Leadership: General Order Number 1

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February10, 2007: One thing American military commanders would like to bring home with them from Iraq and Afghanistan are the restrictive lifestyle rules now imposed on U.S. troops in combat zones. Since the 1990s, when American peacekeepers were sent to the Balkans, American commanders have been enforcing General Order Number 1. That means imposing a "no booze, no sex" rule on troops in the combat zone. The alcohol prohibitions apply on or off base, as do the prohibitions on sex, marrying locals or even gambling. Troops are encouraged to spend more time in the gym, or with their video games. Troops having sex with each other is generally tolerated, although that can cause trouble as well. Only about ten percent of the troops in combat zones are female, and not all are single or in the mood.

While the troops are not happy with General Order Number 1, they adapt. But in non-combat zones, where there is no General Order Number 1, the troops continue to get in trouble with booze and sex (especially when the two go together, which often results in rape, or worse.) The difference is more stark these days because so many American troop commanders are, or have been, in combat zones. 

This is not to say that the military has not tried to modify troops behavior in the past. It has. Anti-smoking campaigns have been a big success, and drug testing has, for all practical purposes, eliminated drug addiction from a commanders list of "things to fret about." For over a century, the military has tried to convince the troops to not drink. The U.S. Navy, in 1914 (six years before Prohibition), outlawed alcohol aboard ships. Despite much grumbling, this worked, and has worked ever since. But once the sailors hit land, demon rum takes over. However, it was the navy experience with shipboard prohibition that led army generals to believe it could work in combat zones. It has, but imposing a no-alcohol rule at home is seen as not practical. Well, maybe not yet….


 


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