The Investigation

Another “Colonel Gresham” Adventure

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) sets forth Congressional instructions for the governance of criminal and civil laws and penalties for all Armed Forces of the United States.  However, each military department is empowered to implement these laws according to the peculiar needs of their services.  In the Navy and Marine Corps, the Manual of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy governs administrative and investigatory actions.

As one might imagine, there are several such processes and proceedings.  One of these proceedings involves command investigations, also referred to as Fact-Finding Investigation.  Before a Commanding Officer/Convening Authority can determine an appropriate course of legal action, he or she must review the facts surrounding an incident.  Hence a command investigation may be appropriate.

Command investigations are appropriate whenever an event or series of events might result in disciplinary action or later become the basis for a claim against the United States Government.  In any case, such an investigation materially assists commanding officers in determining how best to proceed in such matters.

Fact-finding investigations begin when a convening authority appoints an officer or NCO to conduct one.  It is usual for a convening authority to direct the investigating officer to provide “findings of fact, opinions, and recommendations.”  Opinions, of course, must be logically inferred from the facts presented.

As it happened, there was a regrettable incident at the command’s annual officer Christmas party.  There was a “gift exchange,” where people picked names out of a hat and were instructed to pick up a small gift costing no more than $10.00 for opening at the Christmas party.  The gathering was a mandatory social event; every officer assigned to the command element would participate.  Someone harbored resentment of being forced to exchange gifts.  The victim, in this case, was the person whose name the disgruntled person pulled out of the hat.

The Commanding General’s civilian executive secretary (I’ll call her Miss Smith) was a spinster lady of around forty years old at the time.  She was an introvert, ill-at-ease around others, exacerbated by a speech impediment — but by every account, she was a fast typist and a skilled record keeper.  Miss Smith was of medium height, slender build, and wore her hair the same every day — it was a sort of throw-back hairstyle to the early 1900s — a bun configuration on top of her head.  Despite her eccentricities, Miss Smith was a lovely lady whom the general wished to include in the command’s social gatherings.

The Christmas party was held at a local country club a few days before the beginning of the official holiday break — on a Friday evening, of course.  It was a coat and tie affair — somewhat typical for an officer’s social gathering.  Officers and their wives mixed with one or another group and made their manners to the Commanding General and his lady.  After a few hours of this sort of thing and several table servings of hors d’oeuvre (Marine officers never pass up free food — even if it is ‘beanie weenies’), it came time to exchange gifts.  This slavish duty fell upon the general’s aide-de-camp and his lady.  After opening presents, the officer/recipient would offer an inane comment, such as, “Oh wow … I’ve always wanted a pair of pink earmuffs.”

When the aide called for Miss Smith, she very self-consciously went up to the aide to receive her gift and then withdrew away from everyone as best she could … but of course, everyone waited for her to open the present and add to the growing list of inane comments.  The general and his lady stood nearby; they seemed pleased that Miss Smith had been able to join in the fun.

Miss Smith unwrapped her gift, found a box, which she opened to reveal a tube of lipstick.  And what do most ladies do when they look at lipstick?  They twist it open.  That’s what Miss Smith did, as well.  In sum, it was a foolish prank — particularly when one considers how fragile a person Miss Smith was.  The lipstick took the form of a phallic symbol.  The General was not happy to see his executive secretary being escorted out to her car, crying.

Sometime before the end of the evening, which occurred soon afterward, the CG turned to Colonel Gresham, his Chief of Staff, and said, “I want an investigation to find out who did this …”  I can’t say that I blame him; the prank was obviously the work of one of our officers, and it was hardly an act “becoming” of an officer.  Worse, it was unkind.  Gresham replied, “Yes, sir … I’ll get someone on it first thing Monday.”

“No,” said the CG … “I want you to do it.”

Handing this assignment to Gresham was probably an error in judgment.  Nevertheless, at promptly 08:00 on the following Monday, Colonel Gresham directed his trusty staff secretary, Major Karl Bueller, to (a) cancel the morning staff meeting, and (b) call the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA), Lieutenant Colonel Abrams (not his real name), and have him report immediately to the Chief of Staff.  The SJA was the command’s legal officer.

The first problem was that Abrams never arrived at work before 09:00.  Second, the word “immediately” wasn’t in Abrams’s vocabulary.  If Colonel Gresham was even partly aware of the habits of his staff, he would have known this.  By the time Abrams finally appeared in Gresham’s office, it was already 09:15, and the colonel was fuming.

Gresham was a loudmouth, someone who loved to hear the roar of his own voice.  People wondered about that.  No one likes being yelled at or spoken down to, but that was Gresham’s modus operandi.  So, everyone within earshot heard Gresham busting Abrams’s chops, and Gresham suffered under the misconception that Abrams gave a damn what Gresham thought.  Abrams was getting ready to retire anyway.

Getting down to business, Gresham filled Abrams in on what had happened the previous Friday evening, adding that the CG wanted someone to investigate the incident.  Abrams said, “Well, Colonel, let me talk to the General … this isn’t something …”

Gresham interrupted him.  “I’m not asking for your opinion, Abrams.  The decision has already been made.  I’m asking for your help.”

It had been twenty years since Gresham had conducted a fact-finding investigation.  He wanted Abrams to tutor him about how to proceed.  An hour later, Abrams returned to his office to gather the instructional materials Gresham would need to conduct his investigation.  He had one of his captains deliver to Gresham a copy of the JAG Manual, with appropriate sections paper clipped, a copy of the standard Miranda warning, numerous copies of statements forms, and a formal letter of appointment (which the CG duly signed).  After reading through these voluminous materials, Gresham was still a little confused, so he called down to the Abrams’s office to ask further questions.  Since Abrams usually went to lunch at around 11:00, Gresham would have to wait another two hours for his answers.

