The Inner Specialist

January 10, 2023

by Ty McNeeley

The United States Army Specialist is both a rank and a meme. The rank is the fourth enlisted level, and after promoting through three ranks of Private, the Specialist has been in for a few years and has technical expertise in specific areas. They are exceptional professionals and crucial to the military’s mission.

The meme is a tongue-in-cheek mindset that is often jokingly referred to as “the E-4 Mafia.” Much like any organization, people can get a little comfortable in their jobs once around for a few years.

The members of this “Mafia” have certain identifying characteristics that sometimes buck military tradition and regulation as a rite of passage. His hair is too long, and his sideburns are shaved at an angle down onto his cheeks. Her ponytail goes below her shoulder blades, and her earrings are a non-authorized color. There’s a can of Monster in one hand while the other is permanently in a pocket. Their sleeves are cuffed even though they’re not in a field environment, none of the buttons on their trousers are fastened, and their unauthorized sunglasses are on top of their Ranger-rolled patrol cap.

That parody version of the Specialist is one that we all have inside of us, or at least small pieces of. I call them our “Inner Specialist.” They tell us that those little things aren’t important, and that nobody is watching so we don’t need to worry about adhering to Army standards. They don’t see the point in following every regulation and rule because skirting it is easier, and chances are, nobody is going to say anything about it anyhow.

When I initially developed this idea, I looked hard at myself to see where my Inner Specialist came out. Is it my uniform or appearance? Nope, my buttons are always fastened, my laces stay tucked away, and as much as I hate it, I shave every day.

Could it be my work ethic? I doubt it. I put in long hours and often stay late to help mentor both students and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) where I work at The NCO Academy.

Then it hit me. It’s my mindset and reaction to unit events. Ever since I was a young, junior enlisted Soldier, I’ve viewed “mandatory fun” as the bane of serving in the Army. I like the company of my co-workers, and I know barbequing, playing yard games, and socializing are fun activities. Why then do I balk at the idea of doing this while being paid by the Army? You guessed it, the Inner Specialist.

The first step to recognizing our Inner Specialist is honest reflection. We all must realize that our Inner Specialist may influence our actions, words, or thoughts. Once you’re able to identify those things that your Inner Specialist wants you to do, say, or think, you can silence that part of yourself that tries to justify ignoring standards, avoiding work, and taking the easy way out.

The Army is a dangerous profession that demands standards be adhered to. The Inner Specialist can lead us down a slippery path where those little details can have serious consequences.

They could tell you that your extra water weight while on patrol is too much to carry, and you’re only supposed to be outside the wire for a few hours. They may want you to remove your heavy side and back body armor plates because it’s really hot and your squad hasn’t been in contact with the enemy for weeks. Your Inner Specialist may want you to take shortcuts on your vehicle maintenance because it’s time for chow on Wing Wednesday. Nobody wants to get stuck with all lemon pepper wings, and those tire pressures are probably fine.

Each of those examples could have no impact at all on your mission, and they may make your life easier. However, in jobs like the military, these shortcuts could also have catastrophic consequences that endanger your life or the lives of your teammates.

As leaders I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on what your Inner Specialist tells you. Listen to that voice that seeks to manipulate your actions, words, or thoughts and learn how to silence them. Don’t allow yourself to take the easy way out or to shirk responsibility, because your subordinates are always watching you and their Inner Specialist will be influenced by yours.

Ty McNeeley is a Non-Commissioned Officer in the United States Army with over 18 years of service. He is currently serving as the Basic Leader Course Chief of Training at the NCO Academy in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. A former Infantryman turned Public Affairs NCO, Ty has held numerous leadership positions both stateside and abroad to include Drill Sergeant, Detachment Sergeant, and Operations NCOIC. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Photography from Northern Arizona University. His free time is spent taking photos, smoking meats, shooting shotguns, and camping with his wife, Rose, and their two dogs.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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