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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Service Differences

I came across this quote today:
In the Army if it is not specifically authorized in regulations, it is forbidden.  In the Navy if it is not specifically forbidden in regulations, it is authorized.
I have seen this before. My experience is that it is true.

I am thinking that the Lowell Blogger, "The New Englander," might find this to be true as he leaves the Navy and joins the Army National Guard.

My experience is that the Air Force tends to follow the Army's approach, but less so in the fighter community.  The Marine Corps tends to follow the Navy approach.

When people are talk about consolidating the Services, or even consolidating certain support functions, it is important to include a discussion of the different cultures.  Some of that cultural difference has to do with the different environments in which the Services operate.  Other cultural differences have to do with the command and control relationships.  In the Army there are few independent organizations with 200 to 1000 people.  In the Navy those are ships and they are much more on their own.  Further, the levels of command between the junior enlisted member and the commander seem to be fewer in the Navy.

The Services do talk about culture and cultural differences amongst themselves.  Further, it is a subject of interest in a narrow academic area.  Here is an article from the Winter of 2005/6, which talks mostly to the Army and Air Force.  I am not sure I agree with it, but it is an example of such self-examination.

The late Carl Builder wrote about Service cultures.  His book, The Masks of War, is a good examination of this subject.  (I was honored by being footnoted in this book.)

All told, the aphorism at the beginning of this post is a good summing up of the differences in philosophy between two of our Services.

Regards  --  Cliff

1 comment:

The New Englander said...


As you can probably imagine, I eat this stuff up -- trained by Navy and Marines, deployed with Navy 3 x to Marine-owned battlespace, once to Army-owned battlespace, got into and around the theater thanks to the Air Force and Army, done tons of Joint training with all five services, first five years of mil. service with the Navy, and now a whole bunch more to come with the Army Nat'l Guard. I work for an Admiral and the guy sitting next to me is an Army Staff Sgt. Go figure.

Oh, and I might take a civilian job with the Coast Guard. And might do JPME with Air Force or a correspondence Master's via the Naval War College or Naval Post-Grad. Okay, so you get it...I'm purple. And damn proud of it.

One of the (many) things that fascinates me about inter-service culture is the way different ranks mean VERY different things from service to service. For some reason, enlisted promotions just seem to come a heckuva lot slower in the Air Force and Marines. Also, pound-for-pound, more junior personnel seem to carry more weight there than they typically do in the Army, but esp. in the Navy. For instance, if you think of what a Marine Corporal might be responsible for, and the way he is viewed by more junior personnel, there's just no comparison (by and large) to a Navy E-4 (3rd Class Petty Officer).

You might frequently see people with 12+ years in certain services have the rank of E-6, which does sometimes happen in the Navy (and yes, you can retire E-6 with 20 years) but you also sometimes run into people wearing E-6 who have only a few years under their belts.

On the officer side, there are some similarities. For instance, a Marine Captain is a HUGE deal...he may be a company commander, and he tends to be seen as larger-than-life by those the Navy, the O-3 equivalent (that's just a Lieutenant for us) doesn't tend to carry the same *clout*, for lack of a better term.

As for the way you started your quote, you wouldn't believe how many times I've heard that from Navy folks who've done *Army stuff* in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. I take a lot of teasing for going Army, but a lot of Navy folks get seriously frustrated with Army bureaucracy..quickly. They have warned me many a time.

Of all the services, the one where I have to say I've seen the overall highest motivation -- by far, the fewest lazy or out-of-shape members -- is the Marines.

Another unique cultural thing about the Navy would be the tradition/culture of the Chief Petty no other service does putting on E-7 mean a new uniform, new stature, and an explicitly stated role of training not just junior sailors but also junior officers. I have no idea if there are any present, future, or former chiefs reading this -- if there are, just remember that nothing inspires a JO more than a great chief...and nothing breaks a JO's spirit quicker than one who doesn't give a rip or leaves a JO out to hang..

One other point that I'll save for when we talk in person (too hard to articulate now) is that one of the reasons I'm drawn to the Army is the *sturdiness* of the average soldier I've come across in the past few's just a sort of physical/mental thing that I want to identify myself with for the next 15+ years that I don't know I could've found in the Navy, and especially not if I had gone, say, Navy Reserve.

Lastly, just want to put in a plug for Robert Kaplan as one of the best modern writers as far as military culture anyone who's into this stuff, you gotta check out Imperial Grunts and Hog Pilots & Blue Water Grunts.

As you can tell, this topic really hits home! I have often thought about trying to write full-time after I retire, and if I did, military culture would be my top thematic choice..