5 Ways the Military is an Absurdist Organization

Most people think of the military as a no-nonsense place, where everyone is filled with rigid discipline and chock-full of common sense. And while that might be the image that we often like to have portrayed of ourselves, there’s a lot more that goes on that would definitely elicit a few, “WTFs” if they were to occur in the civilian world. Let’s be honest: we’re more than a little absurd sometimes. I suppose that’s bound to happen in an organization that still makes people wear hats whenever they’re outside and where adults yell at each other if their hands are in their pockets, though.

1. Drug Tests

When one of your friends asks you what you did that day in the military, do you ever give them the honest answer? “Yeah, I reported in and stood in a group with a bunch of other people, chugging water, and then held it for a really long time until I thought my bladder was gonna explode, and then had a dude watch me pee into a cup and then walked out of the bathroom holding my pee in a cup over my head and handed it to this other dude who cataloged it with my social security number on it, and then I went home.”

Hey, you peed for your country, be proud of that. Wear it like a badge of honor.

2. Property Accountability

Sure, we all know that being accountable for things that you’ve signed for is important – especially if you don’t want to piss off supply (you REALLY don’t want to piss off supply). But we’ve all seen that one kid that can’t keep accountability of anything at all. So what happens? Allllll their gear gets tied off of them with 550 chord. Like, everything, including their canteens, because somehow they manage to even lose those. Imagine that in some civilian job: “Jorgensen, you are always leaving your laptop and coffee mug everywhere, so we’re tying those things on to you. If you cut the chord, it’s going to be 500 push-ups. Deborah in accounting is going to be keeping an eye on you to make sure you don’t screw this up again. And if you’re late to work one more time, she’s going to make you wear a large clock around your neck.”

3. Inspectable Items

Every organization has their pet peeves and quirks. But there’s nothing like the passion that military leaders have for making something an inspectable item. An inspectable item, for those who are blissfully unaware, is something that you have to have on you at all times, or risk a punishment of some type. These items can include, but are not limited to: ID card, ID tags, notebook, pen, battalion policies, company policies, rules of engagement card, SHARP card, suicide prevention card, ear protection, eye protection, gloves, brigade policies, brigade commander’s intent, reflective belt, reflective belt with rank on it, reflective belt with unit insignia on it…well, you get the picture.

Kafka would have a field day with this.

4. Police Calls

So you joined the military to change the world, huh? Watched someone fight a lava monster and become a Marine? Wanted to be all that you could be? (Yes, I’m dating myself with these recruiting references, give me a break, I turn off the TV if a recruiting ad comes on) Cool, go sweep the motor pool for five hours in the rain. Or inventory the containers again. Or go form a line with your friends and pick up any small bit of trash you find in an acre of grass. Or go search the firing line for any pieces of brass. Or go digging through the woods for that missing pair of NVGs from that one guy who actually enjoys eating MREs, and is the reason that you’re on lock-down until these things are found.

No matter how you cut it, the military is going to put you into situations of such mind-boggling absurdity that you’ve either got to laugh or form some sort of E-4 organized uprising that is going great right up until the point they promote you to E-5 for your leadership abilities (hahaha, no, it’s because the person on the promotion list in front of you pissed hot and got kicked out) and you buy into the system and, poof! You’ve lost that revolutionary spirit. What a pity. You were going to make a change, man.

5. Counting Off

Anyone who says we’re the greatest military in the world has never seen the utter debacle of a busload of military members trying to get accountability by counting off from the rear to the front of the bus. It begins with the senior NCO present being their jovial self, because you’re all on a bus, you’re not walking through the rain carrying all your gear. In short, it’s a good day. The NCO makes a little joke about counting being hard, and the cursed ritual begins.

You get to about ten before two idiots who have been eating each others boogers both say eleven at the same time, and then you’ve got to start over again. The senior NCO’s face loses its easy demeanor, as they bark, “Count OFF.” This time, we get up to seventeen, before the goofball who had his earbuds in misses the mark and it’s back to square one. There’s now a visible vein starting from the senior NCO’s flushed neck. Maybe it’s because of nerves, but we don’t even get to five, since the nervous privates who’ve all crammed themselves into the very back all squeak out “Four!” together. A thundercloud passes over the senior NCO’s face. This time, though, it seems like we’ve got it. Until it reaches the gormless lieutenant, who should be number twenty-three, but says twenty-one instead, and twenty-two forgets what number they were, and the senior NCO is staring at the roof of the bus, face a bright purple, wondering if it would be worth it to just kill everyone and start fresh with a new unit.

Finally, at around the 5th or 6th try, this busload of grown-up people manages to grasp the concept of counting in order. But then its time to count weapons, which is a two-step formula, and no one’s blood pressure can withstand such a challenge.


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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.


Cover photo: U.S. Marines assigned to Afghan National Civil Order Police Kandak 1 Advisor Team, Regimental Combat Team 7, pick up spent ammunition casings after conducting small arms live fire training on Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 25, 2013. The live fire course which consisted of maneuvering and firing from different stations while being timed was designed to prepare the Marines for possible insider threats they might encounter. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena/Released)

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