Friday, February 28, 2014

Concerning Selfies and Salutes

By now you've all seen and heard about young PFC Sheffey.

Suffice it to say the universal response to this is blind outrage. What I really find interesting are some of the comments like: "Any soldier who refuses to salute the flag is in the military for the wrong reason, and should be removed by dishonorable discharge with loss of all benefits … If they won't salute it, they damn sure won't fight for it,"

By and large most seem to be demanding her removal from the Army. Many pretty much want to see her drawn and quartered and the pieces sent to the far corners of the earth. My favorite remarks are usually from former and active military types who all have an opinion on how this disgrace of a soldier should be crucified publicly.

Here's a little secret: most military types who say they never ducked colors are probably lying. There are all kinds of ways to do it. The most common way is to haul ass to wherever you're headed around 1700. Another is to hide indoors until it's over. This isn't uncommon.

Funny because it's true.
In Bahrain I once came upon a couple of Marines standing just inside the glass doors of the MWR food court complex. I asked them what they were doing. They said they were waiting for colors to finish. "Don't be afraid of a little music," I said "Let's go." We took two steps out of the door and rendered a salute as colors finished playing. I turned to the Marines and reminded them not to be so wishy washy and that Sailors were watching them act like pansys.

If I paid attention to internet comments I suppose the two Marines should have been catapulted into the Persian Gulf with their DD214 stapled to their forehead. The problem with that approach is they wouldn't have learned anything.

In the early 90's I remember our company 1stSgt caught a LCpl running from evening colors.  After verbally flaying the offender he announced an interesting 'punishment.' The LCpl was ordered to don his dress blues every evening and be outside the company office by the five minute warning. There he was joined by the 1stSgt where they would salute colors and the 1stSgt released him for the day. In hindsight this was classic remedial training of a known deficiency.

Everyone seems to have an opinion of what to do about PFC Sheffey. My advice to my CO under similar circumstances would be to have the offending Soldier don a service uniform daily for a uniform inspection before 1700. As a social media twist, the platoon sergeant could post photos of her rendering honors to evening colors on the internet every day for a week.  I'd also assign her to give a period of instruction on the military history of bugle calls, taps and selected portions of the flag manual. The symbol of the national flag won't mean anything to her if she doesn't understand what it represents. Develop a sense of responsibility in our subordinates? Madness I say!

In my mind I'd treat a post on the internet as if it were said right in front of my face. Technically, it is in front of your face. If one of my PFCs had the nerve to say IDGAF to me I'd swiftly give them a reason to change their outlook. For me personally, the one inviolate rule broken in this case was: DO NOT SHOW YOUR ASS IN PUBLIC. If Marines ever want an inner ear fracturing experience in my office, all they'd have to do is publicly bring discredit upon the Corps.

One final thought: PFCs in the military are going to do stupid things. It's in their job description. It's a leader's role to teach troops the way they should go and why that way is important. I often remind people that three months of basic training/boot camp doesn't automatically fix a lifetime without any discipline or a fundamental character flaw. Troops are going to do stupid things. Training and remediation are continuous. It takes many troops years of experience before they actually 'get it.'

In the end I've got a feeling her immediate leadership will do something appropriate.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Friday, February 21, 2014

Things Your SgtMaj Hates: Geedunk!

I'm always horrified at seeing what Marines feed themselves. Left alone, a Marine will wake up at 07:00, drag on his cammies, and enjoy a breakfast of energy drinks and cigarettes before reporting to work at 07:30. That is no exaggeration.

On Camp Courtney, in Okinawa, the chow hall is right across the street from the barracks. Young Marines completely bypass it to pay for the garbage being dished out down the street at the Dunkin' Donuts and Burger King.  In Hawaii I used to watch with fascination from my office window as Marines paraded by with McDonald's bags three meals a day. Bleech!

Over the years I have gotten somewhat passionate about health and fitness among my troops. When I've inspected the barracks, I usually don't look for cleanliness (at this level I've got plenty of NCOs who do that). One of the things I look at is what kind of food the Marines keep in their rooms. Usually it's the kind of thing which makes mothers break out in a cold sweat and dentists leap for joy.

There is a wide range of trash consumed by Marines ranging from potato chips, cookies, candy, PB&J, ramen noodles, and all forms of processed baked goods like chocolate donut gems (ooohhhhhhh donut gems!).

America's SgtMaj reacts to pogey bait adrift.
Oddly, young Marines are also into working out in an attempt to get big and tough and otherwise look good naked. They supplement their physical training with hundreds of dollars of protein shakes, creatine suppositories, amino acids, glutamine, thermogenic metabolizers, and other mythological performance enhancers. I'm famous for picking up the odd container of mystery powder and asking the own what the ingredients were. Nine out of ten times the Marine has no idea what's in it. Sigh.

