Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sergeants in the Russian Army

The above article was written by Paul Goble and entitled, "In Russia Just now, No Time for Sergeants."

I was in the Marine Corps long enough to make the lowest grade of Sergeant, called "Buck Sergeant" back in those days. I learned to appreciate how important Sergeants were in the Marine Corps and I think that must be true of any "effective" modern military force." Thus, this article, presumably based upon surprises me a little.

Goble writes, "Less than two months after announcing a program for training professional sergeants, the Russian defense ministry has postponed this effort, reportedly because of "the extremely low quality" of those who had applied to a program intended to upgrade the military and rein in the hazing of recruits, a Moscow newspaper reports today.

Nevertheless, the apparently did find an adequate number eligible to become sergeant and ". . . the selection process had gone "successfully" but that "the beginning of instruction" for the new sergeants "had been pushed back to September 1 as a result of orders from above." As to why that had happened, the Ryazan officer said, "we have no idea."

I must pause at this point to observe that even here America, and not just the Marines use merit to determine who is to become a sergeant. After I got back from Korea, I was corporal and a rifle instructor at Camp Pendleton. I was very good at that, that is, I managed to get more of my "shooters" qualified than anyone else; so the senior Sergeants approved of my work. One of the recommended that I take the test for Sergeant. After I successfully completed the test, my Senior Sergeants recommended to the Officer in charge of our activity that I be promoted to Sergeant, and so I was. It sounds from the above that individuals are being selected from among new recruits to be sergeant, but I suppose it could mean that individuals below the rank of sergeant are applying to the Sergeants Program.

Then too, I don't understand how this "hazing" is permitted. Unless it refers to the normal treatment of new recruits. In Marine Corps Boot Camp we were treated probably more brutally than the term "hazing" would seem to fit, but we expected this sort of treatment; so if it is that being referred to in the Russian Army, then surely rough treatment is appropriate to producing good-quality soldiers, but if it is something on the order of mistreatment for no good training purpose, then I wouldn't understand why corporals couldn't deal with that as well as sergeants.

Goble continues: "Officials in the ministry said that the situation was also acceptable although they noted that the military's training command had decided that there must be "an immediate review of the methods of selecting candidates for training as professional sergeants and also to revisit the definition of the level of demands for those who would be enrolling" in such programs.

"These officials said that the ministry's internal review is now slated to be completed by August 1 and that after that time, the 10-month training program for sergeants will take place in the ten higher military training schools that had been supposed to start this educational effort in February.

"In many ways, this announcement could not have come at a worse time. First of all, the spring draft begins on April 1. Resistance is growing not only because the military will be seeking to take in more than twice as many young men as a year ago but also because reports of hazing are leading ever more Russians and their parents to explore ways of avoiding service."

Ah, Michael, I think at this point, how un-ant-like of those Russian parents to explore ways to permit their sons to avoid the draft. I don't suppose you have the equivalent to escaping to Canada over there. During the Vietnam War many who didn't want to fight that war, escaped to Canada which happened to disagree with what we were doing in Vietnam and readily accepted our draft-dodgers.

Goble goes on: "The professional sergeant program was one of the efforts the authorities had announced in an effort to suggest that they were getting hazing of "dedovshchina" under control, and the announcement that this program has been put off is certain to lead many, including activists in the Soldiers' Mothers Committees, to step up their campaigns against compulsory service."

I didn't know what Dedovshchina meant, so I looked it up in Wikipedia. Dedovshchina . . . is the name given to the informal system of subjugation of new junior conscripts for the Russian armed forces, Interior Ministry, and (to a much lesser extent) FSB border guards to brutalization by the conscripts of the last year of service as well as NCOs and officers.

"Dedovshchina involves a spectrum of subordinating activities performed by the junior ranks: from carrying out chores of the senior ranks to violent and sometimes lethal physical and Psychological abuse, being not unlike an extremely vicious form of bullying or even torture. It is often cited as a major source of poor morale in the ranks."

My first question after having been called a lady bug by Michael is to wonder whether he thinks Dedovschchina is proper behavior for Russian ants. If so then he must surely object to the current plans to do away with it. If not, then it goes against the conception he has presented of an anti-like-Russian ethnic utopia. We Lady Bugs don't treat each other that way . . . except in bad neighborhoods . . . and Marine Corps Boot Camp.

The following is not quite on the subject of good ants and bad lady bugs, but it is interesting in other regards. Goble writes,

". . . this delay in introducing one of the Russian government's highest profile efforts at military reform not only will energize others who question that program, possibly leading to more demonstrations like the one in the Transbaikal earlier this month, but also raising questions about whether Moscow can pay for the "professional" army it wants.

"One military analyst has posted a calculation of just how much such a "professional" military would cost, showing that it would be a budget-buster compared to the draft military that Russia has now. And his estimates, while not beyond dispute, are certain to prompt a new round of such projections (

"And third, this delay, which may ultimately prove to be fatal to this program, not only means that the Russian armed forces are not yet ready or able to make the transition from a Warsaw Pact-style military to a modern force but also calls into question the ability of the government to reform those who are its last line of defense at a time of crisis."


I looked for an article about the "demonstrations . . . in Transbaikal" in Goble's archives, but couldn't find one. I'm guessing that some in the Russian Army like the way it is – that is, want to leave Dedovschchina alone. I recall hearing stories about the softening up of Marine Corps boot camp and disapproved. After all, I had been through it, and anyone who wants to call himself a Marine should go through it as well. Maybe the Russian Army is thinking thoughts like those. However once a Marine completes boot camp, he is treated with a bit more respect. He won't be abused unless he screws up.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen the "Full Metal Jacket" movie, directed by Stanley Kubrick?
The American Army hazing shown there is really hellish.
No comparison to the Russian "dedovschina" of which I personally have known much better than all the sources you mention.

And don't be too ready to believe in everything which is written in Wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

Here's an example of 'dedovshchina' which helps distinguish the Russian system from what you experienced in the USMC.

Anonymous said...

And here's the Russian language blog of the poor fellow who experienced it. He got some inspiration from watching the American movie 'Born on the 4th of July.'