The return of STRAC

| December 15, 2012

The Stars & Stripes warns that the services are returning to the days of spit and polish, style over substance because everyone is trying to convince us that the war on terror is over;

Troops who have become accustomed to more relaxed standards on dress and behavior in combat zones can expect to be corrected for any breaches of the military’s many regulations designed to govern the most minute aspects of their work, appearance and personal lives, given garrison leaders’ well-known obsession with physical appearance.

The Army, for example, is reviewing its grooming standards for troops with changes proposed for rules governing such things as facial hair, tattoos and cosmetics.

An increased focus on discipline in garrison is not without its risks.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, writing about garrison life in the Strategic Army Corps (STRAC) in the early 1960s, said the acronym became Army slang for a well-organized, well turned-out soldier, but that style ended up overrunning substance.

“STRAC was a state of being, a sharpness, a readiness and esprit de corps … [but] as often happens in the Army, we over did it,” he said. “Being STRAC came to mean looking sharp more than being combat ready.”

Last I checked, there’s still two more years of deployments to Afghanistan, and then there’s Africa and Arab Spring to deal with, but I guess none of that matters when everyone in the media is convinced that this has gone on too long to be newsworthy.

As far as this talk about garrison duty, what does anyone really expect when the pogues are running the Army these days? But, my heroes were the Vietnam veterans who put up with the Volar (that’s what we called Jimmy Carter’s Volunteer Army) bullshit and focused on teaching me the lessons they learned in combat. Those of you who choose to stay through the next few years will be the heroes of the next generation’s soldiers. We need you to stay, but you can always come here to bitch about it.

Category: Big Army, Military issues

Comments (31)

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  1. Hinton says:

    “Goddamned Army.”

  2. Maj MOGS says:

    “Pogues running the army?” Okay, I’ll give you SMA Chandler, but are you saying Odierno is a pogue? I’m not offering an opinion – didn’t work for him at MCNI or MNFI or at any point in my time in the desert (much lower echelons and a different service entirely), and I’ve met plenty of pogues in leadershop positions on the O and SNCO side, but what level are you talking here? Army Staff? MACOMS? Divisions? Numbered Armies? Tactical echelons?

  3. Menoth says:

    And bitch we will. We’re good at that.

  4. Ranger11C says:

    The Army is in a transition. We are definitely headed to STRAC standards that some of us encountered when we joined. With 22 years under my belt, there is some of it that is needed but a vast majority of it is BS. It is the continuing cycle of what the Army goes through after war. We are too quick to forget the lessons we learned in combat. We are also too quick to forget that which got us ready for combat to begin with. There is some basic disciplines that I miss, but the over the top dog and pony shit I do not.

  5. Jonn Lilyea says:

    I mean Chandler and Dempsey. And anyone who blames the troops for green-on-blue attacks. Anyone who had anything to do with that bullshit about not being armed around ANA and ANP so they didn’t get their feelings hurt. I don’t think I’ve ever said a cross word about Odierno. But, give me time, I suppose.

  6. karlen says:

    Its not always pogs coming up with stupid regs.

  7. Doing my service time from 60-64 in the 101st “Jump” division, we were STRAC 1, meaning “First out” anywhere. Our spitshine was as important or more than our Rifle range score. When I went from 111.07 (Grunt),over to 675.27 (HUEY Crew Chief), we had a company joke that the “old man” was more concerned about us having a 101st decal on the nose and tail than he was about if the bird had an engine.
    I loved the regimentation, but style was placed above substance all the way down to the squad level at the time.

  8. Lobster says:

    If leadership cared, they should start by visiting WTF moments once a day. There is entirely way to much BS today. Once back in garrison, get back into a training mode and keep joe proficient at his job and maybe teach him someone else’s. Instead, the powers that be are more interested in making sure you have your damn PT belt on for just about every task and painting rocks or doing some other stupid idiotic task that makes no sense to anyone. If that isn’t enough, it seems that once a week there is some pointless PowerPoint that has to be sat through so you can get a checkmark that you’ve done it.

  9. DaveO says:

    I recall walking out of the PX in the Kabul compound, and running into a full bull in extremely crisply starched DCU. He did not like that I used a bungee cord for my rifle strap, so I had to perform the full manual of arms for the M4, in front of my team, for the colonel’s amusement.

