Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A letter from the past to today's generals from yesterday's privates!

I've been watching the malcontented retired pentagon generals politely asking their former leader, Don Rumsfeld, to do the right thing and step down due to his incompetent management style and outright malfeasance.

But as I heard someone say on TV yesterday, by that very request of these old geezers now grazing in greener pastures and golf courses, they have done nothing more than guarantee us at least another full year or two of Rumsfeld. Because to actually quit now would appear a knee jerk reaction to these old guys, the commentator said. It's been all very amusing.

But enough's enough! It's time to speak out; for my silence to end. And so it is, I take a moment to write today's blog as a kind of letter over time from the past, from over 40 years ago. And it's being sent to current generals still on active duty from a small group of army privates and specialists as a kind of encouragement, or reminder, that they do indeed have the power. They simply need to rediscover it and use it. With that in mind, here's their letter from us former low ranking enlisted men:

Spring, 1965

Dear Sirs, Generals (still on active duty) in the year 2006, sirs!

This letter is being sent to you, the commanders of today's US military, still the world's mightiest (well, save for China's and North Korea's maybe). It comes from a bunch of ragtag privates and specialists serving in a desert outpost in the American Southwest, circa 1965.

As we write this, the Vietnam war is heating up nicely since that audacious attack on our navy in the Gulf of Tonkin by the Viet Cong, August of last year. Oh there's some talk amongst our platoon how "convenient" that assault on our forces was as justification to really kick some VC ass now. But that's just rumors at present.

But for the moment we're not worried because, much like yourselves up there in the Pentagon in 2006 with wars on two fronts and a third about to begin, we're safely removed from any danger or harm unless its driving the 60 miles home across a lonely desert road in the wee hours of the morning after a night of frolick and too much to drink across the border in Mexico. No, much as yourselves there in DC, we're thousands of miles removed from any real fighting or danger.

Well, sorta. Seems like there's an old saw about "danger's always lurking" and we're not sure if what we're writing to share with you is real danger unless you consider the incompetence of a certain second lieutenant we recently had to depose. As our platoon leader, he was some green, wet-behind-the-ears punk just outta Officer's Candidate School. He really didn't know much about how the military worked, his background being mostly in business and, while his rank is a few grades below your leader's, secretary Rumsfeld, it's kind of a similar situation.

See, as we mentioned, we're a small band of about 30 guys and every morning we fall out for reveille in the chilly predawn hours for roll call. They have us do that to make sure everyone made it back okay from Mexico last night before we head over to the mess hall for some powdered scrambled eggs. We've been doing this for months and have had a number of lieutenants assigned to lead us. They're "detailed" to lead us.

(For those unfamiliar with military jargon who might be eavesdropping on this letter to Rumsfeld's generals, a detail is an army assignment to do a job nobody really wants to do, something that wouldn't get done if the army didn't assign someone the duty to do it. You can kinda think of a war as a really big detail.)

Well, having had a number of platoon leaders in past months, we suddenly learned one dark morning we had been detailed to another new one, this fresh-out-of-college second lieutenant with a lot of business training but no real military leadership skills--as we were soon to learn. This may sound familiar to many of you generals reading this up in the Pentagon, sirs.

One of our platoon leader's responsibilities is to maintain his unit in a state of readiness. On our small garrison level, this is done by extending our fitness by directing us in calistentics and jogging. See, we meet out in this big old square parking lot our second lieutenants have us run us around.

But here's where this new lieutenant's lack of military experience took it's toll. Running us round in circles every morning, we noted one obvious absence--our leader's! Unlike our previous lieutenants who ran along side us as they barked out orders, this one would stand in one spot as we ran around and around while he'd shout out his "Column left!"s and "Double Time!"s and that didn't strike us as quite right. In fact, in a very brief time, it cost our lieutenant dearly. He lost the respect of his men. Morale sank to a new low. We got to where the usual pre-fallout for reveille joking and horse play gave way to a lot of moaning and grumbling.

See general's, we're assigned to the Headquarters Company of our small outpost. That means we're the guys who make things work for everybody else, just as you generals in the Pentagon assure everything works right for all your other troops. Mostly, we support the over all operation of our post. We work in quartermaster which supplies the food, clothing and equipment for all other soldiers. And some of us work in personnel, maintaining records and seeing all the troops get paid correctly.

I know in your army up there in 2006, a lot of these kinds of jobs don't exist anymore. They've been privatized, contracted out. In fact, many of us privates would probably be civilians in 2006, working for companies like Halliburton, making multiple times the pay we receive back here in 1965, slinging hash or providing the guys with body armor (when you have it).

