A little lesson in leadership Posted by: McQ
on Sunday, April 06, 2008
I was reading a post at "Comments from Left Field" in which Kyle Moore tells what he is pretty sure is an apocryphal Navy story about an Admiral and recruit. You can read it here:
It begins with a young, pimply faced recruit in boot camp. His head’s freshly shaved, his uniform is pressed with knife sharp creases and he answers in tight, “Yes Sir!” and “No Sir!” He, like most sailors at that point of their career, is beyond proud of who he is, and what he’s becoming.
One day, the recruit’s division is lined up in their barracks, and a surprise inspection is popped on them by a three star Admiral. “Attention on DECK!” cries the watchman at the door, and the long, open room is filled for a brief moment with a cacophony of boots scuffing along the deck, and arms slamming down against thighs as the entire division as a unit snaps to attention. All is silent after that.
The silence is eventually broken up by the clacking of dress shoes against linoleum, and out from one behind one of the bunks blocking the direct view of the barracks’ door appears the Admiral. He’s tall, towering over most of the division, his chest is covered with ribbons, so many that half the division expect the man to turn around and see them continue to cluster down his back. His crisp white uniform looks more like it was carved than starched and ironed, his salt and pepper gray hair looking as though it were machined out of some block of metal. He wears a grim look on his weatherbeaten face, and his eyes are sharp and powerful as they sweep the room.
He carries his cover under his arm, and a few moments later a quick shuffling of boots announces the arrival of a Lieutenant with a clip board tucked into the crook of her arm and a pen poised and at the ready. The inspection begins.
Our young sailor watches the imposing figure of the Admiral as he moves from one sailor to the next. He’s giving them a solid look, grilling them with questions about their general orders, or the chain of command, or the ranking insignia of commissioned officers in the Navy. He does this all down the line opposite the sailor, turns on his heel, and starts working his way closer to the young recruit.
The young recruit begins sweating, repeating his general orders in his head, trying to look over his uniform in his mind’s eye to see if he missed any loose threads, or if he ironed out any double creases. Still, he can’t help letting his eyes shift off to the right, to the Admiral who continued to close in on him.
He was only three sailors away now. Two. One. As the Admiral turned to inspect the recruit, the young sailor saw something. Something very important.
But he snapped his eyes front in time to keep the Admiral from docking him on military bearing. He adopted that “thousand yard” stare that the entire division was practicing. The Admiral’s face became a blur, the ribbons, all of it. He could hear the voice, muffled under the sound of his own heart beating in his ears, like the high ranking officer was talking through a box full of cotton, and the recruit had to force himself to answer.
“Sir! My fifth general order is to quit my post only when properly relieved, Sir!” he barks. The Admiral continues inspecting, whispering comments to the Lieutenant at his side. Finally, after what seems an eternity, the Admiral says, “You look good son, excellent.”
“Sir, thank you, Sir,” the recruit says, and before the Admiral has a chance to pivot and move on to the next sailor, the recruit adds, “Permission to speak, Sir?”
A strange energy all of a sudden flooded the room. Everyone was already as still as stone, as silent as a mausoleum, but you could tell the apprehension and angst that was leaping from one recruit to the next they way they snuck bewildered looks over in his and the Admiral’s direction.
“What is it?” the Admiral asked, his brow furrowed.
The recruit didn’t even look the Admiral in the face when he said, “Sir, your gig line is off, Sir.”
This time there was movement. Heads turned and mouths fell open in amazement. The young lieutenant’s eyes bulged, not at the thought that an Admiral would have a gig line out of alignment, but at the idea that an E-nothing recruit would correct him on it.
The Admiral’s eyes narrowed, and the muscles in his jaw worked furiously. He looked as though he was going to explode, but at the last second he looked down, grabbed his belt buckle, and pushed it over two inches so its edge would perfectly match the zipper flap of his trousers, and the line of his shirt such that there was a neat, straight line that went from his neck down to his crotch.
“I was wondering when someone was going to say something about that,” he said with a grin on his face. He then asked the division why he had to get down to almost the last sailor before someone corrected the Admiral on his failure in military bearing. No one answered. “Drop!” he ordered, and immediately the entire division flopped to the ground, body straight, knees locked, arms holding them in the up position for push ups.
“Not you,” he told the recruit who had corrected them. “They’re getting push ups, you’re getting a promotion…”
He prefaced that story with:
There’s something of a folklorish tale/urban legend that exists in the training culture of the Navy. It’s a parable, really, maybe a fable, either way it comes with its own moral, and I’ve never seen anything remotely close to it happen in real life.
Well, I have. And, being a lazy Sunday afternoon, it seems like a good time to tell that story.
I was a brand-new platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Div and reported in on a Thursday during a time our brigade was in a post-support cycle (there were three cycles - Post support where you did housekeeping stuff for the Post commander, Training - where you lived in the field and DRF or Division Reaction Force - where you trained but were also packed and ready to go within 12 hours if alerted).
