Military

The FTX is representative of the traditional and outdated top-down approach to
conflict still practiced by the Army. The FTX itself is three days worth of training and
running simulation small-unit missions against a group of privates chosen from the
company that are designated as OPFOR. OPFOR stands for Opposing Forces, and in the
tradition of military war games are the soldiers who role-play adversaries, allies, and any
other battlefield personnel who are not from the force going through the training. The
FTX is seen by many privates as useless or silly. Sergeant Brigman described it as, FTX
was so stupid. Heres what mine was: Day 1, dig a hole. Day 2, stand in the hole, Day 3,
fill the hole back up. Other privates, however, enjoyed the experience and expressed a
desire for similar or more training during Basic. Private Fletcher felt that he was being
cheated on stuff, while at Basic. This sentiment was shared by Private Ricardo, who felt
that the FTX was critical to his bragging rights in the Army, and that he was
disappointed that our FTX didnt go all the way through. There was that hurricane
warning and we all got pulled back from the field, and I dont know, I was kinda
disappointed by that. [But] I did feel like I did accomplish something.
The mixture of responses to the FTX was echoed by many privates during Basic,
and soldiers interviewed at later dates. Another major concern, however, was the lack of
proper combat training conducted at Basic Training, especially in reference to the FTX.

As it undoubtedly did.


Private Argent claimed that he had actually heard some drill sergeants refer to the
privates as REMFs 106 . The insult specifically refers to the status of support personnel as
being far removed from the front line of combat and thus not truly soldiers. In 3rd
platoon this attitude raised much ire as a preponderance of privates were Psychological
Operations and Civil Affairs soldiers, two of the five most frequently deployed
specialties, and when deployed are assigned either to an infantry unit or a Special Forces
The cause of this is another military revolution, the professionalization of the
military. Since the 1960s the United States Army has been changing in its approach to
recruitment and requirements of its soldiers. Although the negative treatment of Vietnam
veterans is often presented as an aberration in history, that instead soldiers should be
honored for their service to their country, this was in actual fact the standard treatment of
American soldiers, and it was the glorification of World War II veterans which was the
outlier in the historical trend (Moskos, 1970, p. 179). However, this glorification set up
the mythological frame for the proper treatment of soldiers, and as we saw in Chapter
Two, following the Vietnam War a number of attempts were made in film and literature
to rehabilitate the image of the American Army and the American soldier.
In addition to these attempts, the institution of the Army is by its very nature
affected by changes in the civilian culture which surrounds it. As the majority of soldiers
serve for a limited time, there is a constant flux in the membership of the military, and
each new cohort of recruits brings with it its own backgrounds and cultural ideals. Thus,
the recruits in the 1950s would reflect the attitudes of the civilian population of the
1950s, just as the current set of recruits will reflect the attitudes of the new millennium.

Rear Echelon Mother Fucker. A soldier who does not go onto the battlefield, but stays in the rear.


The difference in the institutional nature of the Army can be seen in Table 1,
which shows the changes in technical versus combat positions from the Civil War to after
the Korean War. As can be clearly seen from the chart, the amount of soldiers in
Civilian Type fields increased steadily over one hundred years, while the number of
Military Type soldiers, infantrymen and other combat arms, decreased in response. As
noted above, World War I was a revolutionary period for the military, and this can be
seen in the table below as well, as the number of combat professionals drops
precipitously from the Spanish-American War to World War I. With the introduction of
the new technologies mentioned above, the Army required a greater number of
technicians to operate the new machineries available.

Occupational Specialization in Army Enlisted Personnel, Civil War to 1954

Occupational Group

Civilian Type
Technical, scientific
Administrative, clerical
Skilled mechanics,
maintenance, etc.
Service Workers
Operative, laborers
Military type


n War



War I







1.1% 21.5% 15.8% 16.9% 20.3%
6.5% 12.5%
9.7% 11.5% 10.4%
2.2% 20.2% 13.6%
86.6% 34.1% 36.2% 33.1% 28.8%
Source: Report on Conditions of Military Service for the Presidents
Commission on Veterans Pensions, Question IV (Nature of Military
Duties), December 28, 1955.

(reprinted in Janowitz, 1974, p. 47)

Also, it must be noted that World War I was also a transitional moment for
another element of the military: the aristocratic leadership. The drastic reduction of
military type soldiers in World War I is reflective of the removal of cavalry from the


ranks of the Army. Traditionally from the wealthier classes, on the 20th Century
battlefield, these units were no longer relevant, and their removal presaged the later
changes in the American military following World War II and the introduction of the GI
Bill, allowing soldiers to attend college and increasing the size of the American middle
class. This middle class was then able to send their own children to college, and a
number of those students joined the military as officers through OCS, ROTC, or other
programs. Where prior to World War II, Army officers were primarily composed of
graduates from West Point or other military academies, following that war, more officers
brought technical and management degrees to their military service than the leadership
training which was a focus of the academies.
Sometimes associated with Robert McNamaras changes when he was Secretary
of Defense, the shift from a leadership to a management focus in Army officers is
reflective of this interaction between the civilian and military worlds. David Segal
discusses the two different management styles employed by military officers:

Rather than on a concern with having social groups strive together

to achieve collective goals, the management orientation has
focused on the desire of the individual to maximize payoffs, by
making decisions based upon a rational calculus. For managers
themselves, the motivation is the maximization of the profit.
Workers, in turn, are assumed to be motivated by an expectation
that their participation in a collective enterprise will benefit them
individually. Thus the traditional management model does not
assume that individuals are committed to group goals, it merely
assumes that they will have individual interests in the fulfillment of
these goals. The managers need not themselves be participants in
the group processes that are oriented toward goal attainment. The
task of the managers is the more abstract one of allocating
resources within the organization toward the fulfillment of
organizational goals. The fact that scientific management has been
displaced by the human-relations approach to management in the


military and civilian work places makes management no less

individualistic. The human-relations approach focuses primarily
on individual needs, rather than on organizational productivity.
(Segal, 1989, p. 56)
Although the management approach appears to cater to human agency more than the
leadership style does, the truth is in fact the opposite. In the management approach, the
leaders of a unit (platoon leaders, company commanders, etc.), are removed from any
decision making process of the soldiers under them, and it is assumed that these soldiers
will make decisions not out of any true personal choice, but based on preconceived ideas
of economic maximization. Rather than viewing soldiers as individual agents who can
choose to identify with an entity larger than themselves, they can be viewed in the
collective, as further resources the manager can allocate to achieve organizational
goals. 107
Further, later in his work, Segal notes that soldiers themselves perceive their own
position in the military institution almost independently of their chosen career paths. In
some units, career soldiers (those intending to remain in the military until retirement) do
view their career choice as a calling compared with noncareer soldiers who view the
military as a vocational training experience. However, in other units, this pattern is
reversed, such that career soldiers view service as a job, while noncareer soldiers view
service as a calling. Each soldier, then, makes his own decisions, balancing his economic
security with his devotion to national service. (Segal, 1989)
During the FTX, of course, privates are not considering their devotion to country
versus their economic welfare. However, they are constantly expressing themselves and

It is interesting to note that after graduation from Basic Training and AIT, recruits are removed from the
umbrella of the Training and Doctrine Command and placed under the Army Materiel Command, which
also has the responsibility for purchasing and tracking equipment.


their negotiation of the institution through their actions. Even something as simple as
building a hasty fighting position highlights the ability of an individual soldier to
manipulate the institutional rules for his own benefit. A hasty fighting position, or hasty,
is a small trench, approximately six feet long and two feet wide, dug deep enough to get a
soldiers head and shoulders below the level of the ground around him. Although the
name refers to the speed with which it is supposed to be dug, in actuality the privates
digging the hasty positions took about five hours to dig a position deep enough to satisfy
the drill sergeants. The hasty position took this long to complete since most of the
digging must be done with the E-tool. Had the drill sergeants not brought out four sets of
shovels, pickaxes, and axes, however, the hasty positions would probably have taken
even longer to construct.
Digging a hasty is difficult and tiring, and due to the size of the E-tool, very
painful on the back and shoulders of the privates. Even after nine weeks of physical
training and exercise, digging the hasty position results in shoulder and back pain and
physical exhaustion. At Fort Benning, the ground is mostly loose sand or clay, resulting
in the ground filling in the hasty almost as fast as it is being dug. In addition, tree roots
and rocks must be moved out of the way, or if a drill sergeants pickaxe is available, cut
through. As the private digs his hasty, he is supposed to carry the extra dirt away from
the position itself, in order to hide the existence of the position from the enemy as much
as possible. In actual practice, however, the extra dirt is used to build up the area around
the hasty position in order to make it appear deeper than it actually is. Once the position
is deep enough, privates camouflage the position with dead trees and broken tree
branches from around their area and lay them on top of the position. According to the


drill sergeants, this serves a double purpose: in camouflaging the hasty position with
brush and debris, the privates have also cleared a killing ground in front of their positions
where they have a clear line of sight to an approaching enemy.
Of course, as noted above, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and likely most wars
to come for the United States, will not be fought on undeveloped land requiring a hasty
position. In fact, as mentioned previously, if a fighting position is necessary, it is most
often built by contractors using state-of-the-art construction equipment. Even the
ubiquitous sandbag has been replaced for the most part by a more efficient system of four
foot tall cages filled with sand and dirt by dump trucks. Soldiers run patrols in armored
HMMWVs which are essentially miniature tanks, complete with GPS tracking systems
and onboard computers. In some cases, these new vehicles even include remote
controlled weapon systems so that even gunners will not be required to stand outside the
vehicle to engage an enemy. Improved radios and other computerized communications
equipment allows commanders to see the locations of every unit under their control, and
supposedly allow for quicker response and greater control by those commanders. These
technologies are often seen as a revolutionary new direction for soldiers on the ground.
One thing that many proponents of new technologies agree on, however, is that
the new technologies are only effective in revolutionizing warfare if they are properly
incorporated by the military itself. As I noted with the Gatling Gun, a technology which
is misapplied is essentially useless. The new information technologies, new ideas of
resource management of bureaucratic control, and other innovations are not being trained
to new soldiers at Basic Training. Rather, these innovations come from the adaptive
strategies of the members of the organization, bringing their own techniques and ideas


into the institution rather than being programmed with those approved by the institution.
As a reservist who has been deployed, I have been instructed in dozens of new and
different techniques for small unit movement, tactics when encountering an enemy
(movement to contact), and different tactics for operations in the enclosed urban
environment in which our soldiers are currently operating in Iraq. Many of these
techniques actually came from other reservists who were policemen, martial artists, and
those who had been deployed with Special Forces or Ranger units in the past.
These new tactics are not typical of a military still discussing the importance of
the F-22 Strike Fighter or the Crusader Artillery Platform on the modern battlefield. The
tactics a private learns at Basic Training are part of the maneuver warfare history of the
last hundred years of the American military. They are strongly based on a trust in the
hierarchy, and place no importance on an individual soldier understanding what the
import of his particular assignment might be. The tactics taught by Special Forces and
other experienced fighters are based on a different paradigm, one similar to a distributed
computer network in which each computer is assigned a role in the process of problem
solving, but is also aware of the other computers roles as well, and their resources can be
borrowed as necessary to make the entire process more efficient. In addition, many of
the tactics taught by Special Forces soldiers are based on an understanding of the physical
and cultural locations where combat is most likely to occur, as opposed to the woodland
training that the Army continues to provide its Basic Training troops in case the Red
Army should advance across the German plain. 108 (Simons, 1997)


This theoretical scenario was referred to by military planners as the Battle for Fulda Gap, and is
frequently used by critics of the military, replacing fighting the last war, with fighting the Fulda Gap.


Playing Soldier with Face Paint

The application of face paint is another outdated, but highly symbolic action
taught to privates during Basic Training. Privates are provided with a small paint kit,
very similar to a womans compact with a light green, dark green, and tan pallet of
paste for covering the exposed skin. All exposed skin is supposed to be covered with
face paint, including hands, neck, back of the head, and under the chin and nose. Even
though there is a tan paste included in the kit, only light and dark green are allowed to be
worn during Basic Training. While instructing privates in the proper application of face
paint, the drill sergeants threatened punishment if they see anybody with brown or black
on their face. The face paint is used to even out the three dimensional aspects of the
face, such that shadowed or darkened areas are supposed to be painted in light green and
raised areas are painted in dark green. By thus flattening the contours of the face, it is
supposedly more difficult to discern a soldiers face in the woods.
Face painting is one of the more light-hearted events for privates, who enjoy the
opportunity to finally look like they think a soldier should look. Seen below is one of the
standard recruiting posters for the Army, with the soldier in the foreground. I have
personally seen this poster at every Army base or building I have been to in the last four
years, its ubiquity suggests the attempt by the Army to symbolize for both new and
current soldiers what they should aspire to. The Seven Army Values are in the
foreground, and the American Flag flies in the background. In addition to this, posters,
recruiting videos, and commercials not only for the Army, but for Navy and Marine
Corps recruits also feature active soldiers conducting armed missions while covered in
face paint.


After the hasty positions are dug the buddy pairs who are to share the position
then assemble their shelter. In addition to the other gear previously mentioned each
private carries strapped to the outside of his rucksack a shelter half and sleeping mat.
The sleeping mat is a half-inch thick foam mat similar to those purchasable in any
outdoor supply store. The shelter half is a large trapezoid of grey treated canvas that is
supposedly waterproof. Included with this canvas sheet are three modular metal poles
and four metal stakes. It was not until Bravo Companys FTX that privates learned that
these poles and stakes were to assemble a sleeping tent, although they were required to
keep the shelter half and sleeping mat properly rolled and stored on the top of their
rucksacks at all times.
The use of the shelter half encourages primary group development, as two
soldiers need to combine their halves to create a single tent, and have to combine their
efforts to properly roll and store the equipment.. The proper way to roll a shelter half is


to lay it out flat on the ground and then place the sleeping mat inside the canvas and wrap
it once so that the two are laying flat together on the ground. Then the four stakes and
three tent poles are placed at equal intervals on top of the sleeping mat and the entire
collection is rolled into a cylinder. This is usually a two-person job, as the roll will
continually slide to one side and must be constantly adjusted. In addition, the roll should
be as tight as possible, so one privates job is typically to roll the mat, while the other is
to keep the shelter half cinched tight around it. Once one shelter half has been rolled, the
privates move to the partners shelter half and store that one as well.
This group building is even more extreme during the FTX, when the shelter
halves are assembled into a single tent that the two privates will share. The tent poles are
assembled, one privates per side of the tent, and the two shelter halves are snapped
together lengthwise with a small flap of canvas extending over the seam to ensure that
rain water will not drip into the tent. The eight stakes are then used to secure the tent, the
two sleeping mats are laid inside, and the E-tool is used to dig a small rainwater trench
around the outside of the tent to prevent groundwater from seeping into the tent. Each
tent is barely large enough to hold one soldier, although two are expected to share it, and
after assembly ends up being only five feet long from pole to pole, resulting in most
privates having to choose whether to leave feet or head sticking out from the tent. If it
should rain, as it did during Bravo Companys FTX, the choice is usually the feet, as
privates sleep fully clothed and in battle-rattle 109 and boots in case they should need to
quickly respond to an attack by the OPFOR.
It is notable that drill sergeants will not share these conditions with the privates.
In the case of 3rd platoon, Drill Sergeant Briggs brought a commercially purchased nylon

A generic term for the extra gear worn during a combat mission.


pup tent to sleep in while the FTX was occurring, which he made the privates from 3rd
platoon set up for him while he went to get some coffee. The drill sergeant mystique
discussed in an earlier chapter continued to hold even at the end of Basic Training.
Although Drill Sergeant Briggs essentially used privates as a personal labor force, and
made a point of displaying his relaxation in his tent, sipping at his coffee, there did not
appear to be any resentment at his actions. Rather, this display of privilege seemed to
reinforce to privates that they would soon be able to do the same, once they have
graduated and become proper soldiers.

Outdated Missions
On Days One and Two of the Cold Steel event, privates conduct training missions
and simulations. During Bravo Companys Cold Steel, the three missions performed by
3rd platoon included a foot patrol (with a staged ambush), a casualty rescue mission, and
a prisoner of war scenario. Although 3rd platoon did relatively well during these
missions, there were still plenty of mistakes that were made and could have been
corrected. Missions were run by squad and not by platoon during the FTX, and on each
mission the drill sergeants selected a new squad leader to run the mission. While each
squad was out on a mission, counterparts from their platoon would watch their
equipment, as the threat of theft mentioned above remained a possibility.
For the first mission, my squad was told we were to perform a foot patrol to two
points on the map and then return to the camp. The second mission was to move to a
position identified by the drill sergeants and rescue a casualty we would find there.
Finally, the squad was to relieve another squad of their prisoner and return him to camp


to be interrogated. During this final mission, the prisoner was to run away from the
squad and attempt to escape. Although the company was supposed to perform these
missions while wearing MILES Gear, a set of electronic sensors which would respond to
a laser attached to barrel of another soldiers weapon, the equipment was not working
properly, and was left behind for all of the missions on our FTX.
The purpose of the first mission was to practice map reading and land navigation
and combat skills. Prior to the mission, each squad was refreshed on the proper
procedures for attacking an enemy, which included splitting into two fire teams, with one
team moving to the side of the enemy and firing at them from a different angle to catch
them in a crossfire. This technique has been a standard of military operations for as long
as recorded history, and is seen by some as such a clich that a friend of mine once
commented, you can always tell the good generals in a movie, because they know about
the flanking maneuver. Unfortunately, as will be discussed in greater detail below, this
mission is based on the premise of holding an area against a conventional enemy, and not
reflective of the sorts of counter-insurgency missions which the Army is currently
involved in.
The second mission was to reinforce map reading, and to practice first aid
techniques on the role-played casualty. The third mission, interestingly, was to reinforce
the training on the Law of Warfare and learn how to deal with prisoners in a battlefield
environment. I point this out simply because of the significance the Abu Ghraib scandal
still has for the Army, and to state that the training received at Basic Training was
insufficient in this arena. After taking control of the prisoner on this mission, Private
Ball shot him as he ran away from the squad.


That evening each private was allowed four hours of sleep over eight hours, the
other four to be spent in the hasty position on guard against a possible attack. Before
dawn, all privates had to be up and ready, during what the drill sergeants called the stand
to, when a conventional enemy is most likely to attack, between 5 AM and 7 AM.
Overnight there were two staged attacks by the OPFOR 110 . Private Brown was assigned
to the OPFOR for our FTX, and remembers one incident in particular:
We were sneaking up, ready to throw a flash-bang, and Bryan
comes out of his hasty and crawls toward me, where I was-was
hiding under a bush. Im sitting there, and after he gets out, he
stands up, dumb fuck, and walks toward me, and I didnt know,
you know, what to do. We werent supposed to be seen, so I just
sat there, and he comes to, like, three feet from me, and then he
almost peed on me. That was some shit.
Browns recollection of what could have been a very disgusting event highlights another
element of Basic Training, the changed view of the body. Another example of this is
flatulence. Prior to Basic, and especially during Reception, privates views of flatulence
spanned the gamut from humor to embarrassment. Private Gorotti, who was 32 when he
entered Basic, described his change in attitude,

I started out being a bit embarrassed. I never liked fart jokes,

stuff like that. And then I was surrounded by all these kids, who
thought it was the funniest thing in the world. First, I hated them
for it. Then after a few weeks, it was like they dragged me down
to their level, and I started making jokes with it. Then, by the end,
I just didnt care anymore. I had to fart, I did it. It wasnt funny, it
wasnt embarrassing. It just was what it was.


OPposing FORces. The Army term for any role players in a simulation who are not the soldiers being
trained. Originally, these role players were enemies, as in any simulation of a maneuver warfare battle.