Abrams returned Gresham’s phone call at 13:30.  Gresham didn’t understand the Miranda Warning.[1]  The answer to Gresham’s question was, “No, sir.  You only give the Miranda warning to someone you suspect of an offense, misconduct, or improper performance of duty.  If you suspect that one or more persons committed a crime or is guilty of misconduct, you should not interview them until last.  If you give a Miranda warning, it must be given before you conduct your interview or ask them to make a statement.

Gresham spent the rest of the day organizing himself for the inquiry.  Bueller noted that Gresham’s organizational strategy was to stack his materials at one location on his desk and then move them to another site.  It was clear that Gresham didn’t want to conduct the investigation; Bueller opined, “He’s out of his depth.”

“Major Bueller,” roared Gresham, “get me a copy of the command officer personnel roster.  Line out anyone who was not present at the social gathering.”  The roster became Gresham’s “list of usual suspects.”

At promptly 08:00 on Tuesday morning, Colonel Gresham directed Major Bueller, his trusty Staff Secretary, to telephone LtCol Abrams and immediately report to the Chief of Staff.  As it happened, Abrams’s name was the first to appear on the personnel roster — because the roster was sorted alphabetically.

However, since Abrams didn’t arrive at work until a few minutes before or after 09:00, Gresham had to wait about an hour for Abrams’ appearance.  As before, Gresham was in no easy frame of mind when Abrams finally appeared.  The conversation on Tuesday began quite similarly to the one on the previous day.  Gresham loudly chastised Abrams: Abrams shrugged it off with a perfunctory “Yes, sir.”

With that out of the way, Colonel Gresham cleared his throat, sat down behind his desk, asked Abrams to take a seat.  Gresham then spent a few extra moments attending to the organization of his desk.  Bueller later opined, “He didn’t know what the hell he was doing.”

The Chief of Staff then looked intently at Abrams and said, “My name is Colonel George Gresham.  I am investigating an incident on (date) at the (name of country club) where the command’s executive secretary received a sexually explicit gift as part of the gift exchange program.  While you are not suspected of any wrongdoing at this time, it is my duty to inform you that you have certain rights.  You have the right to remain silent during my questioning; you are not obligated to answer any questions that might tend to incriminate you.  If you decide to answer questions, you must be aware that anything you do say will be taken down and used against you during a formal legal proceeding.  Also, if you decide to answer my questions now or make a statement regarding the subject of this investigation, you may stop answering questions at any time to consult with an attorney; if you desire to speak with an attorney, you may do so at the government’s expense, or if you choose, you may consult with a civilian attorney at your own expense.”

Gresham stopped speaking.  A long silence prevailed inside his office until he proceeded by asking, “Do you understanding these rights as I have explained them to you?”

LtCol Abrams, the command lawyer, replied, “Yes, sir.”

“Do you wish to make a statement now or answer my questions?” Gresham asked.

Abrams answered, “No, sir.”

Gresham’s mouth fell open.  “What?”

Abrams:  “I beg your pardon, sir?”

Gresham:  “I said, ‘What’ … you don’t want to make a statement?”

Abrams:  “That is correct; I do not wish to make a statement.”

Gresham:  “Why not?”

Abrams:  “Why not what, sir?”

Gresham:  “Why do you not wish to make a statement?”

Abrams:  “Oh.  Well, you aren’t allowed to ask me that, Colonel.”

Gresham:  “Why not?”

Abrams:  “Well, to begin with, the continuation of your line of questioning after I already informed you that I do not wish to answer any of your questions, including your question ‘Why not,’ would seem to contravene the entire purpose of the Miranda warning.”

Gresham:  “I see.  Well, in that case, would you care to make a statement to the effect that you do not wish to make a statement?”

Abrams:  “No, I would not.”

Gresham:  “Very well, you are dismissed.”

Major Bueller later reported that as Abrams departed Gresham’s office, he was shaking his head and chuckling to himself.

Colonel Gresham continued with his investigation … down the list of suspects he went.  Not even Major Bueller, his trusty Staff Secretary, wanted to make a statement.  It took Grisham several days to get through seven colonels, twenty-two lieutenant colonels, twenty-five majors, fifteen or so captains, and two lieutenants.

Not a single officer agreed to make a statement or answer any of Gresham’s questions.  Well, out of the entire staff of the headquarters element, only one person was “guilty” of conduct unbecoming, which means that everyone else was very likely insulted to have been questioned at all.

I would have narrowed the suspect list down to only a few, beginning with the Division Inspector, whom everyone called “Boss Hogg” on account of that’s who he looked like, and because he was known for his perversions in local New Orleans bars, and maybe one or two of the captains who routinely exhibited immature behavior.

Whoever played the mean prank on Miss Smith was never identified.  To my knowledge, there was never another Christmas party “gift exchange.”  No one knows what the CG might have said to his Chief of Staff when the official shoulder-shrug took place.

Lieutenant Colonel Abrams never did arrive at work on time; Colonel Gresham never again made that an issue. Major Bueller continued to wonder how Gresham ever made it to full colonel.

As did we all.

Notes:


[1] A Miranda warning is an advisory statement provided by police officials or lawful military authority to an accused or a suspect who is in police custody which reminds them of their right to silence, the right to refuse to answer questions or provide information to investigators.  It protects an accused/suspect from coerced self-incrimination.

U. S. Special Forces

Special Forces Insignia

 You can place everything civilians know about the military into a thimble.  It isn’t entirely their fault, of course.  So, it comes as no surprise that civilians are likely to ask such questions as, What is the difference between a Green Beret and an Army Ranger?  Or they might ask, Who’s the best, the Green Berets, Rangers, or Marines?

