There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to drill and ceremony (D&C):

  • It’s a form of discipline that military members need — discipline in every facet of life translates to discipline in combat; D&C also bolsters espirit de corps.
  • It’s a useless waste of time that takes away from learning actual, useful skills that are necessary in combat.

Author’s disclaimer: I am a pretty staunch advocate of the second group, though I make exceptions for events like funerals — however, I’m just aiming to outline both arguments as I understand them. I also come from Ranger Battalion, where people are pretty split on the issue.


The argument for:

The military pulls from all over the country. It recruits from inner cities, rural countrysides, the mountains, the Bible Belt, the Pacific Northwest — where there are people in the U.S., there are people joining the military. People come from all ages, religions, backgrounds, ethnicities, and at all levels of discipline. You have some guys that enlist, who already have a strong sense of discipline, know they aren’t in charge, and realize they have a lot to learn … but more often than not, you have an 18-year-old kid who just finished high school and thinks he’ll excel because he was good at football, or a 27-year-old guy who thinks he’s past all that, and has a chip on his shoulder about being at the bottom of the barrel again.

D&C is a way of taking these people, and, in the same spirit of shaving every day or making your bed every morning, instilling a level of discipline in them that they might not have found elsewhere. It’s so separate from the life they knew before, and these new things force you to have a certain level of attention to detail. It’s like PT, but instead of exercising and strengthening your  body, you’re strengthening your attention to detail and level of discipline.

That attention to detail, that discipline — that is what applies to combat. Combat is all about movement, and so having a completely disciplined body will translate to the battlefield. Everyone realizes that you won’t be doing facing movements or dress-right-dress while taking fire, but if you pay the same kind of attention to say, clearing a malfunction in your rifle, then you’re going to increase your chances of coming out on top in a gunfight.

On top of that, many also embrace and have come to love the tradition aspect here, claiming it’s an essential part of the esprit de corps of their chosen branch. Some of the Marine D&C stuff is extremely impressive, and a joy to watch.

Photo by Cpl. Carolyn P. Pichardo, MCI-East Combat Camera/Released

The argument against:

When I went to WLC (Warrior Leader Course), I was once again briefly exposed to the comings and goings of the conventional Army. I was usually off in my own Regimental bubble, so I wouldn’t see the rest of the Army all too often. WLC was a rude awakening in that regard. I’ll never forget hearing this being said by one of the cadre there: “The war is winding down — we’re going to have to put less of a focus on battle drills and sharpen our garrison skills, like drill and uniform standards.”

A few months later I’d be in Afghanistan in the biggest fight of my life, literally using Battle Drill 4 in a near ambush, so I’m not exactly sure what he was talking about. In the military, you are preparing for war. Ideally, everyone does their jobs on all sides of the fence and peace is eternal, but that’s not the world we live in. That means that in the military, you have to assume war is always on the horizon, whether it is or not. Otherwise, when it inevitably comes knocking at your door, a lot of people will die unnecessarily. It’s happened time and time again — inexperienced troops get hammered at the beginning, and they have to learn basic things all over again until they once again gain experience.

In my experience, there are people who are good at D&C, shaving every day, tip-top uniform standards, and still suck at basic combat tasks. There are people who are great at tactical skills and really don’t understand or put any effort into the world of Drill and Ceremony. There are people who are good at both and others who are bad at both. I will say that Rangers are expected to be good at anything they are asked to do, despite whether or not they agree with it or think it’s “cool” or not. Regardless, I haven’t seen a whole lot of correlation between garrison, D&C-style discipline and combat proficiency.

However, during my times in Ranger School and WLC, when I was exposed to the conventional military, I definitely found that there was a profound need to continue to hammer and hone basic battlefield skills — weapons handling, first responder, even react to contact, the most basic of all battle drills (that still needs to be practiced over and over again, as it is a perishable skill like everything else). Time is so precious, and every drop of it must be dedicated to training practical skills. If I had 30 minutes, I would rather my guys practice glass houses or dry firing than stand around and practice facing movements.

In the same spirit, it takes a lot of discipline to practice crazy looking rappels or back-flips with axes — but time spent on cool looking things is time not spent on practical, useful things.

A friend recently told me that perhaps the SOF community has that discipline already instilled, and while it may not be so necessary for us, instilling basic levels of discipline is required within a lot of conventional forces. I know many Rangers that would disagree with him and say that Rangers definitely need it too. I know others that would agree, and more that would say no one really needs the D&C culture and they should spend that time focusing on practical skills.

What do you think?

“Okay guys, if you can’t stay in step, how the hell are you going to remember to put your safety back on after firing?” | U.S. Army


Featured image courtesy of the DOD.