Although one could view this approach to the body as potentially damaging
psychologically, it was not so much a disconnect between body and self that occurred
over two weeks, but was rather a shift in the perception of the body and its functions.
Like food, which goes from being a pleasure in civilian life to a means for ingesting
calories in the Army, the body becomes a delivery mechanism for the self.
Ideally, there would have been three more missions on the following day of the
exercise, but due to inclement weather, Bravo Company was told to pack up a day early
and prepare to march back to the barracks. Prior to this, however, a final attack was
staged by the OPFOR. Although ostensibly this was to continue our training in combat
maneuvers, it is also a practical attempt by the drill sergeants to expend all of the
ammunition that has been signed out of the armory. According to Sergeant Thomas, the
armorer at my Reserve Unit, its a bitch to get ammunition out of the armory, but it is a
hundred times harder to get it back in. You know the shit you have to go through for
that? Lets just fire it off. During this final attack I was killed by one of the OPFOR
when Private Lees weapon, in the position next to mine, jammed and the OPFOR private
managed to shoot both of us. Lee was very apologetic, and then said, If I ever go to
war, man, Im cleaning that fucker every day. It sucks that I died, but I couldnt handle
having somebody else get killed because of that. Much like the gas chamber discussed
earlier, then, the FTX does teach privates what it means to trust in your equipment and in
each other.
During the FTX, of course, each mission was only run once, and there was no
chance to incorporate the education from the failure and perform the task a second time
to improve, or even properly learn the techniques being taught. Sergeant Brigman


expressed his dislike of this style of instruction when he stated, its just so typical of the
Army. Check the box. You got the briefing, good. Who cares if you actually learned
anything? You went to PLDC, good. Who cares if youre actually ready to be a sergeant
now? The feeling of disdain was also evident during this instruction, as it was obvious
that the drill sergeants did not care very much whether we learned the techniques they
were showing us, simply that we completed the mission so that they could move on to the
Changes to this system are supposedly underway at Basic Training posts, with
more time devoted to weapons which were only momentarily handled, if at all, by the
members of Bravo Company. Colonel Bill Gallagher, commander of the Basic Combat
Training Brigade at Fort Benning, explains that the Army has realized, historically,
combat support specialists had been in the rear of the battlefield, far from direct contact
with the enemy [but now] there is no front, there is no rear. Soldiers of all specialties will
face direct contact with an adversary. (Shanker, 2004). In addition, extra time is spent
learning the variety of machine guns and other heavy weapons previously only used by
infantry soldiers (Gonzalez, 2006). Due to these changes in the battlefield, then, the
instruction at Basic Training is shifting to meet new challenges. The bureaucracy of the
military, unfortunately, prevents a quick reaction to change, and these programs are
rarely implemented completely. When asked about how much extra time she was granted
to train on the SAW and other infantry weapons, a new soldier in my Reserve Unit
replied, we got a couple days to use them. Thus, although two days is more than one
day of instruction, it still does not compare to the three weeks worth of training on the
rifle discussed in the previous chapter.


Most historians have focused on the technological changes in military history to

the exclusion of the cultural. However, as we will show below, without the cultural
changes themselves, the technological advances have frequently been useless or even
resulted in catastrophic defeats for the army utilizing the new technology. These cultural
changes of course, are ultimately the response to choices by individuals at every level of
the military establishment. In order for a new piece of technology to be effective,
procurement officers must recognize the potentials of new technologies and purchase
them, commanders must see the proper application of new technologies, and each
individual soldier must be prepared to use them. On my own deployment, there were a
number of technological gadgets provided by the Army which were discarded by
soldiers, or more often replaced by better commercially available versions. Radios, GPS
devices, and even body armor was regularly purchased by soldiers who disdained the
quality of military equipment. Technology is, of course, revolutionizing the battlefield,
but frequently not in the ways projected by military theorists or even the builders of the
technology. Soldiers are instead making their own decisions regarding what equipment is
essential for a deployment, and ignoring the military issued equipment. For instance, off
the shelf cell phones in Iraq are the most common means of communication, despite a
multi-million dollar radio system provided by the Army. Some commanders have given
in to this trend, and purchased cell phones for their leaders using unit funds rather than
attempt to force a technology on soldiers unwilling to use it. It is hardly surprising, then,
that discussions of new technologies are some of the most common topics of books on
the new military transformation.


The Fetish of Technology

William McNeill, in The Pursuit of Power (1982), discusses the importance of the
market forces in Western culture to the technological advances identified by many
historians as revolutionary. He points out frequently that although China had an
industrial basis equivalent to Western Europe, and at times superior to it, it was only the
differences in Eastern and Western culture that allowed such rapid technological
advances in weaponry. Specifically, the lack of a single political entity in Western
Europe resulted in a strong interaction between market forces and military development.
In contrast, the Chinese central government, focused on Confucian ideals that disparaged
personal accumulation of wealth, systematically prevented the rise of individual investors
who could potentially bankroll the speculative ventures necessary for the development of
cannon and ships, symbols of revolutionary progress in warfare.
For McNeill the history of warfare in Western Europe is one of increased
marketization and eventually bureaucratization of the military. The marketization of
warfare allowed for a faster development of new military technology as national leaders
had to turn wars into investments for moneylenders and therefore there was a stronger
drive to implement more efficient methods and more effective technology. The national
armies that developed in the 16th Century continued this trend, and the result was a
military that focused on integrating soldiers and weaponry together to make them more
efficient, and removing the individualistic elements of warfare from the process of
military engagement. Officers were incorporated into this process as bureaucratic
managers of the military machines that developed in response to the market forces
driving military innovation. McNeills bureaucratization is remarkably similar to


Foucaults idea of discipline and the rationalization of military units, and both use similar
metaphors in their discussion of military history. Both describe the mechanization of
soldiers in the 16th Century, the effect of drill on individual identity and the importance of
individuals on the battlefield; both analyses even use the same engravings to discuss this
development. The main difference between the two is ideological, with McNeill
discussing only the technical aspects and avoiding discussion of the social implications of
the market forces that led to these developments, while Foucaults analysis includes an
inherent critique of the changes in society reflected by McNeills bureaucratization of
With regard to warfare itself, the machine gun stands out as one of the strongest
symbols of the shifts in military organization to a mechanistic or rationalized form. In his
history of soldiers, John Keegan discusses how the machine gun drastically increased the
distance between a soldier and his target, and allowed a soldier wielding it to deliver
firepower orders of magnitude greater than even a volley of fire from a company of
musketeers. This combination of increased distance, separation, between the soldier and
his enemy, and the magnitude of destruction had not so much disciplined the act of
killing which was what seventeenth century drill had done as mechanized or
industrialized it. (Keegan, 1976, p. 234) In addition to this mechanization, the machine
gun necessitated a change in military tactics and training, shifting battlefield formations
from a large block of soldiers gaining support from men to their immediate right and left
to more dispersed formations, necessitating a change in the ideology of militaries as well
as technique.


Both Samuel Stouffer and SLA Marshall studied the motivations of soldiers
during World War II, and both found that abstract ideas of patriotism or ideology were
secondary to the importance that soldiers placed on the soldiers around them. Samuel
Stouffers study showed that loyalty to your buddies, and the feeling that you couldnt
let the other men down, were the strongest motivators for men in combat to continue
fighting (Stouffer, 1949, p. 136). Stouffers study was conducted after the end of World
War II, while SLA Marshall interviewed many soldiers immediately after combat
engagements during the course of the war. Marshalls findings were very similar to
Stouffers despite this difference in timeframe, concluding that, I hold it to be one of the
simplest truths of war that the thing which enables an infantry soldier to keep going with
his weapons is the near presence or the presumed presence of a comrade...He is sustained
by his fellows primarily and by his weapons secondarily. (Marshall, 2000, pp. 42-43)
The primary group for Marshall is essential to the effectiveness of a military unit. Thus,
the advantage of moving men to a difficult firefight is not predominantly to increase the
amount of firepower in that area, but to improve the morale, and therefore the fighting
ability, of the men in that firefight.
The use of the machine gun, as I discussed above, was both cause and effect of
these changes. Its firepower necessitated greater physical distance between soldiers in
battle, requiring a closer emotional distance to maintain the morale of soldiers in battle.
The machine gun then became one of the sources for this reduction in emotional distance,
providing the soldier wielding it with the feeling that his fellow soldiers were relying on
him and improving his chances of firing his weapon in battle. The importance of the


weapon in combat also led to its development as a symbol for the destructive power of
the military force wielding it.

Ideological Revolutions
Eschewing the idea of revolutions in military affairs, military analysts William
Lind, Keith Nightengale, John F Schmitt, and Gary Wilson espoused what they termed
Fourth Generation Warfare in a USMC Gazette Article in 1989. Although almost twenty
years old, Lind et. al.s concepts have only recently been picked up in the military theory
community. According to Google Scholar, of twenty four works citing their original
article, twenty one were written after September 11th (Google Scholar). Although not a
true meta-study of the impact of this article, even this brief look at the citations on the
admittedly limited Google Scholar database shows that the importance of technology vice
culture on modern warfare was biased in favor of the technological influences of
computer networks, satellite imagery, and other wonders of modern technology.
It is interesting that the second major contribution to the idea that the shift in
modern war is not technological but ideological was published two years after Lind et
al.s article and does not cite it even once. In his work Transformation of War, Martin
van Creveld discusses the development of Low Intensity Conflict as the paradigm for
contemporary warfare, with Vietnam as the best example of what warfare will be like in
the coming century rather than Operation Desert Storm. For van Creveld, Desert Storm
is a last gasp of Modern warfare, symmetrically balanced forces contesting strength on an
open battlefield using the tactics of maneuver warfare. While the successes of
technological advancement are frequently lauded by authors discussing Desert Storm,


van Creveld argues that, in fact, those same technological advancements will hinder a
nation-state military when it attempts to conduct any type of warfare besides that of State
vs. State conflict. The top-down hierarchical military, based on technologically advanced
artillery, ships, and fighter-bombers will be no match for a small ideologically driven
force of guerillas or revolutionaries in a Third World nation. Instead, the infantry forces,
wielding what is essentially the same weapon that has been carried by infantrymen for the
last four hundred years, will be the most important actors on the contemporary battlefield.
Van Crevelds arguments received much more consideration between 1991 and
2001 than Lind et al., although since the events of September 11th much more has been
written using the Fourth Generation framework than previously. This is likely because,
although the two books discuss the same topic -- the rise of guerilla and insurgent warfare
and the increase of non-State actors engaging in organized violence -- van Creveld
situated his book in the context of military history and technology, topics already
discussed extensively in multiple literatures, while Lind et al. focused on the ideological
changes among potential military enemies.
Even technological revolutions are driven by the culture which surrounds them.
As we saw with the Gatling Gun, it took years for the weapon to be properly used,
although once it was, it changed the face of warfare, and of soldiering. Robert
OConnells work Of Arms and Men discusses the impact of culture and cultural
constraints on the technology of warfare itself. According to OConnell, it is not new
technology which spurs military revolution, or even the surrounding technology, as van
Creveld proposes, but the ability of the military to adapt new strategy to incorporate the
advantages of that new technology. Unfortunately, as OConnell points out, human


warfare is driven by a desire for symmetry, leading to opposing armies that look roughly
equivalent squaring off (literally as well as figuratively in many cases) with one another
and engaging in a Yanomamo chest beating competition on a massive scale. It is for this
reason that the history of Western European militaries is commonly seen as long periods
of equivalence broken by short bursts of massive change. The revolution, then, is not so
much a response to technological advancement as many historians claim, but a response
to an opponent who achieves a strategic advantage by essentially breaking the rules of the
military game.
OConnells concept of symmetry resonates beyond a simple analysis of the
technology of warfare. In his final analysis, human beings are animals as much as elk,
caribou, or rams, and we engage in aggression in a similar way. Heavily grounded in
sociobiology, OConnell analyzes warfare as predominantly an extension of the intraspecific conflict of all animals. Borrowing from Edward O. Wilson and other biologists,
OConnell compares weapons development with the development of horns, antlers, and
other specialized instruments of mate competition. Although many human weapons are
inspired by predatory animals, in their use they are frequently limited by rules limiting
when, where, or how often they can be used. This reflects another major component of
intra-species competition: the ritualization of combat which occurs regularly among male
animals during mate competition. OConnell argues that warfare is ritualized and
symmetrical in the same way that mate competition is ritualized and symmetrical.
It follows, then, that a change in military activity that is non-technological will
also provoke a military revolution. A strong example of this form of revolution is the
development of uniforms for soldiers in the 17th century by Gustavus Adolphus.


Although a very simple concept, soldiers wearing uniforms form an identity based on
community that overpowers their individual identity. This community identity is
essential to the modern conception of the soldier. Since the definition of courage
changed in the 18th century (O'Connell, 1989) from heroic aggression to stoic acceptance,
the modern soldier needs some reason to embrace that stoic acceptance. The community,
whether it is the French Revolutions ideological fraternity or SLA Marshalls theory of
primary group loyalty, is what empowers soldiers with the control necessary to stand and
fight when retreat is such a more appealing option.
The introduction of ideology is generally credited to the French Revolution and
the levee en masse which provided Napoleon with unprecedented numbers of troops.
These extra troops, the argument goes, allowed Napoleon to forego standards of strategy
previously held to be inviolable. For example, due to the sheer size of his army,
Napoleon could bypass enemy fortifications and continue his movement into the hearts of
enemy territories, a tactic which would have been suicide for a smaller force moving
through enemy territory. The introduction of the uniform, however, and the shift from
mercenary to professional standing armies, predated the French Revolution by 200 years,
and were just as much an introduction of ideology into military forces as the levee en
masse was.
Prior to a professional army, most military units were two or three hundred
soldiers strong, usually run by a single charismatic leader. These small bands were
actually the beginning of the commodification of warfare, as they were small mercenary
units hired by landowners or townships as contractors. The historical Italian term
condottiere and the English term company both refer to this basic unit of military


organization and its origins as a business enterprise rather than a patriotic one. Most of
these mercenary companies were made up of men who had abandoned their families for
various reasons, and the company served as a replacement family for the new soldier.
(McNeill, 1982, p. 107) Although McNeills comparison of the mercenary company with
a replacement family is only mentioned briefly in his book, as we will see in the next
chapter, this fictive kinship builds a strong bond between soldiers, especially when those
soldiers are together veterans of combat. These mercenary companies were, however,
isolated from other kinship systems and from each other.
Although the modern military is more connected with the civilian world than
soldiers in the 16th Century, the military maintains this tradition of fictive kinship, with
fellow soldiers perceived as members of an extended kinship group. In the modern
Army, the interaction between these two worlds results in a strengthening of the identity
of the soldier as sacrifice, as when a soldier fights in a professional army, he does so not
only for the members of his fictive family, but for his consanguineal family as well.

Cold Steel
The importance of the uniform in building strong bonds among soldiers was
discussed in the previous chapter, but we must return to it one more time to complete our
discussion of the FTX. Uniform buttons with U.S. Army or a skill designator may only
be worn by soldiers who have properly completed Basic or AIT. Although a minor
element of the Class A uniform, these buttons hold particular significance based on the
time they are first received. Upon completing the FTX, privates are given a private
ceremony during which the drill sergeants and other company leaders welcome them into


the fraternity of soldiers. At Fort Benning, this ritual completes the Cold Steel exercise,
and is frequently referred to by itself as Cold Steel. After completing the FTX proper, the
unit marches back to the company area for the final ceremony.
After packing up our gear, Bravo Company marched most of the way back to the
barracks along the road. The final event of the Cold Steel exercise, prior to the ceremony
itself, is the march up the hill called Stairway to Heaven by the soldiers stationed there.
At the time, I recall being amazed by the steepness and length of the Stairway to Heaven,
imagining in my minds eye that I could have touched the ground in front of me as I
worked my way up the hill. Upon returning to Fort Benning for interviews the next year,
however, I almost failed to realize that I was on the hill which had loomed so strongly in
my memory. It is likely that the constant buildup of rumor and discussion about the
steepness of the hill had influence my, and likely the rest of my platoons, perceptions of
the event as it happened. However it might have occurred, this march is so essential to
the event that even with an incoming hurricane, Bravo Company was required to march
to the top of the hill. Once the hill had been crested, however, trucks were provided to
drive us back to the Company Area.
Upon arriving at the Company Area, the Company was held in the parking lot
outside the barracks for approximately an hour while the Cold Steel ceremony was
prepared. Once we were allowed to enter the Company Area, there was a large oil drum
with a large flame coming out of it, and an altar-like object set up behind it. On the
object was an anvil with a hammer, a solid piece of metal, and a cavalry saber. Once the
entire company was formed up in ranks on either side of the fire, the First Sergeant began
the ceremony. Due to the restriction on recording devices, I have not been able to get an


exact transcription of the words, although what follows is a rough approximation based
on my field notes and notes from my later interviews:

When you first entered Basic Training, you were civilians, but
you were also more than civilians, because you took on a
challenge, the challenge to come here to Fort Benning, and to
become more than civilians, to become soldiers. When you arrived
you were like this bar of iron. (The First Sergeant holds up the
metal bar). You were raw, waiting to be molded. Over the last
eight weeks you have been tested, (Drill Sergeant Priest picks up
the hammer and hits the anvil at each pause), you have endured
pain; you went through the gas chamber, you learned to fire your
weapon true, you learned how to act as a team, and you have just
completed your final challenge. (The First Sergeant throws the
metal bar into the fire). You are now soldiers, we are brothers,
you, your drill sergeants, the man on your left and on your right.
You will always remember what you went through with them, and
they will always be by your side. When you arrived here, you
were simply a bar of iron, waiting to be molded. Now, you are a
forged blade (The First Sergeant holds up the saber). You are Cold
After the First Sergeants speech, three soldiers came out carrying boots, a helmet, and a
bayonet. The first soldier said the soldiers creed, and then the First Sergeant told us that
these three items were, and have been, the symbols of the soldier, which we now were.
Once that was complete, the drill sergeants for each platoon pinned a button with US
emblazoned on it to each privates chest, sometimes with a word or two of praise.
The privates in 3rd platoon reacted differently to this ceremony depending on
their ages and levels of maturity. My reaction, shared by a number of other older
soldiers, was a simple desire to end the ceremony as quickly as possible. The younger
members of the platoon, however, responded more emotionally, with at least six privates
admitting that they cried when the drill sergeants pinned the US Army button to their


uniform. The range of responses, in fact, seemed as varied as the fifty-five different
members of the platoon, ranging from boredom to disappointment to rapture. Each
private in this case reacted to the events based on his own individual background and
prior experience.
The Cold Steel ceremony is different from the later public graduation which will
occur in front of the families of the privates. For the week after the ceremony, privates
are still referred to as privates, and are still under the command and control of the drill
sergeants, despite the words of the First Sergeant. Also, since each private must continue
on to their respective AITs before becoming officially a soldier, it is still not the
reincorporation expected from the ritual of Basic Training. However, during the week
following the Cold Steel ceremony, drill sergeants do appear to relax more around the
privates, and are more joking. Privates also receive more privileges, such as walking
through the DFAC instead of being required to sidestep down the line, and being allowed
to talk softly while eating. Perhaps the most appreciated privilege granted to privates
after the FTX is the ability to go to the base Post Exchange (PX) and purchase soda,
candy bars, or other forms of junk food. Toward the end of this final week, privates were
also allowed to purchase CD players and music to listen to in the barracks.
This event marked the final event in the process of Basic Training, with privates
transitioned from not soldiers to almost soldiers. After eight weeks of instruction,
privates had learned how to negotiate the barriers of regulations set up around them by
the Army institution, and how to properly perform as soldiers. However, the distinction
of soldier is still deferred for the completion of AIT, language school, airborne school,
or whatever extra training might be included in each individuals contract.


