Light on the Right: Ditch Deployment Dodgers

Updated: August 20, 2014


By Havoc13

“Bro, is that an O6… with no combat patch???”

The question, asked by a good friend of mine who happens to be a former Ranger NCO, was whispered to me inside a fast food restaurant just off post where we had stopped for lunch. I don’t think his tone could have been any more incredulous if he thought he had just seen Matt Best ride in on a purple unicorn while drinking a warm can of O’Doul’s and singing Michael Bisping’s praises.

The colonel in question was in ACUs, the Army *Combat* Uniform, and was sporting a black colonel’s eagle in the center of his chest and a MEDDAC patch on his left sleeve. He wore no badges and, conspicuously, no combat patch. It was stunning to an NCO like my friend, who had personally served multiple combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan very early on in his career, that such a senior person had apparently never earned a combat patch by deploying even once in the 13+ years our nation has been at war.

Before going much further, I think some definitions are in order. For purposes of this discussion, and in the absence of a more nuanced definition from either JP 1.02 or Army FM 3-0, I define “combat” as anything in the full spectrum of military operations that takes place in a designated zone, rather than exclusively meaning being personally engaged in kinetic operations with the enemy. I also want to emphasize that this article focuses on the active component of the Army and not the National Guard or Reserves.

Additionally, for readers who don’t already know, an Army combat patch or “shoulder sleeve insignia for wartime service,” (SSIFWTS) designates service in a combat zone, and is considered by many if not most of the men and women in the Army to be the ultimate professional credential. This is as it should be; if the mission of the Army is to fight and win our nations’ wars, then the credibility of any senior leader should be directly tied to how well he or she performed in combat conditions.

helmetOnly, there are still a lot of people out there who have never served in a combat zone. I’m not talking about lieutenants fresh out of West Point or non-commissioned officers still on their first enlistment who never got a chance to deploy. I’m talking SENIOR people. Field grade officers. Chief Warrant Officers. Senior NCOs. And not just brand new officers who received direct commissions as lieutenant colonels, I’m talking people with some longevity. People who have been in 10, 15, or 20 years. Since that day at McDonald’s, I’ve noticed more and more senior people that are “light on the right” (not having a combat patch on their right sleeve). How the hell does something like this still go on, in 2014?

Had the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ended in 2004 or 2005, it would be understandable to see loads of field grade officers and senior NCOs without combat patches. The way our Army is set up, it can take a while for some people to get the opportunity to get into the fight, and it’s even harder for people in some MOSs. But the war has been going on for more than a dozen years and many Soldiers have multiple, lengthy tours in the two-way firing range.

The Army even had to ease recruiting standards, offer massive bonuses, and institute a de-facto draft in the form of “stoploss” in order to keep enough people in uniform to satisfy the requirements of the GWOT and OCO. Yet some people managed to dodge all of that? Ten years ago being “light on the right” would have been OK for senior Army leaders. These days is not only unfathomable, it’s not only unfair, it’s unconscionable.

It’s important to note that it’s hard to judge whether someone is a good person, or what he or she has really done in the Army, simply by looking at a uniform. When I was at Fort Bragg, for example, I was part of an elite unit that generally demurred when it came to wearing one’s uniform “bling.” Ensconced on our own compound on Fort Bragg, badges and sometimes even tabs were eschewed, because almost everyone had several cool-guy qualifications, and combat was seen as the ultimate credential. This is how it should be; if you have every school in the Army but never once deployed to test yourself and your training in the ultimate crucible, war, how can you even consider yourself a leader?

I used to downplay or mentally explain away the reasons people who outranked me didn’t have a combat patch on their uniform. But Army culture has changed, and now when I see people, especially senior officers, with nothing on their right sleeve I no longer try to give the benefit of the doubt that maybe they’re simply not wearing the combat patch they earned. Instead, I assume (with a pretty high degree of confidence) that they have simply never earned one.