The troops reaction to my fury at geedunk has been interesting. In Okinawa, my Marines used to buy a dozen donuts every day and leave them out in the front office.  They would remain seductively untouched until I came in. Instead of eating any, I would castigate the donuts for being the disgusting kryptonite it was. In Bahrain, I came back from leave to find the staff had poured 26 pounds of candy into the drawers of my desk. For months afterward I'd find the odd Tootsie Roll or Smarties adrift in my office.

So watch it around America's SgtMaj with the junk food. It might not go the way you imagined it would.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Gift Of Reading

As a very young boy I remember my mother reading comic books to me. At the time my flavor was Tarzan Lord of the Jungle and John Carter Warlord of Mars. Years later, I would climb onto the roof of our house with a stack of comics. There I'd spend the afternoon reading the adventures of Travis Morgan The Warlord, Arak Son of Thunder, Conan The Barbarian, and various super hero types.

My mother really didn't mind what I read; for a while I was a fan of MAD Magazine. I remember a friend of my mother's remarking she didn't want her children reading MAD. Not sure what that was about but my mother replied she didn't really care what I was reading as long as I was reading something.

For a period of time my parents also made me read to them. Every night I read aloud from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. At the time I considered this a bit of a bother, but in hindsight I figure this may have laid the foundation for my ability to speak articulately in public.

My parents were big readers. My mother always had a book in her hands if she wasn't reading to me. I recall my dad reading Louis L'Amour almost exclusively. He only ever attended a few years of school as a kid. He had actually taught himself how to read from Marine Corps training manuals.  Suffice it to say he was particularly adamant I learn to read and spell as a kid.

One day I remember putting down a comic book I had and asked my parents if I could pick out a real book to read for myself. In my memory my parents reaction was along the lines of: "Heeeeeell yes!"

So we went to a bookstore where I selected my first book. This was of course:

Later I would get into Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series, Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone, and other sword and sorcery/ science fictiony type tales.

As a young infantry Marine I'd bring books to the field. Inevitably we'd end up waiting around for hours for trucks, planes, or some kind of aircraft to take us somewhere. I got into the habit of packing a book in my deuce gear. Soon my buddies were asking if I had an extra book they could take with them to the field. After a while nearly the whole platoon was taking books to the bush and swapping them with each other.

What I'm really saying is this is all my mom's fault. She exposed me to all this swashbuckling stuff at an early age. So stay tuned for more tales of high adventure, gun slinging, and the forces of evil being held at bay by the light of my drawn sword.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Friday, February 14, 2014

In every clime a place, or not

Blizzards, snowmen, and wind chill, oh my!

It's interesting to see how different regions of the country respond to inclement weather. In Cleveland, if you go outside and it doesn't cause physical pain then it's considered a nice day. Yesterday I noticed a couple of Clevelanders in shorts. I wondered what was wrong with them until I noted the temperature was a mere 27 degrees. Oh, it's just barely below freezing, never mind then.

This leads me to the e-mail exchange below. Our regimental headquarters is in Boston. Collectively, the 25th Marine Regiment is known as the Cold Steel Warriors.

The latest weather front would indicate not such with the "cold" part. Below is an e-mail exchange concerning Regiment taking a snow day.

-----Original Message-----
From: Grumbler SgtMaj Johnny A
Sent: Thursday, February 13, 2014 9:19 AM
To: Killkillkill SgtMaj Johnny A; Freelunch SgtMaj A.J; Portholes SgtMaj Johnny J; America's SgtMaj Michael S; Banotz SgtMaj Johnny M; Buzzkill 1stSgt Johnathan; Haterade 1stSgt Jon A
Subject: Regiment closed to weather


We are in a snowmagedon and will not be in today.

SgtMaj Grumbler

I immediately responded in the traditional manner of infantrymen.

-----Original Message-----
From: America's SgtMaj Michael S
Sent: Thursday, February 13, 2014 10:19 AM
To: Grumbler SgtMaj Johnny A; Killkillkill SgtMaj Johnny A; Freelunch SgtMaj A.J; Portholes SgtMaj Johnny J; Banotz SgtMaj Johnny M; Buzzkill 1stSgt Johnathan; Haterade 1stSgt Jon A
Subject: RE: Regiment closed to weather


 America's SgtMaj

Just another ho-hum day defending liberty.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

...but they fought with expert timing...

Quantico, VA, Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Trainer Course, October 2001. You may recall my experience using my groin to attack my sparring partner and adventures during the infamous LZ drill.