The military revolutions of both times past and today define where the military is,
and what duties it trains its soldiers for. The symbolism of the military, whether a soldier
is support or combat arms, is the experience of warfare, soldiers fighting battles against
other soldiers. And in the words of John Keegan: what battles have in common is
human: the behavior of men struggling to reconcile their instinct for self-preservation,
their sense of honour, and the achievement of some aim over which other men are ready
to kill them. (Keegan, 1976, p. 303) The influence of regular soldiers on the outcomes
of battles throughout history is frequently overlooked in the search for global historical
trends, strategies employed by commanding generals and politicians, and the quest for the
ultimate weapon system that soldiers will use to fight those battles.
Advancing technology, rigorous and repetitive drill, or precision guided
munitions launched in real time five hundred miles from the actual combat zone have all
been seen as influences on military revolution. However, even the automobile and
machine gun of World War I, viewed by many historians as the last revolution in military
affairs before the atomic bomb removed State vs. State warfare from the options available
to military commanders, are less important than the sociological and psychological
changes brought about by new technologies, or just as likely, new ideologies. John
Keegan, in his discussion of World War I, states succinctly that while it is possible to
argue that while the mechanization of armies has produced a revolution in warfare, the
real consequence, its effective potential for change, is not material but psychological.
(Keegan, 1976, p. 299) These psychological shifts in the approach to warfare are a
frequently overlooked element of military revolution. Even van Creveld and Lind,


proponents of military revolution based on cultural changes, fail to recognize many

significant shifts in strategy based on the psychological changes in soldiers and their
approach to military service.
Today the shift from an institutional army to a professional army is changing our
very definitions of warfare, enemies, and combat. Soldiers are no longer expected to die
for their country but to come home alive and unscarred. The war in Vietnam has shifted
the political landscape, and thus the military one, such that the Army leadership believes
that a war without casualties is the only war that the American citizenry will allow.
Soldiers are no longer a sacrificial scapegoat for the civilian population, but are an
extension of that population into a foreign country, and expected to act not only as
soldiers, but as representatives as well.
The soldier has gone through a number of changes over the course of history, and
the soldier identity expressed in Basic Training is linked to the past through both
symbolic and performative means. The changes in the identities of soldiers are a result of
changing technologies as well as changing social factors. However, every technological
change must be accompanied by a change within the culture of the Army on the level of
the individual soldier wielding the new technology.


Chapter 7: Fictive Kinship in the United States Army

After the completion of the FTX, privates have approximately a week to prepare
for their upcoming graduation ceremony. This graduation ceremony presents the new
soldiers to their families as soldiers, and highlights the importance of the new bonds
developed over the nine weeks of training. The graduation ceremony is spread out over
two days, with a small ceremony before the first day (Family Day) when privates are
allowed to spend time with their families, and a larger ceremony the next day, after which
privates must return to their barracks and will usually not see their families again until
after graduation from Advanced Individual Training.
Basic Training provides an introduction into an organization in which primary
group loyalty and strong interpersonal networks are almost sacrosanct. The strength of
the interpersonal networks developed in Basic Training and extending through the rest of
military life is such that a fictive kinship network is created. In my own personal
experience, another private and I went through the entire Basic Training experience, from
MEPS through Basic Training, AIT, unit assignment, and overseas deployment in each
others company. The bond begun at the MEPS station was continually enhanced over
the course of this travel, to a point which I would easily term fraternal in any
anthropological or layman sense.
A complete work on the fictive kinship of the military has not been written, and in
the context of a study of Basic Training would be extraneous, as the fictive kinship
network in the United States Army does not truly develop until a soldier graduates from
Basic and moves to his assigned unit. However, it would be useful to point out at this


point that the training that occurs at Basic Training does set up the conditions for an
enduring, diffuse solidarity, to use Schneiders terms, with other members of the Basic
Training platoon.

Tribalism of Military Culture

Despite some of the inconsistencies in Basic Training, one element which remains
constant is the introduction of the new social network which privates have entered. In
addition to learning the names and ranks of the training company the private is assigned
to, he must memorize his complete chain of command and support chain. The chain
of command is the succession of officers from the company commander all the way up to
the President of the United States who can give a private a direct order. The support
chain is the line of Non-Commissioned Officers from the platoon sergeant all the way to
the Sergeant Major of the Army. Although predominantly practical, should an officer in
a soldiers chain of command be killed, it is obvious who will fill in for that role, these
dual chains serve another purpose: to tie a soldier into the fictive family of the Army.
The idea that the military creates a bond of fictive kinship among soldiers is so
common that the very idea was satirized in the World War II epic Saving Private Ryan.
Nonetheless, it is true, even if a truism, that strong bonds do form among soldiers,
especially those who have been through combat, or some other stressful situation. John
Keegan asserts in his seminal work, A History of Warfare, that the military is
fundamentally tribal. In his introduction to that book, he discusses his realization that a
soldiers unit is almost sacred in its symbolism for soldiers: My regimental friends the
ready friendship extended by warriors is one of their most endearing qualities were


brothers-in-arms; but they were brothers only up to a point. Regimental loyalty was the
touchstone of their lives. A personal difference might be forgiven the next day. A slur
on the regiment would never be forgotten, indeed would never be uttered, so deeply
would such a thing touch the values of the tribe. (Keegan, 1993, xv) Keegan uses the
term tribal when a more precise definition would be segmentary, but his point remains
the same, soldiers connect with one another in the same ways, and with the same
symbolic strength, as most consanguineal relationships.
Although the American military is not quite as grounded in regimental loyalty as
the British, there are still strong elements of group loyalty demonstrated by soldiers.
Larry Ingraham discusses how active duty soldiers form social groups based on unit
loyalty, such that certain norms accepted among soldiers (such as theft) are only accepted
when the victim of the theft is from outside of the unit (Ingraham, 1984). In addition, the
metaphor of brotherhood is particularly strong in most military traditions. From the
classical drama of Shakespeare to the pop music of Dire Straits, the iconography of
military units is based on the idea of brotherhood. In Henry Vs speech, he refers to his
army at Agincourt as a band of brothers, for he who sheds his blood with me this day
shall be my brother, (Act IV, scene 3). This metaphor of brotherhood was picked up by
Stephen Ambrose and used as the title of his historiography of an elite airborne unit in
World War II. The similar term brothers in arms has been used as the title for pop
songs, novels, and even video games, while Michael Weisskopf named his account of
wounded soldiers Blood Brothers. These examples all share a common theme beyond
fictive kinship: the importance of sacrifice. As we saw in chapter five, the shedding of
blood is a ritual act which creates meaning for a group. It is hardly surprising, then, that


the fictive kinship displayed among soldiers appears as strong as kinship based on blood
Although there have been many of these invocations of fictive kinship, there have
been very few discussions of the actual kinship constructions that exist in the military.
The end result of the rite of passage of Basic Training is membership in the United States
Army, and it is within Basic Training that the beginnings of this fictive kinship system
are created. The very construct of problem child seen in chapter four suggests the
parental role played by drill sergeants, and to some extent the fraternal role played by
other privates. Many times these roles are seen not only from an external analysis, but
come out in the phrases and descriptions of Basic Training by the privates themselves.
For instance, drill sergeants are seen as playing the role of mother or father
depending on how they interact with the platoon, based on our folk-models of those roles.

History of Kinship Studies

Traditionally in anthropology the focus of kinship studies has been on the
consanguineal ties between members of a culture. According to Linda Stone, one of the
reasons why kinship studies stood out from other subjects of study was its supposed use
as a political organizing tool for cultures which did not have the complexity and
specialization of industrialized cultures. Supposedly, kinship organization replaced the
political structure found in the Western world (Stone, 2001). Robin Fox argues that
bureaucracy and kinship are two parts of a binary structure, in opposition with one
another, with kinship based on the biological act of sexual reproduction (Fox, 1983) This
is remarkably similar to Schneiders discussion of the American family: Sexual


intercourse (the act of procreation) is the symbol which provides the distinctive features
in terms of which both members of the family as relatives and the family as a cultural
unit are defined and differentiated. (Schneider, 1980, p. 31) Kinship is explicitly tied
with biology in a similar way to language. In order to negotiate both the natural and
social worlds, in Foxs view, humans have evolved kinship as a way of organizing those
worlds. In the same way as a capacity for language or a capacity for abstract reasoning is
tied into our evolutionary development, so too is our ability to realize who is related to
us, and would thus have an interest in supporting us by donating resources or other
survival necessities. In terms of abstract thought, the social world of kinship shows that
humans were capable of incredibly complex analyses of social environment and how to
manipulate that environment.
Fox bases his analysis of kinship on an evolutionary idea, and it is interesting that
he seems to extend that idea into a bias regarding evolution of social structure. Fox
draws a distinction between a social system based on kinship and one based on
bureaucracy. Within a kinship system, ones first obligations are supposed to be to blood
relations, whereas in a bureaucratic system those primary obligations should be to the
work group or other social group, in spite of the blood relationship (Fox, 1983, p. 14). Of
course, this is a relatively simplistic way to look at things, as many people in a
bureaucratic system continue to value kinship ties over bureaucratic ties. Especially in
those groups on the margins of regular society, kinship ties will frequently overshadow
concerns of law or politics, such as among drug dealers (Bourgois, 2002), street gangs
(Decker et al., 2004), or Appalachian families (Rice, 1982).


In the late twentieth century, however, kinship as a concentration within

anthropology began to decline. This was likely due to a combination of factors, but the
role of David Schneider in this transformation cannot be understated. The critique of
kinship began with David Schneiders analysis of Yap kinship and continues to this day
with certain deconstructions of kinship and biology and a more constructivist response to
kinship theory. Schneiders analyses of kinship have become touchstones for any
researcher studying the topic, and as pointed out by Linda Stone, after Schneider kinship
fell into such disrepute that for more than twenty years . . . not a single textbook on
kinship was published. (Stone, 2001, p. 2) It is therefore imperative that Schneiders
arguments, and those that follow it, be discussed before a proper discussion of any
kinship system can be attempted.
In brief, Schneiders critique of kinship theory developed from his fieldwork
among the Yap of Micronesia. Analyzing the social system of the Yap from two
different perspectives, economic and kin-based, Schneider stated that he could explain
the social structure properly using either method, each independent of the other. For that
reason, Schneider takes a critical position towards commonly held kinship theory,
asserting that the study of kinship should be no more privileged than the study of any
other cultural system. Although it was previously held that kinship was unlike most other
systems due to its grounding in biological facts while other cultural elements such as
religion or economics had no such grounding, Schneider showed that in fact kinship was
separate from any real world as much as other topics.
Following from that was the realization that, like other subfields of study, kinship
was therefore driven by theory rather than fact; it was just as fragile as other subfields.


Since ethnography is always an interpretation of the anthropologist, theory drives his

interpretation of kinship as much as it drives his interpretation of economics or religion.
Thus, if an anthropologists theory of kinship is incorrect, his entire ethnographic analysis
of kinship is incorrect as well.
There have been some critiques of Schneiders examination. By basing his
critique on the importance of biology, Schneider has in fact reaffirmed that importance,
rather than disputed it. In addition, Schneider has devalued the Western approach to
kinship studies, claiming that analyses of kinship in non-Western cultures is analyzed
only through our Euro-centric bias, and it is the job of anthropologists to try and remove
that bias as much as possible, to view cultures on their own terms, not on ours. However,
as Martin Ottenheimer points out, Schneider has simply replaced the Euro-centric bias
with a local-centric bias. If the job of the anthropologist is to interpret events she sees,
then she must be fluent with both the local-centric emic ideas as well as the Euro-centric
etic ones in order to properly translate (Ottenheimer, 2001).
Robert McKinley points out that kinship is tied up with so many other elements of
culture that attempting to remove it from study would necessitate the removal of the other
institutions as well. McKinley points out that kinship is about more than simply
interactions with consanguineal and affinal relatives, but with supernatural entities and
possibly even institutions within society. Instead of viewing kinship as biologically
based, McKinley points out that all kinship is metaphor, whether based on genetic
association or not, and therefore removing biology from the equation does not invalidate
the study of it, it in fact opens up that study to other options. For instance, fictive
kinship, once viewed as mimicry of consanguineal ties, becomes the equal partner to


consanguineal or affinal kinship in a study of the interconnections between people in

society. (McKinley, 2001)
Finally, the separation of biology and kinship proposed by Schneider is disputed
by many other theorists of kinship. Linda Stone outlines some of the ways in which
anthropologists have drawn new connections between kinship and biology. These are not
direct connections, with the assumption that the Western idea of kinship and genetics is
known by local people, but rather analyses which show that the Western association can
be used as a tool with which to understand social relationships. Stone uses Ernest
Gellners blip relationship as an example of this approach. According to Gellner, when
an anthropologist observes a relationship between two people, which the locals call
blip, should that relationship overlap some physical kinship relationship, that
relationship will be perceived as a kinship relationship regardless of the biological basis
(Gellner, 1960, p. 187; discussed in Stone 2001). Gellners approach is specifically etic,
almost unrepentantly so, to which Stone contrasts Harold Schefflers propositions
regarding kinship: in Schefflers formulation, a blip-relationship in a particular culture
would be classifiable as kinship if the people themselves understand it as a
genealogical connection, that is, a connection based on the peoples own folk-culture
theory of human reproduction. (Stone, 2001, p. 4). Thus, when soldiers express their
relationships with one another as fraternal, we should not discount the power of that
Another alternative to basing kinship primarily on genetic or biological
associations are seen in modern discussions of new reproductive technologies (NRTs)
and new medical technologies. For instance, Janet Carsten draws distinct parallels


between genetic kinship and other physical elements of the body. Carsten uses the topic
of organ donation to highlight some of the ways in which people create kinship
relationships that seem inappropriate for the standard definition of kinship as genetic
material. However, Carsten points out that many times recipients are seen as carrying on
an element of the donor in a way similar to how a child carries on elements of his
biological family (Carsten, 2004, p. 103). To use an extreme example, a child is
frequently referred to as having his fathers eyes, a symbolic association. Carsten
points out this element of inheritance would be just as applicable should a child literally
have his fathers eyes through organ donation, or should he have anyones eyes. The
transference of bodily stuff continues regardless of any genetic link between source and

Fictive Kinship
It is easy to overlook or downplay the role of fictive kinship in much of the
modern world. As Janet Carsten points out, there is an assumption of normality in our
commonly held ideas of consanguineal or affinal relationships that we exclude from
many other relationships. However, if we take note of one simple fact, we can see that
the fictive kin relationships discussed here illuminate not only the importance of strong
social bonds during ritual ceremonies, but in society at large. Fictive kinship is
frequently seen as a mirror of consanguineal relationships, an idea that Kath Weston
confronts in her book Families We Choose, and affinal kinship a counterpart. However,
fictive kinship, as perceived by most researchers, is characterized by some formalization
of the social relationship into one which is metaphorically consanguineal. Thus, blood


brotherhood, adoption, and fostering require some formal, typically ritual, process to
create the fictive bond.
Fictive relationships are rarely mentioned in classical kinship studies, and are only
recently gaining attention. Many times fictive kinship is perceived to be a metaphorical
extension of consanguineal ties (brothers, parents, etc.). Mario Davila notes that the
importance of the compadrazgo increased following the influence of Western European
domination and the collapse of traditional social systems as they were replaced by
European systems (Davila, 1971). The fictive kinship system developed as an element of
anti-structure in the liminal state of changing cultural systems after the European
discovery of the New World. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that in the liminal
environment of Basic Training (and combat), fictive kinship among soldiers is a common
It is through the sacrifice of the privates civilian self that the development of
fictive kinship is instigated. By removing the private from most contact with his previous
life, and social networks, the Army essentially forces him to build new social networks in
Basic Training with fellow privates. This is not sufficient for the development of any
true solidarity, but begins the process of constructing it. Privates who fail to properly
separate themselves from their civilian lives are just as likely to be labeled problem
child as those who fail to perform properly. Thus, although Private Hanson was a
consistent underachiever at Basic Training, he still made the attempt to fit in with the rest
of the platoon. Private Jackson, on the other hand, was labeled as a problem child
predominantly because of his inability to make this sacrifice.


Even when privates are allowed to make phone calls to their families and friends,
the time allowed for these phone calls is severely limited by the drill sergeants during
Basic Training. When privates arrive at Basic they are given five minutes to call home
and let their family know that they have arrived safely. After that initial contact, privates
at Fort Benning were not allowed to make a phone call home for another two weeks into
training. This separation caused a lot of anxiety for privates, but at the same time became
a symbol of their separation and transition to their new status as soldiers. The phones
became a symbol of the sacrifice they were making to become soldiers in the US Army.
The inability to create that separation was frequently seen as a problem by other
privates and by the cadre. Two of the problem children in Bravo Company were Privates
Jackson and Evans, who were both incapable of removing themselves from this contact.
In Jacksons case, he appeared to be incapable of not calling home to speak with his wife.
According to Private Bennett, the only time he did not sneak out of the barracks in the
middle of the night was when he was placed under suicide watch and was required to
be checked once an hour by the fireguard to be certain he was still in his bunk, I
remember when Jackson was put on suicide watch. Those were the only nights he didnt
get up in the middle of the night, he slept like a fucking baby. All he really wanted was
attention I think, and it kinda pissed me off. In the case of Recruit Evans, one of the
symbols that he was not properly transitioning to being a soldier was the contact his
family continued to make with the unit itself. According to Recruit Fletcher, Evans had
his wife and his mom call, and I cant remember now if it was his mom or his dad, one of
them had some health issues, like heart problems, and it was, it was hereditary, too, like
he didnt, he wasnt diagnosed with it, but he thought he could have it, also. Both


Jackson and Evans were not properly removing themselves from their civilian lives and
this was essential to their status as a platoon problem child.

Segmentary Lineage and Fictive Kinship in the Army

One might note at this point that except for a brief note in the introduction to this
chapter, E.E. Evans-Pritchards work among the Nuer has not been mentioned. The
reason for this is the direct relevance between military fictive kinship and the segmentary
lineage system Evans-Pritchard discussed in his analysis of the Nuer. Although based in
the notions of fictive kinship, the similarities between Evans-Pritchards segmentary
lineage and modern military life are quite striking. There have even been suggestions
that Evans-Pritchards own experience in the British Army colored his perception of Nuer
kinship (Selmeski: personal communication).
Although all service members share something in common, and will unite to
defend the nation, as the lens focuses more tightly down the scale of military unit from
Branch to Platoon, each of these smaller units incorporates norms of conduct and loyalty
against the other units in the larger grouping. Thus, soldiers and Marines both recognize
each other as members of the military, but there is intense rivalry between the two
branches. Similarly, the distinction between Armor, Infantry, Artillery, etc. creates bonds
of loyalty as each component of the Army attempts to express its symbolic superiority.
This trend continues down from the Branch identification all the way to the platoon


At Basic Training, the element of Evans-Pritchards analysis that applies

particularly well is his discussion of half-brothers in the Nuer community. Due to the
polygynous marriage system practiced by the Nuer and the multi-local pattern of postmarital residence, the distinction between half-brothers of the same father but different
mothers is important. In the words of the Nuer, there is a strong difference between the
expected social attitudes between brothers of the hut and brothers of the byre.
Brothers of the hut are those young boys who share a single mother; this term comes
from the fact that young boys are raised by their mothers until initiation. Brothers of the
byre are those men who have the same father but different mothers, so named because the
byre is the central element of the Nuer village. Thus, although all children of the same
father are considered brothers in a sense, the Nuer identify two distinct types of
brotherhood at work. In fact, there is traditionally an expectation of dislike between
brothers of the byre, very similar to our own expectations of family tension between halfor step-siblings: whereas full brothers pool their resources, helping each other even to

the point of forging their rights, paternal half-brothers insist on their rights and try to
avoid their obligations, doing for each other what their self-interest demands of them
(Evans Pritchard, 1990, p. 142).
As seen above with Ingrahams study, soldiers in the military act in the same way
with members of other units as the Nuer are seen to do between half-siblings. During
Basic Training, this dynamic is even more marked, as platoons are encouraged to
compete against one another, creating a group identity based on opposition to the other
groups in the training company. For instance, members of 3rd platoon were distinct
because of the in-group loyalty that existed in contrast to the rivalry and often dislike that
accompanied the relations with other platoons.
Inter-platoon rivalry is one of the most common themes during Basic Training.
During Bravo Companys training cycle, there were a number of different competitions,
both official and unofficial, between platoons. For instance, the drill and ceremony
competition was an official contest in which each platoon would perform company
formation movements around a small area of blacktop at the orders of one of the
platoons drill sergeants. Each platoon was scored based on how well they performed,
and their scores figured into the competition for honor platoon. The honor platoon
competition was also official, but incredibly arcane to the privates involved. Some
privates seemed to have a better sense of who was winning than others, but no one
seemed to have any clear sense of what each platoon was being graded on. The majority
opinion was that the honor platoon competition was based on the drill and ceremony
competition, rifle marksmanship, PT scores, and a number of inspections over the course


of the cycle, but the exact makeup of the competition was never made known to the
Unofficial competitions were also frequent during Basic Training. The obstacle
course and confidence course were two examples of this type of competition, as no
official scores were ever kept. In addition to these, at numerous times during the cycle
platoons would be placed into competition with one another during regular morning PT,
using methods such as footraces or pushup competitions to pit platoons against one
another. Sounding off was one of the most common forms of competition between
platoons, in which during marches or running, platoons would attempt to yell over one
another the various cadences being sung.
This inter-platoon rivalry extends past officially sanctioned competitions and into
the realm of underground competition. During our two day instruction in hand-to-hand
fighting, for instance, the most common subject of conversation during boot-shining time
was whose drill sergeant would win in a fight. These conversations were very
reminiscent of the my brother can beat up your brother conversations common on
school playgrounds. Consider the following exchange between members of various

Demina (2nd): Drill Sergeant Redmond is one of just three sergeants in the
Army whos certified as a Master Hand to Hand trainer
Michaels (3rd): Yeah, but Drill Sergeant Richardss pretty good.
Demina: Yeah, but Redmond went through the special training.
Michaels: Id like to see who would win, though. Ive seen Drill Sergeant
Richards do some stuff, hes a badass.
Demina: Whatever, Drill Sergeant Redmond would kick his ass.
Argent (2nd): Drill Sergeant Redmond did say that Drill Sergeant Richards
was pretty good though. He told us that of all the drill sergeants here, he
would worry about taking Drill Sergeant Richards or Drill Sergeant West.


