The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

AWARDS, POWER, POCKETS, AND HAIR |

January 09, 2013

Name:  1SG James L. Gibson
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Forest Grove, Oregon
Milblog: Afghanistan Deployment 2012-2013
Email: James.l.gibson@afghan.swa.army.mil

If you want a hot topic of debate in the “deployed” Army, none is hotter than that of end of tour awards. Even though we just arrived a few months ago, the highest of the tour awards (Bronze Star) is due for review next month. It may seem outrageous to have to turn them in so early, but the approval for the award is the Commanding General. That means it must go through Squadron and Brigade for signatures prior to reaching him. By the time it reaches the General, with the addition of all the other units here, they have gone through a lengthy process. To speed up the approval process, Brigade or higher will give out a percentage of an award that they will approve. We received that percentage yesterday.

The Bronze Star Medal (BSM) is a big deal. Its peace time equivalent is the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) which is normally given to a Company Commander or First Sergeant (a very demanding job) for their time at that position. No matter what the percentage is, someone is always going to believe that they do or don’t deserve it. Debating on who deserves the award and who doesn’t is like debating gun regulation; no clear answer that everyone agrees on can be found. It is even harder when we are trying to justify the award on only three months of deployment.

Do you standardize the award? All Platoon Sergeants and above get it? My troop is the largest, do I get more allocations? We are deployed; this is what we joined to do, so why give awards? What actions justify the award? Rank requirement? All are questions that don’t have a clear cut answer. When I sat down with the Platoon Sergeants today to talk about who should be put in for the BSM, the platoons were split 50/50 on who should get it and who shouldn’t. Half said that they didn’t want or need it and that it should go to the line troops that are living on the small FOBs and are in the shit all the time (my recommendation as well), while the other half think that PSG and above, no matter what job they hold, are deserving of the award. Whatever we (Troop Commander and I) decide, it’s not going to make everyone happy and that’s part of being in the Army.

Change of subject, please…

The freaking power went out in our tent last night. I woke up around 2:00 a.m. violently shivering, wondering what the hell was going on. One quick glance at my alarm clock confirmed my suspicion that we had lost power as it wasn’t displaying the time. Luckily for me, I had been keeping all three layers to my sleeping bag right next to my bed. What I should have done was be a good tent occupant and find the contractors to fix the generator. What I did was dive deep into my three-layered sleeping system and go right back to sleep. Generator started back up a couple hours later but had not re-heated the tent by the time I needed to wake up. I guess if you want to get something good out of a cold tent it's that it makes you dress quickly and get to work.

The cold weather is still sticking around for the most part. It does warm up to around 50 during the middle of the day but is well below freezing during the night. We have been working hard on shipping all excess equipment back to the US and are making quite a dent. Should be done here within another month or so with what we have at FOB Apache but also have other FOBs that we are worried about.

I find myself becoming shorter and shorter with Soldiers and BS. I think I am starting to spend more and more time digging into officers. Yes, technically they are a higher rank than I am but I am the one that is held accountable for the overall welfare and discipline of this troop. If you are messed up, I am going to tell you and then fix you, regardless of your rank. That’s my job and that is what is expected of me.

One of my buddies told me his rank standard about 5 years ago and I still use it today. Officers, from the lowest to the highest rank, have 10 ranks (O1-O10 or 2nd Lieutenant through 4 Star General) while we Enlisted guys have 9 (E1 – E9 or Private through Command Sergeant Major). Basically, all Officers outrank all Enlisted, no matter how long they have been in or what rank they hold. So a 2nd LT with 1 month in service can order a Command Sergeant Major with 30 years of service to do something; now, if that CSM does it or not is a different beast all together. To make it easier to understand, here is a conversation I have had with numerous Captains over the last year.

Me: Sir, get your hands out of your pockets!

Captain: Uh, Roger 1SG.

Framed Gibson AWARD TIMEMe: Damn sir, you are killing me. Seems like every day I have to tell you to the same thing. You need some gloves? Are your hands cold?

Captain: Well, technically I outrank you 1SG, so I don’t have to do what you say.

Me: Sir, I’m an E8. First Sergeant! I am on the 8th of 9 ranks. Therefore I am 8/9th of a whole. YOU, on the other hand are a Captain, an O3. Therefore you are 3/10th and less than 1/3. I am closer to a whole. You may outrank me, but I have more rank. I win! And, yes you don’t have to listen to me, but what we can do is walk our happy little asses into the Squadron Commanders office, the guy that out ranks you, and have this conversation again if you like. I win again. Keep your hands out of your pockets!

Officers: Making simple shit hard since 1775. Ha! But on the other hand: Noncommissioned Officers: Crying about the simple shit since 1775.

I just got back from getting a haircut. Some of the guys I have deployed with before may be asking “You mean you shaved your head, right”? Nope, I got a haircut from the barber shop. It’s true, on all deployments I have been on it’s much easier to shave my head completely bald. I didn’t have to worry about the lines at the barber and spending money, or in cases like my last deployment, we had no barber at all, so I didn’t have a choice. If it were my choice all the time, I would be bald even back at home station, but I can’t. Back home I try to follow the advice that my Grandfather gave me when I initially joined the Army: “You should get a haircut often enough that nobody noticed you got one."

In order to look good and set the example, I need to get a haircut at least once a week (10 days if I stretch it) and that becomes expensive. So if it were up to me, I would look like Mr. Clean! Only one problem. My wife doesn’t like it. And with the technology we have today allowing the ability to video Skype with her and my girls every morning, I don’t want to shave it. I will do whatever I need to do to keep my girls happy! And if that means sitting in a local national barber shop that is heated to 110 degrees, smells like four-day-old shrimp cocktail, and trusting a local national clean up my neck with a straight razor, that is what I am going to do!

Thing I miss most today: The ability to walk to my bathroom in the middle of the night without getting dressed. It really sucks having to get bundled up, dressed in the proper uniform, just to walk 20 meters outside my tent in the freezing cold to relieve myself.

Comments

As the daughter of a noncom, I love that you scold the baby lieutenants when they need it!

And I hope your wife and daughters appreciate the effort it takes to get haircuts instead of shaving. I'll bet they're really proud of you.

Keep warm!

As Machievelli said "It is not that titles honor men, men honor titles". If you are appointed a General, that obliges you to behave like one - or the whole thing will not work. Same applies to any rank all the way down.

Most people realise that the key to command authority is that orders must be obeyed. Fewer realise that this only works if you only give orders that will (or in some circumstances even can) be obeyed.

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