Being on time, in step, and in line with everyone else in the unit is the fundamental goal of each soldier, and the desire of each commanding officer. There is nothing that makes a commander more proud than to know that their unit is organized, discipline, and able to follow orders above and beyond the normal call of duty. And, there is nothing that makes a soldier more proud than to know that he or she is serving with the most disciplined, dedicated, and efficient soldiers possible.
While there are many major things that can erode this pride in one’s unit, whether from insubordinate actions of others to a basic failure to follow standing orders, there are also minor things that can also erode the effectiveness of the unit on a whole. One of the actions that most consider minor but can actually lead to a widespread deterioration of the unit as a whole is the insistence upon chewing gum while in formation. Though it only seems minor and is not technically considered an offense barred by army regulations, it is something that speaks of a breakdown of discipline and basic disregard for the regimented nature of standing in formation as well as service in the armed forces.
Considered one of the earliest authorities on the function and duty of a military in modern times, sixteenth century strategist and thinker Niccolo Machiavelli is quoted in Chapter 6 of the Field Manual explaining the duty of soldiers in formation: “The [soldiers] must learn to keep their ranks, to obey words of command, and signals by drum and trumpet, and to observe good order, whether they halt, advance, retreat, are upon a march, or engaged with an enemy” (FM). Even in the sixteenth century, and actually going much further back than that all the way to ancient times, the ability of an army to stand in formation signifies their discipline and preparedness to their commanders and all those who observe. The sight of well-organized, perfectly formed ranks of soldiers coming across the battlefield have struck fear into the hearts of opponents for millennia, and the ability for such organization was created in drills and learning how to stand in formation.
Though the ancient Roman army did not have to worry about things like cell phones going off or soldiers chewing gum in formation, they still had to worry about men that would often disregard the importance of standing in formation. Some of these things include soldiers being out of rank or even worse, soldiers being late. In the modern army, these issues happen as well, but they are no excuse for failing to stand correctly in formation, just as there is no valid reason to chew gum in formation either.Difficult times sometimes create situations that make it impossible to maintain the normal activities of everyday life. It is impossible to predict when these events will occur, or exactly how they will affect your life. When confronted with a great obstacle to overcome, some people get discouraged, lapse into a defeated mindset, and neglect the duties they have at hand. This often leads to the difficult situation becoming far more difficult. However, the courageous and responsible person faces these problems head on and makes the proper adjustments.
As a soldier, these adjustments are not only necessary for my well-being, but also the well-being of my fellow soldiers. There is no valid reason for allowing difficulties to prevent a soldier from fulfilling his or her given duties, and these duties include reporting on time and standing correctly in formation.Most soldiers’ training since youth has taught them that being on time is not just a simple consideration but also a fundamental duty of a responsible person. All through school, when they played sports, being on time was expected and they did their best to comply. Sometimes it was easier to be on time than other times, but most responsible individuals never have a problem being punctual. It is easy to see why being on time was crucial and athletics teach young people this more than anything. Hitting a baseball is impossible if one swings too early or too late. In football, blocking at just the right moment allows one’s teammates to run through for a touchdown.
Timing is everything, and to be precise is the only way to succeed, for the individual as well as the team. When one enters the military, this idea is only reinforced and joined by many more ideas that foster discipline and order, even if not officially considered a standing order.The goal of the military is to instill discipline so that the many individuals can function as one complete unit. Since Spartan times, military discipline has attempted to maintain strict discipline, and the most successful and respected armies have always been the most disciplined. Being on time is an important part of discipline. Military discipline more than anything else maintains a state of order and obedience that exists within a command. The subordinate individuals must adhere to the good of the whole unit, and this includes making personal sacrifices and compromises, and all members of the service are subordinate to the chain of command. An individual in the military cannot pursue his own interests, but must consider the interests of the whole above all else.
The chain of command instills confidence and a sense of responsibility in each individual and obedience to standing orders preserves the tight functionality of the machine that is the military. If one part of the machine is not functioning as it should the whole thing breaks down. Anyone who has ever worked with machines understands how timing and unity are everything, and if one part of the machine is not on time or in perfect conjunction with every other part, the machine will soon fall apart. Standing in formation offers soldiers the opportunity to learn this fact all too well.When in formation, soldiers are expected to exhibit the maximum amount of discipline and order. When they fail, it is the job of commanding officers to correct the situation, especially NCO. NCOs are not only expected to maintain the high level of discipline and respect for the chain of command, but are expected to hold themselves to a higher level.
