Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ya Gotta Have Heart

Yesterday Joyce and I drove to Fort Sill to attend a promotion ceremony for James and six of his fellow second lieutenants (er, his now fellow first lieutenants). Among the attendees was James's brigade commander who shared some thoughts, which I paraphrase here.

"There's a trite saying, 'The NCO corps is the backbone of the Army.' That's trite, but it's also true. But we shouldn't take it as a slight of the officer corps. The Army has different ranks for different purposes. Commanding officers are the head; enlisted personnel, the bone and muscle. But lieutenants (the part of the command structure in direct contact with the troops) are the heart of the Army."

I thought the colonel's words were inspirational. It's true. The effectiveness of a unit does depending greatly on the ability of lowly lieutenants to inspire their soldiers to carry out the mission.

But the colonel's analogy brought to mind another one, a four-decade-old metaphor that a lowly lieutenant once conceived. My oldest brother Joel had been asked to speak on the subject of what he, as an AG (Adjutant General) officer, did. (For those of you who may not be familiar with the AG, the Adjutant General Corps is the branch of the Army that handles personnel actions: promotions, changes of station, deployments, discharges, etc.)

Joel (speaking to a group of battle-hardened Vietnam veterans) put it something like this.

"The Army can be likened to the human body, with every part performing a different function. There's the leg Infantry. There are the powerful combat arms of Artillery and Armor. Military Intelligence is the eyes and ears of the Army; Signal Corps its voice.

"And then you have the Adjutant General Corps ...

"Oh sure, I know what part of the Army you think we desk jockeys are, but you're wrong -- we aren't the asshole.

"We," stammered Joel's quavering voice, as his hand shook as if with fear, "we are ... the nerves!"

"You see, for the body to function, it must be under the command of the brain (the Pentagon). And the brain must have a way to convey its orders to the rest of the body. And there's where we in AG come in. Just as the nervous system carries messages from the brain, we convey orders from the Pentagon all the way to the lowest soldier. So you see ... if it weren't for us, you'd never get the orders that send you to Vietnam."

With that, Joel beat a hasty retreat from the podium and left the room.


Jerry said...

Reminds me of the old adage: "Never mess with the people who feed you or pay you."

When I inprocessed in Korea, I walked into the finance office to find a Major giving grief to the PFC finance clerk. After his tirade the Major left, and the PFC said "I will be right with you Specialist."

He then proceeded to lift his chair up on his desk, climbed up on it with the Major's pay folder in his hand, lifted the ceiling panel, and chucked the folder as hard as he could.

As he climbed down he said "That will teach that SOB, I hope his pay is screwed up for his entire tour."

Do you want to bet that I was extremely polite to that young private?

Bob said...

I once knew a soldier who (as a mail clerk in Korea) had decided to get even with his battalion commander by forwarding the his mail around the world. He came to us as an infantryman from Fort Levenworth.

Ladybug Crossing said...

That's terrific! Congrats!

I love the story... I'm going to giggle about it all day.


Jerry said...


So, are you saying that he wasn't cadre at the US Army Disciplinary Barracks?

Theresa said...

Ha! I wasn't expecting that one.

Theresa said...

Bob, did you break your comments?