Friday, January 28, 2011

What I'm thinking about this week...

No great insights or tales to share this time, just something I've been thinking about this week.

While others chose to remember the passing of Jack LaLane (whom I do admire), or worry about the Oscars, this week I will remember something else.

On the 21st of January, Medal of Honor recipient Barney F. Hajiro passed away. 

Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, Company I, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Place and date: Bruyeres and Biffontain, France, 19, 22 & 29 October, 1944. Born:  16 September 1916, Punene, Maui, Hawaii. Entered service at: Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Private Barney F. Hajiro distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 19, 22, and 29 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, eastern France. Private Hajiro, while acting as a sentry on top of an embankment on 19 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres, France, rendered assistance to allied troops attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He assisted the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle and killing or wounding two enemy snipers. On 22 October 1944, he and one comrade took up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon, concealed themselves, and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed, enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the remainder as prisoners. On 29 October 1944, in a wooded area in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Private Hajiro initiated an attack up the slope of a hill referred to as "Suicide Hill" by running forward approximately 100 yards under fire. He then advanced ahead of his comrades about 10 yards, drawing fire and spotting camouflaged machine gun nests. He fearlessly met fire with fire and single-handedly destroyed two machine gun nests and killed two enemy snipers. As a result of Private Hajiro’s heroic actions, the attack was successful. Private Hajiro’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit, and the United States Army.

As some of you may already know, I am a fan of the 442nd for various reasons. To learn more about the fine Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team go here.

In the Camp of the Praetorians, we prefer to recognize milestones such as this.

Semper Fi Private Hajiro. Fair winds and following seas.

America's 1stSgt

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ask America's 1stSgt: On Officers

I was wondering, from your experience do you think officers are better when they start as enlisted, study at military academies or come from civilian universities?

 My initial thoughts on this question were if someone conducted themselves as a dirtbag while enlisted then they will be a dirtbag while commissioned too. Character matters. While any military experience will give someone an advantage early on in their officer training it will not enhance their credibility forever. Eventually the Marines under their command will figure out who's who and rate an officer's ability against his peers.

 One common mistake prior enlisted officers make is forgetting they are no longer enlisted. They sometimes fail to realize they are now commanders and not one of the boys. Being too chummy with your Marines will only lead to disaster. Officers should cultivate a relationship with their platoon sergeants not their troops. Former Staff Non Commissioned Officers may go so far as to try to take their platoon sergeant's work over. A good platoon sergeant will not let them but it happens.

 The flip side of that coin are former enlisted officers who look down their nose at enlisted Marines. We refer to them as Marines who forgot where they came from. At a battalion function once the staff and officers were putting money together to buy the Marines some beer. One of the captains, a former NCO, remarked: "I'm not pitching in to buy those animals more alcohol."   Our battalion commander, a former sergeant, gently but firmly suggested to the good captain if he really had such a low opinion of the men he might seek employment elsewhere.

Iraq 2007: Kilo Company CO and America's 1stSgt properly cultivating their relationship.
 From my experience military academy ninjas come in two flavors; totally awesome superstar or complete bag of dung. There doesn't seem to be an in between. The advantage academy graduates have is four years of experience which resembles being in the military. They are held somewhat more accountable than their civilian counterparts and this tends to work in their favor. On the down side they do not attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) like other Marine officers and in my opinion are not always properly indoctrinated in an orthodox Marine Corps manner (every Annapolis officer I know is going to flay me for saying that). I had a lieutenant in 3rd Recon who was an Air Force Academy graduate. A great officer actually (superstar) but I always thought he was a little different. One day he admitted to me he had never been to OCS since he went right to The Basic School (TBS) out of the Academy. He had taken a Marine option since he was not able to become a pilot. Upon arriving at TBS the other officers had to show him how to wear a Marine uniform since it was his first time. I spent the rest of the day lecturing him about proper indoctrination into the tribe and questioning his loyalty. 

 Although not technically military academies, private military collages like Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel produce a similar product but they still attend OCS. VMI graduates are personally forged the largest class rings in the galaxy. I had a company commander who only wore his VMI ring at the Marine Corps Ball. I thought he was sporting a set of brass knuckles the first time I saw it. It was so massive, every time he saluted the tide would come in.

 The biggest drawback of being from a private military collage or academy is the danger of developing a sense of superiority and privilege. Occasionally academy types may think themselves better than their peers and subordinates. A sense of entitlement is a dangerous trait to develop in oneself. I recommend against it.

 Public and private university graduates are the classic example of the wide eyed lieutenant. Not a one of them has any idea what in the world is going on (except for prior service types). Almost every one of these officers seems to have majored in Criminal Justice. Not sure why except perhaps as preparation for dealing with felonious 1stSgts. The danger for private university graduates is not setting aside the frat-boy mentality after leaving campus. I had a platoon commander who went on a bender with his platoon one night on liberty. They ended up in a fight and busting up the club they were in. This kind of thing does not generate joy and good will. Remember the disaster I warned you about above? If you show your ass to your buddies you only lose cool points. Show your ass to your subordinates and you lose their respect. Something to think about.

