Soldiers At the Rear
(While making coffee) I made coffee through Desert Storm. I made coffee during Panama, while everyone else got to fight, got to be a Ranger. Now it's "Grimesy, black, one sugar" or "Grimesy, got a powdered anywhere?"—Specialist Grimes, Black Hawk Down
Similar to the Straw Civilian, this trope shows up in Military Fiction. Unlike the civilian or the Draft Dodger, this guy joins the army when things go bad. Unlike the civilian, it's because he knows the safest place to be is in the military, in a position where absolutely nothing can go wrong. While everyone else is out fighting the Planet of Hats, he's safe and sound back in Muskogee, Oklahoma, sewing buttons on uniforms.
In modern military parlance, he's the "Rear Echelon Motherfucker." Whereas a civilian might not know any better, being fat and stupid, this guy's actually been through basic training and had to pull strings and know people to get his cushy job. Or he got lucky and is assigned to a unit that's not going to combat. Either way, he gets all the perks of being a soldier (drinking and wearing a uniform) and none of the hassle (strangers trying to kill you a lot). He's the military version of the fat, lazy cop.
In fiction, a REMF tends to be portrayed as someone who sought the job and got it because he knows a guy. He pulled strings. He's a Senator's son. He's a celebrity. Because fiction tends to be black and white, the REMF usually isn't portrayed as someone who got lucky, but as someone who kissed a lot of fat, rich behind.
In Real Life, the REMF is often just someone who happens to not be in the shit. At the moment. The military is big and a lot (to the tune of 10-15 REMFs for every guy actually pulling a trigger) of necessary jobs don't necessarily involve you getting shot at by random [INSERT BAD GUY HERE]s; some people are just lucky. He's still a REMF, though. Motherfucker didn't get shot at.
Often, the children of important and or wealthy people do join the military because they want to serve. Fortunately or unfortunately, the military brass aren't morons and know that if the child of a VIP dies on their watch, they're in for a world of trouble. Thus, through no fault of his own, the boy with the silver spoon might spend the war typing up reports.
Along with REMF, "pogue" is a term with similar connotations (from POG: Person Other than Grunt). Fobbit (Forward Operating Base + Hobbit) is another similar term, specific to troops deployed but who do not go on patrols for varying reasons.
It's worth noting that being a REMF in an unconventional conflict might be almost impossible, since by definition there isn't a rear-echelon (if you're in the theatre), and someone whose job normally isn't anywhere near combat might find themselves under fire (or IED attack) at any time, such as in places like Afghanistan (2001-?).
This guy is often Gung-Holier Than Thou and a Miles Gloriosus. A bad Officer and a Gentleman and General Failure are both probably REMFs. A good Drill Sergeant Nasty rarely is. See also Armchair Military, and Desk Jockey.
No Real Life examples, please. Let's avoid a flame war.
- In Irresponsible Captain Tylor, the title character joined the military to get a cushy day job in the Pension Office. However, he becomes involved in a hostage crisis and is promoted to command rank and assigned to the destroyer Soyokaze.
- And this becomes Reassignment Backfire when it turns out he's surprisingly good at being a starship captain, despite his own wishes.
- Yang Wen-Li from Legend of the Galactic Heroes only joined the military for the education and the pension and was hoping for a position like this. Sadly, he proved to be a military prodigy and ended up getting his own command, as well as becoming the Arch Enemy of The Empire (and his own administration).
- During World War II, Captain America (comics) had the secret identity of a clumsy infantry private who'd get stuck at the rear.
- Many of Bill Mauldin's cartoons are about soldiers who aren't allowed in the rear because they don't look soldierly enough.
- "It's either enemy or off-limits."
- The movie Soldier deals with a Sorting Algorithm of perfect soldierdom. The first generation of perfect soldiers were chosen at birth and trained therefrom. The second generation were genetically engineered. The first generation are led by a battle-tested son of a bitch (Gary Busey). The second generation are led by a REMF (Jason Isaacs). In the end, the first generation kills the shit out of the second, and all the angels applaud.
- Mister Roberts (US Navy in WW II) the film and the play. The Captain and Ensign Pulver are happy to be out of the line of fire. The title character desperately wants a transfer to a warship.
- Specialist Grimes, (Ewan McGregor) one of the Rangers, in Black Hawk Down has always been away from the fighting, a fact he says isn't his fault. It's because he has a rare and valuable skill beloved by the Army that keeps him busy: He can type. However, he doesn't like being in this trope and actually wants to fight, rather than spending his entire career typing and making coffee.
- Needless to say, he ends up getting caught up in the worst of the movie's fighting. And copes with the stress by making coffee during the lulls.
- Lawrence begins Lawrence of Arabia like this.
- REMFs show up a lot in the works of David Drake, as he writes mostly Military Science Fiction.
- At the beginning of Redliners, a group of elite commandos on R&R want a drink. The REMF behind the bar sneers at their battered BDUs and refuses to serve them. The Redliners (a term that means "about to blow") take this badly. Trouble ensues.