NCOs are expected to maintain discipline in themselves and other soldiers and enforce not only military law, but also the civilian laws of the United States. Even more than regular soldiers or civilians, each individual NCO must maintain his own discipline as it relates to the chain of command and his assigned duties. NCOs are asked to live up to very high standards because NCOs are thought of as the best of the best and are representations of the strict order of the military way of life. As an NCO, one learns that there are three important traits that are crucial to personal and professional success. These traits are discipline, punctuality, and respect.
And without possessing one of those traits, one cannot have the others. Chewing gum in formation shows a lack of discipline and respect, and makes being on time almost superfluous.Not chewing gum in formation is not only important to maintain individual discipline and respect for the chain of command, but can lead to a situation where the system begins to break down. One of the most important things soldiers learn is to be well disciplined. Without disciplined instilled in every soldier, there would be chaos, anarchy, and a general lack of respect for military order and justice.
The best analogy between the kinds of problems chewing gum in formation can cause is when a soldier is late for duty. When it is time to report for duty, a soldier must report on time or the system breaks down. A soldier’s tardiness causes problems for the entire unit, and the soldier becomes a weak link in the chain of command.
His or her superior officers and subordinates lose respect in that soldier and he or she creates more work for them to do by not being there to do it himself or herself. The system is in place for a reason, and that is to make sure everyone is doing their duty. The same type of breakdown could happen from on chewing gum in formation, as it invites a general lack of discipline and regard for the strict organizational spirit of the army.Because soldiers often work closely with civilians and civilian authorities, it is crucial that they maintain proper military discipline, punctuality, and respect. This is most often learned and perfected in drills and during formation. Soldiers represent military order, and by not chewing gum in formation, they are representing themselves as disordered and disrespectful.
If called to maintain order or security, it is imperative that soldiers arrive on time and in an orderly fashion. If called to a situation and they do not arrive in a timely and organized manner, the situation may escalate and get out of hand. If a soldier’s fellow servicemen require assistance in such an instance and a soldier does not arrive on time, he or she is jeopardizing their lives and the lives of countless others.
Being on time is crucial in heading off dangerous situations before they occur, and such discipline is reflective in things as simple as chewing gum while in formation when the rest of the squad does not. The duty of a soldier is to protect military and civilian population, and being disciplined enough to head off dangerous situations is a large part of this.Now, while chewing gum in formation is certainly not an obvious and dangerous infraction such as being late when reporting for duty, it is certainly reflective of the same careless mentality and lack of respect for military organization. According the Field Manual, organization is at the core of standing in formation: “The squad has two prescribed formations—line and column.
However, the squad may be formed into a column of twos from a column formation. When the squad is in line, squad members are numbered from right to left; when in column, form front to rear. The squad normally marches in column, but for short distances it may march in line” (FM). Anyone that reads these words can understand fully the importance of order and the emphasis on the unit acting as a whole. There is no room for any free interpretation of the purpose of formation, nor the squad, and by chewing gum it is almost as if a soldier is completely disregarding the ultimate purpose of formation. Soldiers in formation are expected to look sharp, act sharp, and most importantly, be sharp.While the Field Manual provides soldiers with many prompts and illuminates the correct way to do many army procedures, it fails to directly address the issue of chewing gum in formation.
However, as in introduction to Chapter 4, Archidamus of the ancient military power Sparta helps reinforce the reason for drills, formation, and organization: “Maintain discipline and caution above all things, and be on the alert to obey the word of command. It is both the noblest and the safest thing for a great army to be visibly animated by one spirit” (FM). More than almost any other quote, this helps soldiers understand that the most important thing in the army is to obey the word of command.
While there is nothing that specifically addresses the idea of chewing gum in formation, a soldier should know that it is up to the discretion of his or her commanding officer whether or not it is okay. And, any soldier with a little bit of common sense and basic military knowledge will know that chewing gum in formation is in extremely poor form. But, for the soldier that does not know if chewing gum in formation is wrong, he or she must look for cues from his or her commanding officer. Despite the odd commanding officer that allows chewing gum in formation, a soldier will find on almost every occasion that chewing gum in formation is almost always frowned upon.The main confusion over chewing gum has to be caused by its prominent position within the military. Chewing gum has been administered to soldiers in the United States as far back as World War I, as it was believed to improve soldiers’ concentration, relieve stress, and improve morale, and in 1935, it was estimated that soldiers chewed 12,000 pounds of gum in one month (Wikipedia, 2008).
