The E-4 Option: Our Only Hope


This essay was published by Breach Bang Clear on 28 November 2013.


Lately I’ve been speaking out (aka “bitching incessantly”) about certain things in the Army that drive me nuts. The biggest complaint I’ve had lately is about stupid decisions from higher up that make soldiers want to chew their fingers off in frustration. But I’ve always been told to offer solutions, not just whine about problems. So I’ve got a solution to offer.

My solution isn’t going to fix everything. And it’s not intended to prevent leaders from making mistakes. Every good leader has learned valuable lessons from screwing up, and no soldier should expect his leaders to be perfect. The wars we’ve fought since 2001 have been rife with unsolvable problems and gray areas which no leader, no matter how wise and brave, could perfectly handle. Good leaders are made better by their honest mistakes; we don’t need to “fix” those men and women. Instead, my solution is aimed at those who make decisions so egregiously stupid that anyone with even half the average IQ wonders, “What the hell could he possibly have been thinking?”

Here’s what I propose: we assign every Colonel and above, plus certain Department of Defense civilians and every Sergeant Major, an E-4 to act as a sanity check.

Mind you, I don’t mean we should use just any E-4s. To be effective they have to be salty, veterans of at least one deployment. They have to be smart, rather than just smartasses. Preferably they’re on their second ride as an E-4. And they absolutely have to be short, close to discharge with zero desire to reenlist.

In other words, they’ve been around, they’ve fought a war, they’re sick of the Army’s bullshit, and they have not even a single fuck to give.


These E-4s will shadow their assigned leader. They’re not his aide-de-camp, they’re not there to polish his shoes or clean his office. Their only duty would be to assess any decision he’s about to make. They’d be something like the modern-day equivalent of slaves who stood on chariots behind Roman emperors returning from victory, whispering “All glory is fleeting” to keep the emperor’s head from swelling. But our E-4’s whispers would keep our leaders from getting too stupid, not too proud.


As a reward for enduring the horrors of life among senior leaders, our heroic E-4s would receive a gift that generations of fighting men have desperately wished for. Only Specialists and Corporals with maturity and self-control could be trusted with this gift. And while the gift might seem like pure orgasmic happiness to those who receive it, it also has a utilitarian purpose. My solution will not work without it.

Our E-4s will receive a special dispensation, signed in blood by the President, allowing them to beat the crap out of any senior leader who desperately needs it.

Yes, this sounds harsh. But I don’t know of any other way to fix the problem. Appealing to reason obviously doesn’t help.

Here’s how it would work. Our E-4s would stay in the background, quietly watching their assigned senior leader for telltale signs that he’s been struck by the Good Idea Fairy: fingers rubbing his chin, eyes drifting upward and glazing over from deep concentration, sudden expressions of rapturous joy followed by mad dashes to a computer to build a 278-slide PowerPoint presentation, frantic phone calls to bark orders at frustrated subordinates.

When they see those signs, our E-4s need to leap from the shadows, peer over the leader’s shoulder at his computer screen or listen to his phone calls, and make a split-second evaluation of the order the leader is about to give. If the order is something like “All troops, combat or support, need more call for fire training!” the E-4 should back off. But if the order is something else, he needs to shift into attack mode. And he has to do it quickly, before the leader can give the order and cause irreparable damage.


·Leader: “Soldiers should wear reflective belts, salute officers and carry their weapons at the combat ready inside the FOB!”

>E-4: “Come here, dipshit!” Crack!

·Leader: “I think every soldier in the Army should wear black berets! That way they’ll all be just like Rangers!”

>E-4: “Moron!” Whack!

·Leader: “If we make every soldier put a green safety dot on their watch, they’ll think safety whenever they check the time!”

>E-4: “Stupid motherfucker!” Pow!

·Leader: “We’re going to create a special Drone Operator Medal, and make it higher than a Purple Heart or Bronze Star!”

>E-4: “Stop it, shithead!” Smack!

·Leader: “We don’t need to listen to soldiers actually fighting the war! The Universal Camouflage Pattern is obviously the best camouflage for Iraq and Afghanistan!”

>E-4: “What the. . . you son of a bitch!” Whack! Whack! Whack! (I should point out that our E-4s wouldn’t be allowed to carry weapons, because in this situation numerous terrified officers would be standing back screaming “Drop the knife, Corporal! Drop the knife!”)