- In his Ranks of Bronze, the bad guys aren't the people the Roman Legionnaires are fighting against (mostly just bronze age, barbarian aliens). The bad guys are the fat assholes telling the Romans who to fight. And one arrogant prick who happens to be a Roman.
- Robert A. Heinlein, no stranger to the military himself, also had a problem with REMFs. Sort of. As with every other trope, he played with it.
- In Starship Troopers, he both despised and avoided REMFs. For anything that required esprit de corps, a member of the MI served (possibly on disability, if it was something like teaching, which requires spirit without the corp). For everything else, they hired civilians. Civilians are like beans; buy 'em as you need 'em.
- In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus first intends to avoid WWI by fleeing to South America. Then he's faced with the scorn of his birth family and is motivated to join the army; he then realizes that being a lily-white, red-haired gringo in Brazil would paint him as an agent of some European power and get him killed, so his actual best bet is to join the army and be the best damn REMF he can. Unfortunately, his adopted family has some pull, and they put him where every red-blooded, kraut-hating American should want to be. France. Oh Crap.
- Also in Time Enough for Love, "The Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail". He joined the navy because he didn't particularly care for farming. Then he bucked for officer. Then he applied for pilot training. Then he bucked for multiengined seaplanes rather than fighters to avoid serving on carriers while still accumulating all the promotion and pay benefits of sea duty. He didn't particularly cotton to getting shot at. Then he bucked for early retirement on disability (crazy on the job), getting an honorary bump to rear admiral and three-quarters pay.
- As far as Ernest Hemingway is concerned, you're a REMF, you're crazy, or you're dead. And if you're not dead, you're going to be dead. Soon. Alone. In the rain.
- Ciaphas Cain aspires to be this; early in his career he managed to pull some strings (although by doing well at poker, since he's Conveniently an Orphan like all other Commissars) and get himself transferred to a nice, safe artillery unit. Unfortunately, it turned out less safe than expected and gave him a reputation for mighty heroism. Later his reputation makes this much harder, so he has to find somewhere safe to be when the fighting breaks out. It always leads to a sort of self-targeting Reassignment Backfire when he inevitably gets in danger anyway (and thus even more of a reputation when he survives). He was once officially in a soldier at the rear position, but he kept being attached to combat situations because (according to him) command thought he enjoyed almost getting killed. So he eventually tried to get out of this by getting permanently attached to a real unit, as quickly as possible without concern for what unit it was.
- In a later book Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures series, the heroes are trying to disable an army. Some of the gang are disabling from within; after Basic Training, they face deployment. At first they're offered, literally, a shit assignment. They mention they know the Commander in Chief... a few comments later their interlocutor learns they know a Retired Legend... And they're offered their choice of sweet, sweet candy.
- In Catch-22, Former PFC Wintergreen always manages to avoid being sent into combat by manipulating the discipline system. Many of the other characters would do the same if they thought they could pull it off.
- All Quiet on the Western Front has Corporal Himmelstoss.
- Richard Marcinko, author and former SEAL, has several of these in his Rogue Warrior series. Some are inspired by service members and even SEALs he knew.
- John Clark from Tom Clancy's Ryan books hates REM Fs, especially when one is in charge of an operation and fails to run it properly, putting the front-line grunts at risk. In Clear and Present Danger, when he finds out that National Security Advisor James Cutter is behind the deaths of some Army soldiers, he personally talks to the man and convinces him to commit suicide rather than face the inevitable Congressional inquiry. And he does it with a smile.
- In War Story by Derek Robinson, the newly arrived gung-ho pilot, Paxton, is surprised to see the squadron clerk, a mere lance-corporal, is a on old boy from his prestigious public school. He asks why his old schoolfriend is in the ranks, when surely a chap like you has family, has connections, knows people? You should be at least a captain by now? To which the public-school corporal replies that he'd successfully dodged recruitment until enlistment became compulsory. Then he took a typing course, as men who can type are so rare in the Army that they are never ever sent into the front-line trenches. Then he enlisted as a private soldier, and with any luck will actually survive the bloody war.
And they say life expectancy for a new pilot is, ooh, sixteen hours, sir?
- In The Honorary Chinese Paratrooper, Soldier of Fortune Magazine writer Jim Morris shows how this trope can go from bad to worse. During the 1960's he was in the US Army Special Forces. While his friends went to Vietnam, he went to Taiwan.
- Victor Henry goes through most of World War II like this in Hermann Wouks wind's of war/war and remembrance duology. He does get a fighting command in the Solomons and at Leyte though. He also takes opportunities to go on observation missions up forward.
- Band of Brothers mostly featured genuine grunts on the ground and in the shit. A few people qualified, though.
- Many of the higher ranking officers might qualify, as they had no real understanding of the situation on the lines. Captain (later Major) Winters was exempt because he had combat experience and trouble distancing himself from his men following promotion.
