The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

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TRANSGRESSIONS |

June 18, 2007

TRANSGRESSIONS
Name: Michael
Posting date: 6/18/07
Stationed in: Iraq

His rage was palpable. I honestly thought the Lieutenant Colonel was going to make me, a sorry 1ST Lieutenant, do push-ups. Not without good reason; I -- members of my platoon, but by association I -- had eaten the last of his favorite fudge ice cream cones. He fumed and frothed for what seemed like an eternity but was actually closer to 15 minutes, asking me over and over again with desperate agitation if I realized how important fudge ice cream cones and “turkey jerky” were. I think what infuriated him most was that the gravity of my demeanor failed to match that of the topic being discussed. I tried to understand the depth of his agony but, as demonstrated by his still-flailing arms and ongoing complaints, it seemed that my efforts were wanting.

In my defense, it had been a long day. My platoon began a mission at 0400 and it was currently around 0100 the next morning. We had traversed the entirety of the city ten times in the course of the day. We had engaged in several firefights. We had bandaged the grazing wounds on one of my soldiers. We had faced somewhere around 12 RPGs in a two-hour stint. We had applied tourniquets to the stumps of what had once been the legs of one my Company’s soldiers. We escorted him and three other soldiers to the CSH*. We were involved in several high speed chases. We got into heated exchanges with mutinous terps. We dropped several terps off outside the city. We picked up one of the top ten insurgents in the city. Meanwhile, the Lieutenant Colonel, I gather, had been puttering around the COB* imagining with righteous impatience the joys of that first bite into frozen chocolate before turning in -- the delicious taste that, to him, signaled the end of another productive day in the noble fight against terror.

So we were now at a local Iraqi Army COB waiting for the jundis to work the prisoner over or do whatever they do with prisoners before they give them to us. My soldiers were hungry. I knew this. I also knew the MITT* teams at other COBs let QRFs* help themselves to food and drink when they’re trapped outside the FOB* for days on end. I told the guys to “head inside and grab something to eat."

My usually keen prescience failed to fathom the dangerously Promethean potentiality of those words. There I was, lying on my back on the rocks outside my HMMVW, enjoying one of those rare moments of peace, of desert stars not obscured by smoke, when I heard the baleful sound of a penitent Joe: “There’s a LTC who wants to talk to you...He looks pissed.”
   
“Ah shit.”  My mind unfurled a long list of possible grievances. Was it about the mission today, something about those obnoxious terps, about the state of the casualties we took, about the high priority prisoner who was soon to be in my charge? I mean this is a LTC. This must be a matter of strategic relevance.

No, he wanted me to shake down my soldiers for ice cream cones and "turkey jerky". I resisted. Something deep down, a hidden recess of forgotten and unbreakable human dignity, spoke up against the order. Let them have the ice cream cones and "turkey jerky" I said -- to myself of course. Besides, I suspected the ice cream had already melted, rendering the order impracticable.

He was adamant.

I went back to my soldiers. I tried to say something stern, paternalistic, to convey succinctly the reprehensibility, the ingratitude they had displayed in their immature taking of highly coveted dessert goods. I must say it didn’t come off quite the way I wanted. After a few minutes emphasizing the necessity of avoiding the building and its inhabitants at all costs in the future, I dismissed them from my presence and turned imperiously away. Sated with chocolate as they were, I doubt they truly grasped the depth of our guilt. I did not escape so easily. To this day I suffer. A little sadder and a little wiser, I suffer for that LTC -- his cozy chocolate night lost irrevocably, my unforgivable transgression to blame.

*
CSH: Combat Support Hospital
COB: Contingency Operating Base
MITT: Military Transition Team; lives with and trains the Iraqi Army
QRF: Quick Reaction Force
FOB: Forward Operating Base

Comments

1LT,
Isn't this the way it always is. The big guys want it all! You guys deserve whatever you can find to eat. You've been through enough!
My soldiers commander came to the outpost and took their food back to a FOB. No excuse for these people!
Take care and keep safe!!!

Michael,

Do you think it's possible that LC has lost it, like some tragic Heller character?

Admiral Zumwalt used to havea this bible verse framed over his desk;

"Jesus Christ. The same yesterday, today, and tomorrow."

. . . dunno why that came to mind.