The answers to such deeply insightful questions will always depend upon who’s been asked.  How would one expect a soldier or sailor to answer?  A Marine, for example, might offer the questioner a contemptible stare and then just walk off without answering.  Marines do have a sense of humor, but it has its limits.  One of the best-ever answers originates with a former Green Beret sergeant major by the name of David Kirschbaum:

You tell the Marines to take a hill and they’ll frown, mutter, and bitch about it, but they’ll eventually salute, organize a platoon, and they’ll head straight for that hill.  They’ll fight and kill whoever gets in their way of taking that hill, and even if there is only one PFC left in the bunch, he’ll seize that hill and organize himself for keeping it.

If you tell the Rangers to take a hill, they’ll salute and then go plan for a few days, write a lot of operation orders, develop patrol plans, argue about the scheme of maneuver, and finally decide who ought to be in charge.  And then in the execution of taking that hill, they’ll find the absolutely worst terrain available for their route of march, which will preferably include swamps overrun with poisonous snakes and steep cliffs protected by predatory birds, and they’ll wait for the worst weather imaginable, but they’ll finally go through the swamps and climb the cliffs, and they won’t feel right unless they’ve lost half their force due to exhaustion or snake bite.  But if there’s even one Ranger remaining, he’ll take the hill.

If you tell the Special Forces to take that hill, the first thing they’ll do is ask you why.  So, you have to explain why.  And then they’ll offer a disrespectful stare which is called silent contempt, and then they’ll just go away.  In a few days, they might take that hill.  Or they might take another hill that they liked better because the evidence was so blatantly obvious that their hill was the better choice that you can never argue with them about it.  Or they might pull some sort of a deal and persuade the Marines to do it.  Or, after a few days you might find them at the club completely ignoring the order to take the hill.  And if challenged about their failure to take the hill, they’ll soon convince you that the order was a stupid idea and in not taking the hill, they very likely saved you from a court-martial —for which you are in their debt.”

Most people know the Special Forces soldier by his headgear: the Green Beret.  They probably do not know that the US Army Special Forces traces its roots in unconventional warfare to the Alamo Scouts of the Sixth US Army in the Pacific during World War II, the Philippine Guerrillas [Note 1], the First Special Service Force [Note 2], and several operational groups within the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).  Note: the OSS was not a US Army command, but a large number of officers and enlisted men were assigned to the OSS and later used their experience in forming the US Army Special Forces.  During the Korean War, men like Colonel Wendell Fertig and Lieutenant Colonel Russell W. Volckmann (former Philippine Scouts) used their wartime experiences to formulate the doctrine of unconventional warfare that became the foundation of the Special Forces.

In February 1950, the US government recognized a quasi-independent Vietnam within the French Union.  The US was considering granting aid to the French forces opposing the communist insurgency of Ho Chi Minh.  The US agreed to provide military and economic aid, and with this decision, American involvement in Indochina had begun.

In 1951, Major General Robert A. McClure selected Colonel Aaron Bank (formerly of the OSS) to serve as Operations Branch Chief of the Special Operations Division, Psychological Warfare Staff at Fort Brag, North Carolina.  Within a year, the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was formed under Colonel Bank at the Psychological Warfare School (later designated the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center).  In 1953, the 10th SFG was split, with the 10th deploying to Germany, and the remaining men forming the 77th Special Force Group, which in May 1960 was re-designated as the 7th Special Forces Group.

On 7 May 1954, the French were overwhelmingly defeated by the Viet Minh (Communist supported Viet Nam Independence League) at Dien Bien Phu.  Under the Geneva Armistice Agreement, Vietnam was divided into North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  Between 1950-54, US officials had an opportunity to observe the struggle of France with the Vietnamese insurgency and become familiar with the political and military situation … but one has to wonder, what did these officials do with all that familiarization?

In July 1954, the US Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam (USMAAGV) numbered 342 officers and men.  Three months later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower promised direct aid to the provisional government of South Vietnam, which at the time was led by Premier Ngo Dinh Diem.  Between 1954-56, Viet Minh cadres were busy forming action committees to spread communist propaganda and organize South Vietnamese citizens to oppose their own government [Note 3].  In 1955, both the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union announced that they would provide direct aid to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (also, DRV or North Vietnam).  In August 1955, Premier Diem rejected for the third time Hanoi’s demand for a general election throughout both North Vietnam and South Vietnam to settle the matter of unification.  In October 1955, Diem proclaimed the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), which became the official government of South Vietnam.

On 24 June 1957, the 1st Special Forces Group was activated on Okinawa; within a year, a team from this unit trained fifty-eight soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) at a commando training center located at Nha Trang.  These trainees would later become the nucleus for the first Vietnamese Special Forces units.

In 1959-60, communist insurgents (known as Vietnamese Communists (also, VC) grew in number and began terrorizing innocent civilians.  Clashes between government forces and VC units increased from around 180 in January 1960 to nearly 550 in September.  Thirty Special Forces instructors were sent from Fort Bragg to Vietnam in May to set up an ARVN training program.

On 21 September 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced a program to provide additional military and economic aid to the RVN.  On that same day, the 5th Special Forces Group was activated at Fort Bragg.  It was at this point in 1961 that President Kennedy took an interest in special forces operations and he became the patron of the Special Forces program within the Army.

Up until 1961, the RVN and US mission in Saigon focused their attention on developing regular ground forces, which for the most part had excluded ethnic and religious minority groups.  Late in that year, the US initiated several programs that would broaden the counterinsurgency effort by developing paramilitary forces within these minority groups.  The development of these groups became a primary mission of Special Forces teams in Vietnam.  It was a difficult mission; one that required an understanding of Vietnamese culture, the culture of minority groups (i.e., Montagnards), and a great deal of patience.

In 1961, the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas undertook an examination of the responsibility of the US Army in the cold war and the so-called “wars of liberation” as practiced by communists around the world.  One focus that evolved from this examination was doctrine needed to counter subversive insurgencies, particularly in RVN.  When asked to identify units and numbers of forces needed and best prepared to deal with counterinsurgency operations, the Army selected as its vanguard unit the Special Forces, which at the time numbered around 2,000 troops.