 As to which starting point is better? From what I can tell their success and failure rate are about the same. Sometimes our perception is what seems different. Again, character matters. Someone of low character will make a lousy ditch digger let alone an officer. Self interest and fundamental character flaws are not curable conditions in any university I ever heard of. 

 In the end the best officers are those who show a genuine enthusiasm for the mission and concern for their Marines. Those you command will always see through a fraud. Be yourself and stick to the leadership fundamentals.  You can't go wrong there.

Semper Fidelis!
America's 1stSgt

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Heard in the clear...

If you are actually participating in it, real life is far more awesome than the made up stuff. I usually have a small notebook in my pocket to record some of the more worthy gems I hear uttered out of the human pie hole. Today's offering is a small sample of that. No prizes this time for guessing which quote can be attributed to yours truly.

"I will fund terrorism with my money before I give it to MWR."
A response to MWR raising all their prices in the food court by 15%. Sadly, neither the quality nor quantity of the chow improved by 15%. This has prompted many of us to spend as little money as possible on base. 

"Why don't you just go join the Taliban you traitorous @$#%!"
On occasion young Marines need to view the results of their decisions in a different light.  Some are  reminded in a concussive auditory fashion that every man is the architect of his own destiny.

"My integrity is for sale."
Depression is a terrible thing.

"I can't help it if a kid's GIANT wedgie reminds me of you."
Some people get offended at the slightest thing.

"Women marry men expecting they will change. Men marry women expecting nothing will change. Marriage: it's a dirty joke!" 
As an unmarried man I have no opinion on the matter. Ladies, take this up with your husbands.

"Shopping is to women as sex is to men. It's 98% visual, but there's very little purchasing."

"Never pass up an opportunity to take a leak."
Life changing advice. Write it down.

"Saving the world, one roster at a time."
This will resonate with those familiar with any kind of administrative work.

"Hey everybody,  my sim got laid last night!"
A sad indictment on 21st Century human interaction and modern American culture. 

"Some people are like sea anchors; they're just slowing down the boat." 
And you know who you are too.

"Let me explain the system to you: grass is pretty and it's green; cows,
sheep, and horses eat the pretty, green grass. Generally speaking, we then
eat the cows and sheep, and on the rare occasion, the horses.
Now, it might seem more efficient to simply bypass the cow and sheep, and go straight to eating the grass.  The problem is as far as I can tell every culture who went to eating the grass was wiped out by the cultures who continued to eat grass-eaters."
Makes you want to go out and have a steak right now doesn't it?

Semper Fidelis!
America's 1stSgt

Friday, January 7, 2011

Boondock Saints vs. FAST Company

Last year, some of the  cast from Boondock Saints, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, and Brian Mahoney stopped by during their USO tour. They specifically asked to see Marines while on board NSA Bahrain.  The first part of the video below takes place in my Company office.   

Later Sean Flanery, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt,  conducted a little training with the Marines. I thought it was pretty cool of him to do that.   

I was unfortunately off island during this time or I would have gladly offered Mr. Flanery a bayonet lesson in trade.  Maybe next time Mr. Flanery, and thanks for sharing your time with the Marines.

Semper Fi,
America's 1stSgt

Sunday, January 2, 2011

On Initiative

Some thoughts for the new year.

A friend said to me recently she felt hopeful about the new year and it seemed bright and full of possibilities.

Yet even now New Years Resolutions are being made and broken quicker than it takes to read this sentence. I have been told only 12% of resolution are actually successfully realized. This is because of a lack of consistent action on our part. Good "possibilities" only materialize due to timely action.

Which reminds me of a leadership trait I heard about once: Initiative.

The Marine Corps defines initiative as taking action even though you haven't been given orders. Meeting new and unexpected situations with prompt action. It includes using resourcefulness to get something done without the normal material methods being available.

Many times we learn best from those who show us how NOT to do things. My finest instruction on initiative was taught to me by someone we will refer to as Sgt G. He probably couldn't spell initiative let alone exercise any of it.

As a young Marine freshly graduated from the School Of Infantry, I arrived to the fleet excited to finally be in the "real" Marine Corps. Our Sgt back in SOI was none other than the Cyborg himself Sgt Kasal whom I have spoken of before here. I suppose it isn't fair to force other sergeants to measure up to the likes of the Cyborg but as a young Marine he was my standard. But Sgt G was proof positive one did not actually have to perform at all to be promoted. He merely managed to not get NJP'd.

Sgt G was my squad leader and while prepping for my first field op my team leader, a burly corporal, specifically instructed us NOT to follow Sgt G's example while in the field: "He is going to show his ASS! You do what I do!"

I remember not comprehending the idea a Marine sergeant could be anything less than a superior breed of human, perhaps even a hybrid of human and awesome. However, the corporal's words were prophetic and on a night patrol we wandered around on the same hill for hours tripping over lava dogs because Sgt G couldn't navigate his way back to the bivouac site. We ended up running into another patrol and following them back.