R

That's a little like 'crying over spilt milk' for the LTC but you probably deserve '30 lashes with a wet noodle' ala Ann Landers. Personally my attitude would be 'who cares' and continue taking care of your own.

The LTC displayed total lack of leadership or understanding about taking care of troops. Learn from his example (don't be like that) and move on.

Thank you for being there, for the rest of us.

This is so typical of Fobbits, and other staff denizens of questionable human genome. And it's not like it hasn't been going on for a while. In WWII, the staff weenies and supply pukes all had the improved winter boots during the winter campaign in Normandy. The line slime had the crappy boots that fell apart in the wet. LT, God keep you and all of the infantry safe where you are at. I will keep you and yours in my prayers and hope that you all make it home. And please, with your attitude, stay in the Army. We need officers who care about their troops and lead from the front, rather than the Rumsfeld Retards who only care about their promotion.

While the LTC over-reacted to the situation emotionally, here are the two issues that need to be dealt with. The third comment is a bonus.
1. The troops displayed a false and erroneous sense of entitlement. As we continue through this conflict, troops need to be disciplned and under control at all times, inside and outside the wire.
2. Your sergeants should have gotten the food issue taken care of, within approved channels and methods. If this is an impossible task, you should have been informed and then deal with it accordingly.

I would discuss these two issues, in terms of unit discipline and being under control at all times.

Bonus: If you are going to be out for 20 hrs, then make sure enough MREs go with you, if possible. That eliminates scrounging for someone else's food.

Apply the lessons learned and rise above the rabble.

Ah, the poor LTC bereft of his ice cream in a FOB in the wilds of Iraq. The unfairness of it all! What some people endure for their country (yeah, right).

I, too, thought of:

Whittaker: Mr. Maryk, Mr. Keith. The captain wants a meeting with all officers, right away.
Lt. Maryk: Now? At one o'clock in the morning?
Whittaker: Yes, sir.
Lt. Maryk: Do you know what it's about?
Whittaker: Yes, sir - strawberries.

Sir, I salute you. As a retired NCO, I toke care of my troops first at all times. I had a Captain in the Philippines of a similar ilk. As for that cobbit LtC, that spoiled, momma's boy will probably make Brigadier, someday on the "merit" of how he maintained discipline & order in the face of adversity.

An excellent book which contains similar situations is THE CORVETTE NAVY by Harold Lamb. It concerns the author's service as an officer running convoy escorts in the Atlantic during World War II.
At the end of the war their corvette was being decommissioned. They anchored off a small island in eastern Canada en route and went ashore to picnic. After the consumption of issue gin- the RCN gave a liquor issue then, gin to officers, rum to other ranks (enlisted men)- the men attempted to ride a nearby cow. This was the property of the nearby naval commander and then produced sour milk. The commander launched an investigation, demanding the "guilty party" and pledged to "ruin his career." As the author put it," The career in question ( his) was measured in hours." He was leaving the navy, and took responsibility, outraged at this petty man and comparing his rank to that of Vian, who actually fought at sea off Norway.
I am reminded of South Park's Eric Cartman in the Chicken Lover episode: he becomes a deputy and is running around striking people with a baton announcing,"Respect my authoritah!"It appears that this LTC is a similar man.
Is he army? This may help explain the recruiting and retention problems if he is typical of their leadership. Soldiers deserve good leaders, though they often do not get them. A leader ensures that his men are properly equipped- and particularly fed- before he takes care of himself. Treating soldiers like children taking too many cookies is hardly showing respect for them. What do they think of him in return? This is not likely to instill any effort beyond the bare minimum. At best, he is making himself into a laughingstock.
Going back to the previous book: a senior officer commanded a ship secured alongside and outboard of another escort. The gangway was unattended, so the senior confiscated the sign-in book, demanding that the subordinate captain retrieve it personally. When the superior's ship sailed it was the object of many derisive signals. Crews gathered on deck to laugh at it. It was not until much later that the captain found the reason: painted in large letters across the bow was the inscription: I'M A SHIT
The LTC may find himself subjected to indifferent performance and minimal respect. These factors will adversely affect his productivity. There is also the personnel problem: good people will not stay with him. In a military organization good people will attempt to transfer out, and it is far easier to bring a willing volunteer into a new unit if the commander asks for him. Every commander attempts to rid himself of problem staff, and few wish to serve with them. Every good leader knows that you will be no better than your subordinates. This commander may well find himself stuck with a large number of unmotivated people who will, by design or accident, block his future career prospects.

