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How long a guy remained an FNG depended on a number of things, including his attitude, his willingness to listen and learn, his competence, his dedication to the team and its task, the activity level of his team, and, of course, whether he survived his time as an FNG. A guy graduated from being an FNG when he had learned enough to keep himself alive and contribute to the team, and when the team had observed his performance in action enough to let them sleep just a little better during his watch.

While it is always presumptuous to deal in broad generalities, and exceptions certainly abound, I saw a change in FNG's around 1975-76. Before that time, most FNG's came to the field fairly quiet, respectful of and responsive to senior officers, agents and operators, and, in most cases, determined to do what it took to become a competent, contributing and accepted part of the team. They realized that what they knew was "training knowledge", and while it was fundamentally important, it did not begin to scratch the surface of the knowledge and understanding needed for operational application. Should they temporarily forget this, they were immediately reminded by a more senior member who would simply tell them, "Shut up and listen". Lesson taught - lesson learned - lesson over.

Sometime around 1975-76, things started changing. Our official involvement in Vietnam was over, the military was quickly moving to all-volunteer status, affirmative action was getting into full swing, and the police, for so long disdained and called "pigs", were becoming socially popular in the growing climate of liberalism that put Jimmy Carter in the White House, as their mission began to be seen more as an extension of social service than law enforcement. The resulting environment of lowered standards and expectations, increased reliance on technology at the expense of human endeavor and ability, increased compensation, and an economy going in the tank resulted in an increasing number of sub-standard individuals applying to and being accepted by the agencies charged with society's safety, security and education, as well as the private sector fields affected by them.

As decreasing expectations continued, so as to include through social engineering an increasing number of individuals who would not have been able to make it on their own abilities, this new philosophy of "inclusion" became the standard. A feeling developed among many that people "ought" to be able to be whatever they wanted to be, simply because they wanted to be it. It was not even desire that was required - the kind of desire that makes one work and strive for a goal; just a passive "want" was enough.

Recognizing this, millions of wannabes (wanna be a cop, wanna be a soldier, wanna be a teacher, wanna be a black belt) stepped forward with a collective whine and demanded the degrees, certificates, jobs, assignments, government money and social status to which they felt their simple existence entitled them. Like children, they stood reaching up for what was beyond their grasp, chanting "I want that! I want that!". Their attitude was not the active reaching of endeavor, but the open-handed demand that the goal be lowered to them by those who were themselves able to reach it. And amazingly, many factions in society readily acquiesced, if for no other reason than to further expand their own ranks, and thereby increase their collective power and bank accounts. It was clear that if money replaced ability as the criteria for advancement, everybody was happy - except, of course, for those few antiquated "dinosaurs" who felt that ability should actually remain the standard.

Naturally, as money became the standard, whether it be federal grant money or tuition paid to schools or training programs, those who had the money became the superiors of those who had the power to confer degrees, certificates and advancement in exchange for it. As a result, the number of those willing to trade titles for money increased exponentially, and the world was flooded with brand new "practitioners" equipped with mediocre abilities and inflated opinions of themselves.

In the old days, these FNG's would have entered into a demanding professional structure that would have continued their education and ensured their continual development. To often, this is no longer so. Now, too many view themselves as instant experts - resistant to further instruction, offended by constructive criticism (except by the exalted "master" who heads their system), and defensive of the elevated position they feel they have attained. Their dichotomy is apparent to more experienced observers; they feel that the little they know is all there is to know, yet, at the same time, they readily believe, repeat and promote the various lunacies seen in the popular press, or hear from other instant experts with whom they indulge in mutual admiration and credibility-building.

The result of this is, of course, a diluted, deluded and incompetent group; more effective at promoting themselves than maintaining or elevating the standards of the fields they graze. Perceptions of professionalism replace realistic standards against which ability and performance can be measured, and the mutual recognition within the growing ranks of the certified and degreed FNG's ensures that the minimal standards they cling to become increasingly seen by the public as the accepted standards of the profession.

There is a tendency on the part of the true professionals in any industry to eschew the mediocrity of the politics that are involved in the setting and maintaining of standards and expectations within their field. Most such endeavors are conducted in committees, and most of the elite of any group tend to be individualists, if not loners, just as the mediocre revel in the safety and support of the herd. However, this is exactly what allows mediocrity to flourish. It is an old saying that all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to remain silent, and history shows us that no truer words were ever spoken. If high standards are to be set and maintained, the most able of the group must take an active part in promoting and enforcing them. And the new guys should listen and learn.

Columns by Craig Smith


By Craig Smith
Back in the jungle of my previous life there were some very strange animals - but among the most dangerous and irritating was the one called the FNG. FNG stands for "Friggin' New Guy" (phrase cleaned up for this column, as some will recognize), and was a guy who had been through the training, but not the war. There was nothing inherently wrong with an FNG, except that they were ignorant, as we had all been one at one time. The only problem was the danger that their ignorance presented to themselves, and more importantly, to those around them.