Throughout the Vietnam War, the US Army Special Forces excelled in every aspect of unconventional warfare.  As with the other American armed forces in Vietnam, however, the deck was stacked against them from the start [Note 4].  At the conclusion of the war, after Democrats in Congress reneged on America’s deal with Vietnam in the post Vietnamization phase, many veteran special forces soldiers left active service in disgust.  We won all the battles, but the politicians back home handed a victory to the North Vietnamese from the jaws of their resounding defeat.  The utter shame of American history was not the men who stepped up to serve during the Vietnam War, it was the Congress of the United States who not only turned its back on our South Vietnamese ally, but on the men and women who served in Vietnam as well.

The Green Berets do not refer to themselves as such.  They either refer to themselves as “Special Forces” or SF.  Sometimes they are known as “Sneaky Pete,” and “Snake Eaters.”  They do know how to eat snakes, but I have it pretty good authority that it’s not a preferred or regular diet (although it’s probably better tasting than the current government faire of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s) (also, Meals rejected by Ethiopians).  

The John Wayne film, The Green Berets, wasn’t really about the Special Forces soldier; it was more of a composite picture of soldiers one might find in the Special Forces.  According to the retired special forces soldiers I know, the SFG of the 1960s is a far cry from the modern organization.

In the early days, the SF soldier was an individual we might call a natural woodsman.  They were men to volunteered for duty with Special Forces because they preferred being in the boonies to being in garrison and having to take part in weekly parades, repetitious routines, and the chicken shit associated with regular army life.  There was some formal training, of course, and it is true that these fellows had a knack for learning foreign languages, but most of the men received on-the-job training (OJT) in special forces operations teams.  One former Green Beret described it as working hard when it was time to work and playing hard when it was time to play.  Perhaps too much drinking and chasing skirts while on liberty, but these men were, indeed, the quiet professionals who never lost their focus on their mission.

The primary element of a Special Forces company is an operational detachment, commonly referred to as an A Team.  It consists of 12 soldiers: 2 officers, and ten sergeants.  All members of the A Team are Special Forces qualified and cross trained in different skills.  The team is almost unlimited in its ability to operate in hostile or “denied” areas, able to infiltrate and exfiltrate by air, land, or sea.  It can operate for indefinite periods of time in remote locations without any outside help or support—self-sustaining, independent teams who regularly train, advise, and assist US and allied forces and agencies and capable of performing a myriad of special operations.  Every member of the A Team is lethal.

Besides the A Team commander (a captain), the second in command is a Chief Warrant Officer.  The captain is responsible for ensuring and maintaining the operational readiness of the team; he may also command or advise an indigenous combat force up to battalion size units.  His executive officer (second in command) serves as the tactical and technical expert.  He is multi-lingual, supervises plans and operations, and is capable of recruiting, organizing, training, and supervising indigenous combat forces up to the battalion level.

The A Team Sergeant is a Master Sergeant, the senior enlisted man, responsible for overseeing all Team operations, supervising subordinate enlisted men, and the person who runs the show on a daily basis.  Because of his interaction with the team enlisted men, he is sometimes referred to as the Den Daddy.  He is capable of stepping up to second in command should the need arise, or assuming command should the team commander and XO become incapacitated.

The Operations Sergeant is a Sergeant First Class (E-7) who coordinates the team’s intelligence, including field interrogations.  He is capable of training, advising, or leading indigenous combat forces up to a company size unit.

The team has two (2) weapons sergeants.  One of these is usually a sergeant first class and he is assisted by a staff sergeant.  These are the weapons experts who are capable of employing every small arm and crew served weapon in the world.  They are responsible for training other team members in the use of a wide range of weapons.  As tactical mission leaders, they are capable of employing conventional and unconventional tactics and techniques.  They are responsible for the tactical security of the A Team.

The team has two (2) engineer sergeants.  One of these is usually a sergeant first class, and he is assisted by a staff sergeant.  These men are experts in demolitions.  They are lethal with a capital L.  They are the builders and destroyers of structures and serve as key players in civic action missions.

There are two (2) medical sergeants.  One of these is usually a sergeant first class, and he is assisted by a staff sergeant.  The SF medic employs the latest in field medical technology and limited surgical procedures, capable of managing any battlefield trauma injury, supervising preventative medicine, and as such is an integral part of civic action programs.  Upon completion of the SF training, they are certified “paramedical” personnel, which includes advance trauma life support, limited surgery and dentistry, and even veterinarian procedures.

There are two (2) communications sergeants.  One of these is usually a sergeant first class, and he is assisted by a staff sergeant.  These are the Comm Guys, or sometimes referred to as “Sparks.”  They are the lifeline of the team, able to establish and maintain sophisticated communications via FM, multi-channel, and satellite devices.  Theirs is unquestionably the heaviest rucksack on the team.

In addition to their primary responsibilities, team members are often assigned other duties.  The best scrounger very often acts as the supply sergeant.  A scrounger is someone who can steal from other units without getting caught.  One member with peculiar culinary skills might serve as the team cook.  

In the 1960s, before the Special Forces were recognized as a branch of the army, they were regarded as “unassigned.”  Another word for this was “bastard.”  In joining the special forces, a solder became part of a bastard unit.  The veteran soldiers preferred being bastards because it meant that they were generally ignored by the geniuses in Washington whose tactical skill set was operating a pencil sharpener.  Today, the conventional army has taken over the special forces … which means that pencil pushers now dictate to the field soldier how he must go about his business.  If you ask a veteran SF soldier, he’ll probably tell you that today’s SF is little different from the regular conventional army … but they do get to wear service insignia.