People will read this point and say, “Who are you to judge? You don’t know everyone’s story!” To that I say, I don’t give a damn. “I tried to deploy but never got the chance.” “I’m on permanent profile, but I’m still a great Soldier,” “My MOS doesn’t deploy.” Whatever. I’ve heard these excuses, and many more, over the years. It’s been 13 years. All of those excuses should have reached their expiration date by now.

Moreover, a “combat patch” doesn’t even denote that the wearer participated in actual “combat,” the way most people would interpret that word. It simply means that an individual spent at least one day in a “combat zone,” which could, depending on the time period, include safe(er) places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, or Bahrain in addition to hot zones like Iraq or Afghanistan. Over the course of a career, can’t a senior Army leader be legitimately expected to have achieved even that low bar?

Maybe there are legitimate reasons why people with a decade or more of service haven’t managed to make it down range. But at this point, they’re either dodging deployments or deployments are dodging them. Either way, it’s time for them to go. ALL of them. I’m sorry, if you are an active-duty, basic branch Army officer, warrant officer, or NCO and you’ve been in ten years or more and you haven’t managed to get deployed ONCE, or multiple times that total at least 12 months, you don’t need to be in the Army.

You know what, I take that back. I’m NOT sorry. I’m done making excuses for non-combat Army “veterans.” These days, people who are CURRENTLY ENGAGED IN COMBAT are getting cut, and very senior people who have never once heard shots fired in anger or even spent any meaningful time in a place where shots fired in anger might actually occur are riding the military gravy train.

army timesI understand that some MOSs don’t always have a direct combat counterpart. I know it’s possible to receive a direct commission as on O5. But I also understand that there were plenty of people who didn’t deploy in their primary MOS. There were oodles of “01A” (branch immaterial) taskers out there over the past decade. SURELY if someone was sufficiently motivated over the course of 10+ years of service, he or she could have gotten one of those. Again, if we’re in a “warfighting” Army that has been at war for over a dozen years, how can someone even be considered for senior rank or position if he or she has never even fulfilled this basic obligation?

According to a briefing given to the Chief of Staff of the Army on the 10th of July, out of the total number of Army captains and majors who are getting involuntarily downsized in the current cuts, only 3% (51/1737) are those who have never deployed. That’s inexcusable given that something on the order of 7% of Army officers have never deployed. People who don’t shoulder their share of the risks shouldn’t be allowed to reap the full benefits of those who have.

No person currently serving in combat should be getting a “pink slip.” In fact, it seems likely that the cuts we already made are too deep. There will be multiple rounds of SERBs, RIFs, whatever we’re calling them these days. There aren’t that many troops in Afghanistan right now anyway, and the numbers of people getting the axe while deployed is only a small percentage of that. Those people currently deployed should get a bye on this round of cuts and count their lucky stars that they were in the box when their number came up.

But that’s not how we’re doing it. We’re sending the message that these folks are “good enough” to actually go and do the things that the Army trained, equipped, prepared, and paid them to do, and to risks their lives, their health, and their relationships but they’re not good enough to be in the Army afterwards. Meanwhile, people who for whatever reason managed to dodge the primary responsibility of their profession are being rewarded by being allowed to stay in indefinitely. I think that is a big problem.

How big a problem is it? In 2008, there were still tens of thousands of Soldiers who were “deployable,” yet had never gone downrange. With the war in Iraq over (for now), I imagine the numbers are much higher. This doesn’t count people who are doing initial entry training; these are people who “can” deploy but simply haven’t. One plan currently being explored involves cutting another 98,000 people from the Army. We should start with every single person who “should” have deployed but never did.