Michaels: Yeah, I still think Drill Sergeant Richards would do good,

In this exchange, Privates Demina and Michaels, from different platoons, are arguing
about whose drill sergeant is better at hand to hand combat. Private Argent acts as a
mediator in this exchange, allowing Private Michaels to escape with his dignity by
admitting that Drill Sergeant Richards is the second best fighter in the Company,
although Argent still maintains his platoon loyalty to Drill Sergeant Redmond.
The norm of platoon loyalty is specifically fashioned by the drill sergeants. On
one occasion, Drill Sergeant Saburi accused 3rd platoon of covering for a soldier in
another platoon to help him avoid punishment. Although the platoon protested that they
did not know the private Drill Sergeant Saburi was looking for, he still ordered the
platoon to submit the next day I will be loyal to my drill sergeant three hundred times.
Only a few privates actually submitted the paper, which prompted Drill Sergeant Saburi
to increase the requirement to one thousand, then five thousand, and then ten thousand.
By the end of the training cycle, only a few privates had turned in the assignment, and
those that did, did not complete the ten thousand requirement. Despite Drill Sergeant
Saburis threats of punishment, no extra punishment was ever handed down for this lapse,
likely because the training cycle continued to push privates through Basic.
Platoon loyalty is stressed more than Company loyalty during Basic, although a
lesser amount of Company loyalty is also encouraged. For instance, on only one
occasion during the training cycle did a Drill Sergeant (Drill Sergeant Briggs) encourage
interaction with a different company in the Battalion by calling a teasing cadence that
disparaged the other Company. For the most part, Companies within a training Battalion


stay separated, with the sole exception of details, when each Company contributes
between two and eight privates to serve on various duties around the base. This is one of
the few opportunities for privates to speak with those who are further along the training
cycle and get a better sense of what the upcoming weeks will entail.
Company loyalty is predominantly created by engaging in training and
performance as a complete Company unit. Although all training is conducted by platoon,
such as during the gas chamber, it is by company that each training area is marched to,
and by company that each days events are recounted. Boot shining, the standard evening
activity, occurs without regard for platoon breakdowns, except as the privates group
themselves. There is frequently crossover during these evenings, as privates who knew
each other during Reception will talk with one another and share stories. It is
predominantly through these conversations that privates can share stories about the drill
sergeants and engage in interactions like the one seen above.
Thus, through Basic Training we can see the beginnings of the segmentary
lineage system which the Army mimics. As the smallest unit of organization typical in
the Army, platoon loyalty is predominant, with Company loyalty above that, then
Battalion, and finally by Basic Training location. For instance, consider the following
interaction between Sergeant Brigman and a new inductee into his Reserve Unit:
Brigman: Good to have you here. You a 37? 111
Matthews: 31 Papa.
Brigman: Whats that?
Matthews: Microwave Systems Operator-Maintainer.
Brigman: Uh-huh. [pause] You just got out of AIT, though?
Matthews: Yeah, couple weeks ago.
Brigman: Whered you go to Basic?
Matthews: Benning.

Soldiers often refer to their jobs by the numerical designation supplied by the Army. 11 refers to
infantry, 37 refers to Psychological Operations, 38 Civil Affairs, etc.


Brigman: Yeah? Me, too. Bravo 4-82.

Matthews: I was Delta 3-54.
At this point the conversation moved to a discussion of the training post at Fort Benning,
as the extent of the segmentary connection was established; both soldiers had trained at
the same Basic Training post, but did not share a battalion. One interesting point is that
Brigman, once he had established that he and Matthews had gone through a different AIT
school, jumped immediately to a question regarding Matthewss Basic Training
experience. Any other questions about Matthewss AIT experience would have been
irrelevant, as Brigman already knew he had nothing in common. This can be contrasted
with the conversation I had with Private Michaels upon my entry into my Reserve Unit:
Bornmann: Whered you go?
Michaels: Benning.
Bornmann: I was Bravo, 4-82.
Michaels: I was in Bravo Company. What platoon?
Bornmann: 3rd, Bulldawgs.
Michaels: Huh, I was in 1st.
Bornmann: Drill Sergeant. . . Rivers. Was he there when you went through?
Michaels: Yeah, he was there.
Bornmann: He still crazy?
Michaels: I dont think he was crazy, he was just, he was manic-depressive,
honestly, I think.
Bornmann: When did you go through?
Michaels: Class 01-03.
Bornmann: No shit! I was 01-03. Captain Hunter?
Michaels: Yeah.
Neither Michaels nor I recognized one another, as we had gone through different schools
later for our AIT, but in establishing the extent of our segmentary lineage, we focused
tighter and tighter on shared unit identification before coming to the realization we had
been in the same training company.


I am not claiming that the use of shared geography is sufficient to create a fictive
kinship bond. Obviously these conversations and analyses occur among graduates of the
same university, residents of the same home town, etc. Rather, as soldiers express their
feelings using kinship-based metaphors, the form of these conversations is simply the
process by which soldiers begin to develop the bonds necessary for the eventual creation
of fictive kinship bonds. Just as Basic Training does not create soldiers, it does not create
fictive kinship among privates. However, it does provide a touchstone for both in the
creation of an Army community which uses kinship terms to maintain the bonds between

Kinship Practices as Performance

Although not discounting biology, many anthropologists have also shown how
kinship ties are frequently conceived by the people involved as extension of other
practices, social ties, and social obligations. In this view, kinship is frequently seen as a
process rather than a monolithic structure into which people are born or placed. For
instance, Janet Carsten discusses how the Langkawi create kinship not only through
biological processes such as birth, but through a constant cycle of sharing food and living
together (Carsten, 1997). In fact, Carsten sees kinship among the Langkawi as made in
houses through the intimate sharing of space, food, and nurturance, (Carsten, 2004, p.
35; italics original). This same pattern of food sharing is seen by Andrew Strathern
among residents of New Guinea (Strathern, 1976). In all of these conceptions, regardless
of any inherent biological referent, kinship is seen as something that can be both
created or destroyed. Without a constant reinforcement of sharing, social obligations, or


other process, the kinship relationship between two people is subject to a waning and
ultimate extinction.
The sharing of space and food in Basic Training is extreme, with sixty privates
sharing a single barracks and eating at the same dining facility every day for nine weeks.
In the same manner, soldiers during deployment will share quarters and food, so much
that on my own deployment I spent at least ninety hours a week in the company of the
two other members of my team.
Fictive kinship is reinforced by the rhetoric and requirements of the drill sergeants
and other instructors during Basic Training as well. The private memorizes the battle
history of his new unit, from its founding to its current state as a training company. This
history is specifically discussed during the graduation ceremony from Basic Training, as
the Company Commander reads to the audience the important elements of the soldiers
supplemental family to the consanguineal families of the private sitting in the audience.
Kinship rhetoric is prevalent during these ceremonies, as the firm establishment of
privates as separated from their families and incorporated into the new Army family is
necessary to complete the process of Basic Training. During Captain Hunters speech,
for example, he thanked the families of graduating privates for coming to Family Day,
stating it means a lot to us as cadre members, your support for our nation, and it means a
lot for our soldiers, so we definitely appreciate that. Here, Captain Hunter is
establishing the fact that the privates belong to the Army, and no longer to their old
families, as they are now our soldiers, and implies that the bonds between soldiers and
families can continue, but only in the mutual support for the nation. Hunter continued, I
want to tell you about these guys. You raised them, but now they are better men for the


last nine weeks. You guys did a great job, but now, we took em for nine weeks, and
theyre better men for it. This statement reiterates that although the privates began life
with one family, belonging to one group, after their experiences in Basic Training, their
manhood is a result of their experiences in the Army.
Throughout Basic Training, the heroes and mythological figures of the military
are memorized by new privates. For each of the Seven Army Values, the privates IET
manual has an anecdote discussing one of these founding ancestors of the United States
Army. These figures include George Washington, Robert Gould of the 54th Infantry
Regiment 112 , and five Medal of Honor recipients killed in the line of duty. In fact,
George Washington himself used the rhetoric of kinship in a discussion of fellow
soldiers: My first wish would be that my military family, and the whole Army, should
consider themselves as a band of brothers, willing and ready to die for each other.
(Quote from letter to Henry Knox, October 21, 1798. Quoted in Marvin & Ingle, 1999, p.
It is hardly surprising that these were the choices made by the Army Training and
Doctrine Command which publishes the IET manual for Basic Training privates. As we
have seen, sacrifice is a large part of the identity of the soldier. However, these stories
represent what is for Girard a founding sacrifice, in which the scapegoated alien
becomes a founding figure for the community. (Kearney, 1999) A significant number of
Medal of Honor awards are posthumous: 73% of non-officers in Vietnam and 77% of
non-officers in Korea were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously (Blake 1973).
Like Prometheus, Osiris, or Remus, these Medal of Honor winners, by virtue of their


The All-Black Regiment most famously known from the film Glory.


sacrifice, form not only the founding mythology of their culture, but actually create the
culture itself by becoming a founding ancestor.
Segmentary lineage and totemism are only part of the fictive kinship that exists at
Basic Training, however. There are a number of other processes that mimic genealogical
kinship. Just as Carsten points out that kinship can be seen as transference of stuff
rather than a descent based system of genetic inheritance, the drill sergeants at Basic
Training are attempting to pass on not only their knowledge and discipline to a new
private, but the soldier element of their identity.
At Basic Training, the metaphorical transference of identity is, like kinship terms,
both explicit and implicit. The non-commissioned officer in general is supposed to serve
as a role model for younger soldiers. At Basic Training, as with everything else, this role
is sharpened and clarified. As the first NCO that most privates will have encountered,
drill sergeants are even more pressured to act as a role model for young privates, and
must be perfect in that role (Katz, 1990). As Dave Grossman states in his book On
Killing: The drill sergeant is a role model. He is the ultimate role model. (Grossman,
1995, p. 318) As the role model for young privates, drill sergeants portray the soldier
they expect the privates to become, always awake before the privates, to sleep after them,
and impeccably dressed. While learning to be a drill sergeant, soldiers are punished for
having the slightest fold out of place, their drill sergeant hats slightly out of alignment, or
failing exams on proper behavior and decorum (Katz, 1990, p. 469). In addition,
according to one drill sergeant from Bravo Company, Ive scored expert on every Range
here, it can be done. The ranges he was referring to are the various Rifle Marksmanship
ranges that privates must fire on before passing the Basic Rifle Marksmanship section of


Basic Training. As rifle marksmanship is such an important element of Basic Training,

the drill sergeant was in essence saying that he was perfect not only in his appearance,
but in his soldier identity.
This perfection should be emulated by privates who are under the drill sergeants
control. During Bravo Companys training cycle, Drill Sergeant Saburi informed 3rd
platoon, if you want to succeed in the Army, choose a drill sergeant. It dont have to be
me, just one of us. Watch how he acts, what he does, and you emulate him. Do what he
does. Although on one level, Drill Sergeant Saburi was telling privates to imitate a drill
sergeant, he was also informing them to take on the elements of a drill sergeant, in the
same manner as elements of personality or appearance are taken on by children from their
parents. Thus, by emulating drill sergeants, just as children emulate parents, the privates
are being brought into the fictive kin group of the Army.
A second correlation between traditional kinship studies and the United States
Army concerns the role of the maternal uncle in patrilineal societies. According to A.R.
Radcliffe Brown, the maternal uncle and nephew share a special relationship
characterized by a stronger emotional bond, play, and tutelage than that between the
children and fathers. In his book Structure and Function in Primitive Society RadcliffeBrown discusses how the relationship with ones mothers brother is characterized by
affection and indulgence, whereas the relationships with the paternal family are usually
characterized by rigid rules of respect and social regulation. Radcliffe-Browns
explanation for this is that the mothers brother, as a member of the maternal group, acts
as a male mother to the young man, and thus all the emotional attachments expected of


a man to his mother are then extended to his maternal uncle as well, while at the same
time that maternal uncle is still, as a male, an authority figure and a figure of respect.
The social dynamics between junior enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned
officers (NCOs) mimic that between the nephew and maternal uncle. The NCO Creed,
like the Soldiers Creed mentioned earlier, highlights the important responsibilities and
identity of the NCO. Analysis of the NCO creed shows the similarities between the
expectations of the female role, be it housewife or mother, and the expectations of the
Army NCO. First, from the second paragraph of the creed: My two basic
responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind -- accomplishment of my mission
and the welfare of my soldiers (italics mine). Here we can see that nurturing and the
well-being of junior enlisted are the express responsibility of the NCO in the US Army.
The Creed continues in this vein: I know my soldiers and I will always place their needs
above my own. I will communicate consistently with my soldiers and never leave them
uninformed. I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and
punishment. In this section, again, female gendered roles are espoused as the
responsibility of the NCO, in this case communication and selfless consideration. In
addition, the NCO takes on the role of both primary disciplinarian and giver of rewards,
typically reserved for the mother in the standard American household. Finally, the NCOs
interactions with officers are laid out in the Creed: Officers of my unit will have
maximum time to accomplish their duties; they will not have to accomplish mine. This
statement comes from the beginning of the third and final paragraph, and again echoes
the expectations of the stereotypical housewife in modern America, whose


responsibilities are frequently seen as nurturing and supportive not only of her children
but of her husband.
Continuing the analogy, officers represent the masculine, paternal element of the
military. David Schneiders discussion of the American family poses the idea that
father has formality and authority respect implications which mother does not share.
(Schneider, 1968, p. 86) This authority is vested in many of the metaphors used to
discuss the father in American parlance. Schneider states that to speak of the man of
the house or the man of the family or who wears the pants is to speak of one who is
naturally best able to take authority and responsibility for the family, not just someone
with male genitalia and a stipulated number of years on earth. (Schneider, 1968, p. 36)
Thus, it is the performance of the father role that creates the father figure.
During Basic Training the performance of the officers mimics the role of the
father in the American family. First, as the administrators of the unit, officers are
responsible for the scheduling, financing, and other executive activities of the unit.
According to Captain Hunter, his activities as Bravo Companys commander were to
plan training, make certain that standards are met. Also, because Im not so intimately
involved with the privates I can stay objective in case of altercations. Thus, Captain
Hunter saw his job as similar to the head of household, planning and overseeing
activities. In addition, he saw himself as objective in disputes between drill sergeants
and privates. Inherent in that thought is the implication that he is then the final arbiter in
those disputes, again reflecting the idea that as officer he plays the role of head of


In arbitrating these disputes, the officer is also the person responsible for
resolving problems within his commanded unit. Although NCOs are responsible for the
day to day discipline of troops, it is the officer who is the final authority on punishment,
and should on the spot corrections of NCOs not serve to properly discipline a soldier,
the officer is the authority figure who deals out the heavy punishment: the Article 15,
or potentially court-martial. The Article 15 is an administrative punishment in the Army
in which an officer can punish the soldiers in his command with detention, demotion, or
loss of pay (UCMJ, Section 815, Article 15).
Although both on the spot punishment meted out by NCOs and administrative
punishment are authoritative, the image of authority is vested more heavily in the
administrative punishment, as it is the Article 15 which can lead to the court martial, and
which is the only official punishment that a soldier can receive. In the practice of
being a soldier, should a NCO order an enlisted soldier to do push-ups, there is nothing
he can do should the soldier decline except remand the discipline to a higher authority,
either a more senior NCO or an officer. However, an Article 15 punishment must be
accepted or the soldier can choose to go to a court-martial for his offense. In both of
these cases, the soldier is rigidly under the authority of the military, while push-ups or
other physical punishments are seen as unofficial.
As with many other things at Basic, there is a slight distortion of the traditional
roles in regular Army life. To some, this preliminary experience at Basic Training was so
distorted that they still dont know how to interact with a sergeant. This is because the
drill sergeants at Basic were not playing the maternal role of NCO, but were instead
predominantly playing the father role. During Bravo Companys cycle, rather than being


father figures, the two officers played significant feminine, emotionally supportive
roles. There was limited interaction between officers and privates during Basic, and
usually only when a private needed to see a chaplain. However, the company
commander was almost always in the field with the company during training, and Captain
Hunters signature hot chow! was almost always greeted with smiles by privates in the
company. In addition, Captain Hunter would look after the general welfare of the
privates, on one occasion stopping the drill sergeants from smoking the company, after
which I heard the First Sergeant complain to the Captain that he was undermining the
drill sergeants authority, to which the Captain responded: I just dont see the point of
smoking them on the hottest day of the year out in the sun. On a number of other
occasions, the Captain would also order them to overlook infractions or to mete out
punishments less severe than the drill sergeants would have liked. Captain Hunter also
ordered drill sergeants to allow privates eight hours of sleep for two days straight.
Although there was a valid institutional reason for this (on the day before that order fortyseven privates from Bravo Company had reported to sick call), it was perceived by many
privates as evidence that Captain Hunter cared, or worried about the privates in the
company. This approach was not appreciated by the drill sergeants, as Drill Sergeant
Briggs expressed: he was too much in our faces. I think he was a nice guy, but maybe
too nice. An officer should trust the NCOs, not be all up in their business.
Of course, these interactions between officers and privates are limited, as the dyad
between drill sergeants and privates is the predominant one. The drill sergeants for
privates usually play both the harder father role as well as the softer mother role to
young privates. These roles are usually specifically assigned by the drill sergeants before


each cycle, or the commander and first sergeant assign drill sergeants in particular
groupings in order to facilitate the development of these roles. When asked how much of
his performance as a drill sergeant was real and how much was acting Drill Sergeant
Saburi responded: Some of us, you know, we, we have to put up a face for you guys.
Drill Sergeant Redmond, he does good when he can be tough, I work well with him,
because Im nicer. Right? He followed up with, The First Sergeant and the
Commander, theyll move us around, until they think it works right. Thus, Drill
Sergeant Saburis natural temperament lent itself to being counterpoint Drill Sergeant
Redmonds toughness.
This dynamic apparently worked quite well as six months after Bravo Companys
training cycle, they were still the drill sergeants in charge of 3rd platoon. In contrast,
Drill Sergeant Briggs had been moved away from Bravo Company altogether and
assigned to a new company, where he was the senior drill sergeant for a new platoon.
When interviewed, he explained, I like it better. I get to run the platoon my way. We
had some differences about what your platoon should have been doing. When asked
what those differences, were, however, Drill Sergeant Briggs avoided the question and
moved the discussion to the topic of other privates from Bravo Company. 113
From the perspective of a private within 3rd platoon, it is hardly surprising that
Drill Sergeant Briggs and Drill Sergeant Redmond were not a good fit. Both drill
sergeants were seen by the members of 3rd platoon as father figures, in contrast to Drill
Sergeant Saburis role as the mother. During the training cycle, in fact, many privates


Again, we see the segmentary lineage imagery. Even though I had gone through Basic Training with
these drill sergeants, I was still seen as outside their sub-unit, either as a civilian interviewing a soldier, or
as a soldier interviewing a drill sergeant.


