Best Defense
Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

General Field, we should let our deeds speak for us, not our uniforms

BG (ret) Field seems to contradict herself when she says we need some way to recognize special skills but fail to integrate because we don't value those skills.

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By Bob Mathers
Best Defense guest respondent

This article “Our Uniforms Reflect Our Culture” annoyed me.

BG (ret) Field seems to contradict herself when she says we need some way to recognize special skills but fail to integrate because we don’t value those skills. After 26 years of service in the Army, I’ve got a sizeable stack of ribbons and badges.  However, unlike the officer pictured in the article, I do not wear my hoo-ah pin-on badges except in my Class As. (That’s what they’re for.)

Too often we make assumptions and pigeon-hole people based on what’s on their uniform. I saw this first-hand when I first reported to my unit in 5th SF group: we were out west on a desert exercise and everyone had sterile desert uniforms. Pretty cool environment. But after we returned to Fort Campbell and everyone had their BDUs back on, you could tell people were more comfortable safely ensconced behind their stacks of badges and tabs. So in essence, people can’t hide behind their uniform if everyone is uniform. You actually have to prove your worth without the benefit of the doubt.

And with regards to the soldiers we should be truly admiring? Perhaps Fields should read Robert Kaplan’s article from 12 years ago. It has been my inspiration since I read it as a young Foreign Area Officer.

I neither want nor need to show off my Master’s degree from Harvard or my MBA from GWU, or my full Russian and Bulgarian proficiency. Maybe if you actually work with people, you can come to your own conclusions without pre-ordained “oh wow” notions, like “Gee, he ‘s a Ranger so everything he does must be awesome” or “Gee, he went to Harvard so he must have the right answer.” That’s an unhealthy environment.

Bob Mathers is an active duty Army officer. This article offers his personal opinions, and not the views of the Army, the Defense Department, or the U.S. government.

Photo credit: U.S. Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

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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