"Every once in a while you gotta reel it in and say, 'Let's get back to reality,' " said Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Pring, who enforces military regulations for the 11th ACR. "And I think that's what happened when we showed up. It was kind of like, 'Okay, everything has slowed down, and let's look at ourselves. What can we do better?' "
Pring described the Stryker Brigade as "the best unit I've ever seen" but was unapologetic, saying, "Discipline makes our Army stronger than any other army on the planet.
"I've been in the Army 27 years. A happy soldier is a bitching soldier."
First Sgt. Lance Dyckman, of the Stryker Brigade's 3rd Battalion, said, "It is a great sign of how well our Army is doing that we're able to take the time out to flagellate ourselves over trivial stuff like this."
Some troops refer to the area around the palace, which is adorned with the 11th ACR's black stallion logo, as the BHPZ, or Black Horse Pedantic Zone.
Unlike Vietnam, where soldiers scrawled peace signs or slogans such as "Born to Kill" on their helmets, soldiers in Iraq rarely deviate from the standard four DCUs, or desert camouflage uniforms, they receive from the military. But they employ a range of tactical attire -- from Wiley X ballistic glasses that protect against shrapnel to special undershirts that soak up sweat during extreme heat to checkered scarves that they hope will endear them to local populations.
Some of the practices are legal under AR 670-1, the Army's regulations on uniform wear and conduct, and Iraq Policy 05-05, a seven-page addendum.
One that immediately came under scrutiny from the 11th ACR was the practice of tucking in shirts on combat missions. Army regulations call for the shirts to be worn out. But many soldiers tuck them in to prevent the flaps from catching on the Strykers and to give them easier access to weapons such as knives and revolvers strapped to their thighs.
The 11th ACR cracked down on the offenders but has since backed off after facing stiff resistance from the Stryker Brigade.
Other rules are less flexible. Soldiers not wearing sunglasses can neither push them onto their foreheads nor wear them around their necks but must place them in their pockets. Soldiers walking to the mess hall must wear "headgear." All soldiers must "blouse" their pants above or at the second eyelet of their boots.
Staff Sgt. Brad Evans, of the 3rd Battalion's C Company, said he was walking to the mess hall with Staff Sgt. Victor Birdseye recently, and their conversation was sprinkled liberally with the most commonly used word in the military.
"Hey sergeant, watch your language," said a passing first sergeant, overhearing the conversation, according to Evans.
Evans said he has come to believe that the 11th ACR "has a separate sergeant major for each thing: one for hats, one for boots, one for gloves."
Even the 3rd Battalion's chaplain believes the rules are excessive for a combat zone. "I mean, I've got soldiers who go outside the wire who get in firefights, who get hit by IEDs [improvised explosive devices], who have had their buddies die in their arms," Capt. Dale Goetz said. He said the rules add to the soldiers' stress by forcing them to focus on "trivial stuff."
"I mean, back off," Goetz said.
Lt. Col. Michael Gibler, the battalion commander who was accidentally shot inside the Stryker, acknowledged that the new rules initially created friction but said: "Change is good. Just like any organization, the 11th ACR came in and took a different look at what we're doing. And there's nothing wrong with that."
Gibler said his soldiers needed to realize that "some people have different jobs, and their jobs don't have them out and about every day. And it doesn't make them any less of a soldier, or any less part of the mission."
Pring, the command sergeant major who enforces the regulations, denied that the issue pitted rear-guard soldiers who focused on small rules against those who venture outside the wire.
"I'll bet you 10 bucks I'm outside this FOB just as much as any soldier" in the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Pring said.
"I'll see his 10 and make it 20," said Spec. Robert Layton of the 3rd Battalion.