Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Medal Inflation (Background): Specialist Sunshine and Sergeant Oblivious

When everyone dress alike personality almost jumps out of the camouflage clothes. Two guys who served together from the beginning of our deployment, wore the same uniform, but are a stark contrast in their personalities are Specialist Sunshine and Sergeant Oblivious. On the outside, they are both over forty, both need to spend more time at the salad bar than at the main course line, both initially struggled to pass the fitness test, and both are the kind of soldiers who cause pre-emptive groans when they open their mouths to speak at a formation.


Not even close. Specialist Sunshine never seemed to get dragged down by circumstances. At every mission change, he just kept working. As his squad leader Sergeant Oblivious deteriorated throughout our deployment, Sunshine was one of the few people who did not make fun of him behind his back. Sunshine makes jokes, keeps to himself, works hard, and ran as much as ten miles in a day to get ready for the PT test after living a very sedentary lifestyle. Sergeant Oblivious barely passed the PT test then ordered a three-foot pizza to celebrate, because he could now forget about the PT test for several months.

Sergeant Oblivious failed as a squad leader almost as soon as we mobilized. But he had friends who, like him, were on the deployment because it was the only way they could keep their jobs as Army National Guard technicians back in America. Finally, after two months in Iraq, Oblivious was so bad he was relieved of duty as a squad leader. A week later, he was watching the sergeant who replaced him struggle with some of the paperwork involved in the job (which Oblivious so bad at as to be legendary). But it had been a week since Oblivious was relieved of duty for incompetence so, in his usual way, all of the actual events had been erased in his mind and he had replaced them with a new history of his own creation. Oblivious looked at his replacement and said, "That job's not hard."

Luckily, I was not drinking coffee when I heard this. Otherwise I might have spit it across the room. Next Oblivious was assigned a security job a pay grade lower than his own. He failed within a day. Which caused a junior NCO to be stuck on five weeks of guard duty with about 2 hours notice. And, of course, none of it is the fault of Sergeant Oblivious.

Like Sergeant Rumpled, Sergeant Oblivious is also convinced that he is quite attractive to women, despite being bald, unkempt, missing a lot of teeth, and being in known across the battalion as lax on personal hygiene. Oblivious believes many conspiracies both of the global variety (he does not know WHO caused the World Trade Center Towers to fall, but someone. . .) and knows people at every level of the military are out to get him. He keeps records. He takes notes. They are in a secret code. He cannot write an English sentence.

CS Lewis, comparing military service with a term in prison, said the military can put you under the arbitrary authority of a very stupid man. That is much less true today than during than 100 years ago, but it is still possible. Sunshine had good-naturedly worked for Oblivious for almost six months. I am glad for him that Oblivious is headed for some sort of oblivion and is out of any position of authority.

But even that is a cause of some anger and envy among his peers. Because he is prone to outbursts and incompetent, Oblivious was relieved of the duties of a squad leader, but he is still getting paid as one. And he may end up in an MWR tent signing people in and out of the public access computers. He gets an all-day air-conditioned job because he is under too much stress to work outside with everyone else.

When the military rewards failure, it ties a camouflage bow on the package.

And as the believers may already have guessed, Oblivious goes to Church and will start arguments about faith. Sunshine does not believe.

The Philosopher of War and Terror and Politics: Hannah Arendt

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