Is the motor pool half full or half empty?

Winston Groom, author of the book that became the movie Forrest Gump (1994), describes how a regiment (a group of battalions and typically led by a colonel) on paper reports a strength of about 1,000 soldiers, but the on-hand presently available probably comes closer to 500, half of full strength. I don’t remember the book, or whether he referred to the Civil War or World War I.

By the way, Michael Connor Humphreys, the child who played the young Forrest Gump, later completed an enlistment in the U.S. Army.

Half strength. The same story persists today. About half remain unavailable due to temporary duty elsewhere, on special assignment (whatever that means), on leave, injured, ill, pregnant, other medical condition, pending retirement (and dragging that muh fukr out), executing change of station orders or just really good at making up bullshit excuses to stay invisible.


This one asshole at last my unit, upon us first meeting, said to me, “I’m retiring.” That was his introduction. That was April 2016. He retired December 2018.

He was a senior non-commissioned officer (NCO). As such, our military culture affords him plenty of discretion in managing his own schedule. He knows it. If he’s not at his desk, we presume that he’s probably doing something important and right where he should be.

A short time before retirement leave, he admitted to me that he prefers to return to work late after lunch and that if it’s fairly quiet, he just goes straight home. That’s if he returns from lunch at all. Doesn’t say shit to anyone. Just leaves.

Any attempt by his section leadership to assign him work resulted in fits of denying responsibility, reminders of appointments impossible for him to reschedule, and appointments with start times but no end times. His dental exams and one-hour admin briefs apparently began before the normal work day and extended into the following day.


Just as our personnel come in at half strength, so too our vehicles (and other equipment). I frequently hear complaints about how, “Our shit’s always broken.”

As a joke, once, I responded with, “You know how we have this rule of thumb in the military about how ‘Two is one, one is none,’? Well, is half our shit really broken? Or did we buy the right amount because we knew half would end up broken?”

My buddy Joe replied, “See that’s how I know Brian’s a philosopher. Is the motor pool half empty? Or is it half full?” Maybe we really only need just half our people to win a war.

When asked how many people work a the Vatican, Pope John XXIII replied, “Probably about half.” Half is amazing. I’ve seen closer to 80/20, ala Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto; meaning, 20% of the people do 80% of the work.


I got tasked once with overseeing the writing of my battalion’s annual command history. When I submitted our final draft four months later, it amounted to 86 pages. The base historian said it was the best work she’s seen in years.

She must not have looked that closely. I wasn’t aiming for good – just good enough. Good means I might get the same task next year. Not good.

I initially drafted it without listing myself as an author, but I wrote a preface expressing my personal opinion on the issue of writing it. I wanted to take full responsibility for any disfavor from higher with the written work.

The preface got omitted before submitting. I’ll copy-paste the preface in a future blog. I had fun writing it.

Anyway, the format of the history from previous years resembled a compilation of reports with which our subordinate companies already held familitary. The situation report (SITREP). The companies already send a weekly SITREP to battalion.

The previous year, the task fell to the admin section to simply compile input from the companies and send to higher. The senior NCO in charge of the admin section… this asshole… not only succeeded in evading all responsibility, but also in pushing off primary responsibility onto me. Totally legendary Shamurai move. Well played, my friend. Well played.

The SITREP format consists of brief bullets about personnel, equipment, training, and significant operation over the past week. The history would have asked for the same report, but for the year.

Nope. Not this time, and of course, not on my watch. That’s too easy. Can’t have that. The Amazing Idea Fairy blessed us with 20+ chapters of man hours spent over four months – blessed us with yet another mountain of greatness to somehow benefit higher, at the expense of lower… lower, who pays the cost of such amazing ideas at no greater compensation.

Makes sense. What else is a military for? Winning wars, defending its citizens or stopping bad guys? Fuck that. It’s all about writing and re-writing reports into different formats for countless different bosses.

I recommended non-compliance. I reasoned that we’re soldiers, not historians, and that we had more important work to do. But, it being the military, the fear of disobedience outweighs reason. Bullshit mission? Eh.