And so on.

This man would NOT have needed an E-4 as a sanity check. If an E-4 had tried to hit CSM Plumley, he would have killed him plus ten others in retaliation.

This man would NOT have needed an E-4 as a sanity check. If an E-4 had tried to hit CSM Plumley, he would have killed him plus ten others in retaliation.

I need everyone’s help on this. I’ve wracked my brain for years trying to find a solution, and this is the only thing that could possibly work. Please find E-4s who are willing to intercept and destroy the stupid ideas that have been killing us for years. Write your Congressman to express support for my idea. Send the President the Special E-4 Leader-Beating Dispensation and ask him to sign it asap.

Help me put this plan into action. Because the E-4 Option is our only hope.

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26 Responses to “The E-4 Option: Our Only Hope”

  1. 1 Nathalie Leclercq

    Shall we apply your proposal to European politics?

    ·Technocrat, European Commission: “Let’s integrate the poorest European countries into the EU, just to annoy the Russians, regardless of consequences!”

    >E-4: “Come here, dipshit!” Crack!

    ·Technocrat, European Central Bank: “Let’s print money to conceal the financial crisis, nobody’s going to notice!”

    >E-4: “Moron!” Whack!

    ·Airhead, European Parliament: “Let’s open the borders to Poland so that everyone can get to Siberia in a stolen Mercedes without showing his passport!”

    >E-4: “Stupid motherfucker!” Pow!

    ·Statistician, Luxemburg: “We’re not going to check if the economic data coming from Greece has anything to do with reality. They need to be in the Eurozone ‘coz they
    kind of like, invented Europe!”

    >E-4: “Stop it, shithead!” Smack!

    ·Politician, Paris/Berlin: “Hey, let’s promise the Turks they can get into Europe someday (even though we’re never gonna let them in)- just to please the Americans!”

    >E-4: “I’m going to beat the crap out of you right now!” Smack!

    You know what, Chris? The method you’re proposing might be useful in all large institutions. I guess the idea of establishing a reality check mechanism could work pretty much everywhere.

    • Nathalie,

      Oh, how I love your French/German/female perspective. 🙂

      If you can sell it to the EU, I’m more than willing to go on a year-long European vacation to help make it work.

  2. 3 SPEMack

    BRILLANCE! Sheer unadulterated brillance! You, Sir, deserve the Defense Distinguished Service Medal for this insight.

    Why, I would give a stripe back if I could follow around GEN Dempsey.

    My addition to the E-4 opinion would be that once a year, an E-5, preferably a Guardsman in the combat arms, gets to be SecDef for a day.

  3. Speaking as a former officer (O-3, so I never received the Field Grade Lobotomy), I heartily endorse this proposal.

    Probably healthier than my game of “if this unit went to war and you only had one grenade, who’s bunk would you roll it under”.

    Or restraining myself from asking senior Field Grade officers “Who do you work for again? KGB or GRU? I keep forgetting”

  4. I’ve been told -but am not sure- they have a 10 weeks compulsory course at West Point to prevent such a thing from happening. It’s called the E4/E9 special prevention program.

  5. 9 lwk2431

    How about this? How about we change the rules for appointment to our service academies so that no one can be appointed to West Point, the Naval Academy, etc. without first getting an honorable discharge as an enlisted person?

    Want to be an Army officer? Ok, first do four years as enlisted first.


    • 10 Ignorant Civilian

      This is the type of thing that makes waaaayyyy too much sense. Cut it out right now!

    • lwk,

      I like the idea of ONLY drawing officers from the enlisted ranks. Maybe even the Roman system, where units at a certain level chose their own leaders from their peers.

  6. 15 MACV S-2

    Very Napoleaonic, izzat a word, I dunno. Not without merit tho; as a brand new butter bar I had NO tutors until my second assignment as an Asst. S-4 (and me a Holabird certified spook!) then 2 Senior NCOs and a W-2 took me under their wings. I learned a lot, just as my former Corporal Father said I would.

  7. 16 MACV S-2

    And a “PS”. Why the F*#& would anyone be stooped enuff to clothe sojers in cammo THEN make them wear reflective targets! I guess it’s best I got out when I did; every ex-officer I meet these days has left me wondering; there must be some good ones out there, hopefully, mebbe they stayed in and the ‘exes’ I meet have been the weeded out dross.

