Every depiction of the military seems to have a series of archetypical characters: the nervous guy; the gruff, unfriendly sergeant; the joker or comic relief; the guy who thinks he’s too cool and almost is, but is often the butt of jokes for his attempts at coolness; and many others. Believe it or not, all of these characters actually exist in the military. I’m not sure whether it’s a case of art imitating life or the reverse – probably a little of both, since modern soldiers are obviously a product of modern society and are steeped in societal and cultural ideas about what soldiers “should” act like. At the same time, not everyone is playing a role – some earnestly own their archetypes, and live them to the fullest, without ever realizing it.
The first archetype I’ll call “That Guy.” He is so named because every Army unit (and probably every unit of the other branches, as well) seems to have one. Note that my use of the masculine pronoun does not exclude the fairer sex; however, “That Girl” is much less common (but usually much more noticeable).
That Guy is identified by a few key traits:
- Painful social awkwardness, often manifested not in shyness but rather numerous inappropriate attempts at humor or storytelling to fit in
- Some sort of physical oddity, grooming problem, or wardrobe malfunction – i.e., extreme body odor, wild hair, wearing sunglasses indoors, moth-eaten wolf t-shirts, etc.
- Usually E-4 or below
The first bullet is the main trait of That Guy: the seeming inability to understand even the most basic points of social interaction that lead to a wide spectrum of weird behavior. This manifests in the form of inappropriate jokes (usually combined with a total lack of comedic timing); bizarre, rambling, non-relevant stories; annoying and over-zealous laughter; and continual attempts to be accepted socially, even while their flawed methods push them farther into the fringe of unit culture. Some examples of That Guy also have the maddening obsession with trying to “one-up” everyone around – no matter what you’ve done or seen, That Guy has done more, seen worse, been further, or whatever.
The second identifying trait – physical weirdness – is unsurprising, considering the likely social history of That Guy prior to arriving in your unit. During high school, That Guy probably either a) worked on cars or b) played Dungeons & Dragons or c) both, meaning in any case that personal grooming was not a high priority. This continues in the Army, and so you often have to tell That Guy to take a bath, put on deodorant, cut his hair, take his weird sunglasses off, and quit wearing that ratty old t-shirt with the wolf on it – I don’t care if that’s your totem animal. Also, you might have to advise That Guy not to have his crazy aunt cut his hair, because while such a cut may technically meet the requirements of AR 670-1, he will also look like a complete jackass.
The problem with That Guy is that many are fundamentally nice people, and most seem to be hard workers – yet no one wants him around, because he’s so damn annoying.