Monday, August 2, 2010

New Series of Posts

Today I'm starting a series of posts that detail some of the things I learned during my years in the Army.  I'll try to not turn these into a bunch of "no shit, there I was, up to my ankles in mud, blood, and beer" posts, but some of these things have been rattling around in my mind for a while, and it's time to let them out into the wild.  I'll rely on you guys to keep me honest and not let me turn this into a series of war stories.

First, a couple of disclaimers:

First of all, a lot of the things I talk about in this piece are taken from other sources. Either it comes from people with whom I’ve served, whose work I’ve read, or who’ve I’ve heard speak on television or at lectures.  Where possible, I’ve attributed my quotes or phrasing to the source.  If I’ve missed something, please bear with me, I’m only human.

Second, I’m not Sergeant Rock or Audie Murphy.  I did some really fun and cool things when I was in the military, but I was never a Ranger, Special Forces, or even Airborne or Air Assault.  I had the privilege of working with and for some excellent leaders who came from backgrounds in these specialties, and their influence is found thoughout this piece.  Also, I didn’t attain high rank within the military.  I served as a Sergeant (E-5) for the last 6 years of my 9 years on active duty.  Sergeant was the rank I wanted when I was a private, and that’s where I got to and stayed.  I don’t have some hokey reason like “I wanted to stay in touch with my people” or some such garbage for not doing those things necessary for promotion.  To be honest, I was having too much fun being a buck sergeant to want to be promoted.  I did try for OCS once, and when I left the Army, I was promotable to Staff Sergeant, but I took the tests for OCS to satisfy someone else’s ambition, and I went to the promotion board so that my supervisor wouldn’t get in trouble.

Last, I don’t want to drop names, but I feel that some people need to be singled out by name.  The people who influenced me are still a part of my life, even though I haven’t seen most of them in years, and they deserve my thanks and recognition.  Drill Sergeants  Decker, Hill, Busby, and Dunlap, who taught me that convincing your subordinates that you’re a little crazy is an effective motivational tool.  SFC Gardipee showed me that ability is what makes you a leader, not gender.  Command Sergeant Major Byron taught me that it’s more important to accept a bad order with dignity than it is to let the bastards know they’re getting you down.  Captain Degnan taught me that a good leader cares more for his troops than he does for himself.  Captain Fasone taught me that you should never be 100% satisfied, and you don’t have to be a nice guy or be liked to get results.  Captain Randy Jones showed me that it’s OK to be liked as long as you are respected.  Lieutenant Harold Brown taught me that teaching is a two way street, and noone goes home if we all don’t go home.  There were others of course, and I will bring them up as we wend our way through my ramblings.

As for those who I never knew, but who influenced me, they did it mostly through the books I read.  I’ve been reading military nonfiction, fiction, and science-fiction for most of my life, and it’s had a pretty profound influence on what I’ve become as an adult. 

First to come to mind is David Hackworth.  Colonel Hackworth entered the Army as a private, was battlefield commissioned in Korea, and served several tours in Vietnam.  I read his autobiography “About Face” when I was a 19 year old private, and I’ve re-read it about once a year ever since.  I regularly read his newspaper and magazine articles, and have read all of his books at least twice.  If only half of what he wrote about himself and his life is true, he’s still as hard as chicken lips.  One of my regrets in life was not to have met Mr. Hackworth before he died to thank him for his service and message.  I’m 39 years old, and I still want to grow up to be David Hackworth.

Next is Anton Myrer.  Mr. Myrer wrote an excellent novel titled “Once an Eagle”.  It’s the story of a man who joins the Army just in time for the Mexican expedition, serves in France in WWI, leads a division in WWII, and finally ends his story as an observer in Vietnam in the early 1960’s.  He’s the archetypical good soldier and leader.  Juxtaposed to him is the careerist officer that works his butt off to get promoted at the expense of his subordinates and peers.  Excellent reading for anyone who wants to be a leader.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never met a good officer or NCO who hadn’t read this one at least twice.

Next comes Robert Heinlein.  OK, most of his work is escapist, right-wing pulp.  But “Starship Troopers”, while pretty naïve about military life, is an excellent read, and some of its message means a lot to me.  I especially like the theme of “If you haven’t proven that you are willing to sacrifice for the benefit of society, you don’t get to have a position of authority in society.”  More politicians should have to pass a quiz on this one.

Also, please forgive me for rambling.  Old age tends to do that to me.  Don’t think 39 is old?  Ask any 18 year old private what he thinks of a 39 year old veteran, and one word will come out:  old.

3 comments:

Christina LMT said...

Excellent, DaddyBear! I was 19 in Basic, and I felt light-years older than some of my fellow airmen. We had a 29-year old in my flight, and we called her grandma. ;)

Shannon said...

I find war stories fascinating, so don't restrict yourself too much! Sometimes it's good for us civilians to hear it from the..um...er...horse's mouth..so to speak, rather than the media. My brother in law has been working on a series of posts from his days in Vietnam - quite thought provoking and intense (www.hevver.wordpress.com). I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

DaddyBear said...

Thanks for the link Shannon. I've added his blog to my reader list, and the first post I read has me hooked. He'll definitely be on my blogroll next time I update it.

Christina, I woke up the other morning and realized that if I'd stayed in, I'd have retired by now. Talk about feeling old!

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