Is the Average US Soldier Prepared for TEOTWAWKI? by S.A.

Saturday, Dec 29, 2012

They are not personally prepared at all. The average soldier is no more prepared than the average civilian.

If this is a concern (you live by a military installation), a curiosity (you have a relative that serves), or if you just want a glimpse of military life, let me tell you why the average soldier is not personally prepared.  I must first establish my credibility.   

I have a BA degree from a major university, and various civilian job experiences under my belt, mostly in food service and then social services.  I am an older soldier, low ranking on the totem pole. I am a truck driver in the US Army, and on the front lines where the rubber meets the road so to say.    As in all the clichés, I joined the Army to serve my country and learn about the Armed Forces, but somewhat selfishly, I joined also to learn about first aid, shooting, field sanitation, and the plethora of training that many a survivalist craves and practices, not only gaining these valuable skills for free, but getting paid to learn them.  I have been in the Army for four years, and I was into preparing for TEOTWAWKI years before I enlisted.  I have deployed twice, with many a mission outside-the-wire.

Bird Flu was my gateway drug into the prepper/survivalist community.  Upon discovering this new reality that things can and will go south, I was on the zombie apocalypse bandwagon for a long time.  I still enjoy the movies and the books. The reasoning was "if you are prepared for zombies, you are prepared for anything", and if you want a lighthearted icebreaker to discuss prepping, zombie talk will break it.  In the Army, arguing all things undead is a fun way to pass the hours and hours of hurry up and wait, in between the rock throwing and myriad one-uppers.  Early on in this stint of national service, I would talk about zombies and survivalism a lot. I was under the impression that the Army was full of preppers and survivalists. I was deployed straight out of AIT, and saw very little of my wife and kids for my first year and a half of service, so SHTF scenarios that would be natural conversations in my own family continued as daily conversations in my surrogate family.  I soon found out that there was very little interest in prepping, but fortunately, while breaching OPSEC in an effort to convince others about the benefits of preps, soldiers PCS and ETS, and those I stand beside now are completely different soldiers than those I stood beside early on.     

The military has higher rates of suicide and divorce than the general population.  This is an unfortunate reality.  You might think they also have higher rates of preppers/survivalists than the general population.  This is an understandable misconception.  If we assume only 1% to 5% of the civilian masses are preppers, IMHO, no more than 1% to 5% of military are preppers as well.  In this essay, I will discuss the various barriers to an individual soldier's personal preparedness, and I will discuss various categories of personal preparedness in relation to the average soldier. This is important information because maybe you have stereotypes of the average soldier and the military in general, maybe you have contingencies incorporating the military in one way or another, or maybe your feel scared and threatened, neutral and unaware, or secure and reassured by the military and the men and women in uniform.

There are indeed various barriers to prepping.  These barriers for soldiers at times are unique, and at times mirror the barriers for the general population.  The barriers discussed here are money and complacency/laziness.

Money is one of the single most important barriers to prepping, and affects everybody regardless if you are in uniform or not.  Military pay is different than civilian pay.  Military pay is made up of Base Pay and Entitlements.  Entitlements are pay for things like base allowance for housing (BAH) and groceries, called base allowance for subsistence (BAS).  Money doesn't have to be a barrier for the military family, but it is a great barrier to prepping that affects soldiers in different ways.   

Take for instance the young, single (unmarried) soldiers.  The single soldier receives his entitlement for housing, and each month that money is taken away (canceling each other out) and he is provided with a furnished barracks room.  Rooms nowadays are actually nicer than my college dorm room!  More like suites, where you have your own little room, but share a bathroom and kitchen with only one other soldier.  However, many single soldiers choose to not live in the barracks, and go in together on a lease at an apartment or rental house off-post.  So soldiers are paying for housing already, in lieu of directly receiving the BAH, but on top of that, they are using their discretionary income to pay for even more housing because they choose not to stay in their barracks room.  It gets worse when it comes to filling the belly.  Single soldiers are given BAS each month, but the military takes back the money every month because they are provided with a meal card.  The meal card entitles single soldiers to eat three very nice meals a day in the military cafeterias (DFAC), with food so varied that the average American comes nowhere close to eating that well.  And if you went out and bought the type of variety the soldiers can eat in the DFAC, it would cost a small fortune.  But the single soldier does not take advantage of this, and therefore eats out nearly every meal, or buys groceries and cooks nearly every meal.  So you have a soldier who is spending their discretionary money not only on housing, but also on food, when the housing and food is essentially prepaid.

