Civilians sometimes try to understand the military, but between media depictions, the stories of bygone eras, and common misconceptions, there are a lot of jobs within the service that the public just doesn't understand at all.
Here's a list of just six jobs from the Army that civilians don't understand:
This guy has to be able to provide emergency first aid under fire, read a battlefield to exploit enemy missteps, and call in helicopters and supporting fire when necessary, all while dodging bullets and attempting to outmaneuver an enemy who likely grew up in the fields he's fighting in.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kenneth Pawlak)
It's easy to understand the infantry stereotypes of dumb grunts. In the old draft Army, lots of guys were shucked into the infantry and other combat arms branches to simply fill uniforms and foxholes. If they were dumb — oh well, their draft would end soon anyway.
Modern infantry is very different. While grunts today have a well-earned reputation for being occasionally immature and often crude, they also have a well-earned reputation for precision and tactical and strategic foresight.
Today, we expect 19- and 20-year-old specialists and corporals to lead small teams, positioning themselves and two other soldiers in the exact right position to have the maximum impact, sometimes without guidance from squad and platoon sergeants too busy with other tasks. It's the age of the "strategic corporal," and we simply can't afford dumb grunts.
5. Chaplain's assistant
Soldiers bow their head in prayer during a Memorial Day Ceremony while deployed to Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by Maj. Richard Barker)
People imagine the nerdiest kid from their Bible study class — and those kids do join as chaplain's assistants sometimes — but the mission they're required to do is less, "badly sing songs on guitar" and more "kill any threats to the chaplain while providing religious support to members of your faith, as well as Christians, Jews, Wiccans, Pagans, and members of any other faith who happen to be in your unit."
See, chaplains and their assistants are tasked with tending to the spiritual needs of all members of the unit, even the atheists. The chaplain can only fire a weapon in a purely defensive way — and that very, very rarely happens. So that means the assistant, who also helps everyone, has to eliminate any threats to the chaplain when they're working near the front.
Meanwhile, the chaplains and their assistants also provide counseling services to soldiers with various issues, from marital infidelity to survivor's guilt to suicidal thoughts or actions.
4. Watercraft operator
That's an Army tug, one of the service's smaller watercraft. Larger vessels are big enough to carry multiple tanks and trucks at once.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Belton)
Most people assume that the Army has no ships or boats and, if they do, it must just be a couple of jet skis or landing crafts for hitting beaches. Well, the Army doesn't have any ships, but they do have quite a few boats that are key logistical assets, moving massive amounts of much-needed supplies between ports and beaches. The vessels are both larger than people think and more capable than they appear.
Some of the vessels can carry everything from humvees to tanks. The larger vehicles can carry trucks, armor, and literal tons of ammunition, weapons, or food. The Army also has tugs and dredges to keep rivers and ports open. Some of the ships can cross the ocean, but typically operate near the shore or on rivers. And yes, watercraft operators deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where they provided a key logistical service on rivers and canals.
3. Military police
These are military police. That is not a radar gun.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jameson Crabtree)
Yes, military police break up bar brawls and issue speeding tickets like you see in the movies. But many of them are also trained in maneuver warfare and have that as their primary role, meaning that they're much more focused on defending American convoys from determined Taliban attacks — complete with machine guns, rockets, and IEDs — than whether you're driving 22 in a 20-mph zone.
They're equipped and trained for the maneuver mission with Mk. 19 automatic grenade launchers, M2 .50-cal. machine guns, and AT-4 anti-tank recoilless-rifles. The military police branch also includes investigators who serve as true detectives on base, solving crimes from petty theft to sexual assault to murder.
2. Truck driver
Truck drivers load ammo during an exercise.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Boisvert)
Like infantry, these guys have a reputation for being dumb. Worse, they're also assumed to be "in the rear with the gear." But there's an old strategy that states tactics win battles and logistics wins wars — and smart enemies know to attack the supply chains.
There's a reason that so many images from Iraq and Afghanistan are of burning trucks. The insurgents were smart enough to target the fuel trucks and supply convoys to starve out remote outposts, putting the truck drivers in the crosshairs. Meanwhile, training the drivers takes a long time since most of them have to learn to drive everything from humvees to armored semi-trucks with loads ranging from two tons to over five.
An Iraqi-American soldier refuels vehicles during a drivers training class.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica DuVernay)
Notice that mention of fuel trucks above? Yeah, Army petroleum supply specialist may sound like a glorified gas attendant, but these guys have to build and maintain fuel points across the battlefield, sometimes within range of enemy artillery or mortars.
Imagine a gas attendant who's willing to stay at their post as enemy shells are blowing up the huge bags of fuel surrounding them, trying desperately to get a final few, crucial gallons of fuel into the helicopter before it takes off the beat back the attack.
It's more intense than you think.