From the Soldier side: I just read where the US Army has just figured out that many citizens join the Army for adventure. The article made it sound like this was a bad thing. Well all I could say was: “No kidding. Why do you think I joined?”
This is a story from a mission I did many years ago. I’m not going to tell where it was until later in the story. This was when I was in a Combat Engineer unit of the California Army National Guard.
One day back in the early 90’s, I stopped by my National Guard armory to say hi to some of the full timers who worked there during the week. Operation Desert Shield had just started in the "Gulf." One of the guys, I’ll call him “Ed” told me that the state was looking for volunteers for a special mission. Ed said that the job required volunteering for at least 30 days. I told him to put me down for the job, but I wasn’t sure about 30 days because I had a good “normal” job. He said: “well, they won’t take you if you can’t go for a full 30 days, but we’ll see what happens.”
A few weeks later I got a call. Ed said that they would take me and I was getting orders to go...be ready in about 2 weeks. Cool. I loved going on little short missions for the Guard. By this point in my career with the Guard, I’d only gone to one earth quake (1989), so I was itchin’ for some more excitement. I packed my uniforms and gear and reported to our Head Quarters early one Saturday morning.
When I got to HQ, I was with a few other soldiers I knew, and a bunch I didn’t. I was only a lowly Buck Sergeant E-5 at that time, so I figured I’d just fall into some squad and have somebody else in charge of stuff. I’d just kind of follow and go along and see what was going on. I’d lead if I was put in charge, but I saw a lot of people who looked like they’d been in longer than I had….so I’d just be quiet and see how things were going to go. After all, I had a real, full time job that I could always go back to.
As we were gathering, I started to notice that some of the soldiers were pretty squared away, and others looked like crap. I was from the “Old Army” where when we were not out in the field, we’d polish our boots and starched and press our uniforms. We always had proper haircuts and saluted officers and stuff like that. Some of these soldiers I was seeing looked like they had slept in their uniforms and hadn’t seen a razor or boot polish in months. (the new Army tan boots can't be polished....both a good and bad thing)
Then another thing started to happen, we started to take charge. We formed into squads and platoons based on rank. (that’s a thing the Army does). Then we filled out some papers and stuff and got on the buses. We were in for a very long ride so I settled in with a good book and tried to relax….still not fully knowing what I was getting into.
As far as the make up of the unit we formed went, we had 2 platoons of about 40 soldiers each. Normally a platoon would have one officer, a LT (O-1 or O2) and one Platoon Sergeant, usually an E-6 or E-7. In our case we had only two E-6’s and one LT…but plenty of E-5s and below. Good, few officers met more workers and less crap. Oh, and we had something I'd never seen before...a "Cadet". This was a guy who was in college ROTC, but had gotten put on orders to come play with us. He was not an officer, and not an NCO. The college ROTC cadets were a little round disc looking thing for rank, so we call them "DOTS."
During the bus ride, which lasted about 12 hours, the LT stared walking down the isle on the bus and sitting next to all the NCOs and talking to us. He asked who we were, what kind of jobs we did when not in the National Guard, how long we’d been a Combat Engineer and stuff like that. What I didn’t realize he was doing, was, he was trying to figure out who the leaders were going to be.
Normally in the Army, if you have lots of people of the same rank, you pick who’s been that rank the longest and they are the leader. That didn’t happen in this case. I was a pretty new Sergeant, and there were some who’d been around for many years…but the LT made me a squad leader. I’d have a full 10 man squad…and when the platoon sergeant wasn’t around, I’d be the acting platoon sergeant. Wow I hoped this didn’t piss anybody off. But I was going to find out that this “promotion” was going to mean a lot of work.
To be cont….