Friday, February 5, 2010

The Butter Bar

In the Army, a slang term used for a 2nd Lieutenant is “butter bar”. This refers to the insignia of a gold bar shaped like a stick of butter.

The term generally is used in a condescending or patronizing manner towards a boot lieutenant that thinks he knows everything, yet couldn't lead the way out of his own home with a map and flashlight.

After completing OCS (Officer Candidate School), a large number of newly minted butter bars tend to think that they are General Patton reincarnated and have the belief that after months of schooling they know much more than 30 year combat hardened NCOs.

Some have been so stupid as to actually stop a Sergeant Major (the highest NCO rank in the Army) and demand a salute. Several pounds of flesh and ego are stripped before the Lt. knows what is happening and before you know it he's standing locked at point of attention.

After several years of seasoning, and realizing that head knowledge doesn't make them a great leader, the butter bar becomes a 1st. Lt. and usually has a clue by then.

During basic, one of the first things I was taught by my Drill Instructors was if I was to stay alive during a battle, I MUST listen to my NCOs (non commissioned officers). The second was that most ‘butter bars’ would get you killed if you followed them.

The Army, like most branches of the military, has an official chain of leadership, and an ‘unofficial’ one. The official chain has the platoon sergeants and first sergeant (known as “Top”) answering to the platoon leader, i.e. the butter bar. In the unofficial one, the butter bar will always consult their NCOs and will treat Top as a superior.

This is because wise leadership places a premium on experience and ‘on the job’ learning as opposed to text book knowledge. When facing an enemy, soldiers need to follow someone who has actually faced the enemy in combat, one who knows their tactics and tenacity. The butter bar has learned tactics in a classroom, but in the heat of battle with men dying around them, they may lose their cool.

In Acts 15, we see that Paul didn’t want to take John Mark with him on his missionary trip:

37Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Why did Mark desert Paul and Barnabas the first time? The bible doesn’t say. Maybe Mark was like many young, inexperienced people……full of zeal but short on practical experience. Maybe when the battle got hot, he became overwhelmed and ran. Like the butter bar, his experience level couldn’t cash the check his bravado wrote.

In today’s church, there is a movement toward youth. Worship, leadership, small groups and methods of evangelism all seem to be youth driven. In many fellowships, the older warriors are shoved to the side as irrelevant. The classic example that comes to mind was the scene in the movie 'Heartbreak Ridge' where “Gunny” (played by Clint Eastwood) stands before his new CO, a former supply officer, who tells him “This is a new man’s Marine Corp, relics like you are obsolete”. Gunny was a 40 year combat vet of WW2, Korea and Vietnam as well as a recipient of the Medal of Honor and he was being told he wasn’t needed by a ‘superior’ who never faced a single bullet.

Spiritual ‘Butter Bars’ bring in the methods they learned in Bible College and seminars, and easily discount the proven methods the warriors of the past successfully used. The question isn’t using new methods …… warfare tactics constantly change. It is about the dismissal of past methods used by warriors who wear the decorations of valor on their hearts. Rather than partner with these ‘vets’, spiritual butter bars use authority to push them out of the way.

Remember this statement at the beginning of this article …… “After several years of seasoning, and realizing that head knowledge doesn't make them a great leader, the butter bar becomes a 1st. Lt. and usually has a clue by then.” John Mark grew up and became a warrior himself. Paul later wrote about the one he rejected to go into battle with him “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help to me in ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11) This was penned some years after Mark deserted Paul. Mark, it seems, was no longer a young ‘butter bar’, but now a seasoned warrior.

The bible warns of having zeal without knowledge. It also tells us that elders are placed in the body for stability, guidance and wisdom. Youth’s energy and elder’s unflinching courage and guidance, a biblical recipe for success.

Butter bars ……… they have promise, if they respect those warriors who serve under and with them.

Jeff Henning
Feb 5, 2010



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Susan Naz said...

Thank you. I am an Army Spouse and learning the Army ranks. My husband is an E-7.
Thank you for this execellent article