Sunday, September 12, 2010

Standards and Discipline in a Combat Zone (an excerpt)

Here's another section from the novel (Fobbit) on which I've been working this week.  This is fiction--combat-zone satire--but it's not too far off the mark of what I saw during my eleven months in Iraq.  (P.S. Don't try e-mailing CSM Tupplewhite; there is no such person)

To: DIV NCO Leadership Group
Subject: Notes from Command Sergeant Major Tupplewhite

Fellow NCOs,

As discussed at this morning’s weekly CSM meeting, we—the CG and I—have certain expectations of our enlisted Shamrock Division when deployed to a combat zone and, to date, those expectations have not been fully met, let alone exceeded.  I already ripped you guys a new one at this morning’s meeting, so I won’t thrash you again here.  Not my purpose or intent.  This is simply what I already gave you, but this time in written format.  Here we go:

1. Uniform Standards.  This topic is brought up repeatedly and was addressed by the Commanding General during the morning update today.  I’m just reiterating.  Uniform standards are not being enforced by our leaders and are clearly visibly lacking in the soldiers we see walking around this FOB.  And not just here, mind you.  The majority of soldiers I observe in my visits all around Iraq display multiple violations of AR 670-1 and governing uniform policies.
     Just a few examples off the top of my head:
          a)  Sleeves Down. The standard for uniforms sleeves is down.  There is nothing from any reg in Sham Div that authorizes the wear of the uniform with sleeves up, so where the soldiers are getting this idea from I don’t know.  Sure it’s hot out there.  Deal with it.
          b)  Eyewear.  Unauthorized eyewear is clearly defined in AR 670-1.  It says, and I quote: “Conservative prescription and nonprescription sunglasses are authorized for wear when in a garrison environment…Soldiers may not wear lenses with extreme or trendy colors, which include, but are not limited to, red, yellow, blue, purple, bright green, or orange.  Lens colors must be traditional gray, brown, or dark green shades.”  I don’t want to see one more pair of hippie-flower-child, John-Lennon-style glasses. I will personally rip them off the soldier’s face and stomp them to death in the dirt beneath my boot.
          c) Do-Rags.  Completely unacceptable.  Nowhere in AR 670-1 does it authorize the use and wear of bandanas tied, pirate-fashion, to the soldier’s skull.  The Kevlar helmet has undergone extensive testing and meets exacting design standards to fully soak up whatever sweat our soldiers emit.  From now on, I’m calling these Don’t-Rags.  Nuff said.
     Soldiers will continue to disobey orders and ignore uniform standards simply because first sergeants (or any sergeants for that matter) and company commanders choose to make them up as they go along.  Or is it that you’re just purposely choosing not to fulfill your contract not just with America but with the sons and daughters of our great country?  Look in the mirror and ask yourself:  Do I really truly achieve high levels of professionalism each and every day, or am I just happy “doing my own thing”?  Are you a “Toe-the-Liner”?  Which is it, Sergeant?  Will you choose Rigorous Discipline or Sloppy Standards?

2. Acts of Indiscipline.  We are all senior leaders and we should be farther ahead in some cases than we are.  The division has settled down into steady-state operations and that’s our focus now (combat ops).  It is our duty to ensure Soldiers fully understand standards of conduct.  And yet, every day the CG and I receive reports from staff leadership indicating otherwise.
     Let me give you a little example, a little tidbit which came to our attention during a staff briefing just yesterday.  This is what G-2 briefed, and I quote: “Good morning, sir.  Yesterday at zero-nine-hundred hours, adjacent to Baghdad International Airport, we discovered an abandoned shed which we have since dubbed ‘The Love Shack.’  Inside, we found several blankets, used condoms and empty beer cans.  We placed the shed under observation for the remainder of the day and at twenty-one-hundred hours last night, our efforts paid off when we caught a Special Forces sergeant first class and a specialist—one male, one female—entering the shack with backpacks.  Upon search and seizure, we discovered those knapsacks contained blankets, pillows, candles and one paperback book [The Greatest Love Sonnets of Shakespeare], but no other contraband.  We took both individuals into custody.”
     I don’t know about you, but I call that “sufficient evidence indicating intent to violate General Order Number Two.”  Especially that Shakespeare book.  I mean, who in the good goddamn would carry around something like that if it wasn’t for policy-violating behavior?
     I won’t say anything more on this subject except this (and, ladies please pardon my bluntness):  Tell your goddamn soldiers to keep their peckers in their pants.

3. Negligent Discharges.  The Shamrock Division has had an average of one negligent discharge per day ever since we rolled into town.  This epidemic of sloppy inattention is entirely unacceptable.  The latest incident involved a lieutenant teaching one of his soldiers how to load an M-249 machine gun…here in our Life Support Area.  The lieutenant apparently thought he had the weapon on half-cock, but it turned out it was on full-cock and, in the process of teaching the soldier what to do, the gun fired.  The round went into a nearby trailer and landed on the floor without hurting anybody.  Well, guess who that trailer belonged to?  That’s right, Sergeants: yours truly.  I am now taking that near-death round and am making a necklace out of it.  I will wear it every day for the rest of my days here in theater as way of reminding us of our higher calling as NCOs to rise above sloppy indiscipline.  That lieutenant’s just lucky he’s a lieutenant, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
     I’m one of the lucky ones.  Since January, we’ve had 14 fatalities due to negligent discharges.  I’ll bet those 14 individuals are now wishing their fellow soldiers had thought to check whether or not that selector switch was on SAFE.

4. Alcohol Abuse.  I cannot believe I’m even having to type those words while deployed to a combat zone, but the sad fact is that we have a problem with illegal consumption here in Sham Div.  The evidence speaks for itself.
     Not too long ago, word reached my ears that a certain battalion commander ordered an inspection of his companies’ milvans, connexes and quadcons because he suspected they were harboring alcohol.  This was prompted by the fact that one of his soldiers—a staff sergeant for God’s sake!—had showed up for guard duty inebriated to the gills.  They traced the trail of booze back to his humvee where they found empty vodka bottles rattling around in the back.  The NCO (a disgrace to our chevrons, in my opinion) later confessed he’d been getting the liquor from one of the civilian contractors (trust me, that individual has since been fired and is on his way back to the United States where just punishment will be meted out).  Upon further investigation, the battalion commander discovered that the NCO (I can hardly bear to call him that) had been storing the alcohol in his connex.  He’d even gone so far as to build a false wall in the connex and hide the booze behind it.
     This is a sad state of affairs, indeed.  We are here in Iraq to fight the evil of terrorism, not the demon of alcohol.  I understand that some of our soldiers may have been struggling with addictions even before we left Fort Stewart and that by being over here in the desert, the word “dry” takes on a whole other meaning for them.  But you know as well as I do, the Army has programs in place to deal with these sorts of things and that’s where your soldiers should be if they’re having problems—in counseling, not wasting all their energies building false walls in their connexes.
     I am not so naive to believe this sort of thing isn’t regularly happening on my watch.  I suspect this sort of Prohibition-style bootlegging could very well be rampant in the Shamrock Division and that there are a fair number of private speakeasies set up in connexes all around the FOB.  If you personally know of such a thing or—GOD FORBID—are the owner/operator of such a speakeasy, then I suggest you come forward with all the facts before it is too late.  Once we find out your dirty little secret, you will not—I promise you—WILL NOT like the consequences.

As always:

Cheers and Blessings,
CSM Tupplewhite

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