05 August 2011

The "Specialist...AKA "Sham Shield"

From the Soldier side: Many years ago I was proud to be a US Army Specialist E-4.  The US Army came up with the “Specialist” rank structure in the 1960’s I guess.  It was a strange system that used to start at the E-4 pay grade and at one time, went all the way up to E7.  The weird thing about this rank system is it was parallel to the “hard stripe” rank system.  In other words they also had Corporal E4, Sergeants E5 through E7. 
CI Roller Dude when he was neither CI or Roller, but 11Charlie

In those days, they gave the “specialist” ranks to soldiers who were not in the infantry (with some exceptions) …like clerks, cooks, medics etc. However, I was in the Infantry, (81MM Mortars) and they made us Specialist.  The odd part was, if for example a Spec Five was in a squad and there was a Corporal E4 as the squad leader, even though the Corporal was paid less, he’d be in charge.  In some ways this was a good system…as for example when we were doing training in the States for Iraq and we'd often get mixed in with a bunch of other soldiers for training…and because the Cook Sergeant First Class (E7) was the highest ranking person in the group, he’d be put in charge.

I’m sorry, I know I’m going to hurt somebody’s feelings, but I will NEVER EVER want a friggen’ cook in charge of me ever again.  If we'd been in combat, we'd all been killed!  ...some stupid...bla bla bla...

Anyway, when I was in Berlin in the 70’s, I arrived as a Private E-2.  That gave me one little skinny stripe on my collar.  My goal was to be a “Specialist” E4 as soon as possible.  However, they told me that since my first enlistment was only for 2 years, that it would take 18-24 months before I could be an E-4, so I’d likely never get promoted beyond Private First Class (E3). 

Wrong.  I was promoted to E-4 after about 11 months in service—mostly because I could both read and write (neither was a requirement in the Infantry in those days.)

The Army did away with the “Spec” ranks above E4.  However, they still have both Corporals and Specialist.  A Corporal is always considered a Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) but a Spec 4 can be either “enlisted” or and NCO, depending on the needs of the minute.    

With all the jokes you can make about any rank in the Army, whenever I went to a new camp in Iraq and needed something, it was ALWAYS a Specialist who got me what I needed and showed us what we needed. I called these “Command Specialist”   

1.    The Specialist Creed

No one gets away with more than I. I am a non Non-Commissioned Officer, a beast of burden. As a junior enlisted soldier I realize that I am a member of an underappreciated, much chastised group of soldiers which is known as the ribcage, or perhaps pancreas, of the Army.

I am proud of myself and my fellow Specialists and will continue to bitch, whine and sham until the absolute last second regardless of the mission at hand. I will use my grade and position to avoid responsibility, accountability and any sense of presence of mind.

Ignorance is my watchword. My two best excuses will always be on the tip of my tongue "I didn't know," and "It wasn't me." I will strive to remain invisible and unavailable for details. Never ever volunteer for anything is my rallying cry.

I am aware of my role as a SPC and if you need me for anything, I'll be on appointment. I know the other soldiers, and I will always refer to them by their first name or in some cases derogatory nickname. On weekends, or days off I will consistently drink myself into oblivion, and I will never answer my phone. I understand that for a person in my hierarchal position, rewards are going to be few and far between, and punishment will always be swift and severe.

Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties, because I will be accomplishing them for them. I will kiss up to their face and badmouth them behind their back, just like everyone else. I will be loyal to those with home I serve, provided there's something in it for me. I am the last bastion of common sense that stands between me and the Army philosophy of "Work Harder, Not Smarter." My voice is a tool and my complaints are a weapon that I wield with unmatched skill and finesse. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget, Specialist is the greatest rank in the Army and rank has its privileges.



el chupacabra said...

The. Best. Rank. In. The Army.

I wore my 'sham shield' with pride.

Anonymous said...

1. Between your screed and the creed, pretty much nailed it.
2. In the units I served in (a few years before you)only knew two corporals. Both were SGT's who had been reduced in rank and were waiting to get their stripes back.
3. Was a squad leader a couple, three times and no one said diddly about giving me (or anyone else) a command rank.
4. Where I was, had to drink the kool-ade and morph into a "lifer"
if you wanted SGT.
5. Met a couple 1st hitch SGT's that earned their third stripe and a few that managed to acquire them by other means.
6. For awhile, the Army was hurting for NCO's and sent the top graduates of infantry ITS to the NCO academy.
7. These totally inexperienced SGT's were called "Shake and Bakes."
8. Had a couple of those in my platoon over the course of a year.
9. They tended to bond with the LT and the senior specialists were left trying to look out for the troops. (Three 7 man squads, SL's E-4 or 5, PLT SGT E-5)
10. As in: "No, you and the EL Tee can bivouac on the registration point, we'll be 600M south 'cause we want to wake up tomorrow morning..."
11.If you had told me back then I was going lifer -and would eventually become an officer, I'd have laughed.
12. Two things I get now, that totally escaped me back then:
1) As bad as we were, back in the day, we were still better than any foreign force I ever saw.
2) Just going through the motions of being on active duty is hard work. Throw in combat operations and things get really tough. The youth of most involved is what makes doing that stuff possible.
13. Am in awe of the high quality and professionalism of today's forces.
14. Tell people how things used to be and they flat out think I'm lying. God bless them.
V/R JWest

Coffeypot said...

Damn! I've been a SEC all my life and didn't know it. I now have a creed to live by,too. Thanks, Dude!

CI-Roller Dude said...

EC, In those days I could dissapeer in seconds...poof!

JW, I'll do a post on "Acting Sergeants" in the old days...

Saker said...

Say what you want about specialists, I swear we could run the show all by ourselves, if necessary. :D

CI-Roller Dude said...

Yes...and make it more fun.