picked up on the friction between Drill Sergeant Redmond and Drill Sergeant Briggs,
pointing out that when Drill Sergeant Briggs would
take us upstairs in the bay and he was, like, it was like story time kinda
thing. We were all sitting in a horseshoe around him, I think he was
sitting on one of the racks and he was just talking about, like, so yeah this
is happening in Iraq, were invading Iraq whatever, dont worry about it,
just basically being the mentor at that time. Because he could, the other
drills werent around, so he was able to do it his way.
Thus, Drill Sergeant Briggss ability to be a mentor properly was dependent on the
other drill sergeants in the platoon not being around, and specifically Drill Sergeant
Redmond being away.
The view of Drill Sergeants as fathers is more than loose metaphor, however. In
many ways, Drill Sergeants act in the specific role of fathers to young men, in the true
sense of Schneiders order-of-law. They are figures of authority, and this authority, as
with Schneiders analysis of American kinship, is based on the fact that he is male, that
he is older, that his experience is wider, that by virtue of his size and his sex, he has the
right to set the proper course of action for the members of his family and expect
compliance with it. (Schneider, 1968, p. 36) Although there is usually a drill sergeant
perceived to play the maternal role, as Drill Sergeant Saburi did for 3rd platoon, this
maternal role is more like the maternal uncle in Radcliffe-Browns schema than a true
maternal figure.
This role is frequently seen not only through the punishments and discipline that
drill sergeants impose on new privates but also in their interactions. Drill Sergeant
Briggs would frequently refer to privates in 3rd platoon as his boys, especially as a
direct contrast to those times when he would refer to the privates as men. During the
training cycle, the juvenile phrases occurred predominantly during those times when Drill


Sergeant Briggs was punishing the platoon, such as when 1st Squad failed to wear
helmets while loading a truck for a day a the range, despite his specific order: You want
to be treated like adults, you better start acting like it. Theres a reason we tell you to do
things, and youd better do it when we tell you. On the other hand, Drill Sergeant
Briggs would often use the term men when praising or rewarding the platoon, or in
response to a specific action of a problem child. The black-balling ritual again shows this
element of Basic Training, as after Drill Sergeant Briggs ordered 3rd platoon up to the
barracks and had us toe the line around the killzone, he called out the four problem
children by name, and then referred to the remainder of the platoon: men, do you know
what black-balling is? At times, Drill Sergeant Briggs would also explicitly refer to
himself as a parental figure, such as when discussing Evans: I think of you guys as my
kids, sometimes. But its hard to be a father to someone whos older than you, especially
when hes crying.
It is not only the drill sergeants who see themselves in these parental roles.
Privates at Basic Training also see the Drill Sergeants as father or mother figures. Many
times, this perception is explicit in the eyes of privates, either during or after Basic
Training. Ricardo explains that over the course of Basic Training, his feelings about the
drill sergeants shifted from dislike to a feeling of being protected: While we might look
at it as them just trying to get rid of it, you could look at it as them trying to defend us
from having to do this stuff. It was almost sort of like a parental, I dont know how to
word this, like they were parents, I guess? They were trying to look after us and teach us
shit. Thats what I thought. Private Fletcher echoes those comments: you know Drill
Sergeant Redmond went away, and I remember feeling really glad when he came back, I


kinda missed sort of having the hard ass around, and then we got smoked when he came
back. Fletcher expresses the desire for a complete family, as discussed by Schneider,
in which there must be a mother, father, and children to feel appropriate (Schneider,
1968). Without Drill Sergeant Redmond, the authoritarian father figure, Fletcher felt that
there had been something missing from his experience at Basic.
There is almost always a counterpart to the father figure among the drill sergeants
as well. For 3rd platoon, Drill Sergeant Saburi would frequently play the mother role, as
he himself identified above. As seen above, the privates themselves often specifically see
these parental roles in the drill sergeants. During one discussion at Basic Training
Private Bennett stated, I like Drill Sergeant Saburi. Hes like your mom, you know? He
can be mean sometimes, and throw a fit about the little things, but of all the drill
sergeants, I think he cares the most. Private Munson used the same explanation: All
the drill sergeants, they had their thing. Drill Sergeant Saburi was like the mom, he was
the one you could talk to. Drill Sergeant Redmond, he was like the dad, you didnt see
him very often, and he was real hardcore.

Shared Space as Kinship Bond

There is one further element of fictive kinship which needs to be addresses to
show how and why Basic Training privates construct these fictive kin groups. Both inner
city gangs and privates in Basic Training construct fictive kinship out of shared space.
Fictive kinship among gang members was thought to be based on transplanted ethnic
groups reacting against the heterogeneous nature of American city life (Thrasher, 1927).
Considering Ebaugh and Currys analysis of the compadrazgo in immigrant communities,


this is likely to have occurred, however the date of Thrashers study suggests that the
dynamics of gang life in contemporary America have likely shifted, as gang violence has
shifted in the last eighty years from inter-ethnic to intra-ethnic (Moore, Vigil, & Garcia,
1983). Moore, et al. discuss the creations of gangs based on territoriality as well as
kinship and fictive kinship ties, and even posit an idea of fictive residence in which a
gang members home is frequently different from the place where his family resides
(191). The significance of residence to gang membership, and thus to fictive kinship,
also holds true within the military. Basic Training stories almost always begin with an
identification of which base the soldier trained at: when I was at Benning, or this was
at Jackson, frequently precurse a Basic Training story. As seen above, should a soldier
in the audience have trained at the same base, there is inevitably a discussion of the
specifics of that training, what unit were you in? and should increased similarity be
discovered, specifics of officers and drill sergeants typically follow as well.
However, another common point of relation is the locales in which training
occurred. For most soldiers, time is not seen in a calendrical manner, but rather is based
on the physical location of the soldier. Soldiers memories are based on where they were,
when I was stationed at Fort Hood, or when I was in Germany instead of when
events occurred (Hawkins, 2001). Residence for a soldier serves not only to create an
imagined community as Benedict Anderson perceives it, but to associate with the fictive
segmentary kin group of Army life. My cousin, upon learning that I had just returned
from Basic Training at the same location as he had been to, asked were you on Sand Hill
or, what was that other one . . . Kelly Hill? When I informed him that Kelly Hill is no
longer used for Basic Training, he nodded and began to share stories about his own


experiences, specifically the difficulties of digging in the sand during FTX and on the
bivouac site. Geographic similarities are frequently used thus to reinforce the segmentary
bonds of Basic Training location. The interaction between Brigman and Matthews from
above continued in the following vein:

Brigman: Was that down near the Med Center, or the one over by the Rec
Matthews: We were down the hill, in the middle of nowhere.
Brigman: Oh, I think one of our guys got lost on a run and ended up near
your barracks. By the Eagle Tower, right?
Matthews: Yeah, thats the one.
Brigman: You guys still do the Stairway to Heaven? That fucking thing
kicked my ass.
Matthews: [smiling] Yeah.
Deangelo: Whats the Stairway to Heaven?
Matthews: On the way back from FTX
Brigman: This big-ass hill about mile four. You probably had something
similar at Jackson, its supposed to challenge you, make you think you
accomplished something.
Here, a third soldier, Private Deangelo, who had not been to Benning but to a different
Basic Training location, asks about the geographic location the two other soldiers share
stories about. By suggesting that Fort Jackson had a similar hill, Brigman is
establishing a relationship between all three soldiers, but still distinguishing his and
Matthewss experiences as different from anyone who had not been to Fort Benning. The
Stairway to Heaven is one of the fundamental geographic locations for creating this
identity of Benning-hood, as it is not only a distinct location which every Benning
private must walk up, but the summit, literally and figuratively, of the Cold Steel Field
Training Exercise. The Stairway to Heaven is a large hill that is approximately a half
mile long and a vertical rise of maybe three hundred feet. At the end of the Field


Training Exercise, all privates at Fort Benning march back from the FTX location and
must march up the Stairway to Heaven. In the words of many privates, the Stairway of
Heaven, kicked my ass, sucked ass, or was a monster, but at the same time, these
statements reflected a feeling of accomplishment, that the hill had been beaten. Private
McDonald remembers the Stairway to Heaven experience as one in which the hill was
attacked and also as an example of how his platoon was better than the others in the
Even after the aborted Field Exercise at the end of basic, when we
attacked the stairway to heaven. You know, you just couldnt, you
couldnt stop us, you know we wanted to be the ones leading the ruck
marches because we were outpacing everybody else. We wanted to be the
ones getting up that hill first, we were the ones that werent bitching and
moaning about it and slowing way down when we hit the stairway to
heaven and got to the top.
Thus, as with Carstens analysis of the Langkawi, the sharing of this geographic
memory creates a sense of kinship among privates at Basic Training, and among
soldiers later in their military careers.
The shared space of the Basic Training barracks also serves to create
bonds among privates which go beyond a standard social relationship and extend
into the realm of fictive kinship. The barracks at Fort Benning are no more than
fifty feet by one hundred feet. This living space is significantly more cramped
than what almost any American is used to, and the openness of barracks life is
part of the culture shock of Basic. Most Basic Training platoons consist of forty
to sixty privates who share this living space. In the case of 3rd platoon, there
were fifty-seven privates at the beginning of the cycle, down to fifty-six after the
first week, and graduating fifty-five.


In the barracks, each soldier is assigned a bed and a locker. How these
objects are used to create the military identity has been discussed, but their
significance to the creation of shared space is also important to note. With the
exception of the latrine stalls, the locker is the only place where a private can
achieve any sort of privacy. In fact, Private Bettis told me on one occasion:
Sunday afternoons, man. Ill climb in the locker, its nice and cool, dark. Sleep
for about forty-five minutes. This practice was common enough that all the
privates would make frequent jokes about curling up in the locker or on one
occasion, Private Bennett even referred to his locker as Narnia, and would make
jokes about going to Narnia for a little bit. This was one of the many occasions
when privates thought they were putting one over on the drill sergeants when in
fact the drill sergeants knew about this practice. Drill Sergeant Briggs confronted
the platoon with it on one occasion, telling privates, I want this bay cleaned by
tomorrow morning, I want to see everybody working. And dont climb in a
locker and go to sleep, you dont think we pulled that trick when we were going
through? Well catch you, and youll regret it, trust me!
Like the locker, many privates would hide in the stalls in the latrine,
especially early in the morning or late at night. I would regularly wake fifteen to
twenty minutes before the rest of the platoon just to have privacy in the mornings
before everyone else woke up. Fireguard duty and other details would provide the
illusion of privacy, although Army regulations require that no private ever be
alone, even on details. Of course, this privacy in the latrine was very limited.
For fifty-six privates, there are four urinals, six bathroom stalls, eight showers and


eight sinks. The showers are separated only by a three foot deep concrete wall
without a curtain. During Reception, this privacy is even more restricted, as the
shower rooms are simply large rooms with showerheads placed every three or
four feet, and there are as many as seventy two people living in a trailer seventy
feet by seventy feet.
Thus, with very few exceptions, privacy was unattainable during Basic Training.
Even a bunk or a locker was always subject to intrusion by another private or drill
sergeant. For about three days in the middle of the training cycle, Privates Huntley and
Jason strung their blankets up around their bunk in order to gain some privacy and to shut
out the light from the barracks entrance which was always lit. After the third night, Drill
Sergeant West came in to the barracks and saw them and tore the blankets down,
announcing: Uh-uh. No one gets to have your little spank shack. Id better not see
those blankets up again. When Huntley and Jason protested that the light kept them up
at night, Drill Sergeant West responded with: Deal with it.
Again, as with the shared geography of a Basic Training location, the cramped
living conditions over nine weeks will create a stronger social bond than should the
privates live in separate rooms. Combining Carstens examination of the Langkawi with
the synthesis of Gellner and Schefflers ideas of kinship, we can see how the environment
of Basic Training, through induction into a fictive kinship group, shared space and
locations, and its liminal framework which helps to create conditions ripe for the building
of fictive kinship, creates social bonds that the participants themselves tend to think of as
kinship bonds. Realizing that all kinship is in some way metaphorical, and that kinship is
best defined by the members of a group, it is clear that the fictive kinship bonds


developed by soldiers have the potential to be just as enduring and diffuse a solidarity as
any consanguineal relationship.
This fictive kinship is constructed by soldiers over the course of their lives in the
military, beginning at Basic Training. As I pointed out, there was a soldier who I
traveled through Basic, AIT, and a deployment with who I consider as close as a brother.
This relationship began to develop at Basic Training, and was strengthened over the
course of that training plus the AIT training. This is only one of a number of
relationships developed over this period which can be easily classified as kinship under
Schneiders definition. It was not Basic Training alone which allowed for the
development of these relationships, but the nine weeks of intensive interaction certainly
laid the groundwork for them. Similarly, as with consanguineal relationships, these
fictive kinship relationships must be constantly maintained by soldiers, reinforced by
interaction and the sharing of food, space, and communication. Soldiers perform this
kinship as much as they perform other elements of the soldier identity, acting out the
roles of brothers, mothers, and fathers for one another over the course of their careers.


Chapter 8: The Contemporary Soldier in the Field

As I have shown in the previous chapters, Basic Training is not a step into the
identity of soldier, but rather a step towards it. After Basic Training, soldiers continue
into Advanced Individual Training, where they learn their particular military job, and
then to their units, either Reserve or Active Duty, to perform those jobs. However, the
ultimate purpose of any soldier is to participate in war. As with the mythic presentation
of military training in films, the training cannot be complete until it is put into practice
(Basinger & Arnold, 1986). Most soldiers desire deployments in order to practice the
skills they have learned, and to properly perform as soldiers. One of the most common
complaints among support soldiers deployed to Iraq was the inability to go outside the
wire, even when the threat of attack was high. On one occasion, a fellow group of
soldiers in a non-combat job deliberately joined a combat patrol simply to have the
opportunity to fight.
Although this account will not go into ethnographic depth regarding the
experiences of deployed soldiers, the possibility of a deployment is one which permeates
the Basic Training environment. Even in 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, the
possibility of deployment to combat was heavily stressed throughout the training cycle.
Outside of this environment, political rhetoric and discussions regarding support for the
troops are also pervasive, and influence the perceptions of soldiers and soon-to-be
soldiers. After my completion of Basic Training, I deployed to Iraq twice, and this
experience affected not only my perception as a citizen, but also as a researcher into the
Army experience. Although the effect of multiple and extended deployments has not


been fully researched, it has been shown that deployments can actually increase the
likelihood of soldiers reenlistment (Hosek & Totten, 2004). Hosek and Tottens results
indicate that soldiers experiences during a deployment, both combat and non-combat,
are generally considered positive by the soldiers themselves. The positive interpretation
of these experiences likely arises as soldiers see the experience of combat as integral to
their own identity.
In addition, we must remember to view the experiences of soldiers on their own
terms. It is not only that a deployment seems to improve the view of soldiers after their
experiences, but that soldiers themselves frequently want to deploy to a combat area.
This held true to some extent even in the Vietnam era, when a number of soldiers already
enlisted in the Army volunteered to transfer to units which were deploying to Vietnam in
the beginning of the war, and even in 1966-67, one in five soldiers stationed in Europe
requested a transfer to Vietnam (Ebert, 1993). Members of todays All-Volunteer Army
are a self-selected group who joined the Army in order to serve as soldiers. As we shall
see, the value of a soldier is based in large part on his proximity to combat, and even
many support soldiers appear to relish the idea of a deployment 114 .
In this chapter I will examine the external views of sacrifice and soldiers. There
are a number of authors I draw from extensively in this chapter, first Lawrence Leshan
and his work on the stages of warfare on the home front, The Psychology of Warfare
(2002). However, R. Claire Snyders Citizen-Soldiers and Manly Warriors (1999) and
Carolyn Marvin and David Ingles work Blood Sacrifice and the Nation (1999) will also
be used extensively. In addition, much of the description of the wars in Iraq and

This does not hold true for every soldier, as I shall show below. However, as more enlistment contracts
for soldiers who joined before the Iraq War expire, the number of soldiers who joined the Army knowing
the probability of deployment increases.


Afghanistan in this chapter come not only from my own experiences as a deployed
soldier, but from the works of other deployed soldiers and marines, such as Andrew
Exums This Mans Army (2004), Buzz Williams Spare Parts (2004), and John
Crawfords Last True Story Ill Ever Tell (2005). This list is hardly exhaustive, as there
have been dozens of books written in the last few years describing the experiences of
soldiers in Iraq, but they are among the most accessible and relevant to this discussion.

Combat Proximity as Social Status

Recruiters and career counselors 115 are pressured by their commanders to reach
certain recruitment goals. As a result, many recruits will make it through the enlistment
process with deficiencies that are anywhere from easily hidden to blatantly obvious.
Recruits have arrived at Boot Camp and Basic Training with glass eyes, dwarfism,
hermaphroditism, and other obvious physical ailments (Leahy, 2002; Mockenhaupt,
2007). Private Nicholas from 3rd platoon likely had early onset Parkinsons, and another
private, discharged within three days, had a broken wrist as well as anaphylactic allergies
to bee stings. Some of the extreme problem children could also be easily identified, such
as 3rd platoons Private Jackson, whose ASVAB score was well below the 30th percentile
cutoff for Army recruitment, but had managed to get through the process.
Those privates who do graduate from Basic Training will move on to their units
and likely deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. The frustration this creates in other privates
during Basic Training has already been discussed in Chapter Four, but the effects of the
problem child continue to plague the Army as those soldiers move on. As mentioned
before, there is a recurring trend of pushing problems downrange to be dealt with by a

The soldiers who actually create a contract for a new recruit.


different unit or commander. In my case, one of the problem children from my training
platoon actually ended up in the same unit I deployed with in 2004. Although Private
Darren was recognized as a problem at both Basic and AIT, he was not removed from the
Army, and simply pushed to the next stage of training rather than being dealt with. While
deployed, he was originally put on a tactical team, which directly supported combat units
on patrols, until his behavior prompted punishment. 116 As punishment, Private Darren
was removed from the tactical team and assigned to the headquarters unit, originally as a
member of an analytical team. Over the remainder of the deployment and with his
behavior directly observed by the company commander and First Sergeant, his
responsibilities as a soldier were more restricted until by the end of the deployment he
was relegated to custodial tasks around the headquarters building, and finally discharged
from the Army upon return to the United States.
Viewed from the outside, being assigned to a headquarters unit may not appear to
be a punishment for a soldier. However, the military approach to punishment is based
predominantly on cultural capital, and is frequently misunderstood by outsiders
attempting to make sense of what appears to be an arcane system. For example, a senior
officer relates the following story:
You get these officers who come out with their credentials and then
claim that they were underappreciated by the military. They wave these
OERs 117 around with all pluses, and raise hell that they shouldnt have
been let go. But you have to be inside the military to understand it. The,
these officers, the seniors, they know whos good and whos a bullshit
artist, and they have ways to, of making decisions based on who they

The hearsay in the unit was that he had accidentally fired his pistol between the legs of an officer sitting
in the seat behind him. As mentioned in Chapter Five, an Accidental Discharge is one of the more serious
offenses in the Army, and was likely used by the leadership as an excuse to implement the punishments
Officer Evaluation Report. Officers are evaluated and promoted based on the rankings in a number of
categories by their senior officers, such as character, leadership and physical ability. Non-commissioned
officers use a similar system labeled the NCOER.


know is a good officer. Let me tell you a story. In 1949, the Amethyst
was a British ship running up the Yangtze river when it was attacked by
the PLA and ran aground. The Royal Navy sent a passed over Lieutenant
Commander to scuttle the ship, but with true Flashman brilliance,
however, he inspired his crew to make the perilous dash down the river,
was successful despite horrendous odds, and limped his command into the
Naval Base. But he disobeyed an order, and you cant just do that, so they
court-martial and convict him, and for punishment drop him to the bottom
of the promotion list. But the punishment put him back into the Promotion
Zone, He was selected this time, and had the good sense to request
retirement as soon as his advancement to the rank of commander was
official. So even though they punished the guy, everybody got what they
wanted, and the Navy could keep a damn fine officer.118
This approach to punishment shows again the ways in which servicemembers can
negotiate the rules under which the military institution is run. Although technically
following the letter of the law, an officer who disobeyed an order was punished, within
the context of the military, he was actually rewarded. This is not always a positive
interaction, however, and many times soldiers and officers are punished through
assignments and deployments.
Prestigious schools in the Army, such as Airborne and Air Assault are frequently
filled with those soldiers who are required to take the courses because of their duty
assignments. Thus, soldiers assigned to Airborne units are provided with Airborne
School slots, and Air Assault units are provided with Air Assault School slots. For the
enlisted soldier, then, admission into these schools are based either on getting assigned to
one of these units, or possibly attending the schools when one of the few openings to the
remainder of the Army is available. As Airborne and Air Assault units are viewed as
elite units by the Army establishment, assignment to these units is frequently based on


