Welcome Back 90s Army

It seems there is always time for nostalgia when it comes to the Army of yesterday. The 80s Army looks back on the Vietnam Army, the 90s Army on the pre-stress card Army of the 80s. The OIF/OEF Army looking back on the 90s Army…

Wait, what?

Well before the last MRAP rolled through K-Crossing in Kuwait, there was a large push by big Army to “return to the standards” and to “get back to basics”. As though our force, after a decade at war, was somehow broken, less professional, more criminal and more inclined for behavioral health problems.
Cue the Red Book, the first in depth look at suicide in the ranks. What they found was that in 2008-2009, the rash uptick in suicides were NOT among combat veterans but among 18-25 year old white males who had never deployed. There was also a disturbing amount of folks who remained on active duty who had committed felony offenses. Looking at the numbers, yes, the Army had a problem and we affectionately named that problem after Chapter 3 of the Red Book: The Lost Art of Garrison Leadership.

Fast forward to the Gold Book. The Gold Book paints a more disturbing picture of the Army. A dramatic uptick in sexual assaults along with the suicide rate now shifting to our multiple tour combat veterans and still a large chunk of felony offenders who are still on active duty. We are a force with real problems in our ranks, no doubt about it.

Then comes the talk about changing the standards in AR 670-1 to “tighten up” the grooming standards. Got tattoos? Better get rid of them. Got a gold grill? Yep that’s got to go to. Mind you, I don’t actually have a problem with enforcing any of these standards but the sad fact remains that many of our fellow leaders won’t enforce these standards. It’s kind of hard to care about tattoos or nail polish when you’ve been shipped away from your family every other year and you’re more worried about how well your joes can shoot.

So now all we’re hearing about is the return to the 90s army. When shiny boots, a pressed uniform and a good PT score meant you were a great leader. We’re already seeing outstanding leaders punished for their less than stellar PT scores. Got an injury? Too bad, you’re slacking so you’re not the total army soldier we need.

Lest we need a history lesson, let’s not forget about the exodus from the force in 03-04, when a ridiculous amount of company grade officers fled in the face of the possibility of a long war. When far too many folks who had reached their 20 years of duty dropped their paperwork to avoid the conflict.

We talk about how the SGTs and SSGs in our Army today don’t know how to lead soldiers. Who’s fault is that? Instead of pointing the finger at the force, let’s look at the 90s army that abandoned the OIF-OEF army to fight the long war. The leaders of the OIF-OEF army were flexible enough to sustain combat over nearly a decade against an unconventional force. We were not flawless, not by any means. We made mistakes and some Really Bad Shit happened on our watch.

But to tell a force that has sacrificed through more than a decade at war that the 90s army was somehow better than us? That the 90s Army was more professional because we looked like soldiers then? The shiny boots didn’t stick around long enough to get dust on them in the deserts of Iraq. Too many of those pressed uniforms damn sure didn’t bleed in combat.

True, everyone who was in the army in the 90s did not get out. We would not have any 05s or E9s or higher if they did. Yes, we need to clean up the criminals in our ranks: I’m sorry but you no longer get to serve. Yes, we need to get better at PT because a decade on the FOB has meant our running skills have atrophied. Are there things we can do better?

Absolutely. But please stop pointing to the 90s Army as some bastion of professionalism.

Shiny boots and pressed uniforms and a good PT score do not a professional make.

14 thoughts on “Welcome Back 90s Army”

  1. Hi, Neat post. There is a problem with your site in internet explorer, would check this… IE still is the market leader and a huge portion of people will miss your great writing because of this problem.

  2. I wish I was making this up:

    A directive came down from garrison-no mud with POL will be allowed to be dumped on the ground. Mud with POL in it had to be put in a garbage bag like all POL-contaminated waste. FOr some reason our CSM AND the 1SG’s got it in their heads that this ment ALL mud.

    So there we were, scraping mud off trucks and sweeping the cabs. We had to double bag all dried mud and put it in the dumpster. Mind you, the dumpster was on the fence line. It was a week later that this was cleared up.

    All to often I see “leaders” who appeared squared away who let their ideas and power go to their heads. It wasn’t tattoos or bad haircut that led to a rise in sexual assaults. It was loosing moral standards. Letting felons into the military.