But back to our second lieutenant. As we'd run around in circles day after day without the benefit our a leader there with us, we began to speculate if he was really cut out for an active duty soldier with a real war going on. We'd talk as we were running and mostly the conversation quietly passing amongst us was one of concern for our leader. It's possible, assigned to a platoon in a more dangerous place like, say, Vietnam, this guy could be a real danger to his men. But of more concernto us was the fact, in a place like 'Nam, he could be a real danger to himself, i.e., his charges would all be assigned weapons. And they'd be loaded with live ammo.

We thought maybe our lieutenant had made a bad career decision. That maybe he should have chosen--instead of going active duty--a reserve assignment. Something like the Texas Air National Guard maybe. But we also sadly realized not everyone's daddy is a congressman with connections.

Finally one morning it happened. We had had enough of being run in circles without our leader with us. We reached critical mass. It wasn't a compulsive thing. No, it was something that we whispered about while jogging for several mornings. I imagine that's kind of what's been going on up in the Pentagon in 2006 too. Well, with that in mind, here's what we decided to do. We decided the next "column left" order our lieutenant barked at us from the other side of the parking lot we'd just ignore. We were pretty sure we were right. We'd openly express our dissatifaction of his incompetent leadership.

And as the command to turn left was heard faintly over our shoulders in the background, we continued jogging--straight. We ignored the order of our leader. What ensued was almost comical as our lieutenant continued shouting, commanding us to "Halt! I said HALT!" desperately as we continued to jog straight ahead for the next quarter of a mile. We finally did halt, but it wasn't because of our lieutenant's orders to do so. It was because we had run across a couple of roads, through a ditch and straight up the front steps of the NCO club. Unfortunately, at the hour of the morning it was closed. Our boldness could have used a good stiff drink.

I don't remember if that was the last morning our lieutenant commanded us or not because he went on temporary duty shortly afterwards. (Maybe for some remedial officer's training?) But that wasn't quite how the story ended, because when his next paycheck came down while out of town, he sadly discovered it was smaller than usual. It seems someone from our platoon, in military pay, had reduced his tax exemptions to zero, an act directly affecting one's net pay.

But even sadder for our poor lieutenant was the orders that came from--of all places--right there in your Pentagon. Seems one of our platoon's personnel clerks in charge of assignments who spoke almost daily with the Pentagon, had managed to match our lieutenant's military occupational specialty with a vacancy in South Korea. It wasn't Vietnam, thankfully, but it would be an opportunity for our little lieutenant to hone his leadership skills should he ever end up in a dangerous place like a war zone, god forbid.

So, that's basically what we wanted to write to you about. To remind you generals in 2006 that despite incompetent leadership, there's often a way out from under it. Of course, we were just a bunch of rag tags with little to risk. We mean, none of us had 25-30 years of service to jeopardize by sacrificing the cushy retirements you all are anticipating, we're sure. But that's the point. We couldn't have helped our lieutenant if we'd waited until we got out of the military. No, to really help him, we had to do it before we left the army. We had to get creative.

And that's why we decided to write those of you who are still employed in the service of your country. While those retired generals speaking out is commendable, what kind of balls did that really take? They safely secured their retirement before saying anything.

The real courage lies in those with years of career military experience with something still to lose. It's you who can take your leadership to task, maybe retire him instead. Be inventive. We're sure you can think of something.

We just thought you might want to consider this being as you're there on the threshold of beginning a third unending war. And just look what your "second lieutenant" has done to your once proud military. He and his war buddies have overextended 'em, exposing the soft underbelly of the world's greatest police force. Oh, and we imagine their morale must be getting pretty damn low too. Running around in circles with no one really leading you will do that.

Just a bunch of rag tag army privates. Spring, 1965.


Anonymous said...

beautifully written, dada. I felt like I was jogging along with your unit after you'd reached the tipping point. I think you really did save your lazy lieutenant's life & now wonder if he's made it to the top levels of this administration?

Your unit personally demonstrated Margaret Mead's "never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Although maybe Obi-wan-Kenobi is more appropriate for today's generals, "Who is more foolish: the fool, or the fools who follow him?" -- D.K.

dada said...

Thanks, DK. You know, as I was writing that, I'd actually had the thought, "What if that lieutenant who 'misled' us back in 1965 turned out to be a general now in the Pentagon or recently retired 15-20 years ago?" (grin)