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To graduate basic combat training, a recruit must be able to think on their feet, be able to cope with tough conditions, and must be in great physical shape. Anyone who cannot meet those standards will wash out. It is argued that by removing everyone who doesn’t meet all three of those standards, the Army is doing itself a disservice while also being unfair to those who may have a unique talent to bring to the military. This is a compelling argument, yet it makes the assumption that the given soldiers talent in one subject outweighs the importance of being a well rounded soldier.
I trained with several recruits who where going on to be “wheeled vehicle mechanics” in the Army after they completed training. Several of them joined with prior experience as either a car or truck mechanic and looked at basic training as a minor road block in the way of a successful career. It did not take long for this mindset to take its toll on the recruits resulting in 11 out of the 18 mechanics in my unit being removed from training by the end of the cycle. I was dumbfounded when I found out that the Army would actually ditch 11 experienced mechanics because they did not have what it would take to “be a soldier” when these soldiers were not even going to be combat oriented. Just as the argument above, I assumed the Army did itself a disservice by removing 11 mechanics with prior experience.
About half way through the training cycle, a close friend of mine told me that he was dropping from the training. When I asked him why, he could not provide any reason other than that he was not cut out to be a soldier. The explanation made absolutely no sense to me because he had an awesome sense of humor, he was in better shape than most, and was a much better shot than anyone. If anyone was cut out to be a soldier, it was him. I began to resent the training and to wish it wasn’t as difficult for my sake as well as his. This sheer brutality was enough to have my best friend bail of the training and I was convinced that not only did the Army screw him over, they also lost out on a great soldier who would have went on to do great things.
My answer to why the Army wanted its mechanics to be top tier soldiers and to why training was so difficult that even those who seemed to be the best would drop out was not found until my graduation. My battalion commander gave a speech explaining that we were all officially lethal assets to the United States Army who’s number one mission is to perform our duties as a soldier through our designated career field. He explained that we are all rifleman first, capable of taking the fight to the enemy at any time. Even as mechanics, cooks, aviators, and armorers, we could find ourselves operating in environments that only the strongest could get through. Those words struck a chord with me and allowed me to see the unique purpose of basic training.
The truth of the matter is, every job in the military can see combat and get thrown in the thick of it. Mechanics sometimes go out on convoys to fix vehicles and to provide support for the infantrymen during a firefight. Intel guys go out into the field to collect intelligence. Aviators fly in and out of hostile zones to provide support for the ground troops. Cooks are often attached to an infantry unit and sent to a small forward operating base to keep the soldiers there fed. In all of these circumstances, soldiers who are not infantrymen need to have the skills of an infantrymen while having the confidence of acting accordingly. If the standards were lowered just so they could have experienced mechanics, the soldiers would not have known how to handle the situation endangering themselves and those around them. Along with that, even those who are a great shot could put the whole mission in jeopardy if they suddenly loose the heart to continue on. Once you are in the middle of a combat zone, there is no turning back.
While the argument that the Army is missing out and being unfair by having tough training demands has some substance, it’s just not feasible. The Army is not loosing anything when it drops someone because they potentially just saved that recruits life along with the lives of those they would have served with. The Army can teach anyone to be a mechanic and because of that, they do not care what background the recruit has. When it comes to the Army being unfair, I can say pretty bluntly that the military does not give a damn. For the same reason as why those who are blind are not allowed to be bus drivers, you cannot put people at risk to make some recruits feel better. It’s a tough organization but it’s the most lethal for a reason. The military knows what its doing and it needs to make the best of its all volunteer force.