“E-4 Mafia for life!” Or something like that.
For those not in the know, E-4 is that magical rank where no one expects you to be in charge, but you are, and no one expects much of you except work, but now you can task that down to lower ranks. As an E-4, you get the glory when things go right, and very little backlash when things go to hell. You have authority over the E-1 through E-3, but almost none of the responsibility of supervision. You have entered the E-4 Mafia.
What Is the E-4 Mafia and How Do I Join?
The best way to be E-4 Mafia is to sew on E-4 with very little expectation to ever sew on E-5. And to always have tobacco, energy drinks, and a ready excuse when needed.
Use those years as an E-4 to entrench yourself into the military machine as someone who gets things done, without asking a lot of inane questions about safety or regulations or whether or not something is legal. It probably isn’t. But did anyone get hurt so bad we have to tell anyone? No? Then we’re good.
Branches of the E-4 Mafia
All branches of the military have some form of the E-4 Mafia. In the Army and Air Force it is the E-4 Mafia. Easy. In the Marine Corps, it is sometimes known as the Lance Corporal Underground. In the Navy, they are just E-4s who may or may not help each other out. Pretty boring, really. They should have a cool name like the rest of us, but they’re the Navy.
Roles and Responsibilities of the E-4 Mafia
The first rule of E-4 Mafia is we don’t talk about E-4 Mafia. Since I’ve already broken the first rule, I can tell you that one of the most important roles of the Mafia is to break “silly” rules to make sure things get done. I had to break the first rule to get this article done, so I am upholding the fundamental traditions of the E-4 Mafia by breaking the rules. Did anyone get hurt badly enough to have to tell someone else? Nope. Then we’re good.
In reality, the E-4 Mafia is simply a group of people of the same rank that help each other out. If I have been waiting a week to get the commander to sign a PCS (permanent change of station) request and I need it tomorrow, maybe that E-4 on the commander’s staff will help me out. When I am about to go overdue on my dental readiness but I know an E-4 that works there, maybe he can get me a last-minute appointment. Did anybody get hurt? Well, my gums are bleeding, but that’s cuz I don’t floss, so yes, someone DID get hurt. Not badly enough to have to tell anyone, though. So we’re good.
Origins of the E-4 Mafia
In the beginning, the Army already had it figured out. Their E-4s are called “Specialist”, and if the pursuit of getting out of work and blaming everything on the other guy isn’t special, I don’t know what is. The Air Force has the “Senior Airman”, which is a great way to say “Congratulations! You’re the highest of the low!” Marines have “Lance Corporals” which I can’t really think of anything funny to say about except it comes from the Latin “corpus” which means body, and “lance,” which is a glorified stick, so the Marine E-4s are stick bodies which is just awesome.
No one knows for sure when the first E-4 Mafia was founded or whether or not it actually was founded. E-4s don’t keep records: they have E-2s do it for them, and E-2s are rubbish at record-keeping, everyone knows that. What is known is that the Mafia exists. Its membership is always evolving with promotions and separations. Demotions don’t really play a role in the E-4 Mafia. If you get kicked back to E-3, you’re out. If you get kicked from E-5 to E-4, you’re a spy and no one will give you aid and/or succor. Sure, you have the right number of chevrons on your sleeve/collar/chest/wherever they are on that uniform iteration. Sure, the higher-ups call you a specialist or senior airman or stick body, but the Mafia knows you’re not really one of them anymore.
Once you leave the E-4 Mafia there is no need to move or change your name or get reconstructive surgery. No one will be waiting at the smoke pit (E-4 Mafia’s favorite hangout) to take you out or leave a horse’s head in your bed. Maybe some hydro fluid in your box, but that’s just par for the course. Just don’t expect to get that last-minute dental appointment and your folder will magically make it onto the Commander’s desk because you’re not part of the “family” anymore. Now you’re a schlub, a nobody. Some guy who has more or fewer stripes than all your friends who will no longer be there to take up the slack. Once you make rank, you’ve sold out to “the man” and now your career is more important than doing the minimum to get by. How much of an A-hole can you be?
The Mafia’s Traditions
“I don’t know” is probably the biggest tradition.
“Who didn’t take out the garbage?” “I don’t know.” ”
What happened to this room?” “I don’t know.”
“Why is there a goat in the commander’s office?” ” I don’t know.” Stellar tradition, really.
The second one is never screw another E-4 Mafia member over, or at least don’t get caught doing it. Passing the buck and throwing others under the bus is completely acceptable, as long as you don’t get caught. When you get caught, you’re now the Blue Falcon, and nobody wants that.
Denial is a LOT more than just a river in Egypt. Deny EVERYTHING, good or bad. “Do you know who fixed the Wing King’s (wing commander) jet so he could get his hours in?” “No sir, no idea.”
Good things you do make others expect good regularly. Bad idea.
“Where in the hell is the Wing King’s car?” “Haven’t seen it, sir,” even though you know for a fact it was lovingly disassembled and then reassembled in the conference room, by you and the E-4 Mafia while drunk last night.
“No sir, I have no idea why the anchor in front of Rota Naval Air Station Ops is pink all of a sudden,” even though you do know. Do you know how hard it is to find pink paint in Jerez, Spain at 11 o’clock at night?
A third important tradition is to never volunteer for anything. Again: never volunteer for anything. Never show enthusiasm or curiosity about anything. As soon as you show initiative, you will always be on the hook for initiative. Nobody really wants that, at least not E-4s. Again, never volunteer for anything.
Finally, look important to be important. On the flightline, the guy with a radio and clipboard is the guy you wanna steer clear of. To really up the game, carry a radio, clipboard, and a red folder. No one wants to mess with a guy carrying a red folder. Red folders mean someone is in trouble and nobody wants it to be them. Keep your head up and focused on moving forward, and carry a red folder. It’s the greatest way to look like you’re working hard without all that actual work.
That E-5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 were all E-4s at one point. They know about the Mafia and what it entails. Recognize current E-4 mafia members will probably be E-5 and higher at some point. E-5s should always remember where they came from. E-4, obviously. An E-5 that blows up the E-4 Mafia’s operations (or lack thereof) will find it difficult to get quality work done, and will definitely never get a snack from the chow hall again. The E-5 that recognizes how the E-4 Mafia actually gets things done will probably get accolades from the commander, or not get chewed out as much anyway.
The E-4 who recognizes those E-5s and E-6s who support the Mafia will find things a little easier for himself. Need a recommendation from a supervisor to get out of the dorms? Done. Shit detail painting rocks? That other E-4 who needs a “chance to excel” will get that.
Enjoy the E-4 Mafia as long as it lasts. “E-4 Mafia for Life!”
Or until you make rank…
If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting our Veteran Editorial by becoming a SOFREP subscriber. Click here to get 3 months of full ad-free access for only $1