25 October 2013

Hill 375....

From the Soldier side: Some of my long time readers may have noticed some of my past post have been about leadership. Leadership is one of my favorite topics, but not something I ever thought about in my younger days. If you’ve ever been involved in critical incidents, or working around stuff that can hurt people, you know how important good leadership can be. Right up there with good training. You have to have both to be effective….I’d even say that good leadership with good training is more important than “who has the best equipment.”
                                          Late 60's vintage 5 Ton Dump
There’s been many times when I’ve seen cops or Soldiers with the best equipment fail because of poor leadership and/or poor training. These are two important needs, but I’m only going to talk about one in this post. That need is Leadership. Most folks who’ve been around for a while can think about the good & bad leaders they’ve had.

We tend to remember the bad ones more often. Why? Because when we had bad leaders, things usually went from bad to shitty and we don’t forget the shitty times. When we had good leaders, things usually went like they were supposed- without incident- and we forget them. To understand leadership, maybe we should think about what kind of leaders there are in Military and Law Enforcement. Some are micro managers. Some are hands off. Some are too bossy, some are dumb and some are always right. The best ones are able to get their people to do a job with little loss of life and make it look easy.

I know when you read all the best books on leadership, they have a lot more detail and they even give you the number of tips you need to be a good leader. A bad leader can take good troops and waste them or turn them into ineffective troops. A good leader can take a turd and turn them into a diamond. A bad leader will waste time, money and get troops killed. A good leader will save time, money and keep the troops alive by caring for them. Some very basic leadership tips I was taught were: Take care of the troops. Your troops eat before you, they can talk to you they know you will look out for them and thus, they will look out for you. And, you lead by example by knowing more about what you’re doing than your troops do. If you don’t then maybe you got promoted too fast or you’re a 2nd LT.

1990’s at Summer Camp: One of the many examples I use for a really suckey leader is a guy I’ll call “Sergeant Bumble” SB for short. Many years ago I was in a National Guard Engineer company. Now, for most Regular Army guys you’d think that all of the National Guard was a bunch of useless guys who got together one weekend a month to drink beer and play poker. In some cases that’s a good summary of the old days and some of the old troops. However, about the time I had signed up, they were trying to get rid of the bums. It was really hard to get rid of some of them, especially once they got promoted and put in charge.

Well, SB was one of got promoted to a semi senior sergeant position. At that time, he out ranked me by one stripe. Our battalion had just been reorganized from wheeled engineers to mechanized engineers. In simple terms that meant we got rid of our 5 ton dump trucks and got M113 A1 APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers). These were hard aluminum, tracked vehicles that had been made around the time of the Viet Nam war- and the US Army had not purchased any new ones since that war.

I was one of the sergeants who was taught how to operate the M113 so I could train others. We learned as much about these creatures as you could learn without actually removing things like the engine. We learned how to drive them, load troops and equipment, repair and replace damaged tracks, and how to do things like cross water. It was actually fun!

We learned battle tactics and the last thing we were going to do was go to the “Fifty Cal” range and learn to shoot the M-2 HB .50 caliber heavy machine gun from the track. But, to get to the machine gun range, we had to first get there in our “tracks”. Guess who they put in charge to get to the range that day. SB. Now, if you’ve read enough military blogs, or been in the military, everybody thinks that the worst person to navigate is the new Second Lieutenant…all though that is usually true, SB was worse than any officer I had ever seen in over 20years of Army service! This dumbass would get lost going from the latrine to the mess hall if it was only 100 meters away on flat ground with nothing else I the way. He’d get lost trying to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the bottom of the boot.

He was what we commonly called a “retard.” (no offense to the mentally ill). What made him even worse was he was a drunk. To get to the range in our tracks, we had to ride on the unpaved dirt roads. At the training camp these roads were easy to follow. First we had to go to “range control” and check in and let them know we were going to the range. From range control it’s easy to get to any of the ranges. The big gun ranges are on the back side of a big hill. So, as you travel, you go straight past range control, then make right turns. At no point do you ever turn left. This is easy to see on the map. So easy nobody should get lost.

But guess what… SB took off in the lead track. I was in the second track and two more followed behind me. As soon as we left range control SB started down the wrong dirt road. We should have been going west, and he was going south. He only stopped when the road he was on came to a dead end. There was barely enough room for all of us to turn around, but we did and followed SB. A few times I saw him stop and pull out his compass. I guess he didn’t understand that all the metal around him was not going to allow the compass to work. So we headed off in another direction…of course it was wrong.

I finally figured out his method of navigation….just keep wondering round until you found what the heck you were looking for. I guess it would work if the space you were in wasn’t bigger than your fuel tank. So we went in another direction making left turns. Now remember, I said that once we left Range Control, it should have been all right turns. So, we went south, then east, then north, then west, then south again….coming to a very, very tall hill. Now, to tell you the truth, I don’t recall the max angle that the old M113s were supposed to climb or descend, but I’m pretty sure that hill was pretty close to our danger point. (later I looked on a map and that hill was about 375 meters, so we called it Hill 375.)
                                          A bunch of M113s.
Now, if you got to a hill and were pretty sure that it was not the way to go, what would you do? Turn around? Well, that would have been smart….but remember we were dealing with Sergeant Bumble. So he proceeded to have his track driver go up the hill. I wanted to close my eyes because I don’t like to see good Soldiers get hurt. But somehow the retard made it up the hill and told us all to follow him.

I could not get him to stop and listen to reason. He just said: “I’m in charge *&&^^%$%, listen to me and let’s go!” When we all got to the barbed wire fence at the top and had a dime size area to turn around on, I was sure we were all going to roll over sideways and die going down the hill. But God looks out for fools, drunks and idiots and we made it. However, this time I out smarted the idiot and got in front and lead the way to the machine gun range.

Years later I transferred to a different unit. I ran into other Soldiers who worked with SB. They said he somehow got drunk on a deployment and got busted down in rank. The deployment was not to a war zone, so he wasn’t able to get any of his troops killed. He got out before the unit actually deployed to a real war--- Thank God!

 January 2005, Baghdad, Iraq: (In a different unit) After my team and I had returned from our first mission in Iraq, I was told that I’d be going back to Fallujah to show some officers some stuff. I asked who was in charge of the convoy and they said: “Don’t worry about it; you’ll just be a passenger.” The morning we were forming up the convoy, I walked over to one of the sergeants I knew and asked who was leading the convoy. He said: “you are.” Well, for our trip to and from Fallujah, I did not lead it and really had no idea how to get there. I asked who had been there before and knew how to get there.

All the drivers and truck commanders knew how. So we got out the map and I had them show me the route. (We did not have any GPS stuff at that time). I made sure all the drivers knew how to get there and put the one who was most sure in the front. I was not going to get us lost in a war. Once we got close to the camp, I knew the way in and felt good about my decision. We made it there and back without any drama. Just the way things should go.