Monday, November 24, 2008

Busting the LT at the CG

During my sojourn in the Marine Corps, I saw in vivid cammie green the demonstration of many valuable life lessons.

Some of the most valuable lessons concerned leadership, something on which the Marine Corps has always been rather big.

Anyone with military experience has probably at least once per term of enlistment been through the perennially annoying experience of the Commanding General's inspection, abbreviated to "CG."

As the guy who has signed for every rifle, tank, and paper clip in any large military organization, a general (or admiral in the Navy or Coast Guard - the latter being a different version of CG) will therefore - if he has any sense - have every unit and subunit inventory, inspect, and otherwise account for every piece of gear supposedly possessed by them, and by extension, by him, both to verify its existence and good repair, or conversely to identify deficiencies and general tomfoolery on accounting ledgers and unit tables of equipment.

Basically, it means everyone gets, for 3-6 months two or twelve times the attention to everything from their boots and belt buckles to the larger items they own. In my unit, it was trucks and howitzers.

Being artillery, we hauled ourselves and our gear with trucks, which were assigned to individual drivers. People from each section were assigned to help, and the motor pool folks assisted, but the individual truck's equipment, like spare tires, chains, jack, tools, etc. were the responsibility of the individual driver to maintain.

One Axiom of a CG is that "There's never enough time to do it right, but there's always enough time to do it over." Thus, long before the CG and his field-grade minions look over all the personnel and equipment, the regimental commander, battalion commander, company commander, platoon commander, and platoon sergeant will have already had a crack at inspecting it all. Probably three or four.

This is why the process takes weeks and weeks. Which is probably why everything after the second week is intensely resented, especially at the bottom rungs of the rank ladder.

During which time, being the Marines, we went out "to the field" for training with everything previously made immaculate and got it all dirty, muddy, and rusty again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Enter our young lieutenant, first type, one each. 1LT Whatshisname had been momentarily vested with being assigned as the Battery Motor Transport Officer for our happy band of warriors, and was assured in his own mind that this was merely a temporary stopping point for his rise to heights that would make Chesty Puller or George S. Patton green with envy.

Unfortunately, one of his drivers was a career Lance Corporal (with no pretensions or dreams about ever rising above E-3 before returning to the civilian world) who shall remain suitably nameless. I'll call him Lance Corporal Whocares.

Come the 2nd or 3rd round of "junk on a tarp" pre-inspections, LCpl Whocares had laid out his collection of rusty crap reputed to be the equipment for a Truck, 5-ton, Prime Mover, 1 each.
Whereupon, in front of the entire battery, God, and Everybody, 1LT Whatshisname found collections of unattacked rust, mud, crud, small animal parts, and whatnot on LCpl Whocares' tarp.

Axiom Number Two in the military (and everywhere else, if they have any sense at all) is
Praise in public, correct in private.

1LT Whatshisname had evidently been sick that day in Basic School, and never remedied the lack of that lesson. So he began, with increasing fury and personal offense at each new lump of crud, mud, and rust, to berate the young LCpl in a parade ground voice audible for some number of grid squares distant. LCPl Whocares, being a dutiful young ranker, stood there and took it.

The final summation of the inspection was 1LT Whatshisname's solemn promise that LCpl Whocares would do extra duty to get all his gear in shape, and for his previous lack of attention, would suffer a stint of 30 days of mess duty regardless of how little time he had left in the Corps, so help him God, signed 1LT Whatshisname.

Well, LCpl Whocares wasn't a bad Marine, just poorly led. And 1LT Whatshisname - and every other Lt. in the battalion - was about to get the Mother Of All Lessons on how not to be led.

Some number of weeks and further pre-inspections later, we stood out for the CG. LCpl Whocares' previously ratty gear was now immaculate, as multiple re-checks had demonstrated to one and all. 1LT Whatshisname was feeling pretty good about his leadership in this matter.

What he didn't take into account was that berating your juniors publicly for so small a sin was going to come back and bite him in the backside due to any Marine's inate wiliness and skills of adaptation, let alone pure meanness when unfairly provoked.

LCpl Whocares waited until 15 minutes before The Big One, the actual CG, to take all his immaculate truck gear, put it in his car trunk, and pull out his specially collected assemblage of spare chains, jack, tools, and other truck paraphernalia, marinated in sea water and sewage for all the subsequent weeks, and lay it out precisely according to regulations on his truck tarp.

When the full bird colonel in charge of the division's Motor Transportation pools came by with his sergeant major and got to the rusted, smelly, green and orange thing that vaguely resembled a truck safety chain, the fireworks started. And I mean skin-color-changing, full-volume fireworks.

Still being a good Marine, LCpl Whocares took his lumps.
Unfortunately, so too did his officer.
Battery Motor Transport Officer 1LT Whatshisname.
The officer who was supposed to have insured compliance with all applicable Battalion, Regimental, Divisional, and Marine Corps Regulations regarding proper maintenance of truck equipment.

LCpl Whocares, for his sins, got assigned to mess duty to salve the Division Motor T Col.'s apoplectic rage. Which duty LCpl Whocares was going to get handed anyways.

But 1LT Whatshisname got a subsequent Officer Efficiency Evaluation that permanently ended his hopes of further rise in the Marine Corps, and thus any hopes of a career in it. All because he couldn't figure out that chewing out a young Lance Corporal of Marines in front of 200 of his closest friends and buddies probably wasn't the wisest course of action to take to correct a deficiency.

Thus manifested Axiom Number Three:
Men have to be led, not driven like oxen.

1 comment:

Clinton J said...

That, dear sir, is going to go into the collection of articles on parenting and leadership! If I find too many more like it, you may be presented with prompts to write a book on the matter...