You can tell a lot about someone based on their uniform. Especially in the Army. In fact, we regularly violate the “Don’t judge a book by its cover” dictum. Hell, we stomp that dictum into the dirt and build a fighting position on top of it. When meeting each other, soldiers tend to size the other person up, checking for deployment patches, skill badges (airborne, air assault, pathfinder, etc), tabs (Sapper, Ranger, Special Forces), and combat infantryman/action badges. We then develop profiles in our minds based on the presence (or absence) of these items.
Which is just plain wrong.
Yes, it’s good to know that someone has been to a lot of schools or been in combat. Yes, we should take pride in these items. This is not meant to denigrate the positive aspects of skills badges and tabs. However, while these items show the background of the individual, they do not express the individual’s character as a person. And as leaders, that is what we should be interested in. Nearly 90% (yeah, I made this number up, but it represents the allocation of my time) of being a leader is judging characters and learning how to work with different people. The Army is, after all, a human environment. The drones have not taken over.
Some soldiers wear their badges, tabs, and patches as their outward “brand,” to quote the ever-quotable Doctrine Man. They demonstrate that the soldier has been tested and passed some of the Army’s most trying schools and environments. Unfortunately, the Army does not have a badge for perhaps the most important skill of all: integrity. Quite honestly, it would save a lot of time if they did, as a lot of a leader’s time is spent in evaluating the integrity of their superiors, peers, and subordinates. Can I trust my new commanding officer to treat myself and my soldiers fairly? Will this new NCO on staff live up to the rack of skills badges he sports? Just because my peer has a tab, does that mean that she or he will collaborate easily on this project or will they disappear at the first sign of work? Can I trust that this soldier will be truthful to me in all their dealings just because they have a combat action badge?
Integrity runs the gamut of truthfulness, reliability, and trust, and governs all of our personal interactions with those we serve with. If you think this isn’t the case, just watch what happens when someone’s integrity disappears: it’s nearly impossible to get back. The military as a whole has seen a spate of high-ranking officers and NCO’s take career nosedives due to integrity violations. No one wants to serve with someone who has a poor character, much less be led by them. Even the perception that someone is unpleasant to work with can tank one’s reputation; just ask anyone on staff who the one person is who is perennially late to submit their work through laziness, or who pawns their piece of the plan off on everyone else. The term “Blue Falcon” was created for a reason, after all.
When you enter a new unit or organization, it is quickly apparent to see who the soldiers with character are. They are typically the ones who are the first to greet you, help you assimilate into the unit, and are often the ones carrying the largest workload because they’ve been tagged by the boss as being dependable. They care equally about taking care of soldiers and completing the mission, because they realize that people make up the organization, and people perform the best if they feel their needs are being met. Perhaps they’re all tabbed and badged out; perhaps they’re a “slick-sleeve” (never deployed). Judging them by these outward criteria alone would be a disservice to them and to yourself. Keep a close eye on your own “brand” or “integrity skill badge,” and make sure that you spend as much time building it as you do gunning for new Army schools to attend.
And don’t be a Blue Falcon.
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