- Captain Nixon never fired his gun in combat, a fact he lamented. May qualify as he spent much of the war cultivating his alcoholism. Probably doesn't, as he jumped out of a plane into three separate war zones and spent a lot of time freezing in a hole in Bastogne. He ended up being the one of the very few members of 101st Airborne to get three Jump Stars.
- Any soldier who was insufficiently eager to escape from an army hospital and rejoin the effort was viewed with suspicion. If you didn't buy a ticket home with genuine infirmity, then you belonged on the lines, dammit.
- Henry Jones, a green lieutenant, fresh out of West Point, showed up late in the war, desperate for field experience. Everyone smirked at him and hoped he didn't get anyone killed. After one sortie across a river, he was promoted because he was related to someone and everyone shrugged it off.
- Capt. Herbert Sobel, E Company's first CO, was Kicked Upstairs into this after a mass near-desertion revealed to regimental command that, by God, these men were NOT following such an incompetent man into combat. This wound up eating at Sobel for the rest of his life, and until the day he died, he harbored a deep resentment of the men of Easy Company. The fact his XO Richard Winters eventually wound up outranking him did NOT help matters.
- Possible inversion or subversion in Major Winchester from MASH. He was using connections to keep his Tokyo posting until he ticked off the wrong person, and spent most of the rest of the show trying to pull strings and get back to a nice safe clean Tokyo hospital.
- Justified with Father Mulcahy. As an Army Chaplain, he is specifically forbidden by regulations to fight, so his proper role is usually behind the lines. Normally no one has a problem with this, but one front line soldier refused to talk to him because he had no combat experience. As a result, Mulcahy has an adventure in the front which includes doing an emergency tracheotomy under fire, which impresses the soldier.
- An inversion: one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation dealt with Riker being offered his own command. He turned it down because the ships offered were in areas of space that were less likely to see action. He also noted that being the executive officer on the flagship Enterprise was superior in terms of prestige to being captain of any other ship.
- Captain Picard himself is also an inversion: he's been offered promotion to Admiral rank many times, and is more than qualified to hold such a position, but continually declines as he prefers to be out among the stars rather than behind a desk. He's so good at his job that Starfleet never, in the series or the movies, moves to push him out of his captaincy.
- In Blackadder Goes Forth, Captain Darling is happy to be General Melchett's aide-de-camp because that way he doesn't have to be in the trenches. In the last episode he gets sent there anyway.
- Blackadder himself spends the entire series trying to get out of the trenches and into a position where he's less likely to be killed. It never quite works out.
- The entire point of Sergeant Bilko's career in The Phil Silvers Show.
- Joe Walker from Dad's Army will do almost anything to stay off the frontlines.
- Downton Abbey's Thomas, a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk, joins the army at the announcement of WWI anticipating a cushy assignment at a hospital, having wrangled something with the local physician. Instead he ends up in the trenches as a field medic, terrified for his life and hating every minute of the war. The only way for him to leave is if he gets killed or injured. So he encourages a German sniper to shoot him in the hand and gets reassigned to Downton as the sergeant in charge of the hospital staff.
- Creedence Clearwater Revival's song "Fortunate Son" is about an unnamed young man from a wealthy, political, and military family. He was in the navy during Vietnam. The band felt that his cushy assignments only came because of who his father was.
- Roy Zimmerman's "Chickenhawk" satirizes "celebrity" REMFs.
- In The Navy Lark C.P.O. Pertwee dreads the spectre of active service, mainly because he's making a very good living selling navy stores on the black market. Despite his best efforts HMS Troutbridge eventually does put to sea.
Video Games[edit | hide]
- PVT Murphy's Law had a comic about "Fobbits"; in a visual pun, it's Bilbo in a flack vest and ACUs (and a bag of snacks from the FOB's PX).
- Terminal Lance had a few comics about various types of "POGs", typically admin troops and "Water Dogs" (Marine plumbers. Someone needs to make sure there is fresh drinking water.) Representations of these troops varies from obnoxious to merely being definitely-not-grunts but otherwise inoffensive.
- Red Panda Adventures: The Red Panda's millionaire playboy alter ego was officially given one of these jobs when he enlisted, to cover for the Red Panda's real mission: fighting Nazi agents on Canadian soil.
- In Futurama, Fry and Bender join the military purely for the benefits. Unfortunately for them, shortly afterwards, war were declared and they are shipped to the front lines.
- The Simpsons: In "Simpson Tide", Homer joined the US Naval Reserve expecting it to be like this. It doesn't quite go according to plan.
- The miniseries depicts Webster as being "uneager" to get back to the lines, having staying the hospital through Bastogne, but in reality, though the other members of the company weren't happy with his missing the Battle of the Bulge, they gladly welcomed him back. Webster, in his own writings, assumed it was because they had lost so many friends, it was nice to see someone they knew who was still alive.
- Although to be fair, records indicate he did jump into Normandy as part of the 506th HQ and earn a Combat Infantryman Badge, given to soldiers who saw action. He was also apparently wounded by a German MG and given the Purple Heart.