Going Home!

The title sounds enticing. It would be if I were the one going home. I seem to love pain. When I first came in the Army, one of the few words of advice my recruiter gave me was that I should never volunteer for anything once I get in the Army. I have violated that advice at opportunity since joining the Army, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. I thrive on stress. When I am put into stressful situations I seem to work a lot better and more efficiently. I’ve been in the Army for almost 10 years (January 18th is my 10 year anniversary) and I am already a Sergeant First Class. I was promoted to SFC in Al falls, Iraq on 1 July 2003, which makes the feat a little more amazing. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I have to in order to make the following point: I NEED TO STOP VOLUNTEERING FOR STUFF!!!

My readily acceptance of responsibility has helped me get promoted, but it’s also filled my head with beautiful, shiny silver (you call it grey and your next meal with contain baby flies!). My most recent stepping in of poop happened when we first arrived at Fort Carson. In the haste of getting here, no one was appointed to track personnel accountability. We in the Army pride ourselves in hoarding large swathes of information and having full accountability of every $450 toilet seat. We also know where our people are at all times….except this time. Since I really don’t have a whole lot to do here, I volunteered (there’s that word again [shiver]) to track all of our personnel – a total of 168 people. Normally, that wouldn’t be such a monumental task. As a senior NCO, I’m often in charge of many people, though usually not more than 100. As a platoon sergeant, I was in charge of about 30 people. When I’ve played the acting First Sergeant role, I’ve been in charge of about 100 people. When/if I become a Command Sergeant Major I’ll be responsible for about 600 people, but I’ll have First Sergeants (1SG) helping me. Anyway, it’s not normal to make SFC this quick and I’ll probably be here until I get out now, though I hope not. If that happens, I’ll petition everyone I know to write to their congressman and demand that I get promoted.

The thing that makes this different is that all these people, in the ranks of Sergeant First Class to full bird Colonel are scattered all over the place. The big officers apparently have post war syndrome because they never stay in one place too long. Keeping track of where a Colonel is on any given day is a task in itself, then add the responsibility of tracking 150 other NCOs and Officers that are going in and out of the field on a daily basis. Then you have the ones and twos who will have family problems or emergencies and need to go home early. Now, all these people need to get home and, therefore, need flight from here to there. Then transportation needs to be coordinated once they arrive at in California so they don’t have to walk 120 miles home (that’s how close our nearest airport is).

Seems like a lot for one guy doesn’t it? Well, that’s not all. We have in the military what’s called specified tasks and implied tasks. Specified tasks are things that need to be done and you’ve been given specific guidance on how to do it. Implied tasks are things that need to be done that you weren’t told need to be done, but in order to accomplish the mission you have to do it. Example: The specified task may be to go to the store and buy some ice cream for your beautiful wife who just happens to be craving ice cream. We all know that when a woman is craving something, you DON’T say no or disappoint them. You DON’T complain about it or mention that you’re too tired. You go out and get the ice cream. Yes, it may be 2 o’clock in the morning and you just went to bed 45 minutes ago, but you get the ice cream. So, that’s the specified task. The implied tasks may be some of the things I’ve previously stated: don’t complain, get out of bed into the car, don’t complain that you’re too tired. The other implied task is that you get something that she’s going to like. You DON’T come home with plain Vanilla. Statistics have shown (I’ve done my own research in this area) that when a woman wants something at weird hours of the day or night, she doesn’t want the boring stuff. Vanilla won’t do. She doesn’t necessarily like chocolate. She really likes sherbert, Moose tracks, Peanut Butter Cup, or some other Dryer’s exotic flavor without whole cherries in it.

The military is much like a woman. You DON’T complain that you’re too tired or busy. My implied tasks were to account for all the radios that 168 people require to perform missions and turn them in as they leave if they are leaving on a weekend, or before the civilians come into work on Monday. So, on top of arranging flights for everyone, I’m now arranging times to pick up and turn in a kabillion radios, each worth $5500 each.