    Grooming standards were relaxed to fill the ranks. Now some want to boot out soldiers who’ve risen from PVT to NCO and beyond. With today’s politically correct climate, no one will correct a female out of regs.

    There is talk of messing with our pensions and other bennies. Many family programs will get cut, despite the “family covenant”. Accountants hate families, that’s why the “think tanks” want a draft.

    So the military as a whole will bleed leaders, experience and qualified solders, sailors, marines and airmen. The Army has a “Ground Combat Vehicle” that weights 70+ tons and is over budget, but a SMA that wants to fuss over tats…

    And they wonder why retention is down…

  3. Your writing is definitely accurate! Having been through the 90s and now retirement eligible, it is exactly this sentiment that has so many of those reaching retirement eligibility ready to leave. I had thought we left behind the mindless effort required to spit shine as a measure of success but it is quickly returning. While I certainly support discipline and standards in the force, I would rather have a fat troop that is a good warrior and can shoot over a PT stud that can't do their job but can quote the regulation. The requirements of war made us change our standards because we needed true warriors to fight, so it now leads me to believe that our need for that is dwindling as we return to a Garrison work force and start painting rocks again! I do not intend to denigrate the service of any of our forces from the past or to imply that they were less capable to perform the mission, rather that we all have endeavored to serve honorably within the constraints that were placed upon us.

    At what point does the reality of our mission become the determination for our performance. My response isn't even intended to impinge on those that cannot shoot well or run fast – many of those are in duties where that is not a primary focus and if it comes to them using their weapon, you can probably write off that FOB. I simply have a hard time understanding how failin the APFT is reason to flag a Soldier but if they fail to qualify with their weapon nothing happens other than scheduling them for the next available range – where does this demonstrate that our true critical tasks reside.

    I could go on and on, but as the comments reflect, many of you also feel the same about these problems. I know I will do my part to try and improve the Army until I decide to take off the uniform.

  4. The 90s Army abandoned the OIF/OEF Army?? Who do you think crossed the border into Afganistan in December of 2001? I joined the Army in 1986 and grew up in the Army of the 90s. I didn’t shine my boots, never maxed a PT test yet was promoted quickly through the NCO ranks then below the zone as an officer. You article suggest that there was no conflict until OIF/OEF. Don’t forget about Panama, Haiti, Bosnia/Kosovo, Somalia, Gulf War I. While these were not a decade of conflict there are a lot of dirty boots and bloody BDUs from the 90s. My platoon medic who was killed in Panama in 1989 didn’t have on shiney boots and a pressed uniform when the AK-47 rounds ripped through his body. If you don’t think this Army needs a little cleaning and tightening up then go take a walk around some of the larger FOBs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obesity is rampant along with many other things our SMA has seen. I’m not talking about combat arms soldiers…Combat arms make up about 4% of the force yet have suffered 84% of the casualties.

  5. Excellent missive. Every nail head hit perfectly. You did, however, avoid a touchy subject with the 90's Army, and even now, it seems, and that is emphasis and over-consideration of race and gender in the promotion system. Delve into that one sometime in the future!

  6. I grew up in that 90s Army. There's some type of misplaced romantic fixation that a move towards the Army of the 90s is going to solve all our problems. With non-deployable populations floating around 30% and change of command FLIPLs routinely hitting 6-digits, senior leaders are looking for some standard of excellence. But I don't think looking to the past is going to be the solution. Take the tracking systems and reachdown capablities provided to senior leaders by the latest generation of portal-based systems and combine that with a 100,000 Soldier drawdown; the Army of the 'teens' is going to be the Army of the 90's look absolutely infantile.

    Better rev up that PT score!

  7. Jessica,
    I love it. I enlisted in the early 90's, went green to gold at the end of the decade and was commissioned in 2000. So, I have seen both of these Army's and I would take today's in a heartbeat. As you pointed out, there is some cleaning up to do but I absolutely hate the term "garrison leadership". It's as if our senior leaders are more focused on getting us back to that vs. actually being able to lead Soldiers in combat…..Which is what we are paid to do. Close in on and kill the enemy.

  8. A good PT score and professional, uniformed look may not MAKE the Soldier, but they are clearly a part of the 'indicators of excellence' we seek in our Soldiers and Leaders.

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