Esprit de Corps

Cover of "Platoon (Special Edition)"
Cover of Platoon (Special Edition)

Opposing orders. First Sergeant, in the spirit of hating Christmas, wants his privates to take the star off of the top of the Christmas tree and to deliver it to his office. Sergeant First Class stands in front of the tree, in the love of Christmas, turning back the soldiers as they go for the star. This situation may seem simple, and yet it represents something far more complicated than is imaginable.

Esprit de corps. The spirit of the core. How a unit’s superiors handle difficult situations in stressful times can often have a direct impact on how the unit performs cohesively.

Say, for a fleeting instance in time, you are a real life character in the movie “Platoon.” You are just a private with hardly any leadership experience and no plans for promotion any time soon. You are simply there, a soldier thrown into the heat of the jungle moon.

Esprit de Corps defines how Sgt Elias and Sgt Barnes can both be NCOs, but maintain different leadership styles, attracting the favor of two different types of people. In the regular army (non Hollywood) the best way to go about settling the division is not to kill the other guy, but to turn the schism that had been created into a non issue. Divisions at the top of any organization will create uncontrollable riffs in its core structure. Esprit de corps in this movie had to do with how loyal the fan base of both sergeants was among the privates.

The general consensus is that you always go with the decisions made by the lower ranking NCO, even if the orders that they have given you directly conflict with the orders given to you by a higher ranking NCO or officer. This means that that NCO stands by his decision, and will take the first punches with an exposed hind quarters. You will not be punished for following the orders of your direct supervisor. This is Esprit de Corps.

Let’s take this even further.

Iraq, earlier this decade: an SOP was issued to certain brigades ordering any soldier to shoot on sight anybody flying a kite in certain residential areas. The Esprit de Corps in this essence would be extremely against the orders, but the orders will be carried out. Kite-flyers, as they came to be known, were a perplexing enigma to certain commanders. The commanders of some units choose to “neglect” their duties and avoid areas where these kite flyers were to be seen. This made the soldiers in their units respect their decisions, and eventually not second-guess them when the shit really hit the fan. This is Esprit de Corps.

Who did finally wind up grabbing the star from the top of the tree? A specialist with a philosophy major. The lower-ranking Sergeant asked him why he wanted to destroy Christmas. He replied “I’m Jewish.” He still had to hold up the floor for quite a while, but First Sergeant gave him an award. When it was presented at the end of the weekend, he told the unit “… his balls are the size of a large boulder.” Everyone laughed. That was a good day for the Esprit de Corps.

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