[January 15, 2019] For everything we do in life rules govern how we behave, talk, think and accomplish our missions. Anytime we fail to do so or go off in an unauthorized direction; there are unpredictable but usually negative consequences. Going off the reservation is how this is often described.
In early 2007 while in combat north of the city of Baghdad, we had an Infantry squad from the 82nd Airborne Division make an unofficial patrol into Sadr City. Sadr City was a slum in northern Baghdad and a hotbed of insurgents. We heard on our radios that an “unknown unit” had gone off the reservation. The squad’s self-assigned mission upset the timetable for a major offensive, known as Operation Imposing Law, which was to occur at about the same time.
We also use the term ‘going off the reservation’ when agents in a spy agency go on unauthorized assignments. We read about this in suspense novels and are attracted to it for the excitement and thrills. But when a spy or military unit or any part of an organization attempts unlawful or unofficial actions, there will be a penalty that reflects negatively on the organization.
Another term that describes the same thing is ‘going rogue.’ Not to be confused with the British use of the sexually suggestive concept, going rogue means to deviate from the officially recognized path of getting the job done. In American lexicon, both ‘going rogue’ and ‘going off the reservation’ are the same thing and used interchangeably.
I’m aware of the obvious origins of the concept of going off the reservation, and I’m also not against its use. Originally, this was used to describe American Indians who left U.S. government-established reservations governed by terms of treaties. The origins of the term, despite its condescension for Native Indians, is useful and no longer descriptive as it was in the 19th century.1
Fortunately, no one was killed or injured when the 82nd Airborne Division’s unit went off the reservation. It did teach us to coordinate all actions outside our protective defenses and get official approval each time. Leadership means many things; one of them is not going rogue or going off the reservation.
- Some argue for banning the term. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/06/29/326690947/should-saying-someone-is-off-the-reservation-be-off-limits