The curative powers of chewing gum have largely been confirmed, as it is believed to improve moods and even help prevent tooth decay. In fact, as of 2005, the military in the United States has sponsored development of a chewing gum formulation with an antibacterial agent that could replace conventional oral hygiene methods in the battlefield, though this product is still in development. Recently, gum with caffeine in it has been given to troops to keep them alert and prevent drowsiness or fatigue that most soldiers in war and peacetime are often forced to endure. The fact that chewing gum is provided to troops in MREs makes it almost seem as if it were okay to engage in chewing gum whenever a soldier may care to, but this is nothing more than a lapse in judgment. The truth remains that, even though there is little to suggest that chewing gum is a punishable infraction in the army, it is highly frowned upon by everyone that wishes to maintain strict order in appearance of troops and especially during formation.The closest to an exact regulation regarding chewing gum during formation can be found in the Field Manual. In Chapter 4, 4-1, it covers the rules applying to soldiers standing at attention.
When in formation and called to attention, either by “fall in” or “attention,” it is the duty of the soldier to maintain the following discipline: “To assume this position, bring the heels together sharply on line, with the toes pointing out equally, forming a 45-degree angle. Rest the weight of the body evenly on the heels and balls of both feet. Keep the legs straight without locking the knees. Hold the body erect with the hips level, chest lifted and arched, and the shoulders square” (FM). Nowhere does it directly mention gum, but every word describes a soldier in complete control and perfectly in sync with their fellow soldiers based on the commands of their officers.
The description continues: “Keep the head erect and face straight to the front with the chin drawn in so that alignment of the head and neck is vertical” (FM). Again, this position makes it difficult to chew gum and maintain such rigid stature. It continues: “Let the arms hang straight without stiffness. Curl the fingers so that the tips of the thumbs are alongside and touching the first joint of the forefingers. Keep the thumbs straight along the seams of the trouser leg with the first joint of the fingers touching the trousers(FM).
For a soldier at attention, motionless attentiveness is expected, and there is no room for chewing gum. Finally, the Field Manual explains what is most important to soldiers standing at attention in formation: “Remain silent and do not move unless otherwise directed” (FM). This passage clearly indicates that chewing gum is not acceptable while in formation, for the jaw must clearly move while chewing.
One cannot possibly remain motionless while moving a part of their body, even something as small or seemingly unnoticeable as the jaw. And, the section also clearly illustrates that it is also the soldier’s duty to listen to whatever commands are given by his or her commanding officer, and common sense would dictate that a commanding officer would rarely give a direct order to his troops to chew gum while in formation. However, a commanding officer may give a direct order to troops not to chew gum while in formation, and this must be adhered to at all times. This fact is also echoed in the same section as a note to standing at attention: “This position is assumed by enlisted soldiers when addressing officers, or when officers are addressing officers of superior rank” (FM). With all of this information available to soldiers, it seems to suggest that chewing gum in formation, even when not standing at attention, would be completely prohibited under almost every circumstance. This is not only the way it should be, but the way every good officer insists for his squad.
Any self-respecting officer insists that there is no gum chewing while his or her troops are in formation. This not only creates a uniformity in his troops, but also reinforces everything from military discipline to creating camaraderie amongst his troops. Because it is not in an army regulation manuals, other than information that suggests it is not right to chew gum in formation, it is the patent responsibility of the commanding officer to make sure that his or her troops do not chew gum in formation.
Once this order has been handed down, there is no excuse to ignore it, and chewing gum thereby becomes a punishable offense. As a service member, a soldier must realize that his or her responsibility is greater than most, even in ceremonial situations or when merely asked to stand and listen. A soldier is responsible for maintaining order, discipline, and representing the United States Army. Soldiers are responsible for setting an example of leadership for the men and women of the armed forces, and this includes following the orders of superior officers and never disrespecting the chain of command. Chewing gum when specifically ordered not to is nothing more than a violation of the chain of command and must be punished whenever it occurs.The main reason not to chew gum while in formation is because it is patently unsoldierly. A soldier in the Army is expected to maintain a higher level of discipline than most, and something as flippant as chewing gum when the squad is trying to look and act professional is a problem.
Like a crack in a dam, chewing gum in formation can lead to all sorts of bad things that remain unforeseen at that point, but speak of a blatant disrespect for everything the Army and the United States stand for. While freedom is fine and what soldiers are set forth to defend, the freedom must be paid for with firm responsibility, such as knowing when and when not to chew gum. Once a soldier knows this, he or she will know that it is never okay to chew gum while in formation.