One of the worst post support jobs was ammo dump guard. You were out in the middle of nowhere for 24 hours, 4 on and 4 off and that meant no one really rested or slept. Lousy chow, crummy conditions, just a miserable time. Well, as the new guy, who better to 'get his feet wet' with his platoon than me? And as an extra added bonus, the last platoon which had had the duty had managed to kill one of their own while screwing around with a shotgun. So, as you can imagine, visibility was rather high.
My CO, a gruff sort, said "listen to your platoon sergeant and don't kill anybody". Those were the extent of my instructions. To make a long story short, we end up out there doing our thing. Around 2am, a frantic quavering voice comes in over the radio, "Sergeant of the guard, post 4, I need you out here". This was repeated rapidly about 4 times each time seemingly a bit more frantic than the first.
We got on the horn, asked what the problem was (intruder) and the status (on the ground) and told the guard, a kid who'd just made PFC, that we'd be there immediately. The post was about a half mile down the road. Myself, the PSG and a driver, all armed, took off.
When we pulled up to the post, there stood my soldier at port arms while the "intruder" in civilian clothes was on the ground in the front leaning rest position. He had gray hair and had been in that position for a while so his arms were shaking a little.
The jeep pulled up and my platoon sergeant said, "Oh, [expletive]!" and I knew immediately we had a problem. I wasn't sure yet what it was, but PSGs sounding like that aren't a good thing.
I looked back at him when he said it and immediately jumped out of the jeep, .45 drawn and hurried over to the guard. The kid could hardly speak. He just pointed to the ID card laying on the ground in front of the "intruder".
By that time my platoon sergeant had gotten out of the jeep and was trying to get my attention with "Sir?" "Sir"!, but I had already walked up to the intruder, bent down and picked up the ID card.
In that split second I figured mine and all of the rest of my platoon's military careers had just come to a thundering halt, because the first thing I saw was the rank on the ID. The rank was "MG".
"MG", of course, is short for Major General or a 2 star general. And the only 2 star general on that post was the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division. There on the ground in front of me, in the front leaning rest was our division commander. Having just reported in, of course, I'd never met the man, and I can assure you, this wasn't the way I figured it would happen.
As soon as I understood who he was, I told him I confirmed his identity and he was free to stand up.
The general stood up and what sticks in my mind, even to this day, was the gravel stuck to the palms of his hands. He shook that off, bushed his slacks off and asked my name and unit. I sort of stammered through it and when I finished he asked me what the guard's special orders were concerning an intruder.
My platoon sergeant, anticipating the request had the clipboard which was found at each guard's post and read the SO which said that the guards were to challenge unknown personnel with the password, and if when challenged the intruder didn't know the password, he was to be ordered immediately into the front leaning rest and from that position told to get any ID out and place it in front of him. The guard was then to call the sergeant of the guard and hold the intruder there until the SOG arrived.
The general stood there as my PSG read the SO and looked at the PFC who, I swear, I thought was going to pass out at any second.
After a long and pregnant pause the general asked the soldier his name and rank. "PFC Smith, sir". Said the general, "Well you're SP4 Smith now, son. Well done."
He looked at me and told me to get the promotion paperwork in for his signature. After I answered to the affirmative he said "carry on, gentlemen", turned on his heel, went to his car parked a bit down the road, and left the area.
You could have heard a pin drop. We stood there in both shock and awe. It was one of the most valuable lessons in leadership I ever learned in the Army. Of course, our new SP4 became mildly famous for having put the CG in the front leaning rest, but he was also a young soldier who worshiped the ground the CG walked on. And the lesson he taught by his example and that spot promotion wasn't lost on anyone in the entire brigade when the story got out.
Then there’s the other side of that story. A unit that shall remain nameless, had a very lax policy on charge of quarters. One day some private was on the desk and he was the only one in that day.
A man in civilian clothes walked into the company area, right past the private. He stood over the private, who ignored him. He walked around, looking into offices. He looked at the private again. He walked out. He drove his truck into a parking spot right outside. He came back in and started to go through offices and take boxes of papers.
Still no response from the private.
The man in civilians was, of course, the division commander, and he called the whole chain of command and made them earn every bit of paper back from him. The private was still utterly oblivious.
The story we heard in SAC in the middle ’60s was that Gen Curtis LeMay (commanding general SAC and up through the ranks) was concerned that unauthorized personnel were being allowed on base. The word went out that *NO ONE* was to be allowed on base without proper ID.
So-o-o-o-o-o, of course, late one evening a jeep pulls up to the gate and a young Airman First stops it. The driver has proper ID, but the passenger does not. The passenger then asks the guard, "Airman, do you know who I am?"
"You don’t recognize your commanding general?"
