Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

REMFs (III): Once more unto the breach

I’ve been mulling young Maj. Gen. Dunlap’s great contribution last week. I still like it, but, without taking anything away from his combat JAGs, I’ve got a couple of distinctions to make. First, there is no lack in history of REMFs who become heroes. That’s part of the story — for example, Mess Attendant 2nd ...

576780_091117_g408456b2.jpg
576780_091117_g408456b2.jpg

I've been mulling young Maj. Gen. Dunlap's great contribution last week. I still like it, but, without taking anything away from his combat JAGs, I've got a couple of distinctions to make.

First, there is no lack in history of REMFs who become heroes. That's part of the story -- for example, Mess Attendant 2nd Class Dory Miller stepping up to the machine gun at the crucial moment. The important difference between service members is that some are in a line of work in which they routinely get shot at or otherwise threatened with the loss of life, and some are not. It doesn't depend on your MOS -- obviously, even a food service specialist can find his or herself on the front lines. (See photo above.) And lawyers who get bombed while moving around Iraq -- yeah, they are in the middle of combat too.

But I still think that the infantry and the like should be privileged above others, for the combination of being shot at a lot, and also simply suffering harsh conditions as part of the job. Am I wrong?

I’ve been mulling young Maj. Gen. Dunlap’s great contribution last week. I still like it, but, without taking anything away from his combat JAGs, I’ve got a couple of distinctions to make.

First, there is no lack in history of REMFs who become heroes. That’s part of the story — for example, Mess Attendant 2nd Class Dory Miller stepping up to the machine gun at the crucial moment. The important difference between service members is that some are in a line of work in which they routinely get shot at or otherwise threatened with the loss of life, and some are not. It doesn’t depend on your MOS — obviously, even a food service specialist can find his or herself on the front lines. (See photo above.) And lawyers who get bombed while moving around Iraq — yeah, they are in the middle of combat too.

But I still think that the infantry and the like should be privileged above others, for the combination of being shot at a lot, and also simply suffering harsh conditions as part of the job. Am I wrong?

Here’s a thoughtful comment posted a couple of days ago by “Schmedlap” that I think kind of settles it out for me:

“REMF” is not an MOS or duty position. It is a state of mind. Ditto “FOBbit” and “TOC Rat” and others. “REMF” is a term of derision borne not of one’s location, but of one’s attitude. It’s one thing to be in the rear and busting your tail to help the guys closer to the fight. It’s quite another to be in the rear and hogging every amenity and doing nothing to help the people who need support. The latter is a REMF, FOBbit, or whatever similar term you want to apply to it.

Italics are mine. I think he is right.

U.S. Navy

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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