Ya know . . . this isn't my war. I try to keep my mouth shut about how it's run. I was Navy. Our division officer was known as 'Back-stabbing' Bob Hotalen. His left nut was CWO 'Big Al' Saltiziak. While I was in that division we had two mutinys, several career brigrats. Drug problems? Only if we ran out. Sabotage and deriliction were marginal. Little petty stuff, jobs done half right, or not at all. I didn't agree with it, but I tried NOT to know who did what.

Daily confrontations about shiny shoes, unbuttoned shirts, rolled up sleves. Oh, yeah, we were in a 130 degree engine room in 110 degree Nam. So we painted our shoes with black laquer. We learned to bang on the pipes if 'Big Al' had left his air conditioned space, hunting for miscreants and infractors. We called that "Turd Alert".

We were treated like mutinious morons, and after a year or two of that, we all decided to just go along with the evaluations we were getting. WTF, might as well; we weren't going to get any good evals no matter what.

So, yeah, I got out. It just wasn't worth the grief. The 'real' Navy was just a bunch of bottom dwelling martinets who couldn't make it on the outside. I learned in life that if you treat people like that, they'll be lining up for the chance to f**k you.

So, FWIW Lt., you are now among the bitter masses who have carried out their orders, completed their mission, and been reamed for the pettiest of grievances.

BTW: We have our acronyms. That REMF pogue isn't worth a two hairs on a real mans ass. This MFSA did not ask once if his precious turkey jerkey went to your man, 'stumpy' or to any of the wounded? Did he?

Chaps my hide, we gotta bury another kid tomorrow, to think the kid bought the farm and this LTC will probably make it.

His kind usually do.

R

Chocolate is a very cherished item. Man or Women cannot resist its taste, texture...the degree on which it melts in your mouth. Either it be a bar or ice cream. Always put one away for just in case. Be safe and well Lt.

Who the hell is this light col. REMF? Perhaps had he been out on the mission, humping his own ruck and rifle in the firefights with your guys, maybe I'd have some sympathy. As it stands, I have none. My job as an NCO back in the day was to take care of my guys and that's what I did. Your guys deserved the stuff. This LTC asshole deserved none of it nor does he deserve much of the respect his rank entails. As someone else said above, he'll likely have a star on his shoulder one day to reward him for his idiocy.

Whew... Mike before me could not have said it any better!! I agree 100%... Thanks Mike for writing exactly how most of us felt when reading this...
Michael... Thank you for writing this, I am sorry there are still these a-holes out there... God bless you and your men... Stay safe...

Greetings - I've never served in the military but I do deal with people of all personality types. I'd bet money that the Lt. Colonel's tirade had nothing to do with you. A thousand things probably happened to him before the incident. You couldn't have known then, and I doubt you ever will know, exactly what went on with him during the day. People flip out all the time at people who have nothing to do with why the flipper is flipping. They're just in the wrong place at the wrong time. People especially flip out at targets who cannot fight back, such as those who serve them for a living or junior-ranking personnel.

Ben and Jerry's ships, including to APO/FPO addresses. Maybe if all the Sandbox readers each had a six pack of NY Super Fudge Chunk sent over there ...

P.S. God bless you and bring you home safely to your loved ones!

Josh,

You're right, and as flymaac alluded, Queeg is the better analogy.

I don't see the outrage that has been projected onto Michael. What I see is a factual report delivered with a twinkle. War brings out the best and the worst. The narrative covers not even a gnat in the world of worst - more like a story to be used in the future to remind Sir OTT (Over The Top) that loosing focus over chocolate is rarely warranted; but maintaining focus over an annoyance in an explosive environment can mean the difference between life and death. Michael, you make us proud and I sincerely hope you find many future opportunities to remind the Sir OTTs out there that significance is a relative term. Jer

Michael,

My friends and I here in New York City would like to send you and your men some chocolate. A lot of fucking chocolate. As much as we can. Any chance of this? How can I do this for you? Thanks, and God Bless.

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