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Give them an inch and some Soldiers will take a mile

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While most soldiers want to do a good job, there are a few who decide they don’t have to do what you tell them. For them, jerking the boss around when they get corrected is their idea of entertainment. In many cases, these soldiers are nearing the end of their enlistment, and they have no intention of remaining in the military. While old vets rarely talk about it, such behavior becomes more common when wars draw to an end, particularly long, unpopular wars. In this regard the current war in Afghanistan has much in common with the Vietnam War, where attitude problems among disgruntled short-timers were a major issue. Although the Army depended heavily on draftees during the Vietnam War, the same dynamic comes into play with today’s all-volunteer force.

Why do some soldiers have bad attitudes?

Some soldiers are disillusioned, fed-up with the military, and ready to get out, yet their ETS is still a long way off. Attempting to motivate discontented soldiers with the usual appeals to be professional or to be combat-ready doesn’t work. Mentally they have already quit. Unfortunately, their body is still in the military and they are still members of your team. When they become disrespectful or refuse to follow your instructions, they are attempting to bully you, despite the fact that you outrank them. From their point of view, they aren’t staying in the Army anyway, so What are you gonna’ do, Sergeant? Send me back to Afghanistan? I don’t give a s___! As they see it, they have nothing to lose. At worst they might get a chapter discharge and get out quicker. So, what’s the big deal?

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  • Part-Time-Commander


    Sometimes certain punishments won’t work with certain Soldiers. While the punishment must be legal and reasonable, sometimes you need to get creative and find different ways to motivate or punish different Soldiers.

    It isn’t much different from disciplining kids. What works with one child might not work for your other child.

  • Eck


    I do not disagree with any of Jo’s points or courses of action. I only meant to point out other options that the command has at their disposal. I am seeing an increase in separations of marginal Soldiers. With the draw down proceeding, Commanders are trying to ensure that good quality Soldiers are able to be retained. Part of this process is to eliminate the poor performing ones.

    SGT Nick, your statement of, “legal loves to say your cor­rec­tive train­ing was pun­ish­ment and that can only be admin­is­tered by the com­man­der not an NCO.” is not true. We say that, but we don’t like to. If NCO’s are receiving kick back from the legal office because of this, then it probably is true. The legal team is responsible for assisting the command to enforce good order and discipline. The other side of our job is to protect the command and the rights of the Soldier. When an NCO, intentionally or not, imposes corrective training that is actually punishment reserved to the commander, the NCO is taking options away from the commander. It also negatively affects any courts-martial action that may arise if the Soldier turns down an Article 15.

    99.9% of NCOs are trying to do the right thing and do not intentionally impose punishment as part of corrective training. When this happens, the NCOs believe they are doing the right thing in corrective training. Think of it this way; if you are charged with a crime in civilian court, you can not be punished without an opportunity to present your case in court. Same thing with a Soldier. If a Soldier does wrong, punishment reserved to the commander, can not be imposed prior to the Soldier being able to present his case during Article 15 proceedings or a court-martial.

    Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and any views presented are my own and are not to be interpreted as legal advice. Furthermore, my views do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its Components.

  • Jo B. Rusin



    Your points are well taken. There is always more than one way to solve a problem, including UCMJ and separation action. Watch for the sequel to this article which will address creative leadership solutions where the leader, the soldier, and most importantly, the team win. When you succeed in putting a soldier out of the service, you don’t necessarily get a better soldier as a replacement.

  • Eck


    Some very good points by Jo. From the legal perspective, I would encourage some different options to consider:

    In example number 1, since CPT Williams documented SSG Shute’s failure to perform his duties over an extended period of time, I would consider an Art 15 for dereliction of duty based on failure to follow an order or conducting an administrative reduction board for inefficiency. If a paralegal receives UCMJ action, they are disqualified from their MOS and could lose their security clearance.

    In example 2: I would suggest the NCO or Commander give SPC Dismuke an order to not use her cell phone while on duty. The command cannot take her cell phone because it is personal property, but they can restrict her being able to use it during duty hours. Failure to obey results in a violation of the UCMJ and punishment under Article 15. This is in addition to dereliction of duty charge for failing to perform her duties. Additional misconduct could result in chapter out of the service. (A soldier who is separated from the service for misconduct who has less than 36 months of active service, even if they receive a General Under Honorable Characterization of Service, losses their education benefits and some other benefits.)

    In Example 3, SPC Landes could receive an Article 15 for dereliction of duty. He was aware of the requirements for a ground guide and failed to use one. Again, since SPC Landes has received a prior Field Grade Article 15, this additional UCMJ action could also warrant separation action.

    The current draw down of forces is refocusing commander’s options when dealing with marginal Soldiers. It really is no longer looked negatively on a unit with a number of UCMJ and separation actions if the actions are justified. It is being viewed as getting rid of the low/mid level performers and keeping the best performers.

    With the draw down, a career in the military is no longer a guaranteed career. Soldiers are going to have to prove they deserve to serve the entire length of their contract. Their is currently no need to put up with low performers in your units.

    Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and any views presented are my own and are not to be interpreted as legal advice. Furthermore, my views do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its Components.

    • SGT NICK


      Recommending too many UCMJ’s as stated above by Jo might lead to an IG command climate survey or open up allegations of toxic leadership. I was in a unit that gave soldiers UCMJ for disrespect right off the bat. It was supported by the command leadership and discipline problems was scarce. I was then assign to a aviation unit that was incredibly lax on discipline and UCMJ was suppose to be last resort. In this unit if you recommend more than one UCMJ you are: UCMJ happy, enjoying seeing soldiers demoted, like to spread fear in subordinates and anything else soldiers can think up to beat the UCMJ.

      Some units are biased or soft on the implementation of UCMJ, punishing single soldiers more than ones with the dependent’s because that soldier has a “family” to worry about regardless of the offense.

      Finally I have seen so many UCMJ’s kicked back by legal over the simplest mistakes. You usually have to send up five or more Event-Oriented counselings and probably a sworn statement to get one to stick, legal loves to say your corrective training was punishment and that can only be administered by the commander not an NCO.

      I like the article and recommend the author’s book Move Out.

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