Best ways to “sham out” of a military detail

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Joseph Bartha, cyber systems operator from 1st Special Operations Communications Squadron, picks up trash after a bear got into one of the dumpsters on Hurlburt Field, Fla., Oct. 25, 2012. (Air Force)

Let’s face it- there is nothing worse than getting stuck on details. Be it cleaning up the trash -mostly the endless supply of cigarette butts- on base or unloading supplies from a truck, nobody wants to play the role of detail monkey.

Fortunately, there are ways to get out of details, ranging from the surprisingly simple to the overly complicated. Here are a few plays from the “Sham Bible” you might enjoy.

Tactic 1: Stay busy and be good at your job

While this one seems almost counter-productive to the idea of doing less work, it actually works in your favor. You have to face reality- you’re in the military and thus will always be doing work. By actually being a bit of an overachiever and providing skills that others can’t even come close to matching, you often set yourself apart and will be overlooked for the less-glamorous jobs. Not to mention, if you do something consistently for a long enough timespan, it no longer feels like work.

Tactic 2: Stay out of sight.

When I was a young Private, I had a terrible habit of running my mouth and staying visible. Fortunately, I later figured out that by staying out of sight -but within earshot of the decision-making processes- I could easily evade details simply by strategically placing myself in the right place at the right time.

Even better, by practicing Tactic 1 in conjunction with Tactic 2 (in this example, the one guy who actually knows how to use a computer), you find that your ability to never be in the wrong place at the wrong time is looked at less suspiciously due to your work ethic. “Oh, he’s really hard to get a hold of. They’ve probably got him unf***ing the commander’s computer.”

Tactic 3: Safety in (small) numbers

This one is crucial. By being by yourself all the time, you’re just as likely to be picked for a detail as if you were in a crowd of several people all huddled up somewhere. Think of it as being a fish in the ocean- a large school of fish gives predators a higher probability of a kill due to numbers alone, while a single fish also makes for an easy meal.

By finding a like-minded “specialist” to share in your daily activities, you can collectively scheme on how to best evade details and still look like you are two “highly motivated” men (or women, or whatever, really- it’s 2016) who are clearly on a mission that can not be interrupted. Integrate Tactics 1-3 for maximum effect.

Tactic 4: You have sooo many issues

The riskier tactic for those who want to live on the edge and play “the game” as much as possible, this one is best used by itself with only little aspects of previous strategies.

Your tire is flat again, better go plug it. The pharmacy has a long line- take a photo of it just to be safe. Those damn kids of yours need to be picked up from school for making a “finger gun.” Find frustrating situations that your leadership can relate to and stay very busy.

Be careful, though- too many problems makes a person look like a problem themselves and too many personal issues will make it look like you just enlisted to ride the Welfare Express. Leadership hates that and will come down on you harder with micro-management. This tactic requires an insane amount of self-awareness and the ability to pick and choose your battles wisely.

Tactic 5: Appointments, appointments, appointments

One of the best aspects of the military is that they really want you to have a booked schedule. By partaking in Tactics 1-3 and staying busy with education, medical and personnel appointments between doing “bigger and better” things and being generally hard to track, your chain of command may see your presence as an asset while your lack of presence just becomes a “new normal.”

The key is to keep everything as “official business” as possible.

In the end, you tend to come out on top when you do this- you are constantly improving yourself with education, good health and up to date personnel and finance records. When you get out, everything will be neatly documented for the VA as well.

Be careful, though- nobody likes a “Sick Call Ranger” and repeat visits to certain services without any real show of benefit will paint a giant target on your back.

Tactic 6: Delegate, deflect and dip out

You’re the Mother frickin’ Teresa of your platoon, helping all the younglings who just got out of boot camp with their tasks and drills. You always have a different Field/Training Manual in your hand and can cite everything to those below your rank as if you were a seasoned pastor in an unairconditioned Southern Baptist Church.

When the time comes to do details, you’re clearly doing something, at least in the eyes of your superiors. They are more likely to pass over you and go find the guys who are napping in the corner.

However, be very careful not to have too many underlings with you, reiterating the gospel of Tactic 3.

So, there you have it. Six tried and true tactics for staying out of details, accumulated over years of experience from practice and observing how others navigate the icebergs of work details. Despite the fact that these tactics are generally common knowledge (passed down from Specialist to Lance Corporal to Warrant Officer  to Senior Airman to Petty Officer Third Class and so on), nobody ever seems to put two and two together from the outside looking in. It has always been thus and thus always it shall be. Good luck!

Editor’s note: Don’t ever sham out of funeral detail! It is one of the most honorable details you can ever be on while in the military. 

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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