One of my favorites:

Staff Sergeant Schwartz had volunteered for the Special Forces.  His request was approved contingent on successfully passing a psychological examination.  On the date of his interview, Schwartz entered the medical officer’s office, removed his hat, and took a seat.  The doctor, who had been reviewing Schwartz’s medical record, looked up and observed a frog sitting on Schwartz’s head.  Having interviewed several Special Forces candidates that day, the doctor was unfazed.  He asked Schwartz, “So, what’s your problem?”  The frog answered, saying, “I don’t know, doc.  It started off as a wart on my ass.”

Endnotes:

[1] After the invasion of the Philippines by the Japanese in 1941, there were sixty American military and civilian commanders of forces throughout the Philippines who evaded capture or escaped Japanese imprisonment on the archipelago’s several islands.  With the help and assistance of the Filipino people, the Philippine Scouts formed resistance groups, which were eventually recognized by the American military and eventually supported and supplied by the USN submarine service.

[2] The First Special Service Force, also known as the Devil’s Brigade, was an elite American-Canadian commando unit in World War II under the command of the Fifth US Army, organized in 1942 under Colonel Robert T. Frederick, who commanded the brigade until 1944.

[3] At this time, the average Vietnamese citizen was not overly patriotic.  Occurrences outside of their immediate family, or outside their village of domicile, was of no great concern to them.

[4] For a discussion about the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, see (1) Viet Nam: The Beginning; (2) Viet Nam: The Marines Head North; (3) The Laotian Problem; (4) Counterinsurgency and Pacification, and (5) The War Begins in Earnest.  The reader may also be interested in From King to Joker: How administration policies moved America from greatness to mediocrity.

Fall from Grace

The true story of hOlder EGAow Sergeant Montgomery became a private

Bad noncommissioned officers are good for only one thing: they demonstrate to their juniors what not to do if they are ever promoted to corporal or sergeant.  I’ve suffered under a few bad NCOs, and about the only thing I could do about it, given the Uniform Code of Military Justice  (UCMJ), was to keep my mouth shut and resolve never to be like them.

I recall with not much fondness one of our sergeants, a guard section leader at the Marine Detachment.  Had George Baker not begun his cartoon strip titled Sad Sack during World War II, one might imagine that he modeled his character on Sergeant Montgomery, who truly was a sack — of something.

All of us snuffs could deal with Montgomery’s meanness; those of us who were unfortunate enough to end up in Montgomery’s section merely looked upon our assignment as just another bite from the cesspool sandwich of life.  But what irritated us most was not so much that he was dumber than a pile of rocks, but that the Detachment CO and guard officer thought Montgomery was an “ideal Marine.”  We were a squared away section, all right, but that had nothing to do with our section leader.  There were only two explanations for following Montgomery: the first was, as I mentioned earlier, that the UCMJ demanded it, and the second was idle curiosity.

In those days, it was difficult for a squared away corporal to achieve promotion to sergeant.  How Montgomery ever made corporal was the subject of several theories.  Our consensus was that even a blind squirrel can find a nut.

One Marine in our section was Private Mitchell — our most squared-away looking Marine.  The man’s appearance was impeccable.  He could have easily appeared on any Marine Corps recruiting poster.  He was film-star handsome, polite to everyone, personable, exuded genuine friendliness to almost everyone, and he was funnier than hell.  Well, I suppose I should say that Mitchell was polite to everyone except Montgomery, whom he hated with unbridled passion.

Mitchell had another enviable attribute: the most devious mind of anyone I have ever met.  For instance, realizing how important annual rifle re-qualification was to our CO (because he constantly reminded us of it), Mitchell intentionally went “unqualified” by a single point — for no other reason than to put Montgomery at odds with the CO.  Private Mitchell was an expert rifleman.  He also didn’t care what the CO thought of him.  He had no intention of remaining in the Corps past the end of his enlistment (and accumulated “bad time”).  You see, Mitchell was one of those Marines who refused to accept a promotion to Private First Class because he didn’t want the added responsibility.  In any case, the college-educated Private Mitchell didn’t need the paltry sum of money the Marine Corps paid him because his father owned several radio stations.

The Marine Detachment had two missions.  We provided armed security for our compound, and we performed honors and ceremonies for a stream of visiting dignitaries.  We had several uniform combinations, from dress blue trousers and khaki shirts to modified dress blues, which is to say our dress blue blouses with white trousers.  We were always changing from one uniform into another.  When falling out for honors ceremonies, we carried M-1 Rifles with 18-inch chrome-plated bayonets.  We banged the butt of our rifles on the deck during close order drill performances as part of the manual of arms.  Except for our detachment armorer, everyone seemed to enjoy hearing the banging sound.

Early one morning, word came down that we would be performing an honor guard ceremony for the Vice President of the United States, who at the time was the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey.  We dressed in our dazzling uniforms, fell out for inspection, drew our weapons, and boarded a US Navy bus over to the Naval Air Station.  During the 30 or so minute ride, Montgomery offered one surly comment after another about how worthless we were; we were an embarrassment to the Marine Corps, to our Commanding Officer, to him personally, and of course, none of us would ever make it to corporal because he’d make damn sure that never happened.  Most of us accepted his abuse in silence.  Private Mitchell laughed.

Then there we were — standing in formation, two platoons organized according to height … the color guard placed in the center.  Sergeant Montgomery, because of his height, was the second or third man in the first rank.  Private Mitchell stood three men down the rank from Montgomery.

While standing at “order arms,” on the command, “fix-bayonets,” all honor guard members moved the muzzle of their rifle to the left front and re-grasped the barrel with their left hand.  They reached across their torso with their right hand to take hold of the bayonet handle and withdrew it from its scabbard.  With the point of the bayonet skyward, they attached the bayonet to the weapon, engaging the bayonet stud and then, grasping the handle, applied downward pressure until seating the bayonet on the bayonet stud.  The “click” sound signifies the locking of the bayonet to the bayonet stud.  Marines are taught to apply slight upward pressure on the bayonet to ensure the bayonet is properly seated and locked.  One distinctive click from the entire honor guard reflects the precision of movement.  It is a prideful sound.  Then, once the Marines “fixed” bayonets, they returned to the position of “order arms.”

