Are Customs, Courtesies, and Traditions a Thing of the Past?

Survey

By SGM Paul Ellis

Since it’s creation, the Army has undergone numerous evolutions, ranging from everything such as the way we fight to the weapons we bring to the fight. In recent years, the Army also seems to be transitioning to a culture where it appears that customs, courtesies, and traditions are slowly becoming a thing of the past. In today’s Army, there seems to be a lack of effort to practice or preserve Army customs, courtesies, and traditions.

Are Army customs, courtesies, and traditions becoming a thing of the past?

This is one question I have pondered and frequently visit in conversations with other senior leaders. There was a time in our Army where we would not dare to incorrectly address a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) or an Officer by the incorrect rank. There was a time in our Army when an individual did not have to be told to assume the correct position when addressing an NCO or an Officer. There was a time in our Army when junior Soldiers were taught the very basics of our customs and courtesies. There was a time in our Army when traditions were widely practiced at all levels.

Today, Soldiers appear to lack the basic understanding of the Army’s customs, courtesies, and traditions. NCOs seem to forego their core responsibilities of imparting the rich legacy of what makes the NCO Corps the most revered NCO Corps among our allies. Moreover, Soldiers and NCOs alike lack pride, discipline, and commitment to the importance of maintaining our fundamental responsibilities as leaders and Soldiers.

I have personally witnessed the withering of basic customs in several units. In many cases, Soldiers failed to recognize enlisted or commissioned officer ranks accurately, failed to give the greeting of the day, failed to render the proper hand salute, and failed to assume the appropriate position when addressing an NCO or an Officer until told to do so. Units also are not upholding traditions, such as conducting induction ceremonies or even attempting to pass on the history of our Army let alone the history or their organization’s lineage.

While these might be isolated instances of individuals failing to demonstrate proper customs, courtesies, and traditions, it leaves me to ponder: Are might observations just anecdotal or is this becoming the new norm? Since 2001, our Nation has been at war. Could this be a contributing factor to the diminishing focus on our rich customs, courtesies, and traditions or are units/leaders so overtasked that they have less time to focus on teaching the very essence of customs, courtesies, and traditions of our Army. One could also argue that these issues have always plagued our Army, but are they more rampant today than they were in previous years?

To help illustrate these trends, I’ve conducted an unofficial survey and asked nine questions to see what others thought about the topic. I conducted my survey on social media across four forums comprising of Soldiers and NCOs of various ranks. Of the members of these forums, 523 personnel responded to the survey.

Below are a few representative snapshots from this survey:

 Question 1 Comments (Yes – 48%, No – 52%). Are induction ceremonies conducted within your organization?

  • “Believe the OPTEMPO of the unit makes it difficult to conduct these ceremonies.”
  • “It seems to always get put on the back burner for whatever ”
  • “To keep tradition, it’s important for young NCOs to understand that they are entering another level in their military ”
  • “Waste of time, take your rank and do your ”
  • “I have not seen any NCO induction ceremony in the past 5 ”
  • “I have never been part of an organization in 11 years that has done any. I don’t really think of them as an actual custom or tradition. Definitely not in any regulation. Audie Murphy inductions are closest, but not really run as a unit ”
  • “It is important to keep up with the traditions of the NCO ”
  • “I was told by the 1SG it wasn’t necessary. I ended up putting one together on my I spent my own money made the programs books. I even had to travel to another location to borrow the arch.”
  • “To foster esprit de corps amongst the NCO ranks and a rite of passage for our junior NCOs.”

Question 2 Comments (Yes – 69%, No – 31%). Do you practice drill and ceremony within your organization?

  • “We do it every day it’s part of who we ”
  • “Only before a ceremony or as needed, not practiced ”
  • “Unfortunately, we do not conduct D&C. I feel that it is because the leadership does not put emphasis on ”
  • “Vital to promoting good order and discipline ”
  • “We do it for 20 minutes after PRT to ensure SMs fixing to go to school can march a formation.”
  • “It’s a dying art and we are too caught up to conduct ”
  • “Because the leadership has no pride and can’t uphold ”
  • “No reason at all it’s just lost and it’s not really taught in the schoolhouses ”
  • “Too many tasking, not enough time, don’t do much SGTs time ”
  • “Too busy doing details than our actual jobs, yet alone trying to teach DNC to Soldiers. I’m a former Drill ”
  • “No one cares ”

Question 3 Comments (Yes – 66%, No – 31%). Does your organization conduct NCODPs?