The historical veracity of this story is in doubt, but the significance of the story, that members of the
military learn to negotiate their bureaucracy, remains sound.


performance on the ASVAB and during Basic Training. 119 Attending a school after
assignment to a unit is an even more difficult proposition as most slots are reserved for
soldiers in the assigned units. However, when openings do become available, most units
base their recommendations for attendance on a merit list, based on the capacities of
soldiers to perform their soldier tasks, predominantly those focused on combat
readiness such as Physical Fitness Test scores and medals awarded. Thus a soldier can
easily be punished simply by preventing him from attending a school he wishes to
attend. 120 This punishment comes from restricting the soldier in his ability to display his
masculinity to a wider audience.
As we saw previously, masculinity is inherently performative, a repetition of acts
which a man needs to perform repeatedly to be accepted as man. One reason the
constant performance of masculinity is necessary is because of the inherently dangerous
nature of male work in most societies. This does not mean that female work is not
dangerous, as any study of childbirth will quickly attest to. However, most of the
dangerous work performed by males is voluntary, and men must be pressured into
performing these dangerous acts. In addition, because of our particular biology, males in
any group will be of less reproductive value than females (one male may service a
number of females), a point which Gilmore discusses at length:


For Reservists and National Guardsmen, this process is a bit easier, as assignment to a unit is guaranteed
before Basic Training. Thus, in order to be assigned to an Airborne Guard or Reserve unit, a prospective
soldier simply has to have his recruiter get him assigned to the unit. School selection outside of this
assignment is just as, if not more difficult, for Guard and Reserve soldiers, however.
I use the word punished in quotation marks because frequently the punishment is based on the
perception of the soldier, and not necessarily the unit. This punishment is a result of institutional friction
and failure in management, not necessarily a direct attempt by the leadership to censure a soldier for
unapproved behavior. For instance, I was denied a school I wished to attend simply because the rules as
written prevented my unit from sending a soldier to it. However, every officer and NCO knows that these
written rules can be overridden in practice, and the failure of my leadership to do was felt by me as a
punishment from the system itself.


to be men, most of all, they must accept the fact that they are
expendable. This acceptance of expendability constitutes the basis
of the manly pose everywhere it is encountered: yet simple
acquiescence will not do. To be socially meaningful, the decision
for manhood must be characterized by enthusiasm combined with
stoic resolve or perhaps grace.
It must show a public
demonstration of positive choice, of jubilation even in pain, for it
represents a moral commitment to defend the society and its core
values against all odds. (Gilmore, 1990, p. 224)
Men must thus be prodded into action . . . on penalty of being robbed of their identity
(221). During Basic Training, and even in combat, soldiers must also be prodded into
action by the social environment of other soldiers and the institutional rules laid down
from above (Marshall, 2000). The identity of soldier is not one granted to any graduate
of Basic Training, but must be earned through a series of steps, if at all.
For example, a few career choices require privates to attend DLI 121 or Airborne
School after graduating from AIT. Our platoon at AIT was informed that if we attended
DLI too soon after our graduation we would likely be placed into a training company
under the supervision of drill sergeants, as the Army considered soldiers recently out of
AIT as still not properly soldierized. Airborne School grants an additional level of
elitism which can enhance their symbolic capital as soldiers, despite its lack of practical
applications. My platoon sergeant described his first experience at Airborne School just
after his graduation from AIT:
We get to Airborne School, they line us up outside the barracks. Were all
standing there wondering whats going on, waiting to get smoked since
were in our PT gear at six oclock. The jumpmaster comes out that first
day and says: Listen up, we got you for three weeks. Why three weeks?
We can teach you how to jump out of an airplane in three days. But were
not gonna teach you just that. Were going to instill in you the Airborne
Spirit! And thats gone take three weeks and a lot of running. Then we
do a left face and head off on a six mile run on the first day. I hated that

Defense Language Institute


Airborne School, then, like Basic Training, is about both learning skills and creating
Airborne qualification also highlights the difficulty of assigning a single
definition of the identity of soldier. Many cadences discuss the achievement of jump
wings as a symbol of elite status (Carey, 1965). However, as has been pointed out by
senior NCOs who are themselves airborne qualified, the receipt of airborne wings does
not grant any particular status to a soldier. Instead, it is simply one more of a ladder of
achievements in the life of a soldier: Well, yeah, you get out of airborne school, and
then youre a five-jump cherry. So you make your first non-airborne school jump, and
then youre a one-jump chump. You get past that, and then you have to get your
jumpmaster wings, then get your Master parachutist. Theres always something. Thus,
there is always another step on the path to the complete soldier identity.
In addition, as with so many things in the Army, the proximity to combat also
serves to enhance the status of the soldier. A company first sergeant relayed the
following anecdote:

Look, it doesnt matter what patch you wear 122 , you have one, you wear it.
I went into the Army when I was 18, I was Psyop from the beginning, so,
you know, I went through Basic, and airborne school. Jumpmaster school.
Ive got my 36 jumps. I go to church one day in my uniform, and this old
guy sees me, he comes up to talk to me after the service. Hes like, you
in the Army? I nod. He says, Youre airborne? I smile [he reaches a
hand up to his master parachutist badge and feigns polishing it], yeah.
How many jumps have you done? 36 Wow, yeah. I only did six
jumps when I was in. And I feel it coming. I have to ask him. So he
says, yeah, just the five in training, and then the one over Normandy.

The First Sergeant was referring to the wear of a combat patch on the right shoulder identifying which
unit a soldier served with on a combat footing.


[his hand falls from his badge and his head drops down to look at the
floor, feigning embarrassment] Squeak.
Soldier identity, then is not created in Basic Training exclusively, although it does
serve as a reference point for almost every soldier in the Army. Instead it is
simply one phase of a constant series of progressions to an ideal type of soldier.
This ideal, indicated in the first sergeants statement, is based on the proximity to
combat. No amount of non-combat airborne jumps can compare to a single
combat jump, just as no amount of training can compare with the actual
experience of combat.
Training in elite schools, and being assigned to units which will deploy, carries a
level of status, which is frequently sought after by contemporary soldiers. This was the
case with another of the privates I attended Basic Training and AIT with. Private Brown
was one of the top performers on the APFT in our platoon, and although he was only
placed in the Platoon Guide position once during Basic Training, he was assigned that
position for the duration of AIT. During Basic Training he made his intention to be a
true soldier known, when asked why he had chosen Psychological Operations as a
specialty, he stated: I wanted to get out and do it, get in it. You know Psyop has been
deployed more in the last ten years than any other MOS? Thats what I want to do.
After graduating from AIT, Private Brown was not assigned to a Tactical Company,
which would have provided him with the opportunity to get in it; he was instead
assigned to a Strategic Company, which focuses on analysis and the development of
Psyop products such as leaflets and radio broadcasts, typically while remaining in the
United States. According to a mutual friend, after his assignment to this unit he was


like: Hell! So he went through Selection [Special Forces training] as soon as humanly
possible. Private Brown felt that his skills had been unappreciated by his command and
thus transferred out of his unit as quickly as he could into one which he felt was better
suited to his desires.
Returning to Private Darren, his punishment was deliberate and direct. By
removing him from the tactical team, and then relegating him to duties which in Iraq are
typically handled by private contractors, the command was not only punishing him with
labor (a typical Army punishment) but also reducing his cultural capital. As we saw in
Chapter Five, a large part of military cultural capital is based on the proximity to combat
which any particular soldier has. Thus, the punishment in this case continually moved
Private Darren farther and farther away from that proximity, and demeaned his status as a
soldier. As we can see, then, being a soldier is again not a monolithic identity, but one
which is constantly in flux over the course of a soldiers career.
Deployment overseas also forms a dominant element of the soldier identity
because of its connection with the strongest theme of soldier life: sacrifice. Historically,
the soldier is seen as a person who has been willing to give up his life for his country, a
surrender of the individual to the needs of the group. As David Gilmore stresses, this
surrender of the individual to the group is one element of a cross-cultural definition of
masculinity (Gilmore, 1990). It is also a theme of Robert Heinleins book Starship
Troopers, originally published in 1959, which depicts the career of a young soldier,
Johnny Rico, who joins the Army after high school in an act of teenage rebellion, and
eventually finds a career as an officer in the military. 123 Throughout the book, Heinlein


This synopsis is necessarily brief, as the plot of the book is less important than the themes of citizenship
and soldier identity that it discusses.


intersperses long exchanges between characters which explore the importance of military
service and citizenship, civic virtue, and even juvenile delinquency into the descriptions
of combat by power-armored infantry equipped with tactical nuclear weapons. When
asked what being a soldier meant to him, Private Argent responded with a reference to
Heinleins philosophy:
What is a soldier? Yeah, do you want the Robert Heinlein ideal, or do you
want the poor kid that doesnt have anything better to do with his life or
circumstances, that the best thing that he can do is go put his life on the
line for, you know, a country and government that plainly as an individual
does not value him? Just because he had nothing better to do, you know?
I dont know.
Argents ambivalence with regard to the definition of a soldier is countered with Private
Ricardos certainty when asked the same question:
Im gonna have to reference this one, because I agree completely with the
Starship Trooper approach, and I dont mean the movie, I mean the book.
Umm, a civilian is a person who accepts their rights and lives by them.
And by rights I mean the rights of the constitution, or your legal rights, or
your right to live. A soldier is somebody who voluntarily gives up some
of those rights to defend them, or the masses, I suppose. As a soldier, we
go through basic training, were stripped of music, we were stripped of
freedom of speech, were basically stripped of freedom of religion with
the exception of Sundays, and the freedom to just be a person and you get
that all stripped away from you, and it sucked at the time, but as soon as
you start getting a little bit of those freedoms back, you treasure them so
much more, and you now know what its like to live without those things.
Ricardo went on to place this wisdom in the context of a deployment: So when you go
to these foreign countries, you can kind of comprehend what these people are going
through. They dont have electricity, or they dont have music, and damn that fucking
sucks. To Ricardo then, the question of what a soldier is is wrapped up in a deployment
overseas, as well as the motif of sacrifice.


Citizenship and Service

The idea that military service improves the individual citizen is borne out in our
own narrative of service and citizenship. R. Claire Snyder points out that many minority
groups such as blacks, women, and even homosexuals view military service as central to
their acceptance as full citizens. (Snyder, 1995, p. 143) During the Clinton
administration, many Republicans focused on Clintons lack of military service to
denigrate his citizenship as well as his ability to be a proper Commander-in-Chief for the
Armed Forces. Even as far into Bushs administration as 2002, drill sergeants compared
Clinton and Bush, such as when Drill Sergeant Briggs discussed the possibility of war in
Iraq: Dont you worry, men. We dont got slick Willie in the White House anymore,
this guy, he wore a uniform and that means something. Hell look after the troops.
Although some might argue this specific point, there was an almost religious nature to the
way in which soldiers who had served under Clinton talked about Bush. This dynamic
changed over the course of the training cycle, however, and by the end of the cycle, when
Bush was mentioned at the graduation breakfast held for the privates who had completed
the FTX, there was a small amount of grumbling from the drill sergeants. It is very likely
that this shift was representative of the different levels of respect which privates had
obtained by the end of their training in the beginning of the training cycle, privates
were more civilian than soldier, and thus any person who wore a uniform was different
or better than the privates who had just started training. Once that training was complete,
however, privates were included within the group of soldiers and internal dissension
could be voiced.


The threat of death not only brings a group together, but can also tie that group
into the larger community around it. In fact, Marvin and Ingle argue that the totem
sacrifice which groups make through military service ties them to the larger community.
For example, although there are a large number of new communities emerging in the
virtually connected world, without armies or willing sacrifices of their own, these
communities cannot generate the religious intensity that causes groups to cohere.
(Marvin & Ingle, 1999, p. 313) Here, religious is not intended to be limited to only
forms of organized religion, but is instead a metaphor the authors use to describe the
fervor with which ideologies can take hold, especially as those ideologies serve to create
and maintain a community.
This idea returns us to a discussion of the citizenship earned by soldiers. With
regard to Black soldiers serving after World War II, Daniel Patrick Moynihan stated that
history may record that the single most important psychological event in race relations
in the nineteen-sixties was the appearance of the Negro fighting men on the TV screens
of the nation. Acquiring a reputation for military valor is one of the oldest known routes
to social equality from the Catholic Irish in the Mexican War to the Japanese-American
Purple Heart Division of Word War II. (Moynihan, 1966, p. 22) Stephen Ambrose
makes a similar argument in his discussion of Blacks in the Army during World Wars I
and II, although he points out that gains made by Blacks in those wars were not as great
as many would believe. He quotes W.E.B. Dubois:

The Crisis says, first your Country, then your rights. . . Five thousand
Negroes fought in the Revolution; the result was the emancipation of
slaves in the North and the abolition of the African slave trade. At least
three thousand Negro soldiers and sailors fought in the War of 1812; the


result was the enfranchisement of the Negro in many northern States and
the beginning of a strong movement for general emancipation. Two
hundred thousand Negroes enlisted in the Civil War, and the result was the
emancipation of four million slaves, and the enfranchisement of the black
man. Some ten thousand Negroes fought in the Spanish-American War,
and in the twenty years ensuing since that war, despite many setbacks, we
have doubled or quadrupled our accumulated wealth. (Ambrose, 1972, p.
After the Army and the Administration failed to definitively improve the situation in
America for Blacks, DuBois and the others felt that the Army and the Administration
had deliberately decided to withhold credit where it was due, for otherwise there could be
no justification for denying full rights and privileges as citizens to Blacks who had
proven their loyalty to America and their ability as leaders and soldiers on the field of
battle. (Ambrose, 1972, p. 185) In other words, DuBois still felt that the sacrifice of
Black soldiers would earn them greater standing in American society if that society only
knew about it. The reason that there were no privileges granted was because the
sacrifices were being hidden by the bureaucracy to maintain the inequalities, not that the
sacrifices were unworthy of granting those privileges. Karen Brodkins discussion of the
integration of Jewish and Caucasian groups after World War 2 continues in this vein,
pointing out that it was the benefits of service in the GI Bill given to veterans which
allowed Jews to attend college alongside Christian counterparts, and through this
interaction remove the label of Jewish as a defined ethnic group and assume the
unmarked category of White in America (Brodkin, 1998). In the contemporary military,
the idea that service in the military adds legitimacy to citizenship continues, such that the
amount of time necessary to acquire citizenship for serving soldiers compared to their


non-military compatriots is reduced (Jacoby, 2008), and expediting the visa process for
Iraqi translators who have served the Army (Rubin, 2008).
This attitude is prevalent within the military as well, which John Hawkins
documents in his ethnographic examination of soldiers deployed to Germany during the
Cold War, Army of Hope, Army of Alienation (2005). Hawkins discussed what he calls
the support for sacrifice contract as perceived by the soldiers and their family members
who suffer under the whims of an institutional bureaucracy which fails to provide proper
for the families involved. This feeling is expressed by numerous informants throughout
Hawkins book, and can be summarized with the feeling that the soldiers in Germany felt
that they would give as much of themselves as they could, so long as their families were
taken care of. When families were not being provided with appropriate support - whether
health care, child care, or basic services such as housing and shopping - the soldiers
would have to choose between familial and military obligations, resulting in stress as the
overworked soldiers did their best to accommodate both parties. This dissatisfaction with
Army life leads to alienation, especially when the perception of the servicemembers and
their families is that the Army has somehow failed to live up to its side of the bargain.
This balance between sacrifice and reward is also displayed in the political
rhetoric immediately following the attacks on September 11th. Framed around the idea of
sacrifice and supporting the troops, this rhetoric began soon after the invasion of
Afghanistan, but developed after the invasion of Iraq. The idea of war without sacrifice
runs counter to our cultural conception of how war is fought, as during World War II the
proliferation of rationing, war bonds, and other sacrifices were seen as helping the
soldiers deployed overseas and the overall war effort. In this way, civilians felt


connected to the war being fought in a way which neither Vietnam nor Iraq (our two
largest conflicts after World War II) allows. Thus, when President Bush called for
Americans to get on the plane to Disney World it is contrasted with the sacrifices that
are being made by soldiers and their families in the pursuit of the War on Terror, both in
separation and the cost of death.

Political Rhetoric
Bushs rhetoric also reveals a return to the religious, as most of his speeches
concerning the War are framed around concepts of good vs. evil. Timothy Cole describes
Bushs worldview as one of Manichean imagery, as terrorists represent evil, savagery,
and violence, whereas American troops represent good, civilization, and peace (Cole,
2004). This rhetoric is hardly surprising, however, as Lawrence Leshan discusses at
length in his work The Psychology of War (2002) the transition that every society must
go through in the preparation for war. Leshan discusses a shift from what he calls a
realistic view of warfare to a mythic one. In the mythic paradigm everything we do is
good, whereas whatever they enemy does is evil, and, most important, these constructs
are never questioned while in the mythological mode.
Many of Leshans ideas can be seen in contemporary political rhetoric as leaders
struggle to maintain either a mythic or a realistic approach to the current conflicts. For
instance, in the good-evil dichotomy which plays during the mythic frame, since the
enemy is evil, he naturally lies. Communication is not possible. Only force can settle the
issue. (Leshan, 2002, p. 36) This dynamic can be clearly the seen in the debate
regarding Barack Obamas statement that he would meet with leaders of hostile


governments without preconditions, a position which earned him scorn from many
Republican politicians, although very little direct attack. Instead, working within the
mythic frame that only force can be used against the enemy, these politicians can
simply state Obamas position as evidence that he is not prepared to be President. The
desire for secrecy during warfare also serves to deflect the transition from the mythic
back to the realistic frame, and much of the secrecy of the current administration can be
seen in this light. During the mythic frame, the government, as the embodiment of Good
opposed to the enemys Evil, can do no wrong. Thus the tautological statement of the
Bush administration that Americans dont torture is not questioned among those who
remain in the mythic frame.
The switch from the realistic to the mythic frame typically requires a precipitating
event, seen unequivocally in the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and September 11th,
2001, but sometimes created by those who attempt to shift the nation towards support for
a war. Examples of this include the attack on the USS Maine and the Gulf of Tonkin
incident, in which those events were overplayed by the government in order to inspire the
shift in the American public to the mythic frame which is necessary for the engagement
in war. No group can maintain the mythic frame for any extended period of time,
however, despite rhetorical or symbolic appeals. This recognition is at the heart of the
Powell doctrine that a war should be fought swiftly and ended before the nation can
return to realism. Operation Desert Storm was the exemplar of this approach, as the
conflict was over so quickly that the nation remained in the mythic frame for the
duration, and as a result once again made war acceptable to a very large part of the U.S.
population. (Leshan, 2002, p. 91) This acceptance of war was complicated by the next


major engagement, Bosnia and Kosovo, and then returned with the attacks on September
11th and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The return to the realistic frame Leshan sees as a transition from a mythic war to a
sensory one. Thus, as images of the war in Vietnam built up, the nations sensory
experience of warfare also increased, leading to the realization that war was not the
mythic endeavor promised by the frame. Arguably, this same process occurred in the
Iraq War, as embedded journalists broadcast accounts of combat and violence in realtime to the American public. However, we must keep in mind the status of the soldier as
a mythic figure in both the mythic and realistic frames. During realistic periods, soldiers
are often separated from the remainder of the community, and during mythic periods sent
overseas to fight over there so that the civilians here do not have to be threatened.
The importance of the soldier as a mythic figure can be seen in two moments, one from
Vietnam and one from Iraq, in which the shift from mythic to realistic frames can be
located. First, the My Lai incident in Vietnam intruded into the consciousness of
Americans not that war is hell to borrow from Sherman, as many already knew that,
but that American soldiers were just as human and flawed as the enemy. In comparison,
the rhetorical spin following the Abu Ghraib scandal managed to maintain the mythic
frame for a period, labeling the perpetrators as different from the other soldiers in the
Army, and scapegoating not only the enlisted soldiers engaged in the practice, but the
only officer originally implicated in the scandal: a female General who failed to conform
to the mythic, masculine, ideal of the Army officer. The success of this spin can be seen
in the relative anonymity of Colonel Thomas Pappas, who was reprimanded in 2005 for
his actions at Abu Ghraib prison, a story buried on page A16 of the Washington Post


(Smith, 2005). I would argue instead that the shift away from the mythic frame was
instead initiated fully by Donald Rumsfelds statement on December 8th, 2004 that You
go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later
time. This statement was a response to a soldier, Specialist Thomas Wilson, asking
Rumsfeld, our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years. A lot of
us are getting ready to move North relatively soon. Our vehicles are not armored. We're
digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that's already been
shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on to our vehicles to
take into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us north.
(Suarez, 2008) The reality imposed by Specialist Wilsons question showed the nation
that the soldiers in Iraq were not engaged in mythic combat, but were instead engaged in
a very visceral, realistic conflict in which lives could and would be lost. As above, I
would point out that the strength of my argument here is based on the strength of the
meme it created in the news sphere, as this discussion was front page news for the New
York Times. In addition, later reports that Wilson had been coached by a reporter failed
to find traction, whereas Rumsfelds answer became a sound byte that is still in use
Leshans model of the shift from realistic to mythic (and then back again), mirrors
Turner and van Genneps rite of passage, although in this case it is an entire nation
moving into a liminal state in which the regular rules of society are broken down. This is
because warfare is by its very nature chaotic and liminal, yet always with the appearance
of an emergent structure. Recently, the commander of Joint Forces Command issued a
statement repudiating the doctrine of effects based operations, or EBO. In short, this


doctrine was an attempt to rationalize warfare through modeling and then counteracting
the effects of a military action. The debates regarding the efficacy of this process are not
of concern here, but what is interesting is that General Mattis repeatedly refers to the
fundamental nature of war five times in his article, without specifically defining that
fundamental nature itself. The readers of the article, of course, are very familiar with
prior works of military theory, and understand this reference is to the chaos and
unpredictability of the battlefield.