This is essentially what happened — except in the case of Sergeant Montgomery, whose bayonet was not properly seated.  As the Vice President was making his way toward the honor guard commander, our Commanding Officer, he executed an about-face and ordered “Present Arms.”  Every Marine was standing at the position of “order arms” (their rifles resting on the deck next to their right foot), their right hand grasping the forward edge of the barrel guard.  We smartly lifted our rifles off the deck to execute the movement, bringing it front and center of our body.  It is a two-count movement, snap and pop.  But then, at that very instant, Sergeant Montgomery’s bayonet went sailing through the air, struck Private Mitchell on his right cheek, and fell to the deck with a loud clatter.

Some people claim that our Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor.  I disagree.

Private Mitchell’s immediate reaction was magnificent.  He screamed out in feigned pain (there was some blood, but not much) in character with any Hollywood production of world war combat and then collapsed to the ground next to Montgomery’s bayonet.  I’m not sure how impressed the Vice President of the United States was with Mitchell’s performance, but I can say with certitude that we snuffs were damned impressed.  The CO was impressed, as well, but in another vein.

Navy corpsmen whisked Mitchell off to the dispensary (he had a band-aid wound).  Later in the day, after all the ranting and raving ceased (CO, XO, First Sergeant, and Guard Chief), Sergeant Montgomery visited the CO at nonjudicial punishment and became a corporal once more.  Mitchell could not have been more pleased with himself.  The event still makes me laugh when I think about it.  But even as a corporal, Montgomery outranked Mitchell —as everyone did— and Corporal Montgomery made it known to Mitchell that his life would be hell from that point on.

Over the next several weeks, Private Mitchell ended up with every “shit detail” Corporal Montgomery could think of.  Mitchell didn’t seem to mind; “shit details” are what privates do for a living.  It was about 40 or so days after the bayonet fiasco that a package arrived addressed to the Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment.  Opening the package, the First Sergeant found an assemblage of documents that appeared to suggest, indeed prove, that Corporal Montgomery was simultaneously married to two women.  It was an amazing revelation because Montgomery was an unlovely person.  A fact-finding investigation conducted by the executive officer determined that wife number two knew nothing about wife number one, living “back home” in Kentucky.  She was no doubt surprised to learn about wife number two, with whom Montgomery cohabitated locally.  The Commanding Officer referred Corporal Montgomery to a special court-martial.  The court found Montgomery “guilty as charged” (bigamy, making false official statements, defrauding the government) and reduced him to Private.  The court also sent Montgomery to the Camp Allen Brig for a few months.

Mitchell could not have been happier.  With Montgomery’s reduction to private, Mitchell outranked him.

My friend in the administrative section confided to me over a beer or two, or three, at the local slop-chute, that he thought the envelope’s handwriting resembled Mitchell’s.  He told me he compared the writing on the envelope with Mitchell’s service record book (SRB).  Now personally, I liked the idea that Mitchell was clever enough to uncover Montgomery’s perfidy. Still, I concluded that maybe my buddy in “admin” was full of … er, making up the story.  What did I know?  Nothing, actually — but we snuffs lived for rumor and innuendo.

At the Airport/In Transit

There aren’t enough military airplanes to accommodate every general officer (except in the Air Force), so most flag officers in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps rely on commercial aircraft to get where they need to go.  There is no preferential accommodation, though.  Whether serving as a one-star general or a three-star admiral, they all ride in normal class accommodations because the Government Accounting Office prohibits the pampering of senior military officers at the public’s expense.  Other military personnel uses commercial aircraft, too … only they usually end up paying for it out of their own pockets —such as people traveling home on authorized leave.

Both situations explain how a Marine Corps brigadier general ended up spending time at a commercial airport with an Air Force second lieutenant.  Normally, flag rank officers do not much enjoy talking to lieutenants.  This isn’t so much a matter of snobbishness as it is that general officers were lieutenants once, too, a long time ago, and no one wearing stars today wants to remember how screwed up they were back then.

The brigadier general was in uniform because he was flying officially, attending important meetings.  He was sitting by himself at a small table in a crowded waiting room at an aircraft hub, waiting for a connecting flight.  He was minding his own business, reading a newspaper, drinking a cup of coffee, and munching on a few snacks.

The Air Force second lieutenant was also in uniform.  A recent graduate from the academy, he too was waiting for a connecting flight.  En route to the gate area, he stopped at a local news shop and picked a newspaper, a package of Oreo cookies, and a cup of coffee.  Carrying the purchased articles was difficult because he also had to carry his hat, his briefcase, and his raincoat.  The sooner he put all these things down on a tabletop, the better.  He rushed forward into the waiting area only to find the area packed with other travelers.  Well, except that there was this one fellow sitting alone at a table for two.  Perfect.

The lieutenant rushed over to the table (lieutenants are always rushing around) and hurriedly setting down his several hand-held articles said, “Mind if I sit here, soldier?”

The general unfolded his newspaper long enough to affix his deadliest stare upon the young lieutenant whose own eyes fixated upon the single star on the general’s collar.  Having seen all that he needed to see, and without saying a word, the general went back to reading his paper.  After a few seconds of painful silence, the lieutenant sat down in his chair and set about organizing his personal belongings, which took a few moments because in organizing his personal effects it was necessary that he stand and sit again a few more times.  The raincoat, for example, came off the top of the table and was hung neatly over the back of his chair.  He set his briefcase on the floor beside the chair.  He moved his hat to the side of the table, out of the way, and he laid his folded newspaper in front of him.

At that moment, the general again unfolded his newspaper, re-affixed his death ray stare, and reached over to help himself to an Oreo cookie.  Once the item was firmly grasped in the general’s hand, the newspaper came up again.  The only sound coming from behind the newspaper was that of an Oreo cookie being consumed.