  • “Senior leadership ensure that we are kept current on military subjects and within our own MOS.”
  • “My CSM drives this train, she has NCODP every 3rd Thursday of the ”
  • “Four years I have been in Korea not once were there a NCODP conducted, but LPDs are frequent.”
  • “Sporadically and none are ever on the training schedule/calendar as they should ”
  • “My organization conducts NCODP one Thursday every month. The other Thursdays are given over to Sergeant’s Time ”
  • “Not a priority for the ”
  • “It is a must! Junior NCOs are often embarrassed to speak up when they don’t know something. Having this program in place allows everyone to learn something if they choose to take it ”

Question 4 Comments (Yes – 66%, No – 34%). Are Customs and Courtesies enforced in your organization?

  • “Yes, but the junior enlisted come from basic and AIT all relaxed.”
  • “It’s a senior command and depending on who you are, the NCO or Officer does not enforce it. Wrong answer, I ”
  • “NCOs are friends with Soldiers so they feel they don’t have to.”
  • “I’ve started to bring them back but many customs/ceremonies were non-existent.”
  • “Some leaders do not conduct themselves professionally, which in turn tells the juniors it’s ok not to follow proper customs and ”
  • “Climate is too relaxed. Only a few of us enforce ”
  • “Every time you try to enforce the standard, you’re accused of being mean or picking on them and the command does nothing.”
  • “Not always. Some leaders feel that a more relaxed approach makes them approachable and more ”

Question 5 Comments (Yes – 59.7%, No – 40.3%). Are NCOs within your organization enforcing discipline and standards?

  • “There are a lot of newly promoted NCOs and they haven’t learned how to separate themselves ”
  • “NCOs are standard bearers and ”
  • “Lack of support from CoC when performing on the spot ”
  • “We are not allowed to talk to our 1SG.. not even to give the greeting of the ”
  • “Some do to an extent and some do not, nowadays junior enlisted have more power and because higher ups are so afraid of the backlash they don’t promote discipline and standards.”
  • “Everyone is afraid to either be labeled as “toxic” or just wants to be ”

Question 6 Comments (Yes – 34.8%, No – 65.2%). Is Army history and traditions a focus within your organization?

  • “The Army’s history is what makes us who we are ”
  • “No time, rapid deployment cycle 9 months on, 9 months off ”
  • “BN and BDE CSM make sure of ”
  • “Not a “focus” but the NCOs are very ”
  • “Most leaders don’t know the history themselves.”
  • “Our CSM incorporated it into promotion boards instead of a lengthy ”

Question 7 Comments (Yes – 25.2%, No – 74.8%). Does your organization conduct military formals (ball/dining-in)?

  • “As an Army, this is “highly encouraged” to attend, now with everyone running to IG claiming we force them to do things, the squeeze isn’t worth the ”
  • “I have been in the military for 8 years and never been to a ball. Whenever there is one we don’t find out till the day of or it’s during a drill weekend and we can’t ”
  • “There’s a holiday ball every year. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a dining-in in a few years and we don’t have regimental balls in this ”
  • “At one time they did, but new leadership is trying to start it back ”

Question 8 Comments (Yes – 23.5%, No – 76.5%). Does your organization conduct in ranks inspections?

  • “I am an AIT Instructor, we do not conduct in ranks inspections.”
  • “Three times a year is fair to say.”
  • “Only on pay day activities, in ASU ”
  • “We don’t have any formations other than ”
  • Quarterly at BN level for payday activities. Weekly at the platoon level.”

Question 9 Comments (Yes – 25.5%, No – 76.5%). Does your organization conduct NCO calls?

  • “The post has something called right arm night which is the same but same thing about “forcing” them to go.”
  • “As an NCO, I have only been to one while attending ALC.”
  • “Have been in seven years, three different units and never heard of an NCO ”
  • “Most NCOs in my unit have no idea what an NCO call is and haven’t experienced one at all in their career.”
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Survey Results: The above chart depicts the percentage of the 523 personnel that responded to each question. The yes represents the percentage of personnel that agree with the question and the no represents the amount of personnel that did not agree with the questions.