What’s my solution? Cut every officer O4 and above, every NCO E7 and above, and every warrant officer CW3 and above, and anyone else in the Active Duty Army Competitive Category with ten or more years of service who hasn’t done at least 12 cumulative months in a combat zone. Does that sound arbitrary? Of course it does, and there are plenty of example of how a combat patch doesn’t mean someone is a good Soldier. But it’s no less arbitrary than the Army’s current downsizing methodology, and in the long run I think it’s much more equitable and better for the service. Case-by-case exemptions can be made as required, such as for highly specialized medical personnel, but that should be the exception rather than the norm.

After the drawdowns, and after the wars end, then we can go back to the way promotions, retention, and appointments were done in the past. But for now, if there are Soldiers out there who are unlucky enough, unnecessary enough, or unmotivated enough to not manage to have done a whole year in a combat zone out of the 13+ that our Army has been at war, then it’s time to thank them for their service and show them the door. We need to retain those who are capable, competent, and committed enough to follow through with our Army’s primary mission to deploy to fight and win our nation’s wars. You don’t do that from a desk in the US.

Keep the warfighters in; downsize the deployment dodgers.


This article originally appeared in Havok Journal.




  1. Tough666

    August 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    We used to say “60% of the Army is deployed overseas and the poor bastards are still there!”

    My opinion (it’s free so take it for what it’s worth) is that one of the reasons we are hemoraging quality Company Grade Officers and E5/6’s is due to marriage destroying, soul crushing deployment schedules. Add to that the fact that after the initial push into both theaters the War became a spectator sport for Field Grades. The same MAJ’s and higher that were stationed on larger FOB’s at BN and BDE HQ’s.

    Why are we losing great leaders and keeping flexible containers of feces? The “Good Ones” are tired, they didn’t dodge deployments. The S-bags spent all their time state side.

  2. Jeff H

    August 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Extend it to the Reserves. If you’re a Field Grade Officer, or a senior NCO (E7+), and you haven’t deployed, you need to be the first ones looked at for RIF. Of course in the Reserves, we’re trying desperately to meet end strength, so I don’t see us getting rid of too many folks. But I’m a Reserve Major, and I deployed 3 times…every time as a volunteer. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, I’m not Rambo or SF or anything like that. Just a Soldier. So the, “I tried to deploy, but couldn’t” argument doesn’t carry much weight with me. And a leader has a credibility gap when they haven’t been there and done that, while the troops they are trying to lead have. Are there good leaders who may not have deployed? Yep. I know some. But they are the exception. And they still have had to prove to me that they had what it takes. “I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat”. If you don’t meet that standard, none of the others matter.

  3. Sergeant Van

    August 20, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    First off, regarding the full bird with a MEDDAC patch. . .did it occur to you that he might be a doctor, and one with a skill set that would make him much more valuable at a major medical center stateside? Because while yes, there were loads of “01A” taskers over the last decade, you still need approval from your command to go. And if your skill set makes you too valuable to you command, guess what? You don’t go.

    The same is true with more MOS’s thank you’d think, too. The MI branch, for example, has thousands of Soldiers on loan to a few of the spooky three-letter agencies, and those agencies actually have operational control over those Soldiers. Nothing short of orders from DA can get those Soldiers out of those billets for the length of their tour, and many of them are working in missions so critical you wouldn’t believe they were entrusted to anyone making an enlisted Soldier’s pay. The agencies pay the Army for the billets, too, and even cover the cost for a lot of their training and security clearance requirements. By then, literally millions have been invested on even a PFC, and WAY more gets invested into and entrusted to NCOs. Unless the Soldier is in a billet that occasionally requires a deployment, the agency isn’t going to allow the Soldier to volunteer for one. I’ve watched Soldiers and NCOs fight for years to get downrange, only to be told they were too critical in their current position and that they couldn’t justify allowing them to leave for several months to a year or so when it didn’t have anything to do with their mission. And before anyone says it, no, reclassify isn’t an option in the MI community, unless its from an severely overmanned MOS to a severely undermanned MOS in the MI community.

