Military Life

5 ways the 'good ol' boy' system screws good troops

(Photo by Spc. Kimberly Millett)

One of the most common threads among troops wanting to leave a unit (or the military in general) is toxic leadership. Although high ranking officers and senior enlisted have always tried to pluck toxicity out of the system because it goes against every military value, it still rears its head, typically in the form of the "good ol' boy" system.


The "good ol' boy" system is when a leader unabashedly chooses favorites among their subordinates.

There are many fair and impartial leaders within the military. I, personally, served under them and would gladly fall on a sword if they asked — even all these years later. These leaders would vehemently agree that their peers and superiors who exhibit obvious favoritism are in the wrong and are, frankly, undeserving of their position. This is why.

1. The cost of not playing is heavy

Superiors that follow the good ol' boy system rarely make an effort to hide their favoritism. If they do pretend it doesn't exist, troops will catch on and word will spread quickly through the ranks.

Trying to play by the rules under that "leader" is impossible. Instead, most troops will eventually break down and take the easy route of prioritizing the buttering up of their superiors. Rules are paramount to maintaining order and uniformity in the military. When they play second fiddle to keeping your superiors personally happy, something's wrong.

That, or they'll snap and lose all respect for said leader.

(DoD photo by David Vergun)

2. Rewards are unearned

Two troops are up for awards: One has worked their ass off, day in and day out. They are a master at what they do and have not just helped others with problems, they've taught others how to fix those problems for next time. They don't get in trouble with command, but they're not the most people-friendly person you've met. The other unimpressively slides through work but goes fishing with the commander on weekends.

Logically speaking, the first troop should get a higher award than the second. Realistically, they probably got the same recognition, despite the difference in effort.

This is the most obvious form because everyone in the formation hears the BS being spewed.

(Photo by Sgt. Jacqueline A. Clifford)

3. Justice is not dealt

The Uniform Code of Military Justice is very clear. If someone is accused of wrongdoing, it's up to a jury of their peers to determine their fate. Simply put: If someone does something wrong, their ass is grass. There aren't any "ifs, ands, or buts" about it. A problem arises, however, when a leader decides to sweep an issue under the rug.

The law is clear and yet, somehow, different troops aren't held to the same standard for the same crimes.

Because a "quiet retirement" is totally the same punishment as actual justice...

(Photo by Sgt. Crystal L. Milton)

4. Bubbles are formed

Every good leader should be looking for means to positively improve the unit, no matter how minor the change. If a toxic leader surrounds him or herself with only people that nod, agree, and kiss their ass, they'll see no need for improvement.

Troops do conduct evaluations of their superiors that get sent higher on the chain of command. In practice, these should give an accurate and fair assessment of a unit. This is an opportunity for troops to vent legitimate problems. However, too often these are disregarded because superiors are told things are fine by the sycophants.

"Nope... All good here."

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Felix Fimbres)

5. Cliques face off

All troops aren't always going to get along. That's just a fact of life. But, when two groups of "good ol' boys" butt heads, everyone else now needs to play along with their stupid game — no matter how petty.

As long as there's still a working relationship, rivalries between units are fine. It builds espirt de corps. When there are divisions within a single unit because someone "doesn't like that guy for something personal," the unit has a serious problem.

It's one team, one fight. We're all fighting for the same flag.

(Photo by Patrick Buffett)