I know, I know, I told you that the Thunder Road as an article/blog about military life was over and was being reassigned as the title of the novel that I’ve been working on. (Which is why aside from “Musings” at Majestic, you’ve not seen much of me)
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There are two reasons for this offering. The first being that it apparently takes some sort of password that I don’t possess as of yet to change the title and layout of a staff-blog, so I figured why the hell not. Second, there is something that I must share, and I’m afraid if I don’t get it down and do my sharing right away I will forget the feel of it and it will lose something in the translation.
I spent the last week away from the rest of Battery (a Battery is the same as a Company. Field Artillery units do things a little differently…) because I am the Recovery NCOIC. This is just a really fancy way of saying that I drive the wrecker and tow in trucks that have broken down during convoys. My unit, out of the goodness of their hearts, decided to let us come out of the field this weekend so that we could spend some time with our families and enjoy the Super Bowl. I spent all week looking forward to today. It went by slower than-pick your own cliché about slow things- in anticipation of seeing my wife Tracy and my daughter Lizzy.
This evening finally arrived and I was filled with sunshine and rainbows as we embarked on our two and a half hour bus ride from the training area to our home station in Schweinfurt. We were told just before the bus left out that when we arrived there would be a formation for a safety brief. For those old military hands out there in Lit Land you know that no weekend liberty would be complete without a good old fashioned safety brief. It happens every weekend. The Commander always gives us a speech about not drinking and driving, don’t get into fights, don’t beat your wife/kid/dog etc. etc. etc.
Imagine my surprise when the Commander, instead of the usual schtick, started chewing the NCO’s out for not doing their jobs as leaders. He went on and on about accountability and taking care of soldiers. I was mystified. What had we done? Had we not performed our training tasks this week and accomplished the mission? No one got hurt that I had heard about? I couldn’t understand. I was standing in formation, still as a statue but my mind was racing.
(Recounted to the best of my recollection and paraphrased for the sake of not taking up 15 pages)
“When I go to bed at night, I ask myself if I spent the day doing all that I could to make sure that all of you are taken care of. If that answer is no, I don’t go to sleep for worrying about it. That’s my job. I eat, live, and breathe this shit! Not because I don’t have a life, but because being a soldier is all I ever wanted to be. It’s an honorable profession to be a leader amongst soldiers. You have those stripes on your chest because you decided to be a leader. The little shit now is what will fucking get soldiers killed in combat. I want you to look to your left and pick one of your Joe’s that’s not going to make it back from combat. Go ahead! Let him know so that way he can get ready. Give the poor bastard a chance to tell his family. Look at them! Pick the one you are going to sacrifice because you are not doing your job. How many of you have lost a battle buddy in combat? Raise your hands.” (Mine goes up along with several others)
“Now leave them up if you saw it happen.” (Several hands drop, one or two are still in the air including the Commanders and mine)
“Now leave your hands up if you wonder every fucking day whether or not there was something you could have done to stop that from happening.” (Every hand that is still up remains, including my own.)
(Yelling now) “You can’t take that shit back damnit! You have to live with it every fucking day! I don’t want blood on my hands and I don’t think you want it on yours. Be a fucking leader and take care of these soldiers because in combat, we are all the family that they’ve got!”
There was quite a bit more to this speech. I don’t remember it exactly but this was the gist of the whole thing. If you are wondering, it turns out that an NCO and two soldiers were finishing up some last minute work in the motor pool while the rest of us were getting ready for the weekend. The NCO neglected to let anyone know he was still down there working and the busses left without him and the two soldiers.
I give about 2/5th’s of a fuck whether or not you believe in the war that America is fighting right now. My views on the subject are well documented so I won’t go into it. In fact, it’s you’re God-given right to sit at home and disagree to your heart’s content. For those of us on the front lines, the politics amount to jack and shit and this speech that our Commander gave us is our reality. It’s the burden that we in the NCO Corps bear as leaders. These are your sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, or your moms and dads, and it’s our duty to do everything we can to ensure that when we go to sleep at night the answer is yes. We did every single thing we could to make sure that soldier got to come home.
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' said Alice. 'Oh, you can't help that,' said the cat. 'We're all mad here.'