Married Soldiers don't get off easy either.  Divorce rates in the military are higher than in the civilian world.  Paying for divorces and paying for child support is not uncommon.  Family, when not in it for love/spirituality and when not in it for the long run, can be very expensive.  Expensive to get into, and expensive to get out of.  And often times, it is near impossible for the wife to work.  This is why they are called "Army Wives".  That is their profession.  Soldiers work 24/7, it just depends what your specific task is at any given moment.  Could be PT, could be working in the motor pool, but it could also be relaxing or sleeping.  Point is, you are never really off, and in conjunction with field exercises, 24 hour duty rotations, early mornings and long days, a soldier's schedule is in constant ebb and flow, and this means the wife primarily must be the anchor keeping the house together - cleaning, cooking, rearing the children, and the like.  One income households can prosper and prepping can be achieved, just as single soldiers can save money and prepare themselves if they wanted too, but soldiers are humans, and herein lays the other problem relating to money:   

Just like civilian life, soldiers balance financial issues similar to what civilians do, and maybe even more so.  Debt and vices rear their ugly head on soldiers like shoppers ready to stampede Wal-Mart on Black Friday.  There is comfort and reassurance in getting paid on the first and fifteenth of every month, and once the wheels of short term satisfaction and instant gratification start turning, they are hard to brake.  Let’s talk about debt.  And just one form of debt on top of that - the quintessential American car loan.  In my time in the Army, I have come to learn that not only does the average soldier spend a lot more on accessories and upgrades to their vehicles than the general population, it is not uncommon to have a $600/month car note to finance the endeavor, with 10% to 18% interest rates, and an insurance premium to high to pay at once, creating monthly bills in excess of $150.  Furthermore, there is an unspoken rule of ego propping in the Army.  Hence the perceived need for having the brand new Jeep Wrangler "Call of Duty" edition with the heavy duty Warn winch sporting hard, soft and bikini tops at will, even though it will never go off road, or having the brand new Dodge Charger with low profile tires hugging for dear life on 26" rims, with more than one TV screen for every potential passenger, and a stereo system so loud it could be used for a block party.  Money wasted, preps foregone.  Vices would be another avenue of lost income when it comes to the average soldier.  Drinking, smoking and dipping usage is higher per capita in the military than it is in the civilian world, not to mention daily stops at the gas station for energy drinks and snacks.  All this adds up to little left over at the end of the month to put into food reserves, gold and silver coin, and an ample water supply. 

In addition to the money barrier, there is the complacency barrier.  Complacency about work load is a start.  Think of how you drive through a construction zone and there is one guy shoveling and six guys standing around him.  Well, same holds true in the Army.  20% of the workers do 80% of the work.  Thus we have an attitude that someone else will do it.  That is complacency my friends.  Another type of complacency that is found in the civilian world but amplified in the army is the "government will take care of me" attitude.  Well, guess what, soldiers are in that government, and if you have ever been deployed, you know that getting taken care of is no easy task even in the best situations.  Sure, supply and resupply works great now.  But just-in-time on an industrial scale gives soldiers a false sense of hope.  Complacency sets in similar to the way a corporate hamster wheeler gets his pink slip.  He thinks, "This can never happen to me".  Well, it just did.

Now that we have discussed some of the barriers to preparedness, we need to look at different categories of preps to analyze why and how the average soldier is just not prepared.  Let’s start with the tried and true survivalist doctrine that skills are more important than stuff.  This is true.  But let’s look at skills from an individual soldier's perspective. 

The soldier has a primary job, called a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).  I am a truck driver.  I have expert skills in this field.  I can secure an M1 Abrams Tank to a trailer that has 40 wheels and tires on it, and haul it off into the sunset.  I can pick up shipping containers and drop them wherever they are needed.  I can run convoys and react to ambushes, roadside bombs, breakdowns and the like.  I can do these things because that is my job in the Army, and I would hope everybody was competent and proficient in their job.  So the soldier has a primary skill at which they excel, which is great as far as preps go, but all the other cool army stuff that makes its way into movies - commo, land navigation, shooting, kicking in doors, treating casualties on the battle field, etc, are trained on in limited scope, and even more importantly, are perishable skills, meaning they are "use 'em or lose 'em" skills.

If you don't get out and get try to find your way around the desert or through the woods with a map and a compass on a regular basis, you will be hurting in a stressful environment.  If you don't practice improvising a tourniquet on a regular basis, time will be against you in the heat of the moment.  If only go to the range once or twice a year, you are not shooting to your potential.  If you don't fill radios and sync with power, time, antennas, and the like, you will be chatting only with yourself.  This is where the average soldier could have a great deal of skills, but in general, loses on such great opportunities.  Take map reading and land navigation as an example.  This skill is often done in teams, but since the 20/80 rule applies, there is usually one or two that are good at it and do the work for the team, while the others don't want to learn and just tag along to finish the training.  Sad but true.

