Much of the focus is on bringing back standards and traditions that fell by the wayside during ten-plus years of warfare. In short, it’s time to bring back old-school Army discipline. The desire is to ensure that soldiers consistently and undeniably look and act like soldiers, to go along with the extensive warfighting competence that’s been developed over the past decade.
There has always been some degree of tension between the garrison environment and the field (or now, combat) environment in the Army. GEN Colin Powell in his autobiography criticized what he called “breaking starch,” referring to the tradition of starching utility uniforms to the point that it was necessary to shove a broomstick down each leg of the trousers to separate the fabric before they could be donned. His point was that superficial practices received more emphasis, in his opinion, than did training and combat effectiveness at that early period in his career.
Spit and polish do not a combat ready Army make. But the very best units I served in were, in fact, spit and polish units. They weren’t the best units because they looked good. They were the best because the insisted that ALL standards be maintained. High standards and attention to detail in garrison lead to high standards and attention to detail in the field.
There is a finite amount of time and resources available to any unit for training, or even combat. Good leadership is critical to ensuring that those resources are used to best effect. One simple (but not necessarily easy ) step is to make sure your NCOs have the authority commensurate with their responsibility to maintain standards. That means troops will be ready and fit to train or fight.
The troop who won’t shave closely or ensure his uniform is serviceable and clean in garrison is the same one who is bound to forget some mission-critical piece of equipment, or not pay attention during the briefing.
Now, as most of the Army transitions back to a peacetime force, there will undoubtedly be units that focus on the form of standards, and not the substance. And I can tell you, those units will be miserable to serve in, and lack combat readiness.
But good units will strive to excel in garrison as well as having the right stuff in the field.