How to work for a S.O.B.4 min read

My instructor has a 1963 version of the Army Officers Guide, and in it there is a section titled “How to Work for an S.O.B”

Given that this was published in 1963, many of the senior military leaders at the time were likely veterans of WWII and/or Korea. There was no recognition of PTSD for these individuals, and the assumption is that many of them handled their problems on their own through a variety of methods. I would dare say that if the publishers felt so inclined as to put a section like this in the Officers Guide, there probably were some challenging supervisors during this period.

I copied the section of the book, and below is the text. I think it is worth a read:


How to Work for an “S.O.B.” In times past there has been much conversation in the service about the difficulties of working under certain officers. An officer was invited to write his views. His answer is reproduced below.

Dear Sir:

You asked if I’d write a piece on how to work for an S.O.B. The mere thought raised wells of sympathy within me for those unfortunates, who as I did in times gone by, now suffer under a hair shirt boss who is intolerable. How to live with the Grouchy, the Unreasonably Impatient, the unfair, the Mean and Vicious – the summation of all the S.O.B’s I’ve ever served under? My enthusiasm was the more exalted by the thought that I might be able to help those who had fallen on such evil times as to inherit an S.O.B. as unit commander. Ah, the troubles I’ve known from S.O.B’s!

Well, I took pen in hand and began to cast about among the multitude of my S.O.B. supervisors to select the most horrendous one as my opening illustration, so as better to explain how I survived my painful ordeal while retaining my sanity. With elation upon discovering my perfect example, I began to describe old General Blank, the biggest S.O.B., surely in all the world. As I wrote, however, I began to recall how, after I grew to know General Blank, I learned of his nerve-shattering war experiences in Asia, of his being finally relieved of his command and sent home more or less in physical collapse. I recalled his singular touchiness about his wife, a nosey young lady who caused no end of trouble within the command, and I wondered if the great differential in ages between Blank and his young wife -25 years- made him thus sensitive. These and other things about Blank occurred to me. On second thought, I decided he was not my candidate for Senior S.O.B.

When I remembered Major Dumguard, though, I knew I had my prize S.O.B. Dumguard’s extreme impatience, his growled answers, his sudden violet angers over nothing, his indifference toward my problems-these and many other characteristics of a bonded 100 proof, aged in the wood S.O.B. came to my mind. Yet my resolve faded when I remembered Dumguard’s young son hanging so long between life and oblivion with spinal meningitis; the deep shock of his wife’s death; the fact that he lagged in promotion far behind his colleagues.

In fact, I must admit it, I can tell no one how to work for an S.O.B. because I’ve never worked for one. I have worked for men who were suffering from illness physical or mental, and who vented symptoms of these on me occasionally. I have worked for men who were bewildered, discouraged, tired, hurt, nervous, miserable, afraid. These too have made my life unpleasant. But I see now that these men were not true S.O.B’s. They were human beings in some sort of trouble, men in pain, whether from real or fancied ills. Therefore I must turn back to you unmarked the page on S.O.B’s. I can’t recall a one. Is it possible there aren’t any?

All the letter says, really, is that juniors and seniors alike are human beings with human frailties but each in his way doing the best he can for a purpose he believes worth while. We figure the letter deserves to live.


Special thanks to Kathryn Fulton and Stackpole Books for allowing me to reprint the above excerpt.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army. Taken from an article by the U.S. Army Center for Military History on Operation BIG LIFT which occurred in 1963. Link to the article here.