A sense of dread washes over the company as the most recent version of the duty roster gets posted in the common area. The troops shuffle toward the single piece of paper while crossing their fingers, hoping that their name hasn't been called. But alas, a poor, unfortunate soul gets stuck with duty next Tuesday and, upon learning that, their day is cast to ruin.
Sound familiar? Troops tend to over-dramatize the "horrors" of getting stuck on staff duty every single time the duty roster goes up. But why? Seriously? You're being put at a desk for 24-hours and told to maintain the area. Once that timer is done, the next shift comes in to replace you and you're done for the day.
I guess it can feel like you have all eyes on you if you're at Battalion or higher, but barracks CQ is the most skate job ever. Your only real job is to not fall asleep — and yet, for some odd reason, everyone has sympathy for you.
Here's why it's not as bad as everyone makes it sound:
1. You don't really do anything
The officer handles the occasional phone calls, the NCO walks about the area once or twice, and the lower enlisted mops the hallways. That's about the extent of a normal staff duty shift.
Yes, there's the off-chance that a situation arises. If it does? You, as the staff duty, are just going to log it and let the chain of command handle the ramifications.
You might have to deal with one or two people coming in, but that's about it.
2. You clean once and it stays clean until it's the next guy's problem
Officers and NCOs don't complain about staff duty as much. They've either realized how sweet of a gig it actually is or they're holding it together for professionalism's sake. The ones who moan the loudest are the lower enlisted — but as we mentioned earlier, they just have to clean up a bit and... that's it.
The good thing about cleaning is that it's almost always expected to be done at night when there's little chance that anyone will come in and disrupt the cleanliness. So, you just sweep and mop the floors and probably take the trash out. How terrible.
The best thing about cleaning is that it only has to be done once, and then it usually stays clean until it becomes the next guy's problem. It's not like your entire 24-hour shift is spent cleaning.
And you're not going to be doing any major cleaning. That police call is done by everyone else.
(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Lee Hyokang)
3. Your duty officer or NCO will become human again
At about 0200, when no one else is around, the normally-salty leaders drop their tough-guy act for a little while and relax with the lower enlisted.
When they've got nothing better to do, they'll open up about when they were a young, dumb private or share stories about when they were deployed. Enjoy it. The moment the commander checks in early, the stoic facade is back in full swing.
They may have to pretend if someone signs out on leave, but don't take it personally.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace)
4. You can study... or play video games, or read, or watch tv, or...
Everyone is asleep after midnight. You might run into someone trying to sign out on leave, but there's not a single soul to check up on you. So, do whatever you want — as long as you stay in the area.
I've seen people bring entire gaming setups to barracks CQ and without anyone batting an eye. You can't leave, but if you give a heads up to the NCO or officer with you, you can probably get away with a trip to the gas station or something.
Even the big wigs have to sleep. But when they're awake... You might want to look busy.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andrew Jones)
5. You might be able to swing a nap between 0100 and 0530.
The most daunting thing about staff duty is that you're expected to remain awake the entire time. It's problem up to around midnight but the, like a normal person, the drowsiness settles in big-time at about 0200.
Remember the part above about how probably nobody will check in on you between 0100 and the time the commander shows up? Let the officer or NCO you're with know that you're about to rack out for a quick nap and, if they're cool with you, they'll probably come up with some excuse as to why you're not currently present if necessary.
Meanwhile, they've probably learned to sleep with their eyes open.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John L. Carkeet IV, U.S. Army Japan)
6. You aren't even really screwed on Holidays
The worst time to get stuck on staff duty is over a holiday, especially when it would have otherwise been a day off for you. But there's a silver lining here: Everyone takes extreme pity on you. If your chain of command likes you, they might even swing an extra comp day your way to make it up to you.
Remember the story about when Secretary of Defense Mattis was still in the Corps and he relieved from young Marine for Christmas staff duty? That happens more often than you'd think. I, personally, have been screwed out of leave packets and ended up on four consecutive Independence Day duties. Each time, the Colonel came in with something to relieve "the pain" of staff duty.
It's a nice change of pace.
"Give this to those poor, hardworking troops on Staff Duty. They're working their asses off trying not to sleep..."
(U.S. Navy photo by Lieutenant junior grade Rob Kunzig)
7. You get that sweet, sweet comp day
When the next guy shows up, you're free for an entire 24 hours. It's expected that you'll be catching up on sleep, but nobody wants to screw up their circadian rhythm, so you'll probably just take it easy.
If you're truly a part of the E-4 Mafia or Lance Cpl. Underground, you'll try to sweet-talk someone into giving you their Thursday duty, which means you have a free three-day weekend. Not so bad for a couple hours of cleaning, right?
"It's time to get back to what's important in life... Doing nothing..."
(U.S. Army photo)