Sgt G's number one catch phrase was: "Somebody better crap me a [ fill in appropriate missing equipment here ] !" He said this nearly on a daily basis. Sgt G had an accountability issue and it was up to us and our magic colons to produce whatever the item was.

We were in formation with our rifles once when a bayonet went missing. The platoon was standing at parade rest and I was holding my bayonet in my left hand behind my back.

"Someone better $#!& me a bayonet!" came Sgt G's battle cry from up on our third deck squad bay.

Immediately, America's Wiseass began grunting as if I had a real growler on deck and sighed in relief as I dropped my bayonet between my feet with a loud clank. This initiated a round of muffled laughter and sniggering cementing my position as top smart aleck in the platoon. It also prompted one of the other corporals to pull Sgt G aside.

"You know the Marines can't actually crap gear, right?"

Sgt G's shortcomings proficiency wise notwithstanding, it was his decided lack of decision making I will remember most.

It would seem Sgt G never had an original thought in his head. At company formation each plt sgt would stand in front of his platoon and pass the word before the Company Commander came out. We always noticed if Sgt G were passing any info it would sound word for word exactly what came out of the mouth of the plt sgt to our immediate left as he was addressing his own platoon.  If Sgt G were passing any word we started facing half left toward the other plt sgt as he would always say it first and more clearly than Sgt G ever did.  It dawned on us he was simply regurgitating everything the other plt sgt was saying. Some might argue it sounded the same because they were both passing info given to them by Company HQ. But it was more than that. If someone else didn't say if first, it did not come out of Sgt G's mouth. Any questions about word passed was inevitably met with: "Nobody said anything about that. No one passed that."

We were taught by one of the saltier corporals how to set up our 782 gear for the field. Magazines on our left so we could reach them easier for reloading. First aid kit on the right of our butt pack so everyone could find it, etc. As soon as Sgt G saw this he immediately exploded: "Nobody said we could do that! Everyone's gear should be like mine!" In retrospect I get the concept of uniformity but unfortunately his 782 gear was set up for a parade and not for war. Our collective sigh generated enough energy to turn a windmill.

Sitting around idle is the bane of everyone in the military. "Hurry up and wait" is a familiar term to anyone associated with our line of work. Standing around waiting for something is an inevitability. In one instance while waiting for trucks to pick us up from a training area we begged Sgt G for us to do something. Since we were just waiting on our packs we asked if we could do bayonet drills, weapons cleaning, PT, fire team patrols, you name it. The response: "Nobody said we could do that. Nobody passed that." So we sat idle and pissed off.

I remember thinking: "You're a SERGEANT in the Marine Corps! Make a decision! Take some action!" But my mental telepathy went unheeded.

Oddly enough it was this decided lack of initiative which prompted me to reenlist the first time. I figured if I was a sergeant I wouldn't be afraid to make a decision and at least my small part of the Marine Corps would be the way it should be, action oriented.

In the fleet as a young sergeant, junior Marines would approach me after I had announced what we were going to do for the day: "Sgt, are you sure we can do that? What will so-and-so say?"

"If they don't like it then they shouldn't have left me in charge," was my general response. That and, "I'm sure I'll get chewed out and told not to do that anymore." This led to one of my own original quotes: "In the absence of any other authority, do not be afraid to make a decision." Besides, if you made it through boot camp and can't handle an ass chewing you need to find another line of work.

This of course also requires you to adhere to the Leadership Principle:  Accept responsibility for your actions and the actions of your subordinates. As well as: Make sound and timely decisions. Yeah, that taking initiative gig comes with a lot of baggage sometimes. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

It is said idle hands are the devil's workshop. Usually this is in reference to young people not being kept busy and getting themselves into mischief. For our purpose here I submit idle hands are due to a lack of initiative. Standing around with your hands in your pockets (one of my pet peeves) results in evil deeds because no positive action is taking place.

A bucket of water will become undrinkable with filth and parasites if it is just left sitting. It takes someone dumping it out and filling it with fresh water to be any good. No one gets saved from a burning building by folks standing around watching it burn. It takes someone with a little valor to initiate a rescue. Good things will only become possible if we seize the initiative and start making something happen.

The root of the word initiative comes from the Latin initium or 'beginning'. Notice it does not come from any words meaning 'the end' or 'success'. Positive results happen because of a process of consistent, prompt action. I tell Marines all the time just because we train MCMAP does not mean we become ninjas overnight.

So if your new years initium is to get in shape, quit smoking, read more, etc, it requires a beginning of walking out the door to the gym, throwing that first cigarette away, picking up that book, then doing those things again the next day. Most importantly it requires us to not be afraid of the new thing and not being content in our failure and lack of action.

New Years Initium, an apt phrase for the Camp of the Praetorians.

Semper Fidelis,
America's 1stSgt