FORT BRAGG, NC — U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) released its Fiscal Year 2014 guidance Friday on the proper wear of safety clothing and gear, to include the oft-derided “PT belt” of reflective fabric.
Standards were broadened to enhance safety across a greater swath of service life, even touching on family members, pets and wild animals. Proponents of the policy change insist that though the new rules require some extra effort, they will result in improved safety. But not everyone is convinced.
“I mean, I appreciate their good intentions,” complained Jessica Sweat, wife of an 82d Airborne Soldier, standing on the porch of her Fort Bragg house. “But does the Army ever step back and think what impact their rules have on peoples’ lives? It’s a huge pain having to put on a PT belt, helmet, closed-toed shoes, and clear safety goggles, all just so I can go get the mail from the box on the corner.”
She points at the mailbox with her plastic safety flashlight, the plastic cone glowing faintly orange. “Look. The mailbox is literally right there. If you were standing over there I wouldn’t even have to raise my voice to talk to you.”
“Christ,” she adds.
Menlo “Bronze” Park, deputy director of Range Control Division at Fort Bragg, and a retired battalion commander himself, hesitantly agreed. “Look, far be it from me to make a fuss,” he said, frowning. “I’m no rabble rouser. But how the heck am I supposed to tell my staff that they have to go out and put reflective belts on trees and bushes and ant hills? First of all, we simply don’t have the manpower, especially with the budget shortfalls leading to all overtime being cut. But more than that, a lot of these objects we’re supposed to cover in glint tape and flashing lights are deep in impact areas. It’s a huge hassle. I don’t know how we’re supposed to make it work.”
In spite of the general misgivings, some leaders are already leaning forward and embracing the new standard early.
Command Sgt. Maj. Mantis Toboggan, driving his diesel Ford F-550 pickup truck through his battalion area, is one of those leaders. “You there!” he shrieks out the open driver’s window, a stream of brown tobacco juice streaming down his chin. “Why the fuck aren’t you wearing your PT belts? All of you get over here! Who the fuck is your commander! What is your—hey! Come back here!” but the small group of deer has already bounded away into the treeline.
Toboggan sits back, disgusted. “That right there is a failure of small-unit leadership. We’ll need more stringent guidance. Maybe make all the NCOs come in on Saturday so I can address them. Yeah, that’s the way you really drive a point home. Make them hurt until they can get it right.”
When asked if it’s really practical to try and mandate the behavior and dress of animals and outdoor nature in general, Toboggan said, “that’s not the Warrior-Leader mindset! With the proper risk assessment and Military Decision Making Process, you can lead anything. Nature isn’t cooperating? I say you haven’t found a way to properly train, motivate and mentor Nature!”
At press time, Nature could not be reached for comment.