Each successive generation of soldier, from the Revolutionary War on to Iraq, says that the new generation of soldier has it easier than they had it. When I went through Basic Training in January 1988, my instructors all said how easy we had it compared to when they went through. I look at today’s soldiers and find myself guilty of thinking some of the same thoughts on occasion. However, each successive generation also wants to view itself as tougher and meaner than the next in order to not feel so obsolete. But all it really boils down to is that as technology evolves, the tools of the trade change to ease the soldier’s burden a little. I’d like to make a few comparisons between The Baby Boomers, Gen-X, and what I’ll call Generation 911. The Boomers came of age during VietNam and just after it. I guess I fall into the Gen-X crowd, and Generation 911 came of age around the time of the 9/11 attacks.
When I went to Basic, my drills all said we were lucky because they could no longer strike us. Back when they went to training, their drill sergeants could, and would, give them a beatdown for infractions and failure to adapt. They weren’t even supposed to swear at us, though that rule was bent to the breaking point quite often. Now I’m told that trainees can pretty much call a Stress Time-Out if they feel too burdened by the mental demands of their training.
The Boomers were issued plain and uncomfortable black boots, olive drab utilities with brightly colored insignia, a steel canteen, and a steel pot helmet. My first helmet was a steel pot but I got a Kevlar Fritz when I got to my first unit. My boots were a newer version with speed-lacing and a better tread. I had a camouflaged utility uniform with subdued black & green insignia, and my canteen was plastic. Today the helmets have a built-in mount to hold night-vision goggles, the boots are no-shine rough leather, the uniforms have computer-designed patterns, angled pockets, and Velcro insignia-mounts, and the troops drink from a CamelBak.
The Boomers ate ham & lima bean C-rats, I had first-generation MRE’s with the dehydrated pork patty and Three Fingers of Death, and today the MRE’s are so advanced they actually taste good, with enchiladas and Kool-Aid. Boomers had the K-bar knife, I had an M-7 bayonet, and now there’s the M-9 bayonet that doubles as a wire cutter. Boomers had a shitty poncho made of rubberized canvas that smelled like vomit and let every other rain drop in. I had a 2-piece rain suit of rubberized canvas that smelled like vomit and kept all your body heat in so that the sweat made you wetter than the rain did. Now they have breathable Gore-Tex foul-weather gear that wicks away moisture. Instead of a shitty canvas shelter half that snapped together with your buddy’s half into a really lame pup tent that smelled like mold, now there’s a slick little tube tent.
The guys before me threw grenades or used an M-79 Bloop-Tube, and I launched grenades from an M-203 under my M-16. Now they just hose you down with a belt-fed Mk-19. The Boomers used binoculars, I could get intel from a scout helicopter, and now they fly a drone from 3000 miles away with a satellite feed. Boomers had a khaki dress uniform with brass insignia that had to be polished and leather dress shoes that had to be spit shined. I had a green polyester leisure suit with patent-leather shoes and gold insignia that could be wiped with Windex. Now the uniform has a belted jacket and you can get your awards as a thin plastic sheet instead of all those separate ribbons.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Each generation of soldier was represented by America’s best & brightest, idealistic young people from every race & religion, selflessly serving their nation in peace and war, doing impossible tasks for often ungrateful people in places no one wanted to go, and I’m proud to have been one of them.