    • MACV,

      There actually are a LOT of good officers, the problem is that the Army’s career progression system forces them to be information and material managers rather than leaders. Now that the wars are winding down, we’re seeing what I think is a deliberate effort to force the “warrior” types out in favor of garrison types.

  8. 18 Isa

    What about applying the E4 solution to the French Ministry of Defense decision makers ?
    FMDdm : Let’s use a software that forgets to pay our soldiers, and let’s fire 34,000 of them, that way, we’ll be the first armed forces in Europe.
    >E-4: “Come here, dipshit!” Crack!
    FMDdm : Let’s also send them on all kinds of deployments for longer.
    >E-4: “Moron!” Whack!
    Like I’ve already written here, I wish the French were as supportive of their armed forces as the Americans, especially the media.

    • Isa,

      I just read an essay from 2009 in the New York Times about how the German public either ignores their troops or are openly hostile to them. Sometimes Americans go overboard with their support for the troops, but I’d take that any day over the way Germany and France treat theirs.

  9. 20 Wraith

    An idea that will make our military the baddest on the planet FOREVER. Well done, sir!

    Might I suggest we start with LtC Bateman? I’d volunteer, even at my advanced age, just for the remotest chance to smack some sense into that fool…

    • Wraith,

      I’m waiting for more info to come out on Bateman. There are rumors floating around that he grossly inflated his military credentials. His blatantly stupid, fascist and unconstitutional opinions have been shredded by better men than I, now I’m just hoping he’s not really an infantry officer.

  10. 22 PsihoKekec

    I don’t think you have enough qualified E-4 to for this otherwise great idea.

  11. 23 JimP

    They used to have an animal in the Army that kept those with power from doing stupid stuff in technical fields- that was the Warrant Officer ……

    …and in the General Support Field Artillery units I served in, the Gunnery Sergeants babysat the Butterbars, the Platoon Sergeants kept the O-2 Platoon leaders fron hurting themselves or others, and the FirstShirt kept the Battery Commander in line ……. sometimes this required a career ending kamikaze-like move (which I saw firsthand on one occasion), but no Officer was allowed to do stupid things to the troops. Stupid Officers were often given enough rope to hang themselves, and then left hung out to dry …. back then, the Officers led the Army, but the non-Coms ran it.

  12. 24 canicheenrage

    Nostalgic of USSR political comissars, aye ? The people’s army sending agents to keep fellow officers in check, aye ?
    Bloody commie talk !

    Seriously now, seems quite an interesting idea. A good balance of responsability between decision maker and experts.

    Can’t help but think of the reading of ( and some more translation practice can always be of use, even for those who don’t really seem to need it ) “Les décisions absurdes” sociologie des erreurs radicales et persistantes.
    Which analyses several situations where absurd decisions have been made ( challenger launch despite cold weather deteriorating seams , useless company products, pilots running out of fuel and not trying to land, etc ), and precisely concludes most were taken when roles and responsabilities were badly distributed.
    Hope you might enjoy it.

  13. 25 Porter


    I used to promote this exact plan, minus the officer beating, although I do like that addition. I thought I was the only person who had thought of this! One of my favorite “good idea fairy” moments: I was stationed at Ft. Sill in the early 2000’s, shortly after switching to the black beret. We were required to wear the beret on base but the patrol cap in the motor pool. Being artillery, we spend most of our time in the motor pool when we weren’t in the field. We were required to carry both sets of headgear on us at all times to comply with this stupid rule! I spent 13 years between active and NG and could come up with many more examples. This one just popped in my head as I read your article.

    On a separate note: I really enjoy your writing. I found your blog through Breach, Bang, Clear and have been reading it like a book. I started from the beginning about a week ago and have already gotten this far. I find your writing very entertaining. I am an AFG combat vet and 10 year LEO. Keep up the good work.

    • Porter,

      When I was at Fort Drum for a class in 2008 we had a SGM in our class. He was a former 75th Ranger, made the Panama jump, and always wore a patrol cap. Other SGMs kept jacking with him and telling him to put on his beret, so he’d take it out of his pocket and put it on, then walk around the corner and put his patrol cap back on. He thought the beret rule was the dumbest crap he’d ever seen in the army, which kinda restored some of my lost faith in SGMs.

      Thanks for the compliments on my writing, and feel free to come back and comment anytime. And you might even want to check out my books. 🙂

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