    The Guardians are the Guardians. They are about starch, shine, and parade deck precision. They do well enough in combat to not get killed, and to get back to HQDA ASAP. What is good about them is that they will instill the discipline necessary for junior officers and NCO to rebel and become competent in spite of the starch quotient, and AFPT scores.

  10. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    I would have bet my last dollar the word we used was stract, as in, “That’s a stract troop right there.”

  11. Hondo says:

    “I’d like to have two armies: one for display with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, staffs, distinguished and doddering Generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their General’s bowel movements or their Colonel’s piles, an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country. The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage uniforms, who would not be put on display, but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That’s the army in which I should like to fight.”

    — Jean Lartéguy, French writer/journalist/former soldier (officer, Free French Forces, 1st Commando Group)

    Sadly, we only have one Army. And it looks like it’s shortly going to end up more like the former than the latter.

  12. FatCIrcles0311 says:

    And they will still be significantly less than current Marine Corps standards while deployed! U.S. Army having their troops not look like seabags with legs will be a positive thing.

  13. Cacti35 says:

    I was in the 14th Armored Cav in 1966 in the Fulda Gap. STRAC was ridiculous. I was assigned as a driver on a 4.2 track. We spent all of our time in the motor pool polishing shit and even shining 105 rounds for the M-60 tanks. We never did fire the damn 4.2 even after 2 weeks at Grafenwoer. It was guard duty with empy M-14, KP, or preparing for IG inspections. I honestly about went bat-shit crazy so I put in the 1049 to go to Vietnam which the Army obliged. I believe in looking sharp but I also agree with General Powell’s assessment. The Army could carry stuff too far.

  14. JP says:

    The war on terror is over…problem is, someone forgot to tell the terrorists.

  15. RunPatRun says:

    I was in the Army Chandler denigrates, the one with no money, few repair parts and platoon hanger queens stripped to keep as many vehicles off of deadlie as possible to run around the Fulda Gap and the Western Corridor in the ROK. We may not have always been Strac(t), but my Drill Sgts had CIBs and most leaders had combat patches. I served with some sharp leaders and any hollowness was lack of money, imo.

    Then came Reagan, more money and tighter standards. We looked pretty, but a DUI or bounced check could end a career. Mostly slick sleeved leaders now. They said we were now a better fighting force, but beyond equipment, I’m not so sure. Anecdotal, but I remember chapter platoons, never being fully staffed, and some not so stellar rotations to NTC and Reforger.

    Everything in moderation. I endured dog and pony shows and measuring crap in BNCOC. Guess that has a place in teaching attention to detail, but the overboard stuff Soldiers will likely see now is going to hurt, not help the force.

  16. SJ says:

    In ’63-’65 in the 82nd(ABN) “STRAC” was just a state of mind. We didn’t polish boots etc anymore than normal for a LEG Div. STRAC only meant that you’d find your ass at Pope if any tin-horn dictator farted. I participated in DOMREP.

  17. Stacy0311 says:

    Maybe we can switch back to black boots so the troops will have something to shine since we’re not going to have any money for training. Expect to see whatever uniform replaces the ACU fiasco to be capable of holding starch.

  18. DaveO says:

    #17: the ACU already holds starch. Saw plenty of starched NCO and officer at Sill before shipping back to DC. Think you’re correct about the boots.

  19. NHSparky says:

    During the Clinton years and the “peace dividend”, we learned the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.” Too bad it was just work harder. The other running joke became, “Run she may, shine she must.”

  20. WOTN says:

    If we distract Joe with shined boots, haircuts, and starched uniforms, maybe he won’t notice he’s not training for his job?
    Then we can sit him in classes & powerpoints, creating the morals we want him to have. We’ll give him “sensing sessions” and teach him to always have an unloaded weapon, to play it safe, and avoid all risks.

    And when that crusty old Senior NCO gets out of line and takes him to the field, we’ll retire him.

  21. Just Plain Jason says:

    When you have “NCOs” more concerned with tattoos than combat effectiveness…I think our priorities are a little screwy.