Physical Fitness is an individual skill and is another aspect of preparedness that is very important yet often over looked.  One naturally assumes that since they are soldiers, they are physically fit.  Well, sort of, but there is more to it than that.  Soldiers have to be in shape or they will lose their job.  Period. Point blank.  I have seen soldiers kicked out of the Army for not being able to pass a PT test, and I have seen soldiers kicked out of the Army for being overweight.  If you don't want to be jobless, there is a strong incentive to performing physically.  But how difficult is the PT test really?  Its two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups, and a two mile run.  If you are generally in shape and not overweight, it is not difficult to pass.  So soldiers are not the superhuman-athlete types that are often perceived.  What you have is multitudes of young men and women, not too far out of high school or college, who should be and generally are in decent shape and health.  But they are still in their late teens and early twenties.  Energy is abundant and in excess for them.  It really is a young person's Army.  Furthermore, the Army has been changing the PT program for years in the making now, and for years a principle focus was on establishing a new PT test which was more difficult, and guess what happened to that idea?  Scrapped.  Soldiers couldn't pass it.  And if soldier's are physically fit as they should be, that does not mean they are willing to do the work that needs to be done when the SHTF.  Laziness can affect anybody, hard bodies included, and it is a self inflicted hindrance upon accomplishing work.  One time I needed help moving a heavy crate off the top of a flatbed trailer, and I asked a soldier who was rather buff and built, but inherently lazy.  He performs his job with only the bare minimum of effort to get by, he prefers to live in the gym, and when I asked him to help move the crate, the reply was "this is just for show", in reference to his body builder physique.  

Weapons and shooting is also an individual prep and skill.  Most of the Army is not combat arms.  They are not out and about kicking in doors, detaining enemy POWs, throwing grenades and generally causing mayhem and destruction.  This means that for the rest of us, we probably visit a range once a year, a couple times a year if we are lucky.  In comparison, there are varying numbers but it is safe to say that anywhere between 20% - 50% of American households own guns, and many individuals go shoot them regularly.  Your average soldier has an assigned weapon, usually an M16 or and M4, that is locked inside a cage which is locked inside a secured arms vault, which is locked inside a secured building.  Point being that while our primary role is protecting the good 'ole US of A, force multipliers, advanced weaponry and effective and efficient soldiers have changed the role and scope of the modern Army dramatically, and one of the consequences has been a lessening in the amount of range time slotted.  And what about soldiers privately owning and storing guns and ammunition at home?  Maybe, maybe not.  Where this would be in line with the average civilian household owning guns, the questions can go like this - how many guns do they have, do they have a sufficient supply of ammunition, and are they training regularly using those weapons?  When it comes to defense, offense, and things that go "bang", the average soldier is really no more prepared than the average civilian.

What about food reserves?  This is directly in line with the assumption that the overwhelming vast majority of civilians are not prepared for a short term or long term disaster and neither is the average soldier.  Sufficient food in storage is paramount, and one of the main pillars in the foundation of prepping.  The average soldier has no more food on hand than the average civilian.  Furthermore, the average soldier probably even has less, because as soldiers move around to different posts, they are allowed only a certain amount of weight for their household goods, and more often than not, soldiers end up giving away food from their pantries, not only to lessen the weight they are moving but also because its more convenient to just give it away then deal with it (i.e. complacency/lazy).   

So what we have in society is the same as what we have in the military as well.  People will always take the easy way out, instead of going down the road less traveled.  The same reactions to prepping that you find in the civilian world are just as prevalent in the military.  For example, the classic, "well, if anything happens I'll just come over to your house" excuse has been said to me time and time again, back when I was early on in my time of national service.  Attitudes like these are unfortunately what helped convince me to be less extroverted and more introverted, in the sense of community.  It also has left me kind of bittersweet with my opinion of soldiers and their personal level of readiness, especially now that I have had some time in the Army and experiences to reinforce that feeling.  I mean, really, you are a US Army Truck Driver and you don't even carry a flashlight or multitool, knowing you will use both of them almost every single day?  And they were even issued to you and often times gifted to you courtesy of your unit's discretionary funds!  Incredible.  Just incredible.  The golden opportunity for people to prepare their families for an unknown unfortunate event that will happen sooner or later, and they fail to seize the day.  

Personal preparedness is a responsibility for all people and all families, and sadly, we know that the average American family is not personally prepared for a rainy day, much less a stormy day.  Unfortunately, we also know that the average US Soldier is not personally prepared either.  If you have selfishly thought of taking your family to your Army cousin's house during some Schumeresque event because you think he is prepared, that could be a great mistake at best, and likewise, your Army cousin might just show up with his family at your house looking for food and shelter, because he has not prepared for his family and thinks you might be one of them "preppers".  And finally, if you not only want to learn skills that are paramount in the life of a survivalist/prepper, but get paid to learn those skills, take it from me, the military has served me well in that department, and you get to serve your country and be part of something bigger than you in the process.


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