Several major posts across the Army have instituted courtesy patrols to enforce Army standards. (Sgt. Matthew Ryan / Army)
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Are courtesy patrols a good idea? Have NCOs failed to enforce the standards? Are the patrols going too far by enforcing a dress code on family members? Send us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your rank and duty station, and your views could be included as a letter to the editor in a future print edition of Army Times.
Welcome to the garrison Army.
As the Army draws down from Afghanistan, major installations are cracking down on sloppy soldiers who aren’t wearing the uniform correctly and aren’t rendering appropriate customs and courtesies. Post commanders are turning to courtesy patrols, teams of soldiers who roam the installation making on-the-spot corrections, to enforce Army and post regulations.
Some posts, such as Schofield Barracks, are even targeting family members for dress code violations.
And the Army’s top enlisted soldier wants other posts to consider launching courtesy patrols.
“I applaud their efforts,” Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler told Army Times. “Across the Army, other posts, camps and stations, senior mission commanders and leaders probably ought to take a look at what they are doing at these [installations] and decide whether or not they feel it’s necessary to do something there.”
Chandler said commanders have the authority and responsibility to enforce good order and discipline at their installations.
For soldiers, the stress of repeated deployments to two wars have led to an informal relaxation of the traditional Army spit-and-polish, and soldiers might have been given a pass when it came to some uniform regulations and Army customs and courtesies.
Those times are over.
“The standards have always been here. They just have not been, maybe, enforced to the extent they should have been,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Ron Pflieger, signal regimental and senior mission command sergeant major at Fort Gordon, Ga., where courtesy patrols started in July.
Pflieger said some of the soldiers today don’t know some basic standards such as wearing the proper attire in garrison.
“All they know is when they get ready to deploy,” Pflieger said. “All they know is that 10 years of war.”
Other major posts with the roving patrols include Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Campbell, Ky. The CPs, known as installation patrols at some places, roam posts policing soldiers’ behavior while in uniform, and their appearance when off duty.
Wearing a backward baseball cap or short-shorts can get family members and off-duty soldiers reprimanded.
In Hawaii, the courtesy patrols started Oct. 7 at Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield.
Most CPs are made up of teams of senior noncomissioned officers and an officer. At Schofield, the CP detail is composed of a platoon leader and platoon sergeant. Four teams a day are tasked with CP detail for 12-hour shifts on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on Saturdays. The teams visit high-traffic areas, such as the post exchange, commissary and the soldiers’ club, depending on their brigade’s assigned area of responsibility.
Soldiers have reported previously seeing courtesy patrols at Fort Hood, Texas, too, although a post spokesperson said Fort Hood had stopped the patrols. Fort Carson, Colo., has courtesy patrols, but the program is under review, according to a post spokesperson.
How courtesy patrols enforce the regulations varies. A Fort Campbell soldier, who did not want to be identified, emailed Army Times and said the CP collects the names of soldiers who were corrected by the CP and passes them up the soldier’s chain of command. As a result, the offending soldier and his platoon sergeant are put on courtesy patrols duty, according to the soldier. Courtesy patrols have to meet a quota of offenders to report during their duty shift, the soldier reported. Fort Campbell officials would not discuss courtesy patrols.
“So if you are on Campbell, look out, because they are looking out for you, and they are literally everywhere,” the soldier wrote.
At Fort Bliss, installation patrols do not correct civilians, according to post officials.Names of soldiers who are corrected by a CP are written down, but officials said that is only for situational awareness. There are no repercussions to the soldiers if they make the correction the CP asked them to make.
Patrols off post
Off-post courtesy patrols were started at Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Drum, N.Y., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., in the past few years. One of the most recent posts to start off-base patrols is Fort Gordon, which in July started sending teams of two into the surrounding community to patrol local soldier hangouts and curtail soldiers’ behavior. On weekends, a command team, a company commander and first sergeant also patrol off base.
“We want to make sure that our service members are doing the right thing,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Stockton, garrison command sergeant major at Fort Gordon. “It’s sort of getting ahead of the problem.”
The off-post patrols are not necessarily looking to get soldiers in trouble, officials said. They look for soldiers in a tough situation and give rides to post for soldiers who might have had too much to drink. Stockton said if civilian police get involved, they have the option of turning a soldier over to a courtesy patrol instead of taking them to jail.
Although most soldiers who have commented to Army Times seem to agree that standards need to be enforced, some see the need for CPs as a sign that NCOs have failed to uphold standards.
“It just shows old NCOs like me that the NCO Corps is nearly extinct,” said Master Sgt. Michael Caldwell of Fort Bliss. “Standard enforcement should be conducted by every NCO on the installation.”
“It’s just an embarrassment” when NCOs pass by soldiers whose uniform is out of regulation, Caldwell said. He said it hurts him when he hears others disparage the state of the NCO Corps, but he has no argument to defend NCOs. “A vast majority of the NCO Corps is substandard,” he said.
But he doesn’t blame it completely on the NCOs. Caldwell said an outdated 670-1 (Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia) and an overabundance of Military Personnel and All Army Activities messages, some of which supersede each other, have contributed to confusion about the standards.
“There is a lot of ignorance when it comes to the regulations,” Caldwell said, and without knowing the regs, NCOs lack the confidence to make on-the-spot corrections.
First Lt. Andrew Maitner, who recently conducted a courtesy patrol in Hawaii, said he was bitter at first that he had to pull CP detail to police issues that are usually the realm of NCOs but now understands the need.
“A lot of people don’t know the standards, so you saw that it needed to be done,” Maitner said, adding that during the patrol, he corrected soldiers who were mixing the uniform, talking on a cellphone while walking and not saluting officers.
But some senior leaders are quick to deny that NCOs are solely responsible. Many of the fresh crop of NCOs are post-9/11 soldiers, who have little experience in a garrison environment and may not have had to enforce garrison standards. Plus, they point out that it is every soldier’s responsibility to make an on-the-spot correction.
To NCOs like Pflieger and Stockton, enforcing Army regs means a “back-to-basics” approach.
“Our courtesy patrol ... helps remind soldiers that people are watching, and not just on post,” Pflieger said.