By RU Special Guest Dallas Dunn Attending a job fair soon?...
The Three Rules
We’d like to introduce you all to Big Tobacco, a vet currently deployed in Iraq, and one of the best writers we’ve found in the blog-o-sphere. As luck would have it, he was willing to write for RU and we’re happy to have him.
This is his third article for Ranger Up and we think it is a phenomenal reminder of two things:
1) NCOs make the difference.
2) There are no front lines anymore.
I did not smoke while composing this.
“Tobacco,” my first sergeant says.
“Yes, first sergeant?” I answer.
“I’m going to give you the class of pogues. That includes the females. Do you think you can handle that?”
“Roger, first sergeant. But, um…Why can’t I take the combat arms kids?”
My first sergeant gestures to one of the other platoon sergeants in the room: “Because Sergeant Baar is a Ranger and I think he has more to offer.”
My training unit was divvying up the next class for my state’s recruit sustainment battalion. My particular company was handling the split-op kids; soldiers who went to basic training during their summer break between their junior and senior years of high school. I was about to spend the next nine months babysitting these kids until they were sent to their MOS schools.
“But Top, I don’t know anything about driving trucks or fixing radios.” I protest.
“You know what, Tobacco?” he responds. “I think everybody in this room would agree that you are the least qualified to teach anything. That’s why you are going to teach the kids who matter the least.”
I think about these kids as I drive home that day. How could I boil infantry soldiering down to the basics for kids whose jobs would range from plumbers to mechanics?
What are the basic rules of soldering?
I spent that night scribbling on a piece of paper as my wife lay slumbering beside me. By midnight, I was ready to face the new class.
I’m standing in front of my brand new class of trainees. As the other instructors and drill sergeants hover around their platoons shouting and berating their soldiers, I take my platoon of wide-eyed teenagers outside and sit them down in the grass far from the commotion of the drill floor.
“Listen up,” I say to the platoon. “I know that you are not permitted to smoke in AIT. Who here are smokers?”
Half of the class raises their hands. I pull out a small cigar and stick it in my mouth.
“Good. I don’t want to see anybody not smoking. Listen to me. My name is Staff Sergeant Tobacco. I am your platoon sergeant. I’ve been in for about twelve years now, all of that time spent as infantry. I hope to G-d I can teach you something that might keep you alive when our state is called up again to go to Iraq.
“I guarantee you that I am the easiest man in the world to get along with. You just have to follow three rules:
#1. Always have a pen, a notepad and a watch. One day, you will be in combat. You will be tired, cold and hungry. You will be told things, but your fatigue will make you forget those things if you don’t write them down first. You need a watch because then you will always be where you are supposed to be at the right time.
#2. Do whatever you are told to do unless it is unlawful or dangerous, and in combat forget about dangerous. If someone tells you to do something that is fucked up, do it, as long as it is not unlawful or dangerous, and then go tell your chain of command.
#3. Don’t get in trouble to the point where it can’t be taken care of at platoon level. I’m a big believer in going out, getting drunk, getting in fights and doing stupid stuff. But don’t do stupid stuff to the point where your platoon leadership can’t help you if you get caught.
These three rules are the basic tenets of soldiering. They are all of my years of experience distilled down to three central points. One day, you will be in Iraq or Afghanistan. You will face your moment of truth. Remembering one of these rules may be the difference between coming home with your buddies or coming home in a box.
That being said, we have a Power Point on the schedule today. But I don’t think there is an extension cord long enough to reach out here. So FRAGO. We got rubber ducks in the supply room. Maybe I can teach you kids something. Let’s go play in the woods.”
Leaders Make All the Difference
It’s the summer. Most of my class has gone to their AIT schools. I get a call one day from a former trainee, who along with three others, is at Fort Jackson learning how to be a truck driver.
“Yo! Sarn’t,” says the voice on the phone.
“Good to hear from you again!” I say. “How’s Fort Jackson?”
“Easy, sarn’t. Easy. You know how you said to always have a pen, paper and a watch?”
“Well us four from Jersey always have it. We’re always on time and we never get in trouble. The drill sergeants call us ‘NJ Squared Away.’”
“Well, I’m glad that something sank in because you were pretty fucked up when you left.”
More time passes. I am sent back to my infantry unit to deploy to Iraq. I see a trainee of mine when I am in Kuwait, a girl who always seemed a little too friendly for her own good.
“Sergeant!” She explodes as she hugs me.
I look to see a newly minted specialist: “Congratulations on your promotion, specialist.”
“Thanks!” She grins. “You know how you always said not to get in trouble?”
“Yeah. Why? What happened? Are you in trouble?”
“Well, you know how, like, guys are always after me because of these?” She says as she pushes out her ample chest.
I resist the urge to tell her that she’s overweight, not buxom: “Yeah.”
“Well, like almost every girl at AIT got an Article 15 for fraternization. I didn’t get a single one!”
“Cause you didn’t get caught,” I say.
“No! I didn’t have sex even once!”
Oddly, I am proud. I’ll take my victories where I can get them.
A few more months go by. I’m in Iraq. It’s my birthday. I wallow in self-pity as I watch a convoy move north, knowing that I will never join them. My place is at a radio and computer in the TOC. I log into my email and see a message from a trainee. I click on the message.
“I wanted to let you know that I got blasted, but I’m ok. They found parts of the truck lying 200 meters away. I would have been dead, but I was wearing my gunner’s strap. Cause you know. Do what you are told to do, right?”
As I write this essay, sixty of my former trainees are deployed to Iraq. Some are guarding convoys. Some are pushing paper. Some are fixing radios.
All of them are still alive.
Maybe it is due to my rules, maybe not.
But I’d like to think it didn’t hurt.
Copyright of Big Tobacco