[ have to stop here because I almost had minor emergency. I accidentally unplugged my laptop, but nothing happened because I have plenty of battery power. However, when I plugged it back in, the computer shut off and went into standby mode for some reason. Lucky for me, when I logged back in, my post was still here waiting for me. Now, I don’t curse. I believe people who use excessive profanity are just trying to make up for a lack of English vocabulary and don’t know how to express themselves properly. But I have to admit that I came close to letting a “darn it”, “shiznit”, and “son of a biscuit eater” out!! I apologize for my momentary lack of proper vocabulary and now return you to the post already in progress.]

You’ll notice I skipped more lines than normal. I lost my train of thought, so I’m taking a different track. My main purpose here, If I haven’t mentioned it, is to plan and execute media missions. As a soldier, we are constantly approached by media for interviews or soundbites. I manage civilian role players who act as reporters to give the soldiers training on the proper ways to deal with the media. A couple of days ago, my media team was prevented from going into a “town” to cover a meeting between US Forces and “Iraqi locals.” Without getting into too much detail, the media were prevented from going into the town and would not provide a reason. The media was properly credentialed and known to be working in the area by the public affairs officer. When they attempted to speak to the person in charge, they were forcefully detained and excessive force was used. It was a learning experience for the soldiers who were obviously not trained on how to deal with these types of circumstances, but the experience meant that I had to provide a briefing to 4 generals, 2 Colonels and many other people.

You’ll recall earlier in this post that I thrive on stress. Getting up in front of Generals is not stressful for me. I grew up a Navy brat. My father was in the Navy for 32 years. He was the Command Master Chief of many Navy posts both in the states and in Japan. I was often surrounded by Admirals and other high ranking officials and learned early not to be intimidated by rank. The only rank I’ve ever been really intimidated by was my wife’s father, who was a fellow Sergeant First Class in the Army at the time. Briefing a bunch of Generals about how their soldiers are not doing the right thing is nerve-racking for a lot of people, most of them officers. I was privileged enough to have many officers attempt to tutor me in how to approach my particular part of the brief. “Be respectful.” “Say sir a lot.” “Don’t use non-doctrinal terms.” “Stand up straight.” “Don’t babble.” “Don’t stutter.” “Make sure you say your name correctly.” I guess about the only advice I took was the first one, be respectful. I’ve learned over the last 10 years how to deal with officers that like to be all high and mighty and take themselves too seriously. I’m smart enough to know where the line is. I’ve learned that you can be 100% honest when speaking to an officer and still be respectful. It’s even possible to tell him/her that he/she is full of it and not have to worry about a court martial. I’ve even recommended a platoon leader and commander of mine for UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) action. That takes steel….ummm….cojones. Because when you burn a bridge with an officer, right or wrong, your life is hell. My father always taught me to do the hard right over the easy wrong and I’ve lived by that.

Anyway, the briefing was well received. I was respectful, but I used MY vocabulary. I was able to slip in words like hardcore, definitely NOT a doctrinal term. I also said roughhousing, instead of “excessive use of force.” The life of an NCO and an officer are completely different. We can usually get away with things some officers can’t. We’re actually expected to be more nonstandard in our ways. We have to be “hardcore!” That’s what I like about being an NCO.

Until next time, I remain………


One Comment on “Going Home!

  1. YIKES CJ glad you made it through the disconnecting and reconnecting of your laptop okay!! You made me think of my dad when you said that your dad always made you do the hard right over the easy wrong all the time. My dad instilled that in me too. He would always say that it’s better to tell the truth now and deal with it rather than lie and deal with the consequences when the truth came out.
    One more thing – could you come out here to Boston and show these bachelors how they should be winning women over? I had to re-read many times the parts about your wife craving ice cream and you know that vanilla won’t do. Can you give classes or something?
    On a more serious note, you seem to be a wonderful guy who is confident, secure and unintimidated enough to throw your shoulders back and stand with the best of them. Good for you.
    On another note, I’m a writer myself and I love your blog and your little stories. Your funny, to the point, descriptive and informative. Keep it up!!