WASHINGTON — Discipline works in mysterious ways.
“Hold on a second here,” said Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer at the start of a Sept. 29 interview with Army Times. “I’m just going to touch up a little bit.”
An electric razor’s gentle buzz emanated through the phone, followed by hearty laughter. Army Times spoke with Weimer ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference, but the conversation was barely underway before the Army’s top NCO poked fun at himself.
The razor stunt was a reference to a Reddit user’s viral “Beard Eraser” game, which lets motivated player-warriors help Weimer, who “woke up undisciplined today,” get a fresh shave. The SMA described it as “hilarious.”
The conversation with Weimer covered his approach to garrison discipline — his previous comments about which sparked the anxiety that led to Beard Eraser — as well as training tempo. The below interview was edited for length and clarity.
AT: I’m glad you appreciated the shaving game — soldiers do the craziest things. But that app grew out of a place of anxiety. Soldiers are desperate to hear more details from you about what you envision for the return to standards and discipline, which you’ve discussed in broad terms thus far.
At a macro level, we are all in on the four focus areas that Gen. [Randy] George and I have been talking about [warfighting, delivering ready combat formations, undergoing continuous transformation, and strengthening the profession of arms]. We’re gonna spend a lot of time talking about warfighting, because it’s the very reason we exist — there’s no other reason we exist.
You really trace it all back to: how disciplined are you as an individual? How disciplined are you as an organization? Until you understand what the individual’s discipline is, you really don’t have the sum of the whole organization. You’re gonna see me spend a lot of time on the noncommissioned officer.
Discipline is usually measured with clearly defined standards, right? If the standards aren’t clearly defined, and if the standards aren’t clearly modeled, and if the standards aren’t clearly upheld, then we’re not nearly as disciplined as we think. The more senior you get, it evolves, but you don’t take anything off the plate. It’s not like you become the sergeant major of the Army and all of the sudden haircuts don’t matter and doing PT stops.
If you’re asking soldiers or NCOs to live and uphold the standard, they have got to be clear — and not confusing. We can use technology … that can help us clear up any confusion on what a standard is.
AT: Creating a shared understanding across the force is challenging to achieve at scale. Where are you hoping to improve on messaging about standards and discipline in order to bring everybody on the same page?
This is where I love technology, but what I’ve learned over time is if we don’t have governance with how we’re using technology — the information space is a great example of this — we actually can create more confusion.
AT: There seems to be rising concern among the force that there’s a pretty high training tempo and there’s lots of time away from home. What are your thoughts about op tempo and the force right now — what do you think is the right balance there?
I’m not going to disagree on the op tempo. It’s a very squishy term, though.
The [Army] Secretary and the Chief [of Staff], we’ve talked about how we should call it “head-on-pillow-time.” How many nights and days was my head not on my pillow at home? Because, I could never leave Fort Liberty and still not be home for two weeks because we’re in the field.
Units are training really hard at home station now — we should be training hard — but there’s a balance. I think that’s what the soldiers are getting at.
We’re asking commanders to take a thorough look at all the exercises they are doing and making sure we’re assessing what really needs to be done. We acknowledge how much we’re asking our soldiers to do, and it’s having an impact in every theater we’re in, but the [overseas] demands aren’t going down.
So we’re really taking a hard look at what we’re asking our soldiers to do and the stress that it can be putting on their families. I don’t have a secret answer to roll out. It’s going to have to be leadership starting at the [Forces Command] level at echelon to be ruthless with prioritizing what we’re doing.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.