For over 242 years our Army has remained the ultimate fighting force, which in my view can be attributed to the discipline of the force garnered through our customs, courtesies, and traditions. The Center for the Army Profession and Ethics states

Army Customs, Courtesies and, Traditions are fundamental aspects of Army culture. Army professionals integrate Army Customs, Courtesies and Traditions within their organizations to develop esprit de corps

As a professional fighting force, it is essential that we continue to develop and foster great pride in who we are as an Army, what we represent, and what we aspire to be. The future of our Army depends on the fighting spirit of our Soldiers to stand ready to engage and destroy our enemies.

To remain a formidable force, our customs, courtesies, and traditions must remain at the forefront of our formations, with NCOs leading the way in educating the force. For centuries Armies have stood the test of time through the cultivation of deeply rooted customs, courtesies, and traditions that have formed the backbone of their existence.

In closing, to begin fixing these challenges highlighted above NCOs must be at the forefront of teaching and imparting knowledge to their subordinates. To make a direct impact at every level of the organization, NCOs should ensure that their Soldiers are upholding standards as they should. NCOs must ensure that they are conducting regularly scheduled professional development sessions in which leaders and Soldiers can learn from their experience. Furthermore, leaders themselves must ensure that they are ready to develop the future of our Army by being knowledgeable about various customs, courtesies, and traditions. The future of our Army is in the hands of all leaders, and as such we must uphold those customs, courtesies, and traditions that make us who we are as a fighting force.

Sergeant Major Paul J. Ellis is a Transportation Senior Sergeant assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, serving as the Division Transportation Office Sergeant Major.  He is a native of St. Catherine, Jamaica and migrated to the United States in 1998.  He is a graduate of the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy, Class 67 and holds a Master of Arts degree from Webster University.

2 comments

  1. Well done SGM Ellis. It takes a great deal of dedication to conduct the survey as you did. Believe the results reinforce your main points. My observation is that discipline, both self-discipline and organizational discipline, is one of the things that sets us apart from others as a great Army. But, the erosion of customs, courtesies and traditions can not fail to also erode discipline, Hopefully senior leaders will take note of your post and your survey and takes steps to address these issues. JKG

  2. Yes, the Army is losing its customs, courtesies, and traditions and we’ve done it to ourselves. You could say it started when it was decided to have a kinder, gentler Basic Training, when stress cards out, and being sensitive to the feelings of others was mandated. Maybe when we stopped treating this like the Army and instead treated it like a job. Maybe it was when Soldiers started spending more and more time doing sensitivity training and learning how special everybody was instead of going over METL tasks and basic Soldier skills. When a good smoke session to generate a clear head became bad and now guidance counseling is the way to go.

    The Specialist become a Sergeant, but doesn’t change platoons or companies within the battalion, so Joe (E-4) become Joe (E-5), so no troops get introduced to the new NCO on the team as SGT Wilson. When becoming an NCO isn’t hard anymore but looks good on the 1SG and CSM’s NCOER. When PLDC became WLC and then BLC and we constantly change (lower) standards to keep the all important numbers up. When BLC/ALC/SLC aren’t challenging and have little to no relevance to what NCO really need to know, and those graduates are disillusioned on why they spent weeks somewhere learning absolutely nothing useful.

    Drill and Ceremony? Why? To march from the barracks to the motor pool, the head shed or team rooms? To far, need car. Drive to the parade field, get in formation, drive back. Want Soldiers to go to a Dining In? Don’t charge anybody, make the unit pay and make it mandatory. It’s the Army remember!? In 20 years I went to one (1) Dining In at the Army/Navy Club in D.C. and it was a complete waste of time and money. So why bother? NCOPD…More admin training? That was fine in the 90’s, but there is so much real world stuff going on now, do we really have time? Army History…was never taught it, anywhere. Is it important???

    If you really want to start making these changes you have to start at Basic and go through every NCO schooling and make it challenging, Make it disciplined, make it worth something meaningful. Show the ceremony, show the history, get instructors that actually care. No shake and bake, put the fear of failure into people. Start there and it will work its way through the ranks.

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