Warrior vs. Soldier

Considering the associations of soldierhood with death and sacrifice, it is hardly
surprising that soldiers are often seen, even after their rite of passage, as potentially
contaminating. Charles Moskos points out that the United States has normally looked
upon its military with some disfavor. In this sense our society appears to be moving
toward its more conventional social definition of the military, and that the wave of antimilitary sentiment following the Vietnam War was not an anomaly, but was rather the
norm for most of American history. (Moskos, 1970, p. 179) This approach returns us yet
again to the notion of the soldier as sacrifice. As a sacrificial and liminal figure, the
soldier must be separated from his fellow citizens. Following the attacks of September
11th, the nation in crisis had just such a need, and by entering into its own liminal state,
Leshans mythic frame, soldiers were allowed to enter the community and once again
represent it. Of course, this representation will ideally occur far away from the
community proper, as our prior experience of warfare shows.


In the mythology of warfare, from Homer to modern film, the hero is presented as
a warrior rather than a soldier. As I will discuss later in this chapter, these differences are
slipping as the government and military attempt to maintain the mythic frame while the
remainder of the nation has returned to a realistic one, which creates problems both for
the military and the civilian communities. The soldier is the embodiment of sacrifice,
even down to his choices of self-expression (clothing, hairstyles, and cosmetics being
some of the most common examples of things the military mandates for its members).
The warrior, on the other hand, is a fighter, and perhaps the ultimate representative of
free will. Mythic stories of warriors in Western culture frequently focus on his action, his
freedom of movement, and his separation from civilization (Dumezil, 1970).
An important distinction that must be made in the creation of the soldier is that
between the soldier and the warrior. While the warrior fights for glory and honor,
whatever those cultural definitions might be within their own culture, a good soldier and
a good warrior are distinctly different. While warriors are heroes, soldiers are exactly the
opposite. The soldiers of modern armies are constantly told not to be heroes, to not stand
out, and to not take actions which could potentially put their fellows at risk. In other
words, the warrior is an individual, while the soldier sublimates himself to the group, or
the State.
Similarities do occur, however, and specifically both types are granted the ability
to kill without penalty so long as the killing remains within the set of rules that the State
has laid out. The main similarity between the warrior and the soldier is that of selfcontrol, focusing the aggression inherent in both men to release it at the appropriate
moment. The mythological examples of the warrior type abound. Georges Dumezil


discusses a number of different warriors in his text Destiny of the Warrior (1970). For
example, the warrior Cuchulain fights three sons of Nechta, but then returns to the capital
in a frightful and dangerous state of mystical furor born of combat where the queen
tries to seduce him to calm him down. Cuchulain resists the offer, but the ulates grab him
and throw him in a vat of cold water which cools him down. This is an initiation story,
for after this account Cuchulain can keep his furor in reserve until combat demands it
(10). Cuchulain has thus learned to harness the war machine, his unbridled fury in battle,
until he needs to release it.
Even with Cuchulains control of his fury, however, he is still more typical of the
warrior than the soldier. His battles, as with those of Beowulf, Achilles, and even
Gilgamesh, are always fought for his own personal glory or success. The soldier,
however, has relinquished, or sacrificed, his own personal ideas of glory. The epithet of
hero in Basic Training is used as an insult by Drill sergeants, especially when the
private has done something particularly egregious, or more importantly, self-involved.
The hero, the warrior, who performs actions for his own honor or glory, is the antithesis
of what the military is trying to create in a soldier. Instead, the soldier sacrifices himself
for the success of the group.
Thus, we see again the recurring theme of sacrifice in Basic Training, in this case
as the distinction the warrior and the soldier. The soldier has sacrificed part of himself to
the greater good of the group, or in most cases the State. During Basic Training, privates
are expected to forego their own successes to look after the interests of the group.
Privates are never finished with a task until every private is finished, forcing privates to
assist each other in order to accomplish tasks quicker. Although this can lead to conflict


within the group as free riders allow other privates to complete their tasks for them, it
can also lead to a stronger solidarity as privates learn each others strengths and
weaknesses: By the end of Basic, we had figured each other out. When we got to AIT
we pretty much ran it. There were twelve of us from Benning out of sixty guys, but we
already knew how we all worked, you know? Private Bennett reported that during his
AIT phase, he and his roommate, who had served in the same training platoon at Basic,
would, exchange duties. I was good at ironing and pressing uniforms, but sucked at
doing my boots. Berryman was good at shining boots, but hated doing ironing. So I
would do our uniforms, and he would do our boots.
The warrior is also well known for one other attribute, as heroes they are the ones
who return to their society and change it. By standing out in battle, by becoming more
than other members of the society, the warrior has an elevated status that allows him to
dictate to his fellows based on his exposure to death, and the initiation which follows
from it. The soldier has sacrificed that element of individuality which would have set
him apart, entitled him to break down the system, in a way in which only heroes can do.
It should not astonish us, then to note that just as the word private is frequently
expressed as an insult by drill sergeants at Basic Training, the word hero is similarly
used. As we saw in the previous chapter, the primary groups formed by soldiers are
based on the necessity to work as a team and watch a buddys back, but there is also the
inherent distrust any institution will present toward a member who seeks to change the
extant system.
Outside the military, of course, we maintain the mythological idea of soldiers as
boundary crossers, ideals for others to emulate. During the last two Presidential elections


military service was a recurring theme, with Al Gore derided for being a journalist and
not a real Marine, and John Kerrys disagreements with the war he served in being used
to destroy his credibility. Many other notable veterans, such as John Murtha and Paul
Hackett have been attacked in order to keep their heroism from entitling them to make
pronouncements. In the same way, Conservatives and Republicans have steadfastly held
to the argument (used by the Left during the Clinton administration) that a leader does
not need military experience to command it (Shuger, 2002), as various members of
President George W Bushs administration (and the President himself) were questioned
on their own military service.
As we move away from the mythic frame, though, the theme of soldier or warrior
as hero begins to fade. With the spread of mass media onto the battlefield itself, it is not
only the soldier who can touch death and then return from the border, as Marvin and
Ingle put it, but most civilians, and especially the reporters who cover warfare without
being involved in it. Just as after Vietnam America returned to its tradition of
sequestering soldiers and not glorifying them, it appears that this same shift led to the
development of the reporter-hero. As this work is not about combat reporters, I will only
briefly point out that Michael Herrs Dispatches presented the heroes of the Vietnam War
not as the soldiers who fought in it, but the reporters who embedded with those soldiers.
After his deployment to Afghanistan, Andrew Exum notes the same portrayal in a film he
watched about reporters covering conflict in Uzbekistan: The lesson I took from the
movie was that in the postmodern era, soldiers are not the real heroes of war. They cant
be theyre too violent and lack moral purity. (Exum, 2004, p. 230)


As I have argued through this work, the rite of passage, or any liminal transition,
is not sufficient for any substantive change in culture or identity. The change in the war
hero from soldier to reporter was a slow process precipitated by the social crisis of the
Vietnam War, and is likely slowly changing again as the appellation of hero is more
and more applied to any soldier currently serving. Even the experience of war itself, as a
deployed soldier, is not a life defining moment in a soldiers life, but simply one of many
steps toward a change in psyche. The study of reenlistment cited above draws this
conclusion based on the reenlistment effects of multiple deployments, but it can also be
seen in the attitudes of the soldiers returning from deployments. Andrew Exum states
forcefully in the conclusion of his book, if people think that I have changed into
something different than who I was, then they just didnt know me well enough. (Exum,
216) In other words, the experience of deploying (and in Exums case, killing an enemy
soldier), is not enough to cause a change in his own identity. Given the stressful
conditions and extended duration of a deployment overseas, if these experiences are not
sufficient to change an individual, nine weeks of Basic Training is certainly not enough
to change the basic identity of any private who undergoes it.

Body as Location of Identity

The graphic language of soldiers discussed in Chapter Two serves to identify
soldiers almost as much as the distinctive haircuts, and can be seen as what Marvin and
Ingle identify as the border language of body magic that civilians regard as profanity.
(Marvin & Ingle, 1999, p. 109) In addition to profane language, bodily functions
generally considered profane and taboo are frequent subjects of conversation among


soldiers, as are the bodily functions themselves. Soldiers will fart, belch, pick their nose,
and even urinate and defecate in front of one another without much thought. However,
another element of the soldiers identity is how he performs in front of civilians. Marvin
and Ingle discuss how soldiers often express themselves around civilians in an old
fashioned manner reminiscent of chivalric conduct: this transformative anecdote was
offered by an officer: The same guy who would belch at Burger King three months ago
is now [at graduation] leading that mother around by the arm. A symbolic infant with no
bodily control has become one who controls the mother. (Marvin & Ingle, 1999, p. 115)
Unfortunately, the transition is not complete, as that soldier will most likely still belch at
Burger King if in the company of his military family and not his civilian one.
Just as the profanity of the body can be seen as part of the soldier identity, its
sacred nature is also important to that identity. The reversed flag worn by soldiers on
their uniforms today is emblematic of that importance. Although originally only
authorized for soldiers while deployed overseas, in 2004 all soldiers were authorized (and
frequently ordered) to wear the reversed flag on the right shoulder of their uniform
(Triggs, 2004). The flag frequently represents the sacredness of the border of death, as
well as the mythological origins of a nation. When Americans are asked to identify
prominent figures from American history, after political leaders, most citizens pick Betsy
Ross, pointing to the importance of the flag in the origin myth and identity of America
(Marvin & Ingle, 1999). The significance of the flag is accentuated by its flagstaff,
which can be seen as an axis mundi . . . a tree of life like the cross. (Marvin & Ingle,
1999, p. 69) As the flag is worn on the right shoulder of the soldier, the field of stars
must be forward as if the flag worn on the soldiers arm is the battle standard of the unit


as carried by units in previous wars (Burgess, 2004). This is, in actuality, the reason that
the flag worn by soldiers bears the field of stars on the upper right rather than the upper
left. In the symbolism of the military, the flag worn on the uniform of the soldier turns
the soldier into a sacred object, as he himself becomes the flagstaff.
In this way, as both sacred and profane object, a gentleman and a grunt, the
soldier performs his identity. This performance goes beyond simple behavior, however.
Just as Leshan notes that a mythic paradigm is necessary for going to war, members of
the military attempt to maintain this mythic paradigm in their mimicry of the mythical
stories of film and literature. These stories are most often mythical retellings of historical
events, detailing the actions of soldiers in various wars and conflicts. The soldiers are
almost always combat troops, and the events discussed in the mythology are also usually
the grand events of military history.
Today, there is an important distinction between the soldiers of the United States
Army and the soldiers discussed in most works of military history. From Keegan to
Ambrose, the subjects of military history are almost always the soldiers at the front: the
infantrymen. Similarly, most discussions of modern soldiers deal with the effects of the
training of infantry, to close with the enemy and kill them in simplest terms. The
majority of soldiers enlisting in the United States Army are labeled support troops.
They are the clerks, the administrative aides, the mechanics and the cooks who keep the
Army institution itself alive and moving. These soldiers are not specifically called upon
to engage with the enemy. Although nine weeks of Basic Training stresses that every
soldier could be called upon to fight and should have the skills necessary if it should
happen, the much longer process of AIT, and the requirements of the unit the soldier is


assigned to, tend to move these skills and behaviors to the rear of soldiers minds.
Instead, once deployed, these soldiers will frequently act as they have learned from film
and literature, not in training. Even infantry soldiers will identify with their mythic
counterparts over their historical ones.
As we have seen, this is not limited to contemporary soldiers, but has likely
happened throughout the history of the military. Just as soldiers in Vietnam joined the
Army to act like John Wayne and Audie Murphy, individuals who join the military today
are those that likely desire to be the soldiers they see in military movies such as Black
Hawk Down and Full Metal Jacket. Part of this desire is also the desire to see combat
and act properly under enemy fire. In addition, as many soldiers enter the military as a
result of a lack of meaning or direction in their civilian life; the act of deployment serves
to drive away that uncertainty and establish the masculinity inherent in the soldier
identity. Worrying that he might be wasting a significant portion of his life in the Army,
Exum began to believe that war might be the only answer to all my doubts. That war
might validate my existence as a soldier and a man. (Exum, 2004, p. 23) Private Argent
reported he joined the Army to give myself a kick in the ass. To find out something
about myself.
During a deployment soldiers see themselves in the roles they themselves have
previously defined, and tension will often result when they cant act in those roles.
Anthony Swoffords Jarhead (2003) and John Crawfords Last True Story Ill Ever Tell
(2005) recount many of the results of this frustration, but Andrew Exum relates a
particularly telling anecdote, as the soldiers of his platoon conspire to terrify incoming
troops to Kuwait by pretending their bus is under attack from terrorists: It had been a


cruel joke, and we certainly had gone over the line, but thats what happens when you
give infantrymen a bullshit mission and bore them to death for weeks. (Exum, 2004, p.
99) Exums platoon was responding to the frustration of not being able to act as they
were trained, as infantrymen, but also the frustration of not being able to perform as they
desired. Soldiers in the modern army want to get into combat, want to put their lives on
the line. Although they may not officially say it, they accept the rhetoric espoused by
military and civilian leaders. If they cant risk their lives over there then theyre not
real soldiers.
This definition of real soldier is also problematic. As we have seen numerous
times, the status of a soldier is based on his proximity to combat, and the elitism this
creates can often create stress within the Army. During my own deployments there were
numerous mutters about the way in which deploying Reservists were treated by
REMFs who had never, and would never be deployed. On my second trip to Iraq, one
soldier working in a support role at the deployment center was unabashed when he said:

Ive been here two years now, and I hope I get a third.
Why? You like it here that much?
No, but I only have one year left on my contract, and if I do a good job
here, and the commander seems to like what Ive done, then if I get picked
up here, Ill be finished with my contract before I might have to deploy.
You dont want to deploy?
Nope. Im pretty happy right here in the States.
This statement was met with a general unease by the deploying soldiers, as the soldiers
statement was taken not simply as a desire to not deploy, but a desire to be less of a
soldier. When Andrew Exum was stationed in Kuwait before moving to Afghanistan, in
addition to the practical joke mentioned above, he also discusses the tension between


support and infantry troops: they were all support soldiers who worked indoors, and they
looked down on my men, whom they dismissed as grunts, as if my men should be kept
in a cage until it was time for them to fight. (Exum, 2004, p. 108) Of course, by his own
admission, his men have already gone over the line, and generally impinge on other
peoples lives to the extent that they show no empathy for other people they live with, but
this does not matter, as they are infantry, and trigger-pullers, and thus more important to
the Army than the support soldiers whose only job is supposedly to get them to the front
lines of the war. My own experiences, then, reinforce the observations of Marvin and
Ingle, who state that among soldiers, the young men are willing, they want to know what
it is to go to the border and touch death. (Marvin & Ingle, 1999, p. 75)

Blood and Sacrifice

This desire can rarely be publicly stated, however, and especially among civilians
the need to refute a love of war and for the symbolic power of its sacrifice is socially
expected. Two quotes from opposite sides of the Civil War, which Marvin and Ingle
consider the most important American war due to its cost in blood, highlight the public
performance of this attitude. Robert E. Lee stated after the battle of Fredericksburg that
It is good that war is so terrible, else we should come to love it too much, while from
the Union side, William Shermans famous quote War is hell, is also frequently
repeated by generals in public debate.
Despite these espousals, however, war continues to occur and it is on the bodies
and lives of the military that the most extreme damage is inflicted. This damage is a
necessary one for the group, however, as it is only through the blood and death of war


that any community can define itself (Marvin & Ingle, 1999). For all the recent talk of
revolutionary technology in warfare which will clean it up, or allow wars to be fought
without loss of life through armed robots and flying drones (McDuffee, 2008), this belies
General Mattis fundamental truth of warfare: that it is chaotic and can never be
predicted, only adapted to. In addition, the notion of clean warfare removes the central
element of warfare itself, the idea of sacrifice. Wars have meaning precisely because of
the lives lost in waging them.
As we have seen, the element of sacrifice is a recurring one through Basic
Training, in which the new private is expected to sacrifice things like his family
connections, his creature comforts, and even his freedom to the needs of the Army.
Many of these sacrifices are played out in the realm of the body, either as social body
disconnected from the elements of his previous social sphere, or as physical body itself,
being subjected to harsh conditions and bounded by regulations and restrictions. Eating,
sleeping, and even privacy are surrendered during Basic Training, the privates body is
no longer his own to control. Although Full Metal Jacket represents the ideal of Basic
Training as seen by many privates, there are a number of other books and films which are
also frequently referenced by soldiers when asked what they think a soldier is. One of
the most common is Robert Heinleins Starship Troopers. Although the conversion of
book to film necessarily removed a number of elements from the book, and there were a
number of complaints about this conversion, many of the themes, including the
importance of military service and the idea that true citizenship only comes through
such service, remained.


