For military personnel who are married or living off base, a lot of the time, life isn’t that much different from the average civilians. Yes, you wear a camouflage suit to work and probably get to play with lots of high-tech weaponry, and you could be sent on exercise or deployed at any time, but most of the time you go home at the end of the day just like anyone else does. The bulk of the armed forces are made up of younger single troops, though, and most of them still live in barracks. Life in the single accommodation changed a lot during my service, though, and from everything I’ve heard, the pace of change hasn’t slowed.
When I arrived at my first regular unit in the mid-1990s, most private and junior NCOs shared a room with at least one other person. Single bunks did exist, but they were mostly reserved for the block or floor NCO; any spares were highly prized. Army policy at the time was firmly against single rooms, in fact, and new or renovated blocks were based on two or four man rooms. It didn’t matter much anyway, because doors were almost always open except during the silent hours, and people wandered between rooms pretty much as they liked. Any night during the week, everyone would be clustered in one or two rooms watching TV, playing cards or just drinking and chatting. On weekends, of course, the block would head out pretty much en masse for the nearest bar. A couple of guys who had local girlfriends might make their excuses and slip off early, but in general everyone socialized together.
It’s very different now. Official policy is now in favor of single rooms wherever possible, and as the Army shrinks, it’s an aim that’s been achieved in most camps. Now, walk through the block on a typical evening and at least half the single soldiers will be in their rooms on their own, with the door firmly shut. Some will be playing games; others will be chatting for hours on Skype with friends or family from home. If there’s a communal room, you’ll probably still find a few diehards in there watching action movies and giving the beer fridge a workout, but barrack life is a lot more fragmented than it used to be.
If you’re the NCO in charge of a floor or block, this can be a bit of a challenge. Modern soldiers, even junior ones, expect a lot more privacy than their predecessors, and that has to be respected, but at the same time, it’s not good for unit cohesion to have people spending all of their off-duty time shut away in their room. Your aim has to be getting people to do stuff together without making them feel like their space is being constantly invaded. Of course, it’s not their space at all – it’s the Army’s – but they won’t thank you for reminding them of that.
One of the most obvious ways of getting people to interact is a weekly block jobs parade. The barracks need to be cleaned regularly anyway if you don’t want the chain of command to intervene and start calling extra inspections, and the best way to do it is to set a time every week when everyone can get together. As the NCO in charge, you can make that a formal parade and expect anyone who can’t be there to give you a justification in writing; set a high bar for non-attendance, like official duties. At various times I tried less formal ways of getting things done, like assigning jobs to everyone and telling them I’d be inspecting it on a given date to make sure it had been done, but it never really worked. A proper cleaning parade is still the best way, and it gets everyone working as a team.
Organize social events as a block. Make sure they’re interesting enough that peer pressure will get people to attend, and keep varying them. Don’t overdo it but try to arrange something twice a month. If they’re a success, the ones who didn’t turn up for the first few will get the word and start feeling left out; most of them will start to join in. Then look at your communal spaces. If there’s a TV room, make sure it’s a welcoming environment for everyone. In a mixed block, don’t allow nude pinups on the wall or nightly showings of hardcore porn; a lot of female soldiers find that uncomfortable.
Finally, keep an eye on the people whose faces you don’t see around much. A soldier who spends all of his time in his room might just be totally engrossed in Modern Call of Combat 73, or enjoying his online affair with a Brazilian model, but he might also be suffering from depression or personal issues. As an NCO, you’re well within your rights to do an informal walk round of the rooms a couple of times a week, just to make sure nobody’s living in a mess of beer cans and kebab wrappers; take the time to chat to everyone and keep an eye out for potential welfare problems. Staying aware of how everyone’s doing can prevent things from reaching a crisis point, which is especially important when everyone has access to firearms.
Rebuilding the sense of military community in a block doesn’t take a lot of work, but it’s a vital function for every junior NCO. Troops that live and socialize happily together will work better together. So, if all you see when you walk the corridor is a line of closed doors with the sound of electronic death blaring out from behind them, start being a leader and liven things up a bit.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.