"Do you mean you don’t know what your commanding general looks like?" (with a puzzled look)
"Sir! I know what my commanding general looks like!"
"So, you should recognize me as your commanding general."
"Sir, no, Sir!! I know that you *look* like my commanding general, but you have no ID, sir!"
"Well, Airman, I’m going to order my driver to proceed through the gate. What are you going to do?"
"Sir, I’m going to call my sergeant!"
(puzzled look again) "Son, why are you going to call your sergeant?"
"Sir, because it will take two of us to drag your dead body back outside the gate!"
Legend has it he got promoted on the spot.
I don’t (and didn’t) believe that story for a minute, although it nicely encapsulated LeMay. He was prone to spot inspections and reward/punishment on the spot, word was.
In training they set up stuff like that. Granted, usually I screw up. Like opening the door of the barracks at basic and totally clobbering my drill sergeant with the door when I wasn’t actually supposed to open it because he hadn’t done something or other. I think I didn’t get in trouble that time because he was stunned or, heck, maybe I slammed his face hard enough and he got a bloody nose. I have no idea. All I know is he went away and I didn’t get in trouble.
And I’m not convinced that the time I told the Clark Air Base commander that he couldn’t make a certain sort of call from his home phone and he eventually gave up and called my supervisor and *she* told me that the base commander gets to do whatever he wants to with the phone, and then he called *me* back and *thanked* me for volunteering to help during the phone operator’s strike. Gawd that was humiliating... and I’m not certain that he didn’t think I was someone’s wife instead of active duty.
But the Navy story I was told about an Admiral made to apologize to a seaman by the Captain before the assembled crew for disobeying instructions on the flight deck and getting face planted into the deck by said seaman and then throwing a tantrum... I believe that.
The father of a friend of mine was an Air Force Security Police SGT in Viet Nam in 1970. They were guarding an air base, specifically the aircraft revetments, and he was on duty as QRF (Quick Reaction Force) in case of what he described as "untoward events." One night, a few inspectors decided to test security at the base by sneaking up on the guard. At night. Wearing black outfits to camouflage themselves. The guards killed two and captured the others. When my friend’s father was asked why the SPs killed two inspectors, he replied that they would have killed more, but the inspectors took cover very quickly, and the QRF found the dead inspectors’ ID before engaging the remaining inspectors.
The guards were given a citation for diligence (IIRC it came with a weekend of R&R) and the surviving inspectors were broken out of the Air Force.
I don’t have any tales of inspiring leadership and guard duty. The best I can do is my experience pulling guard on an ammo dump in Germany. Pretty routine and boring until the next day when someone discovered that a case of hand grenades was missing from the ammo dump. That was pretty exciting. I didn’t meet any generals, but I did get a free, all expense paid trip to division HQ where I met a bunch of CID types. They were okay, I guess. Some of them were pretty friendly, but some of them were real mean to me. They really got upset when I started grinning during their good-cop/bad-cop routine. It was kind of interesting for a couple of days, but I was happy that someone eventually found the grenades in a bag in the motor pool. Or so I heard. I probably have a file somewhere. This was pre-terrorism, and the incompetence of security was pretty obvious even to a dumb*ss private like me. There were literally holes in the fence you could walk through. I would bet that nobody over the rank of lieutenant had checked the guards or security on that ammo dump in quite some time. Those were the days when sentries were issued three rounds of ammunition, with instructions to fire three rounds in the air if they needed help. Right.
In March 1979, during Exercise Team Spirit ’79 in Korea, an airplane overflew the town of Uijeonbu (pronounced Wee-john-boo) at 2 in the morning doing about Mach 1.2 at approximatley 2,500 feet. Virtually every window of this town of about 30,000 was blown out - and what windows were not blown out, were blown out - if you know what I mean. Estimates of the damage reached into the millions of dollars.
Supposedly, there were 12 aircraft airborne at the time over South Korea. Of the 12 aircraft airborne, 8 of them were supersonic-capable. Of the 8 supersonic-capable aircraft, 5 were in the low altitude arena and were out of the range of any Air Traffic Control or reportable surveillance radar. I was in one of them, an F-4D flying near the Koon-Ni Range complex in an area referred to as the MPSA (Maverick, Pave Spike Area). This was approximatley 75 miles south-southwest of the town in question.
Two days later I and my pilot spent a long two hour session with OSI discussing our whereabouts on the night in question. I provided them with copies of some documentation that for the time seem to placate them. But for for the next 6 years I would get periodic inquiries from a myriad of agencies, OSI formost among them, requesting the original documentation for my whereabouts. Seems I was taping some radar work we were doing in the MPSA, which was the documentation that exonerated us by proving where we had been. I would courteously provide them with additional copies of the radar scope film but keep the original. The inquiries ended when I departed the Air Force for the Air National Guard - The ANG would just waiver the whole incident had it been one of theirs.
To my knowledge they have never found the guilty party - and probably never will.