Traditionally, this service meant a soldier was willing to die for his country.
The soldier then, represented a ritual sacrifice for the members of his nation. The
soldiers responsibility was to fight the enemy over there so that civilians would not
have to fight him at home. As Girard points out in both instances the basic function of
foreign wars, and of the more or less spectacular rites that generally accompany them, is
to avert the threat of internal dissension by adopting a form of violence that can be openly
endorsed and fervently acted upon by all, (Girard, 1972, p. 280) redirecting the internal
tension of the community to an external target. In the course of this redirection, of
course, some soldiers will die in the war being waged, but these deaths are proper ritual
sacrifices, and not the retributive violence which Girard sees as such a problem in
Most soldiers are willing to sacrifice themselves in pursuit of known objectives.
Max Boot points out that those whose lives are on the line do not ask for a no-casualties
policy, and that in a Center for Strategic and International Studies survey, 86 percent of
soldiers agreed with this statement: If necessary to accomplish a combat/lifesaving
mission, I am prepared to put my own life on the line . . . Nor are most of the rank and
file intrinsically opposed to humanitarian missions; many report that they like helping
people and, like the sergeant in Haiti, express frustration with force protection policies
that keep them from doing more. (Boot, 2002, p. 328) David Segal has noted similar
findings from Charles Brown and Charles Moskos, who have found some resistance to
combat, particularly in unpopular wars or wars very far from home, but the great majority
of the soldiers they studied expressed a willingness to do their job, (Segal, 1989, p. 74)
and Shannon French notes a similar willingness among soldiers to possibly die on


missions in which the depth of their sacrifice is understood by their commanders and
the citizens at home (French, 2003).
The sacrifice of lives can also serve to bond soldiers together even more strongly
than their shared suffering. During the battle in Hurtgen Forest in 1944, the 22nd Infantry
Regiment sustained incredibly heavy losses (87% on the first day of fighting) and
replacements quickly joined the unit, without enough time to form strong primary bonds
the unit still fought with distinction. (Lynn, 2003, p. 253) Arguably, as the unit in
question did not have time to form these bonds, the ideology held by the soldiers is the
only reason for such success. However, viewed through the lens of the sacrifice identity,
these heavy losses would confirm the identity of the soldier as ritual sacrifice, and thus
substantially improve those connections between surviving members of the unit essential
to effective combat. Even new soldiers to the unit would be caught up in this frame, as
they step into the hallowed shoes (or, more precisely, boots) of former soldiers who had
given themselves up in sacrifice to the mission. As we saw in Chapter Seven, the Army
places a high value on the history of any particular unit, using the former sacrifices of
soldiers to draw the new members tighter into the military community.
Historically, the sacrifice demanded of soldiers, not just of their lives but also of
their comforts and familiar routines, made everything demanded of civilians in the rear
seem trivial by comparison and discredited those who sought to hold fast to rights and
privileges that the new managers of society found standing in the way of the war effort.
(McNeill, 1982, p. 337) McNeill identifies the mechanic through which political rhetoric
serves to create and maintain Leshans mythic frame. By pointing out the sacrifice of
soldiers overseas, politicians in favor of ongoing wars can deflect the arguments against


that war, much as recent rhetoric regarding funding for the Iraq War is framed around
supporting or not supporting the troops rather than a discussion of the war itself. The
question of military force becomes wrapped around discussions of patriotism through the
device of sacrifice.

Shifting Identities
The Army is undergoing a change in response to the mythological ideas brought
into the military in the last twenty years through film and literature, by way of incoming
soldiers. This is in addition to the adjustments it has begun to make in response to the
realities of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as the professionalization of the military
prior to the Iraq War modified the image of the soldier, especially as a peacetime
technician, since September 11th the image of the fighting soldier has once again returned
to our public consciousness. The conflation of combat with violence, and thus the soldier
with the warrior is one which has been embraced by the Army in the last few years. This
conflation, however, has led to a number of problems, not only for the individual identity
of the soldier, but also for the institution itself, and especially its perception in the civilian
Toward the end of 2003, the Army developed its Warrior Ethos Program,
designed to enhance the image of the individual soldier, and prepare him for the combat
environment he would find himself in. The beginnings of this change could be seen prior
to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, with the introduction of the black beret as
standard headgear for all soldiers. Just prior to the social crisis of those wars, in June of
2001, Army Chief of Staff mandated the wear of the black beret for all soldiers in order


to display our excellence as Soldiers, our unity as a force, and our values as an
institution. (Shinseki, 2001) The beret was traditionally the uniform of elite soldiers,
including Rangers, Special Forces, and Airborne units, the black beret specifically being
worn by Ranger units. By mandating the wear of this black beret, the Army leadership
was drawing a connection between the elite units and the regular soldier. Much like
the Marine motto of every Marine a rifleman, the wear of the black beret was intended
to stress a shift in Army doctrine toward an idea of every soldier a Ranger. As highly
trained elite units, Rangers represented the Real Warriors of the Army (Jones, 2001),
and the shift to the black beret was the beginnings of the shift toward the identity of
warrior for members of the US Army.
As I noted above, however, there are distinct differences between the two
identities of soldier and warrior. Mythologically, the warrior is associated with excessive
behavior, as discussed by Georges Dumezil: even if we did not have the evidence
provided by the subrahmanya formulas, we could scarcely doubt the antiquity of this type
of excess: the warrior everywhere takes liberties with the codes by which the seniors seek
to discipline the ardor of young men, everywhere lays claim to unwritten rights to other
mens wives, to maidenly virtue (Dumezil, 1970, p. 70) The warrior is not bound by the
restrictions of civilization, he is free to pursue his own path and his own desires he is
Deleuze and Guattaris war machine.
Where a soldier sacrifices himself and his well-being to the interests of the group,
the warrior performs as he does for his own reputation. Consider the following two
Soldiers Creeds. The statement on the left was the one I memorized during Basic
Training, and reflects the idea of the soldier as one who follows orders and draws specific


connections to other soldiers and to the organization of the Army. On the right is the
Soldiers Creed that was implemented in 2003 to reflect the Warrior Ethos which the
Army was now intentionally shifting to.

I am an American Soldier.
I am a member of the United States Army -- a
protector of the greatest nation on earth.
Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I
will always act in ways creditable to the
military service and the nation it is sworn to
I am proud of my own organization. I will do
all I can to make it the finest unit in the Army.
I will be loyal to those under whom I serve. I
will do my full part to carry out orders and
instructions given to me or my unit.
As a soldier, I realize that I am a member of a
time-honored profession--that I am doing my
share to keep alive the principles of freedom
for which my country stands.
No matter what the situation I am in, I will
never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or
personal safety, which will disgrace my
uniform, my unit, or my country.
I will use every means I have, even beyond the
line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades
from actions disgraceful to themselves and to
the uniform.
I am proud of my country and its flag.
I will try to make the people of this nation
proud of the service I represent, for I am an
American Soldier.

I am an American soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve
the people of the Unites States and live the
Army values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally
tough, trained and proficient in my warrior
tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my
equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand
ready to deploy, engage and destroy the
enemies of the United States of America in
close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American
way of life.
I am an American soldier.

Despite a nod toward professionalism in the current Creed, there is no mention of

following orders, loyalty, or what is typically called military bearing. Instead the main
focus is on the performance of the soldier in the field, ignoring the importance of
performance in other arenas. In addition, the notion of destroying an enemy is quite
different from previous ideas of success in warfare, and echoes Clausewitzs idea of Total
War. In that same line, the use of the term close combat implies a connection with


individual warriors in the era before gunpowder, and the discipline which military
historians from Foucaults critical approach to Keegans appreciative one see as essential
to the identity of the Army in the modern nation-state. Although the relative merits of
control and discipline can be argued from the perspective of other members of society, in
an institution whose primary purpose is to engage in violence, this discipline is an
essential tool in limiting the destruction and violence which could be meted out by postadolescents equipped with automatic weapons, grenade launchers, and other implements
of war.
The change from soldier to warrior carries with it implications of behavior which
can lead to a breakdown in moral and ethical judgment. Robert Fisk attributes the shift in
the Soldiers Creed, and the Warrior Ethos it accompanies, as encouraging American
troops to commit atrocities. (Fisk, 2006) This attribution in fact comes from a reader of
Fisks articles, an American veteran who has watched the events in Iraq with interest, and
contrasts the behavior he has seen in contemporary soldiers with his own experiences. Of
course, in the mythic frame of warfare, these atrocities are necessary in an ends justify
the means approach to warfare typical of the frame. This is also the argument implied in
Rumsfeld and Bushs discussions of the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. In essence, the
administration basically said this is going to happen, as war is inherently chaotic and
without rules.
As we saw in Chapter Five, the completion of Basic Rifle Marksmanship in Basic
Training was met by the appellation of trained killers, and embraced by many of the
privates in 3rd platoon. This focus on killing was not exclusive to my own training
experiences however. In a community board discussion of Ehren Watadas court martial


and appeal 124 a soldier stated: When I was in Basic and AIT, the first thing our company
commander said to us in a church wasMake no mistake that whatever MOS you take,
that you are being trained to become a killer, you are supporting the action of killing
enemies, you make our soldiers healthy so they can kill more, etc. It was sobering.
(Coffee Shop Message Board, retrieved 15 May 2008) However, killing does not have to
be an unrestrained activity, and it is the job of Basic Training (ideally) to train privates to
control their impulses within the discipline of the institution. When the identity of the
soldier is subsumed into that of the warrior, however, the discipline and ideology
becomes less important than the skillset of combat techniques.
The new Basic Training program being experimented with at Fort Benning
changes this dynamic to some extent, with a longer period of training and more exposure
to various martial skills. This change was supposed to reflect the new identity the Army
wished to inculcate into the new soldiers going through Basic Training. As the system
remains in flux, the final format of Basic Training will likely not be set for some time to
come. However, the importance of the ideological component of Basic Training should
not be forgotten as the Army struggles with its own identity as an institution of soldiers or


Lieutenant Ehren Watada refused to deploy to Iraq in 2006 based on his view that the war there was
illegal, and thus his orders to deploy were an illegal order.



Over the course of this work, I have endeavored to show how civilians become, or
fail to become, soldiers over the course of a nine-week Basic Training cycle. Although
these nine weeks are intense, both emotionally and physically, almost every new soldier
in the Army has at least eighteen years of emotional and physical development prior to
this experience. Rather than any true transformative ritual, then, Basic Training serves
more as an introduction to Army life, Army rules, and Army deviance.
Basic Training does not create soldiers, or warriors. Rather, it is a process
through which civilians learn the proper ways to perform their new identities as soldiers.
Inherent in the concept of a soldier is sacrifice, not only as a blood sacrifice for the
nation, but a willingness to sublimate ones own needs and desires to that of the nation.
However, this sacrifice is not complete, and soldiers consistently act as they desire. With
the All-Volunteer Army these desires often coincide, but when they conflict soldiers
display the freedom of choice and action of any human being. Within the extraordinarily
rigid structure of Basic Training, privates learn how to make choices and navigate the
institution they have joined. Although it is possible to consider the military a total
institution, the regimentation which is part and parcel of that type of institution does not
remove the freedom to act, the war machine, which is inherent in all human beings.
My discussion of Basic Training followed the progression of privates through
Basic Training, beginning with induction and Reception, through Total Control, rifle
qualification, and the final field training exercise and graduation. Although this order is
in some sense a natural parallel to the experience, it is also artificial, in that I simply used


these stages as convenient markers in my discussion. Thus, my thoughts and ideas

ranged far afield of the specific topics of each chapter at certain points. At this point, I
will review the important elements of my argument, and attempt to coordinate each
element into a coherent whole with regard to the development of soldiers from the
civilians who begin Basic Training.
These civilians are rarely unexposed to military life, and bring with them their
own ideas about what soldiers do, how they act, and who they are. The sources of these
preconceptions are diverse, from extended family who have served to movies and
television shows. When these civilians join the military, in this case the Army, they bring
with them these preconceptions, and act as they feel soldiers should act. As discussed by
Coupland and Eckert, these performances also work towards developing an identity and a
place within whichever institution an individual finds himself.
Soldiers pick and choose from these various influences to construct their own
identity of soldier, and perform it as they will. Even as Basic Training changes to adapt
to new conditions on the battlefield it is training for, the instructors and drill sergeants
change and adapt to each new cohort of privates that enter with their own preconceived
notions not only of what a soldier is, but also what they want to be as soldiers. Not only
has Basic Training adapted to this, but the Army institution itself evolves to meet these
new expectations. Although the All Volunteer force is in some sense a self-selected
group, it is also composed of a wide variety of soldiers from widely scattered hometowns,
social statuses, and worldviews.
Many of the privates performances go against the accepted behaviors of soldiers
as defined by the Army, and privates often act them out in defiance of the expectations of


the Army itself. As drill sergeants and other representatives of the institution ignore,
censure, or endorse these performances, privates learn how to negotiate their way through
the complex, confusing, and often contradictory institution of the Army. For instance,
drill sergeants in Basic Training enforce rigid rules controlling the lives of privates, from
strict schedules, the minutiae of hanging uniforms and lacing boots, and extreme
standards of hygiene. Against these rules, privates rebel, from simple rule bending to
outright rule breaking. Drill sergeants sometimes overlook or even encourage these
rebellions, thus teaching privates by example that the rigidity of the institution is not as
strong as one might think. As privates learn proper rules of behavior from their drill
sergeants, through acceptance or punishment of that behavior, the most extreme rulebreakers are labeled deviant and isolated from the remainder of the group.
This isolation resembles the shunning and scapegoating performed by many other
cultures in attempts not only to assign blame for problems in the community, but also to
bring the community itself closer together. By focusing aggression on one individual,
that individual, rightly or not, serves to bring the group together and to highlight the
limits of acceptable behavior within the community. Just as deviants are shunned in
many other societies, the deviant in Basic Training, the problem child serves as a
lightning rod for the heightened emotions of stress-filled privates, and serves as a symbol
of which rules cannot be broken while living within the Army. The performances of
these problem children, and the other members of the group, are essential to this process,
as it is through improper performance that the problem child is identified, and only when
that individual returns to performing properly can the problem child be re-accepted into
the group as a proper soldier.


The ideal of the proper soldier is never one that can be attained, just as the ideal of
the masculine can never be completely attained. As Gilmore shows, masculinity comes
about through the repeated performances of males, typically in dangerous and difficult
tasks. As Snyder correlates masculinity and the military, then, it is hardly surprising that
soldiers find themselves having to constantly perform and re-perform their identities as
well. These performances begin in Basic Training, as privates mimic not only the
soldiers they have seen prior to joining the Army, but also their drill sergeants and other
instructors, but continue into their regular careers and deployments. Although the
specific ideal soldier has changed through history, as technology and ideologies have
changed, the acts of mimicry and performance continue.
The aggression focused on the problem child, especially those who do not
integrate into the group completely but still graduate with the Basic Training class, also
remains after graduation, and soldiers often express this aggression through violent
fantasies. Soldiers often express delight in the fantasy of the blanket party, during scenes
in movies such as Full Metal Jacket, where the fantasy of sacrificing a poorly performing
soldier is played out. The idea of sacrifice extends beyond this simple fantasy, however,
and penetrates deeply into conceptions of the soldier in the modern world. The most
common motif in discussion of soldiers is the idea of sacrifice. Soldiers are seen as
sacrificing their freedom, their comfort, their families, and even their lives in the service
of their country. When politicians refer to soldiers lives as wasted rather than sacrificed,
for instance, they are often quickly met with anger, offense, and accusations of being


The sacrifice of soldiers extends beyond these easily identified categories,

however. In a symbolic sense, when civilians join the Army, they sacrifice not just things
like comfort or freedom, but their civilian selves, in order to be reborn, in the parlance of
rites of passage, into the identity of soldier. In many ways, Basic Training does resemble
the rite of passage outlined by Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner, and it would be
foolish to deny this. There is a change from one social status to another, but that change
is based as much on the public performance of the individual as it is on any inherent
identity. The individual must constantly repeat these performances in the public sphere,
not only through Basic Training and a formal graduation ceremony, but also through
activities such as training, deployment, and the proper presentation of the self during
those activities. A soldier is more than a status or an identity, it is also a role which an
individual must constantly perform in order to maintain his identity and status.
Soldiers perform many varied roles, especially on the contemporary battlefield
where a soldier must be more than simply a weapons delivery system. The ways in
which soldiers choose to play those roles, or not, will define the military in the
foreseeable future. Although soldiers work and live within a tightly constrained universe,
both at home and while deployed, they still press the limits of acceptable behavior,
testing boundaries and developing new and innovative ways to express themselves.
Soldiers begin Basic Training as privates, liminal and transitional beings on a
path toward becoming accepted as soldiers. This process is slow, begins before Basic
Training and ends after it. Each stage of progression is simply a step on a journey toward
becoming a soldier. Along the transition, privates develop their own social hierarchy,
albeit modeled on the institutional hierarchy provided to them by their superiors, in which


cultural and social capital are used to maneuver a place in that hierarchy. Those privates
who fail to develop that capital properly will be ostracized, and either forced to remove
themselves from the group entirely, or incorporate themselves back into the group
through proper behavior to rebuild that cultural capital.
A major part of this capital is the acceptance of violence and sacrifice as one of
the elements of the soldier identity. Soldiers are instructed to sacrifice their prior social
lives and replace them with the military lifestyle, which all do to a greater or lesser
extent, depending on their own amount of embrace of the soldier identity. Those privates
who publicly fail to embrace this identity will likely be labeled problem child, and
become a tangible, if symbolic, sacrifice which privates can use to assist in their own
development as soldiers. The inherent violence of Basic Training, and the role of the
soldier, also calls for this sacrifice, as a means to disperse that violence and prevent it
from appearing at the wrong moment. As the border crosser who touches death, the
very existence of the soldier is wrapped up in ideas of violence, and the control of that
violence, releasing it and bringing death as necessary.
There is a disconnect, then, between the popularly conceived idea of Basic
Training, that it breaks you down and then builds you back up again, and the processes
which actually occur. Failures in Basic Training often do not actually fail, and the label
of soldier is then applied not only to those soldiers who perform properly during Basic
Training, but also to those who perform improperly. Not every civilian who goes into
Basic Training comes out a soldier, and almost none graduate as some epitome of the
soldier identity. This is not, in itself, such a large problem as it may appear.


Conceiving of some singular identity of soldier is problematic. I would argue that

it is impossible to completely remove the prior identities of privates, nor is it in the
interest of the Army to do so. Any structure needs to be able to adapt to new
environments in order to survive, and it is through the individuality of soldiers, pressing
against the boundaries of a correct soldier identity that this change can occur. Deleuze
and Guattari model this individuality as the nomad, roughly similar to the idea of the
deviant in many sociological approaches. In this way, deviance becomes not only
essential for enforcing the rules of a group, but a mechanism through which the group can
adapt to changing circumstances.
Through his performance, the deviant visibly violates the rules or norms of his
institution, and the problem child identified during Basic Training can be seen as a
deviant in this way. By exemplifying the failure of privates to shed their civilian
identities, the problem child highlights the incorporation process demanded by Basic
Training. When a soldier deviates too far from accepted behavior, he receives the
problem child label, and is isolated from the rest of the group. Drill sergeants often
attempt to bring a problem child back in line with the rest of the group, through
encouragement and often assigning the problem child to a position of responsibility
within the platoon.
When these tactics succeed, the reintegration of the problem child allows for the
continued adaptability of the institution, but when they fail, the problem child must be
removed from the group as much as possible. Given the institutional requirements of
recruitment into the Army, this is rarely through complete removal of the failing soldier,
although this does occur, and often the problem child will graduate from Basic Training


and move along in his Army career. The failure of the Army to remove these individuals
likely creates the desire within soldiers to punish the problem child symbolically through
wish fulfillment and aggressive memory.
This punishment, the symbolic sacrifice, allows soldiers to resolve their
aggression, often in front of other soldiers. Thus, it was not only in interviews when
soldiers would discuss aggressive feelings toward the problem child, but in numerous
conversations during Army life. The expression itself is a performance for the benefit of
other soldiers. By identifying a problem child in their prior, or even current, unit, the
soldier can display to others his lack of that label, his own status as a proper soldier. It is
through performances such as these, both positively and negatively applied, that soldiers
develop symbolic capital. War stories, discussions among soldiers about the events
which have occurred in their military lives are common ways to build symbolic capital.
Soldiers gain status not only through discussions of training, but more frequently through
discussions of deployment experiences and combat. By displaying martial prowess,
whether through discussions of intense training, or discussions of combat experience,
soldiers perform their status for other soldiers.
It is these performances which permeate the life and identity of soldiers, and by
extension, any individual. Within any institution, there are rules and guidelines for
behavior, appearance, language, and many other features. These rules form the structure
of that institution, more or less rigid depending on the institutions idea of itself. Within
any structure, even one as rigid as the United States Army, there are inevitably
individuals who break the rules, defy the institution, and go their own way. Although
these individuals are often punished and reintegrated back into acceptable patterns of


behavior, the defiance they represent is essential to the adaptability of the institution.
Each of these individual soldiers places pressure on the boundaries of the soldier identity,
shifting the institutional definitions slightly. These changes are subtle, but the large
number of soldiers struggling against it counters the inertia of the large Army
Over two hundred years, the United States Army has been forced to constantly
adapt to new environments, new technologies, and new ideas about warfare itself.
Although change may be slow, it does occur, through the actions of individual soldiers
expressing their own ideas about those new environments, technologies, and ideas.
Individual choices may be bounded no matter what institution an individual belongs to,
but if those choices can be expressed even within the severely bounded environment of
Army Basic Training, I believe they can be expressed anywhere.



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