    On top of that, I’ve known several NCOs that don’t wear their combat patch at all. Their attitude is that having the patch on their sleeve doesn’t make them any more of a leader, because an AWFUL lot of worthless scumbags have deployed, too. If their rank and position aren’t enough for you to respect their authority, then maybe the problem lies with you.

  4. Craig Jones

    August 20, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Another reason why no patch is if you transferred into the Army from the Air Force. You could have deployed several times but not be eligible to wear one.

  5. Jesus

    August 20, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    You know, unfortunately, we do not wear our ERB/ORB or NCOER/OER on our sleeve. I really do not care if someone has deployed or not, because being deployed one or more times does not necessarily make you the greatest “warrior” since Leonidas. There are plenty of people the Army probably wishes had tried to get out of deployment, like the kind of leadership that allowed Abu Ghraib, the 5-5 Kill Squads, etc. Last time I checked, you don’t just get to decide what you do and do not want to do. Someone with authority has to place an individual in a category or posture that makes them justifiably ineligible for deployment. If people are being “forced”, apparently, to deploy, because otherwise qualified people are being allowed to skate by then that’s the leaderships fault. The problem of multiple deployments is the fact we have been engaged in armed conflict for far longer than we were ever prepared for. Again, leadership, arrogantly and tragically engaged our military in what I am sure was perceived to be an “Easy win”. I digress. I don’t recall any WWII vets ever bitching about having to be deployed to Europe or the Pacific for Two years or more, before ever being able to see their loved ones again. Haven’t caught a documentary were Soldier’s in Vietnam are talking shit about their buddies who got sent to Germany instead of the Jungle. It does discredit to those who deployed, fought, loved, loss, and even still struggle today after leaving the battlefield to start this petty argument of who is and isn’t “worthy” of continued service based on the presence of an embroidered piece of fabric. If we were serious about making “combat deployment” meaningful for all, then let’s go back to the old standard of, when we go to war, we all go, and nobody goes home till were done. How ’bout that? You know you can’t go an volunteer to be a badass and then complain, because no one else wants to volunteer to be a bad ass.

  6. Matthew

    August 20, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    So you’re saying the military never had competent leaders during long periods of peacetime? Get over yourselves, a majority of the people deployed are sitting on nice cozy FOBs eating steak and shrimp.

  7. Old Navy Chief

    August 20, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    I know its not the same but, I was always shocked by Senior “sailors” that never stepped onboard a ship.

  8. Krista Berryhill

    August 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    If congress hadn’t called the first rotation of Kosovo “peacekeeping”, I would have a beautiful Big Red One on my right sleeve…instead I got an AAM for catching a guy who tossed a grenade, and a firefight on day one, complete with fresh kill wrapped in our ponchos because the bodybags hadn’t shipped yet! but that being said, yes, had I not left in 2003, by now I’d probably have my choice of patches for that side, simply because being an MP almost certainly means deploying!

  9. Scott

    August 22, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Ahem….Soldiers are not required to wear combat patches if they so choose not to. NOT a requirement. Not to say that I don’t agree with the article on most points, and don’t let the NG off the hook either. Know plenty of NG senior enlisted that dodged…we know who they are and they are routinely ridiculed.

  10. Wesley Arnold Jr (SFC/RET)

    August 25, 2014 at 3:13 am

    I would start by saying; I completely agree with the ROTR should not be allowed to be advanced in grade over their peers, solely because there Stateside and not down range. Those Stateside have the ability for high education, personal hands on checks of promotion packet, up to date DA Photo and so on.

