One of my pet peeves is stories, whether written or performed, that have incorrect military information. Some of the wrong information is simple, such as my current peeve, and some of it is illogical made-up-stuff.
Tonight’s irritation is with an episode of “Unforgettable.” In the story, a Veterans Administration doctor has been asked by Unforgettable’s main character about a veteran who is a person of interest in a murder (the Crazed Veteran is always a popular character if you need a military person in your story). The veteran in question would be fluent in Pashto, a language in Afghanistan. The doctor replied to the detective that it would take several tours in Afghanistan for a soldier to become fluent in Pashto, and then says that she does have a client in counseling who fits the description — a corporal.
Insert rant about ‘if you plan on writing about something, learn the basic information about it.’
In the Army, a corporal is an E4, a junior enlisted rank. If this person were a corporal he wouldn’t have had enough time in service to easily become fluent in Pashto, unless he’d been demoted multiple times. Pashto is a language that the Foreign Service Institute rates as a level 2 or 3 language, levels that take between 34 – 48 weeks of full-time study for basic proficiency. Unless a person were being trained as a linguist, it is unlikely that the Army would invest the time for the training.
Which brings us to another point. The photo of the uniformed ‘person of interest’ shows a relatively long-haired white-bread man (for today’s military) in an Army uniform, wearing infantry brass backed by a light blue disc. An infantryman in Afghanistan is not surprising, however, an infantryman wouldn’t have linguistic training. If an infantryman had acquired fluency in Pashto — either from multiple tours in Afghanistan or from language training — he would have been in the Army long enough to be more than a corporal. Still, for story-purposes, a Pashto-spouting bad guy is more menacing than your average veteran.
Then there’s the fiction that he’s a corporal. In today’s Army, very few military occupational specialties (MOSes — ie, ‘jobs’) use the rank of corporal. An E4 in the infantry would be a specialist unless he were filling a leadership position.
Specialist is a designation retained from when the Army had ranks from Specialist Fourth Class up to Specialist Seventh Class alongside the NCO ranks of the same pay grades. In today’s Army, and of the specialist ranks, only the E4-Specialist rank remains. I’d say this story character wouldn’t be a corporal because, as I said before, if he’d been in the Army long enough to be fluent in Pashto, he was probably demoted more than once and wouldn’t be leader material.
Now if this service member were a Marine, then the corporal rank is appropriate — although, as a Pashto-speaking-E4, he still would be suffering from the time-in-service problem concerning the language fluency.
The holes in this one story point are large enough to drive a truck through.
Writers — and producers and directors — if you’re going to use the Crazed Veteran character in your stories, at least do the poor guy the honor of getting his backstory straight.