The lieutenant was both aghast and perplexed.  Sure, rank has its privileges, he thought to himself, but there is such a thing as social grace, and here this … general fellow has helped himself to the lieutenant’s Oreo cookies.  Without asking.  Without so much as a damn “by-your-leave.”  Well, the lieutenant reasoned, those are my cookies; I paid for them, and I’ll darn sure eat them.  He then reached across the table, ruffled his fingers through the cookie container, extracted one, and began eating it.  Again, the newspaper unfolded, and the general’s stare returned once more.

Undaunted and refusing to be intimidated, general or no general, the lieutenant ate the cookie, took a few sips of coffee, and returned the general’s stare.  It wasn’t a disrespectful stare, just somewhat rebellious.  And it worked, too.  The general went back to reading his paper.  Life is full of small victories, or so the lieutenant thought.  It was exactly as his Dad told him years ago.

This sharing of cookies went on for a few more minutes until finally, in response to an announcement over the public address system, the general abruptly stood, retrieved his briefcase and hat, and walked off toward a boarding gate.  The package of Oreos, with one cookie remaining, sat on the table.

The lieutenant watched the general’s departure, shook his head, and thought to himself, “That is one very cheeky general.”  Having eaten the final cookie and with another sip of coffee, the lieutenant unfolded his newspaper.  There, inside the newspaper, the young lieutenant discovered his very own unmolested package of Oreo cookies.

Of Note:

  1. I was told this story years ago.  Whether it happened, I cannot say but it did bring a smile to my face, and I hope it does yours as well.

Service Rivalry — Always

Muscle Man 001There were three senior officers hiking in the wild of western Virginia when they unexpectedly came upon a raging river nearing its high water mark. They needed to get to the other side but were clueless about how to get the job done. The Air Force colonel lifted his arms and raising his eyes toward heaven loudly prayed: “God, give me the strength to cross this river! Amen.”

Suddenly the Air Force colonel had muscled arms and strong legs and was able to swim the river. It took him about an hour, however, and he almost drowned during the swim across.

Kayak Man 001The Army colonel then raised his arms and looking toward Heaven prayed: “God, give me the strength and the tools to cross this river! Amen.” Suddenly a one-man survival raft appeared with an oar and the soldier used it to cross the river. It took him quite some time, however, and he almost capsized a couple of times.

USMC E3It was finally time for the Navy captain to cross the river. Having carefully observed all that had transpired on the bank of the raging river, he raised his arms into the air and prayed: “Please God, give me the strength, the tools, and the intelligence to cross this river! Amen.” Suddenly God transformed the Navy captain into a Marine Corps lance corporal, who promptly consulted his map, hiked upstream a few hundred yards, and walked across the bridge.

Preferential Treatment

Naval Aviation 001Marines are nothing if not competitive. This explains why, after 30 years service, you can count the number of your friends on one hand. Marines also make an important distinction between acquaintances, and friends. So there is a lot of back and forth between Marine officers with different MOS specialties. There is nowhere this animosity is more pronounced than within the aviation community —an age-old spectacle between helicopter and fixed-wing pilots. To fighter pilots, helicopter pilots are “rotor heads,” suggesting individuals with limited aeronautical skill. This is not true, of course, but it does represent the best of fixed-wing creativity.

Now imagine two Marine Corps airfields located in near proximity to one another, and you get a lot of caustic commentary between fixed wing and rotor wing pilots.

Flying military aircraft is a dangerous business. If everything is working okay on your aircraft, consider yourself temporarily fortunate —and realize that something is about to break that will have a profound impact on the remainder of your day. No place is this more acute than when flying helicopters, which according to physicists, are incapable of sustained flight.

One year, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing experienced a rash of aircraft accidents. This is always a concern to everyone in the Marine Corps aviation community because in matters involving aircraft mishaps, there are no “minor incidents.” In response to this sudden upsurge of misadventures, the Commanding General called a meeting at the base theater for all air group and squadron commanding officers, all safety officers, and all of their assistants.

Fighter Pilot 001Lieutenant Colonel Mike Gehring was one of these squadron commanders, a man who had a reputation for fearlessness when dealing with senior officers. For most of the marathon ass chewing, Colonel Gehring sat quietly in his seat and absorbed the general’s wrath. But the general’s rage seemed unending so that after a period of time, his audience —all of whom were subordinate officers— were themselves growing angry … the general’s important message losing its effectiveness. There were audible groans and one could hear the complaining voices from the captive officers —which is never a good sign. The general finally concluded his rebuke by saying, “Now, is there anyone out there who doesn’t understand what I said, or has any questions?”

No Commanding General expects to receive any questions after such a dressing down, and as expected, silence reigned throughout the theater for several long seconds. It was then that Colonel Gehring raised his hand.

Seeing the hand go up, the general said, “State your name and your question.” Gehring stood up and said, “Lieutenant Colonel Mike Gehring, sir … I’m sick of all the preferential treatment the helicopter pilots are getting around here. I think something should be done about this.”

One could have heard a pin drop on the carpeted floor; the general and senior officers were stunned. The general finally looked down from his podium on the theater stage and demanded, “What in the hell are you talking about?”

Colonel Gehring continued, “General, you may not have noticed this, but believe me when I tell you that the rest of us have noticed it. Anywhere we go on base, every premier parking spot is reserved for helicopter pilots. I’m talking about the officer’s club, the Base Exchange, the Base Dispensary … why, even at Wing headquarters. The best, closest parking spot is always reserved for helo drivers. Enough is enough. Sir, I know you’ve seen them … they are clearly marked with a sign that reads “Handicapped.”

Total silence followed for five full seconds —and then total pandemonium. Fighter pilots cheered, helicopter pilots jeered, unflattering catcalls erupted, and the general left the stage and exited the theater.

Now try to imagine what the officer’s club was like during Friday afternoon happy hour.