One of the training events we conducted was called Last of the Mohicans. It was an endurance course run with helmet and flak jacket. At the end of the trail we sprinted through a cloud of pepper spray, then grabbed a bayonet trainer engaging the instructors one at a time as we maneuvered through the back end of the trail. The first time we went through alone. Going up against hardened Marine instructors adept at the proper application of bayonets and edged weapons is an educational experience.

Wooden bayonet trainers in action.

Throughout any engagement instructors would extol us to not stop fighting. "You're not done! You're not done!" They'd shout this at us even if we had delivered what we thought was a killing blow. The idea was the fighting wasn't over until your opponent was thoroughly dead. We fought until our instructor told us to move on or until they'd broken a bayonet trainer off in our liver. I remember being thrown like a shot put into the earth by one mammoth instructor followed by him messily eviscerating me with a rubber knife. This is often referred to as "good training."

Later on in the class we ran through Last of the Mohicans again, this time with a buddy. Two on one encounters usually ended in our favor but it didn't stop the instructors from berating us with the wearisome "You're not done!" mantra. We figured this statement was used as an excuse to continue to beat the snot out of us. I told my buddy that if the instructors refused to fall after we'd hit them with a few good body shots then we'd immediately switch to bayonet thrusts to the helmet.

One particularly unruly instructor kept up the pretense he was indestructible until I zeroed in on the cage of his helmet. He saw it coming and turned his head to avoid the thrust. Instead the bayonet trainer burst through the space between the cage and helmet and the blunted wood drove across his cheek turning his head in a classic cross face. It clearly rang his bell.

"Oh man, you okay?" I asked the hunched over instructor.

"Just go," he croaked.

I figured he had earned it for being such a truculent adversary. To his credit though, he stayed and fought the rest of the class as they completed the course. I have since become a great fan of bayonet thrusts to the face. It's a great convincer.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Friday, February 7, 2014

More Adventures In Drill Weekend

It's drill weekend. Time to play one of my favorite games: Guess Who's Parking In The SgtMaj's Parking Spot?

In all fairness, the sign which designates the Inspector Instructor SgtMaj's parking spot has been knocked down for some time. The sign being down doesn't really bother me. The Marines who work with me daily know its my spot and we have plenty of parking in any case. On drill weekends though, 300 cars show up and parking becomes a premium commodity. Suddenly that one spot without a sign on it must be up for grabs because no one has parked in it yet.

My ego generally doesn't suffer very much when my parking spot is taken. Mostly I regard it as an opportunity to have a little fun at the offending Marine's expense.

The first time my spot was taken I got on the intercom and announced: "Attention in the HTC. If you own a green truck with Pennsylvania license plates and are parked in the I&I SgtMaj's parking spot. He'd like to use it now. Thanks!"

A young officer who was checking in to the battalion that weekend immediately began sprinting down the passageway to move his truck. The battalion commander approached me.

"Those dang Reserve officers are always screwing with you, eh SgtMaj?"

"Don't worry sir," I replied. "I just parked in your spot instead."

Another time I pulled in and a different truck occupying my spot. This time I just parked right in front of the offender blocking him in. Because I like variety, this time I didn't make an announcement and merely waited.

Later that afternoon an announcement came over the PA: "If you own a truck with Kansas plates could you please move it. You are blocking someone."

I immediately snatched my phone to make an announcement: "If you are being blocked by a truck with Kansas plates, report to the SgtMaj's office."

It was the battalion medical officer.

What adventures await this drill weekend? Stay tuned!

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Concerning Intent

The concept of conducting war games has been around for a long time. My dad told me a story about Marines conducting these types of training operations back in his day. 

Seems he and his squad were assaulting an objective as ordered. They took a hill and the idea was to drive the opposing forces (OpFor) off the objective. The Marines playing the role of OpFor had other things in mind.

One of the OpFor types flicked open a switch blade and announced: "These p&@#$ aren't taking this &%@# hill."

My old man drew a long trench knife he had on his thigh and replied: "Do you want to knife fight mutha-$#%*@?"

In my own training we often discuss the concept of intent. If you've drawn your weapon, do you intend to run it through your enemy? Do you intend to impotently wave it around like a talisman hoping it'll ward off evil doers? Do you intend to bully people with empty threats? Or, do you intend to locate, close with, and destroy your enemy?

My understanding is those who are actually good with a blade won't let you know they have one until it's in you. People who break out weapons without any real intent to use them usually end up hurt. Dad once summed it up this way: "The problem with carrying a knife is sooner or later you're going to have to get blood on it."

When it came to violence dad always meant blood. He had an uncanny ability to convince others he meant what he said too.

They took the hill.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj