CAMP BASRA, Iraq (June 22, 2009) - What happened to the good-old days, when Army regulations, field manuals and standard operating procedures were regarded as more than just booster seats for second lieutenants'

There was a time when noncommissioned officers took pride in knowing regulations. Even the lowliest privates, usually through their own violations, were taught to research regulations and correct their own shortcomings.

Please tell me those days have not gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Terms like "page and paragraph that for me" were commonplace. That seems to have been replaced by blank stares and phrases like, "I know I heard it somewhere."

Let me give an example from MNF-I Uniform Wear, Appearance, Conduct and Standards. This is a regulation which changes occasionally, and therefore demands frequent attention.

In particular, let's talk about smoking while walking. As a smoker, this is not a regulation I am especially fond of. Back when I joined the Army you could smoke in the barracks, at rout-step march and even while running, (no, I'm not kidding). Well, times have changed.

The regulation states there should be no eating, drinking, smoking or talking on a cell phone while walking in uniform. Most Soldiers only seem to know the part about smoking. This can lead to embarrassing situations.

I encountered a prime example of this during my last trip to the sandbox.

I had just landed at Catfish Air in Balad after many hours of FOB hopping. I needed a cigarette. I was walking to the coffee shop right off of the airfield when I slid a cigarette and lighter out of my pocket. I didn't light the cigarette. I just had it at the ready when I noticed a group of officers walking toward me from the direction of the coffee shop.

After the salutes and greetings, the junior officer in the group -- I won't mention his rank but he did still require a booster seat -- looked at my left hand and simply said "lose the cigarette."

I responded with "yes sir, but I'm not sure I understand your reasoning." The more seasoned officers in his party seemed to sense the lesson about to be imparted. They just stood back, covering their smiles.

The young officer began to inform me of the policy prohibiting smoking and walking. I, putting on my best confused face, informed him I was not smoking. I was simply carrying my coffin nail a few more steps to the coffee shop, but this was not going to do it for him. He informed me that policies were in place for a reason and they must be followed, no matter how ridiculous we think they are.

The senior ranking in the group saw what was coming. He, out of sight of the younger, grinned and gave me a slight nod. That was my signal to begin the lesson. So, I said I believe the policy he was referring to was actually MNF-I Uniform Wear, Appearance, Conduct and Standards, and that page R-1-10, paragraph eight states military personnel will observe service customs by not smoking, drinking, eating or talking on cell phones while walking in uniform.

I then pointed out that I was only carrying my cigarette, as he was only carrying his coffee, and though I didn't believe either of us were in violation of any regulation, if I was wrong so was he. I looked him square in the eye and said, "Sir, if you were right, you would pour your coffee out on the ground right now, but I don't think you will."

With only a slight hesitation, the young Soldier popped the lid off of his chi-latte mocachino and poured it out on the ground. The look of victory in his eyes was brilliant, and short-lived.

I looked at his boss, who by now could hardly contain his enjoyment, and said, "Wow, I really didn't think he'd do it."

Then I lit my cigarette.

You would have thought the poor young Soldier's dog just died.

He began to instruct me to put my cigarette out when his boss stepped in. Young Soldier, he said, the sergeant is standing, not walking, in a designated smoking area. With a smile and a pat on the back he said, "This is how we learn, young man; this is how we learn."

The moral of the story is, don't be afraid to make on-the-spot corrections. Just make sure you know the regulations and use tact when you do.

If you don't know the specific regulation, you may want to approach the correction more gingerly. You may say, for example, "Soldier, I am certain there is a regulation which requires you to wear pants on guard duty. I will look it up and get back to you with the page and paragraph. In the meantime; put some pants on."

This could save you considerable embarrassment (though it won't do much for the guard).

So, if you don't know the regulation, look it up. If you do know it, look it up anyway, and impart your wisdom on our next generation of leaders.

(Staff Sgt. Dave Lankford serves with Multi-National Division-South in Iraq.)

Page last updated Mon June 22nd, 2009 at 11:46