No such thing as “Not my job”

Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan --  Me, in my hut, doin’ the mil-blog thing. As a Public Affairs Officer, I feel it’s part of my job.

Bagram Air Field,
Afghanistan —
Me, in my hut, doin’ the mil-blog thing.
As a Public Affairs Officer, I feel it’s part of my job.

A military recruiter will tell potential recruits that the military will train you in a certain profession. While this is true, the truth is also that in the military, anyone can be tasked to do anything at any time. I’m not complaining … I’ve been in the military for several years, and I know how it works. But anyone contemplating joining the military should know this fact.

For example, let’s say you graduated from a prestigious Ivy League school with a law degree and had a full academic scholarship. You decide to join the military, and the recruiter signed you up to be a JAG (judge advocate general … a military lawyer.) You join the military and become successful and progress through the ranks quickly. It’s true your primary job is to be a lawyer. But the time may come when they need somebody to work the graveyard shift in the chow hall making peanut butter sandwiches while wearing a little white hat. Or, they need somebody to step up and take command of an entire unit. And when they can’t find anyone else to do those jobs, guess what … you’re now that guy.

Situations like this are unheard of in the civilian world (and perhaps, in some cases, even illegal,) but are common in the military. You can’t complain and say: “You can’t make me do that, it’s not my job.” Because it is. In fact, it’s in the fine print on most enlistment and commissioning contracts a new recruit signs. From Department of Defense Form 4/1, Enlistment Contract: Paragraph 9.b. states:

“Laws and regulations that govern military personnel may change without notice to me. Such changes may affect my status, pay, allowance, benefits and RESPONSIBILITIES as a member of the Armed Forces, REGARDLESS of the provisions of this enlistment/reenlistment document.”

If a recruit signs the document that has this paragraph included, it means he can be tasked to do anything at any time. (As an old, crusty Gunnery Sergeant once told me in the Marine Corps: “U.S.M.C. means U Signed the Motherf*&#^ng Contract! Now shut up, and get back to work swabbing the deck, maggot!”)

Let’s say you work at McDonald’s, making hamburgers. Can you imagine your manager approaching you one day and saying: “Yeah, uh, I’m gonna need you to, ah, go ahead and report to the local hospital tomorrow for work. They need a few more X-ray technicians and I told them we would help them out.”

Or, how about you work as the manager for the Department of Motor Vehicles. It might be awkward for you to hear: “Um, yeah, uh, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and work at Dairy Queen tomorrow … they need help making ice cream cones.” **Doing my best impersonation of the boss from the movie Office Space**

At bases in the United States, this doesn’t happen that often, because there is always a steady rotation of servicemembers of all ranks flowing in and out of the installation. So, there are usually plenty of people available so they don’t task someone to do something that’s not commensurate with their rank. For example, they try not to ask Colonels to scrub toilets, and they usually don’t allow Privates to take command of an entire unit.

But, in a wartime environment, the situation is a bit more complicated. We don’t know we need people to do a job until it’s too late (i.e., someone is killed, they get sick, etc.) Replacements sometimes come, but it takes some time to prepare someone to get ready to deploy. (Click here to read about how much work goes into preparing someone to go to war.) Until that time comes, whoever is available, trained or not, can be tasked to do the job. Sometimes, replacements AREN’T coming … so your old job is gone, and your new task is your permanent job. Just like that.

I tell you this long story because yesterday I was tasked to take on a new job as part of our Provincial Reconstruction Team. I was kind of disappointed at first, because I know that this means I won’t be able to devote as much time to my Public Affairs duties.

I did something really foolish and told my commander that I didn’t really want the job. I tried to explain that the team would benefit more if I were allowed to focus on my primary duties instead of juggling multiple jobs at once. To which, he replied: “you’ll learn.”

Immediately after I spoke with him, I regretted what I said. I know that if he had a choice, he would prefer to let us focus on one job so each person can do their best to help the team. But, as former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld once said:

“You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you wish to have or might want at a later time.”

Likewise, I know how the military works. And, like that same Gunnery Sergeant once told me: “Son, in the military, we DEFEND democracy … we don’t PRACTICE it.”

I want to help our team do well. And if that means I have to take on a few extra responsibilities, I’ll do it, and give it 100% (even if that 100% is only 80.) It might make the difference between someone living or dying.

In war, there’s no such thing as “It’s not my job.”

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