Assumption of Command

18 August 2005

What My Command Means to Me: Good Times

This is Part 1 of 5 in a series of posts looking back at my Command during, and in preparation for, this deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III.

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Through every endeavor in life, there are going to be many memorable moments and situations. Being in command is no different. First and foremost are the good times. Hopefully these are the memories that won’t go away as I am very proud of them.

There are ceremonies that make all Officers and Soldiers Proud. Of course I am talking about Promotion Ceremonies. This is when I can be proud of, not my accomplishments, but those of my troops. And better yet we can tell the whole world, how proud we are of them by pinning a new rank into their collar. Commanders must take these responsibilities seriously. I am the Promotion Authority for all ranks up to E-4. It is my signature that makes a Private First Class (PFC) a Specialist (SPC). It makes me very happy to pin that new rank on a soldier and then tell them to face the company and get a huge round of applause.

We had a neat little tradition at Ft. Hood. When a lower enlisted trooper was promoted, as the previous rank was taken off the collar, it would get unceremoniously chucked as far as it would go. I found out quickly that this wasn’t an army wide tradition. At our first promotion ceremony as I was promoting a young lady from PFC to SPC, I took the old rank and heaved it as far as I could. First Sergeant looked at me funny and I heard some smirks in the formation. So I said to the new Specialist, “You don’t need that do you?” With a big smile she very confidently said, “No Sir!” and First Sergeant Shrugged and said “Okay, but Sir you aren’t going to be throwing any chevrons (Sergeant Stripes) are you”.

Chevrons are much too valuable to just throw away. We started an even better tradition for promotions of Non-Commission Officers. At our first NCO promotion, we promoted a Staff Sergeant to Sergeant First Class. We handed the old E-6 rank to the brand new E-7 and told him to give it to the E-5 Sergeant that he thought deserves to be Staff Sergeant. This turned out to be a great way to provide recognition to other troops, increasing the esprit-de-corps of the company.

Teamwork is very important to me. You can judge units ability to get the mission accomplished, almost singularly, based on how well the unit works together. But teamwork, doesn’t just happen all by itself.

About this time last year, I was getting ready for a shock to my system; I was about to stand in front of my company for the first time. I had stood in front of company formations before, usually to give a safety briefing. But this time it was different. The First Sergeant was turning over the formation to the commander. I was nervous, but you couldn’t tell by looking, I knew what I want to say, and I said it. I was in an awkward position, I knew very few people in the company. To make matters more difficult, this was the day that all of the cross-leveled soldiers reported in as well. There were new faces everywhere, mine included. But the biggest thing I was focused on was bringing all of these new faces together into, borrowing a phrase, a “Company of One”. One team. In my view, that was the only way that we would be able to accomplish all of the multitude tasks ahead of us. The last thing, I wanted was a bunch of individuals trying to just take care of themselves. From that day forward I tried to set a tone of teamwork.

The best way to foster teamwork is to do things as a team. In the first few weeks we ate together, we PT’d together. We started the day and ended the together, with company formations. We did just about everything together.

We even laughed at the Commander together. As military customs tells us, when the American Flag is raised and lowered for the day, you are supposed to stop what you are doing, stand at attention in the direction of the flag pole and salute. One morning, I was in front of the formation when Reveille started playing. Instantly, decisively, and loudly gave the commands: “company attention, about face, ORDER arms!” I gave the command to put the salute down! I should have ordered “Present Arms” And worse I didn’t even know it because the whole company either didn’t notice, or was impressed with my command voice and humored me, rendered the salute. When we released the formation, I heard the good natured cat calls: “Hey sir! How can we order arms when we haven’t even presented them yet.” Having such a classic and cool style and demeanor, I came up with the perfect retort to this. I said, “Ahh %$*#, I did say that didn’t I!”, and proceeded to turn redder than a blank adapter. But it was all okay and fun for everybody, including myself.

There is a lot of little ways to increase the teamwork of a unit, but none of that will work unless the unit trains together. Training is the single most important, non-wartime activity. Units prepare for weeks to get ready for training. If you break it down to the lowest forms a unit does 4 different things in peace time: conduct training, prepare for training, recover from training, or support another units training. Training is a serious business.

Although training is serious, it can also be great fun. I have never met a soldier that loves to sit in an auditorium and listen to presenters drone on while the “death by PowerPoint” continues hour after hour. Soldier would rather be firing their weapon, leaning good convoy tactics. They want to learn the important hands on stuff, the stuff that will save their battle buddies life.

One of these hands on activities is the daunting Gas Chamber. This is where we test out our Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) protective masks. We are trying to find out 2 things. First, we need to know if the mask is functional and two does it fit properly. We accomplish this by putting the troops into a little building, (more like a large shed) in the middle of nowhere, filled with CS (tear gas). If the mask works, you have no problems rotating your head in all directions, nodding and shaking you head, or doing minor exercises. But if it isn’t working you get a face, nose, lungs, and eyes full of some rotten but harmless stuff. It is very important for soldier to know that their protective equipment works, but it is also fun watching the people making a hasty exit because their mask wasn’t quite sealed. It isn’t so fun for that person, but we like to make sure there is a camera to catch the snot filled, eyes burning faces. But after everybody laughs, there are plenty of people willing to give the poor soul a hand getting themselves rinsed off.

In preparation for deployment, this gas chamber was no different, except after everybody was done testing their masks, the NCOIC of the gas chamber proudly announced that the chamber was now ready for brave soldiers to make a maskless trip through the chamber to show off who was tough enough. I was sitting there thinking to myself “this could be a lot of fun watching all of these fools, I wonder who will go, am I a big enough fool?” To my dismay nobody wanted to go and that there was going to be no fun at all. Then one of my Specialists, with a huge “Cat that ate the Canary grin”, came up to me and said “Sir, if you go I’ll go too”. I was just challenged, It was on! So I started waking to the entrance, at the top of my lungs I said “Who’s going with me!” Now we had all kinds of commotion. I heard “If the Commander can do I can do it” and other things and we ended up having a dozen or so of us fools go back into the chamber and the rest of the unit was all making their way to the exit to see all of our pretty faces as we would soon be coughing and choking and gagging our way out. When we finally did exit, there were cheers and laughs and Hooahs all around. I think I used a whole 5 gallon jug of water to rinse my face but it was worth it. Everyone had a good time that day.

Funny side note to that story, I later came to find out the Specialist who challenged me into going, tried to hide and not go through with it. But the sneak got caught by one of the senior NCOs and went through with me after all.

Years from now, there will only be one thing that I will be proud of more than the team that we created here in my unit. When all is said and done, the best part will be knowing that we accomplished the mission that was assigned to us. There is no greater feeling in the Army than knowing that it was job well done. DONE being an important word. I am, and have been for a long time, looking forward to the day that I can look down at the ground and see American soil, then look up and see my troops and say:

Dismissed!

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Part 2 is "Bad Times"

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