Hat tip: Major P. W. Chapman, USMC (Retired), PLayboy 37

Danger —Marines at Work

 

Last week, I wrote briefly about the 1st Parachute Battalion during World War II.  One of the Marines assigned to this now legendary battalion was cited for bravery, as follows:

FULLER“The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Robert Green Fuller, Private First Class, U. S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving with the FIRST Parachute Battalion, FIRST Marine Division, during the assault on enemy Japanese forces at Gavutu, Solomon Islands, on 7 August 1942. When the progress of his unit was retarded by heavy opposition, Private First Class Fuller displayed courageous disregard for his imminent danger by attacking a heavily fortified gun emplacement from which the deadly fire was emanating. Charging forward against the withering blasts of hostile weapons, he unhesitatingly engaged the enemy in perilous hand-to-hand combat and killed all eight of the Japanese, thereby annihilating a strong and hazardous obstacle. His daring aggressiveness and valiant devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Robert G. Fuller served in the Marine Corps for a total of five years, and while information about this hard-fighting Marine is limited, I suspect that he may have been part of the initial training and organization of the Parachute Battalions.  I was able to learn that his home of record was Newburyport, Massachusetts. His publisher indicated that he is responsible for several short stories … but more than this about his subsequent life or professional accomplishments is a mystery to me.

What I know for certain is that Mr. Fuller wrote a book entitled, Danger! Marines at Work originally published in 1957. It is the fictional story about the Marines of the 1st Parachute Battalion that takes place when the battalion, having lost half of its strength, was withdrawn to New Caledonia for rest, retraining, and refitting.  Some of the characters in the story are recognizable to me based on what I know about certain World War II Marines.  For example, I believe that the character General Burgermeister is modeled on General William H. Rupertus (now deceased).  The shenanigans are the sorts of things Marines do whenever they lack constant supervision.  The comedy is similar to McHale’s Navy —but this is about Marines.

The new Battalion Commanding Officer arrives from Headquarters Marine Corps, where he’s been languishing for the past ten years.  The major perceives that for some reason, his Commanding General is not very happy to have him on board.  Following a very disappointing “first meeting” with the general, Major Barrow is driven to his new command, which has been placed in garrison at T0ntouta; there won’t be a change of command ceremony because the previous commanding officer went over the hill.

Here’s a snippet of what transpires during his first week in command:

Major Barrow’s spirits picked up considerably as he wandered through the tent rows a few days later. The wonderfully clean streets and the neatness of the men’s pyramidals again indicated to him that his troopers were Marines, and, under proper leadership, could be reclaimed—disciplined—into a compliant military organization. He had made some headway in this awesome task but was increasingly aware that the actual depth of his paratrooper’s conniving’s was still not known to him. Japanese houseboys!

Glancing into the pyramidals, he noted the perfectly made bunks and the orderliness of the men’s gear. The top blankets on the cots were taut as drumheads, the shoes properly placed together and the rifles neatly racked. But halfway down one company street he paused, noticing that the bunks were unmade in the rest of the tents to the end of the line. In one pyramidal he saw a pair of slim legs walking around a bunk. The legs belonged to a girl. She was tucking in blankets and when finished, moved on to the next unmade bed. She winked at him.

“Who are you,” Barrow demanded, “and what are you doing in this area?”

“I’m Marie,” the black-haired, bright-eyed girl answered with a smile. “I’m the new maid.”

“Maid?” Barrow looked down at the girl, blushing as he found himself staring at the bold, up-thrust lines of her lovely figure. “How long have the men had a maid?”

“I don’t know.” Her dazzling smile almost blinded the major. “A girl friend of mine once worked for them for four months. She had to leave because she is indisposed. She is going to have a …”

“Ahem,” Major Barrow interrupted. “You’ll have to leave this camp immediately. We can’t have a girl among all these men.”

“Now where could there be a better place for a girl to be than among men.” Marine giggled, bending over to tuck in the blanket on a bunk, accenting the lovely roundness of her hips as Barrow tried to look away. “And such handsome men!”

“Regardless,” Barrow said, loosing his collar, “I want you to leave this place. I don’t want any women around here.”

“How long have you been in the Marine Corps?” The girl again showed the major the whiteness of her teeth in a gay smile. “You don’t talk like any Marine I ever met.”

“I’ll arrange for your transportation right away,” Barrow said determinedly. “You must leave this camp.”

“Well, I shall not leave this camp,” the girl said firmly. “I have a contract.”

Barrow escorted the maid back to the command section. Captain Nugent looked up from his desk in the adjutant’s office as Barrow entered with the lady.

“Hello, Marie,” Nugent greeted her.

It is definitely a laugh-out-loud book. You can find it online at Amazon.

 

Struggling for Promotion

Young MarineA young lance corporal had taken all of the available courses specific to his military specialty in order to eventually win a promotion to corporal.  And he had taken all of the general knowledge classes available to Marines of his grade—and yet, in spite of all this work, he could not pass the test for promotion to corporal.

The young man went to see Gunnery Sergeant Jones, his NCOIC, who advised, “What you need is a freaking brain transplant.”  Knowing that the gunny was always right —about everything— the young Marine promptly made an appointment with a neurosurgeon in the small town just outside of the base.

After listening to the young Marine’s tale of woe, the doctor told him, “I agree with your gunnery sergeant.  You do need a brain transplant —and, you’re in luck.  We offer carpenters’ brains for about $500, and if you want to spend a little extra, you can get an electrician’s brain for right at $1,000.  On the other hand, if you want a first class brain, you can get a doctor’s brain for about $10,000, or you can have the brain of a member of congress for $50,000.”

“Wow,” said the young leatherneck.  “But I don’t understand why a congressman’s brain is so expensive!”

“Well son,” said the surgeon, “do you have any idea how many politicians we have to go through to find a brain that works?”