Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sergeant Rock and Sergeant Rumpled


The military will never be the flat organization business gurus say is the future of management. We have rank, structure and a chain of command. And alongside the official chain of command (Tolstoy is great on this subject in War and Peace) is the unofficial hierarchy. We have a hierarchy in everything: the best marksman, the fastest runner, the best at drill and ceremonies, the strongest, the best sprinter, who can fart the loudest or belch the longest. Because we live so close together, everyone knows these hierarchies.


Just as we all know the best at everything, we all know the worst. Not only does everyone know who has the highest PT scores, they know who has the lowest. Some are great at one thing and bad at others. Some are good at several things. But there is always one who is the all-around best at everything and his direct opposite: Sgt Rock and Sgt Rumpled.

Our unit is the same. We have people who max the PT test, but are just OK on the range or marching troops, or leading a field exercise. We have expert marksmen who barely pass the fitness test. And people who are great at drill and ceremonies that can't shoot very well or run. But Sgt Rock can do everything, if not the best, in the top 10% in every category. Sgt Rumpled can do almost nothing except show up when he is supposed to. That's how he hangs on. He does what he is told, complains when he can get away with it and lingers on hoping to get to retirement. In fact, my first time around there was an acronym everyone used: LIFER (Lazy Inefficient F#$kup Expecting Retirement). I haven't heard the acronym here and don't want to be the one to bring it back, but it applies to Sgt Rumpled. He looks unwashed and ragged even when he puts on a new uniform. He can't lead or shoot and has the worst PT score in the company.

Not surprisingly, he also thinks himself nearly a sage as far as technical competence, but his supervisors will not give him any job they cannot check, because he is also a bad mechanic.

Rock and Rumpled are also opposites in personality. Rock makes self-deprecating jokes and is cheerful with almost everyone. Rumpled only makes jokes at another soldier's expense.

Every unit I have been in over the years has had both of these guys. I wish I knew if it was the nature of the Army or I have just been in units with the best and the worst the Army can put in one place.