  22. Mr. Blue says:

    I’m reminded of the old Royal Navy in the early steam era. The Admiralty was so focused on paint & polish that gunnery was actively neglected. Don’t want to ruin that shiny new paint job on the gun barrels by shooting them, now do we?

  23. RandomNCO says:

    Hopefully they just start letting people wear Multicams after they get back from Afghanistan full time. Those things look WAY better than ACUs.

  24. I don’t know what a peace time army is like. I joined up in 05 and went straight to Iraq a month out of basic. On the job training to say the least. From what I can see, as NCOs we are shooting ourselves in the foot. I am not a proponent of ridiculous uniform standards but we can’t even enforce the simple ones. I just left Campbell and each battalion on post is tasked out with conducting these things called “courtesy patrols” which is basically nothing more than roving bands of uniform nazis. Usually a SFC or 1sg and a couple SSGs. They post up at high traffic areas ie. PX, shopettes and single people out for uniform infractions. Haircuts, dirty boots, improperly bloused trousers, dirty PC….etc. Our failure to enforce the simple shit at the team and squad level has led to bored CSMs to cook up this ridiculous task that takes NCOs away from their squads and platoons and basically turns them into roving bands of tattle tails that turn in reports straight to the division CSM. The soldiers that get busted must report to the division CSM with their ENTIRE NCO support channel all the way to the division CSM. Its nobody’s fault but our own. We are being micromanaged but CSMs because we failed to do our jobs. I was at a shopette yesterday on Benning and there was a SFC and a 1LT in ASUs, the LT has his ASU coat completely unbuttoned buying a bunch of beer looking like a smashed bag of dicks and the SFC with him just let him be all fucked up and didn’t square him away. These are our supposed leaders. Its shit like that that will ensure we continue to be micromanaged by higher leadership. The officers are taking over units and the NCOs are just letting it happen. I have 2 years of drill sergeant duty ahead of me. I am scared to see what the army looks like when I get back to the line

  25. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    Heels and toes of glass. Trousers so starched it takes 5 minutes to get your legs into them and you can’t bend at the knee for 2 hours. Brass so polished you can count the hairs in your nose. Ah, the good old days!

  26. JP says:

    Oh, boy…

    When will the Army start issuing floor buffing qualification badges, and the police call service ribbons?

  27. Hondo says:

    JP: don’t even think stuff like that. The ARSTAFF Good Idea Fairy is always listening!

  28. DaveO says:

    #26 JP: Think MSgt Soup Sandwich has one of each.

  29. dghi says:

    And the next time the fit hits the shan we’ll have “Stupid Troopies Running Around in Circles”!

  30. idaho2run says:

    Hate peacetime garrison bs. Did all that before in the eighties.
    Pretty bad with some idiots who think appearance makes a warrior.
    At Camp TQ (Habbiniyah, Al Anbar Province) in 2006-2007, the Marines owned the base-(mainly Logistics) us Army grunts were there to do the patrols, ECP’s, PM cell, towers,etc.
    We had our own DFAC nazi’s-puffed up little Marines with clean, pressed, sometimes starched utilities giving us shit about coming in sweaty, dirty and rough looking after a 16 hour patrol. Some of the Marines recommended we go and shower and change before we entered. After a few “yeah right we will get right on that” encounters and asking for the OIC or NCOIC, they got the hint. Do remember the “no weapons on the deck” rule though.
    Seems like the pogues are the ones usually the most ate up with STRAC bs.
    Don’t get me wrong-we had some really cool Marines there, usually the 0311 types. Army has plenty of garrison warriors too.

  31. Scubasteve says:

    I hated this old conversation:

    “What three parts of the boot are you required to shine, Soldier?”

    “I dunno”

    “The heel, the toe, and the rest of the damn boot”

    I was glad when that mentality departed.

    #24, I see your point and I agree. I do correct Soldiers for looking and acting like sh*t in public areas. Mainly, talking like they’re in the team room or squad bay about the hookers they had to pay for, but standing in the middle of the PX with families walking by. Or hanging out in the parking lot with no PC on and hands in pockets. You can do that on your own time around your joes all day long as long as you’re accomplishing the mission, but when the public is watching, there is a certain amount of professionalism that you need to be smart enough to portray.