    The hard part come with where do you draw the line because what you failed to elude to is that there are Three Groups of “Seasoned Soldiers”: First, you have the Soldier who has be deployed at least once; Second, you have your typical dodger who become medically non-deployable (out of nowhere), tries to PCS to non-deployable units or those just returning, or requesting “hardship tours” just to avoid another year followed by stabilization when they return Stateside; Third, you have those with “bad luck” that miss deploying solely because of the unit they are in … and requests deployment as an augmentee Soldier. Yes it is possible in some cases for individuals to serve full careers and not deploy … and I can give you an example of one that I still have great respect for as a Senior NCO. Panama, I had just left my unit to reclassify from signal to military police. My Battalion was only send an Company size Detachment of volunteers for mystery mission, so the deployment I was due to take I watch on TV from USAMPS, and the Senior NCO(I’ll just call friend) was in Korea with 1st INF DIV and yes he was 11B.
    Desert Shield/Desert Storm, my BDE deployed from Germany and my friend was in OPFOR at NTC. Somalia, my unit deployed as a single unit from the rest of the BDE, while my friend was an instructor at Ranger School (big bust of trouble there junior enlisted with right side scrolls came home and while Instructors were LOTR). Haiti comes and goes while the birds are in the air … MPs deployed for humanitarian work (non threat sound name is all that was) while my friends unit was told to stand down.

    Now lets jump forward to OIF/OEF … I met my friend in September of 2001 at Ft Jackson as a Drill Sergeant. He was my Platoon Sergeant (SFC) and my other partner and I SSG. Your general analysis is correct only about 25% of the cadre said “hey we want to go” and the powers that be said no. If you don’t know assignment as a Drill Sergeant is Two years. Well 2001 rolls over to 2003 and half of my company cadre is due to rotate out back to our respective branches. DA said not no, BUT HELL NO … All NCOs assigned to TRADOC stay in TRADOC and all NCOs who are still deployable in deployable units. So one more year of dirt-bags mean while watching everything on TV. My Friend’s orders come in for FT Bragg and the 82nd ABN DIV; so he’s going to finally go … NOPE Ft Jackson issued deferments to about 75% – 80% of it’s NCOs to stay. My friend became the BN Operation NCO for the BN we were suppose to be leaving. Did you catch the “we” I too was on assignment back to Ft Bragg and the 16th MP BDE (ABN), instead I was sent to the Ft Jackson Military Police Detachment. One more year pass now 2004 my friend is promoted from MSG to 1SG of a training company, I made it out the gate unlike my friend and caught the next BDE deployment 2006-2007. Unfortunately my friend wasn’t as luck another non-deployable unit so he submits for retirement 22yrs and he never made it. 2006, I return to a whole different Iraq than in 1990/1991 uparmor vehicles everywhere and no soft-tops, my 1st deploy of OIF and I have Soldiers working for me on there 3d, 4th, 5th tours. It all started to become to much so I too submitted for retirement at the end of our deployment.

    My point is sometimes “Big Army” has more to say about our careers than we do. It’s still causes my eye to twinge when a see RSL uniforms … hey maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

    I’m going to get off my soapbox now, but before I do … I would like to extend a safe and speedy return to out Brothers and Sisters downrange. For those returning in a silent calm (~~RIP~~), my prayers and well wishes to all the Gold Star Families

  11. Dominic

    August 26, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    … Yeah… I enlisted as a 13B 31OCT07. I managed to deploy twice in the less than four years of service which weren’t my basic training, and never with an artillery unit. Men get shot in the heart in combat. Men get shot in the brain, in the balls or any other medical specialization you might come up with. It’s no fucking excuse. We are here to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. And if you’re wearing the uniform and you aren’t willing to do just that?

    Fuck you.

Get notified of new Rhino Den articles and videos as they come out, Also, find out before anyone else about new product launches and huge discounts from RangerUp.com, the proud parent of the Rhino Den.

  • Videos (The Damn Few and more!)
  • Military-inspired articles
  • MMA (and Tim Kennedy) coverage
Close this window

Join the Rhino Den / Ranger Up Nation

Read previous post:
Leadership Lessons: Hands Off Doesn’t Work With Joe

  By Havok 13 If you’re in the Army, you’ve probably already heard all about Joe. “Joe” is a term...