"The Need to Soldier" - Part 11172, 10 Aug 2014
The Need to Soldier – Part 1 * 8/8/14
I really did not understand my need to solider until I was serving as a young artillery officer at Fort Meade, Maryland. This was my first active duty assignment after completing the basic officer’s course for Air Defense Artillery at Fort Bliss, Texas. I was a newly commissioned Regular U.S. Army Officer who received that commission via the Distinguished Military Graduate (DMG) – Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs.
The following could not have been accomplished had I not been both foolish and daring enough to enlist for service during the Korean War. Yes, coupling those enlisted experiences with the formal education later gained through University training and education programs provided the needed platform to support an interesting and fulfilling military career that ran for 37 years. And yes, all I ever wanted to be was a soldier. And yes, being an airborne soldier was a bonus and yes, soldiering fulfilled an inner need that could have only been satisfied by being a soldier.
Reentering active duty after being commissioned was a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, I was quick to remember the many events of my enlisted days for which I was most proud. Mostly, they would be tied to those with whom I served. On the other hand, I was equally quick to recall the many events that were real turn offs when it came to considering a military career. Most of these were also tied to those with whom I also served. Accordingly, the common dominator was “those with whom I served”. If those I served with were soldiers, I was indeed very much at home doing what I was doing because I knew they were there for the long haul. They could be trusted, relied on, would be supportive, always helpful, and most of all loyal.
Simply put, if I were to enjoy a satisfying military career, I had to position myself so I could be with and enjoy the company of outstanding dedicated soldiers who enjoyed the same challenges I did. Those soldiers lead that life because they wanted to. They wanted to be the best and do their best as they raced through their careers learning to be better soldiers so they could better serve their charges. Those few soldiers are the ones that will never be forgotten, but remembered forever. I could only hope that someday, I would be blessed by being one of those. For me there is no higher honor…..
As I prepared to comply with recently received orders to report to Travis Air Force Base for transportation to Viet Nam, life took on an entirely different prospective. Now, I was faced with what to do with a wife and two children – how can I provide for them while I am away? That question was always on my mind as I continued to search for answers.
Another issue that occupied much of my planning and thinking was – how did I want to serve and with whom I wanted to serve while I was committed to a combat tour in Viet Nam. This issue ran deep because of my early military experiences and background. I knew I wanted to again soldier, but the question was, in what capacity?
To get a better understanding of my feelings one should know that my military training began when I donned my first uniform at the age of 10. I lay this decision at my father’s feet since he was the one making the decisions that drove much of my early thinking. Dad was first introduced to the military when he enlisted and became part of the Texas National Guard as this country was preparing for World War I. Because of his early days in Bowie, Texas – the real Wild West at the time -- and his experience with horses, he elected to serve in Calvary units where he rose to the rank of Captain and later served as Commander of a Calvary Machine Gun Troop. He once shared with me, that this experience was one of his proudest periods in his journey thru life. Being a soldier meant everything to him. More on this later…
Those early experiences coupled with his later involvement in the ship building business during World War II, drove much of his thinking that influenced just how I was to be educated and prepared for a full and rewarding adult life. Since he did not feel comfortable in living far from his work, the family took residence in a small town next to the ship building community near Houston, Texas. This was a rough and tuff neighborhood occupied by the ship building crews and support staff. The schools in that area were not the best nor one that one would choose to attend. Accordingly, my sister, who was five years my senior, and I were packed off to San Marcos Baptist Academy, in San Marcos, Texas. Again, I was just 10 years old when I donned my first military uniform and joined the ranks as a cadet. My branch was infantry. I was a soldier and proud to be.
I continued to attend military academies and participating in the ROTC programs until the summer of 1950, when North Korea decided to attack and over throw the government of South Korea. The impact of that and follow on actions spurred young men like me to join the effort to curtail the communist drive throughout that region.
To better understand what it was like growing up in the 1931 – 1950 timeframe one would have to review the events of that time period. One of the major events that began in the 1930s and ended with the surrender of Japan in 1945 was what became known as World War II, or WW II. As the name implies, this was a “world war”, one that literally included almost everyone on the face of the earth in one manner or another. Here in this country, everyone was impacted by the “war effort.” Fathers, Mothers, Brothers and Sisters were either in some service or in some industry that was fully dedicated to support this effort. If no family member was servicing or not employed by an industry greatly involved in support, they were still impacted by the limited amount of food and goods that could be purchased because the war effort was using just about all of the equipment and material that this country could produce. Civilians were issued ration books that were used to purchase rationed items like, gasoline, tires, and other manufactured good. So regardless of what your station in life may have been during that timeframe, you were part of the war effort and you were soldiering by doing your fair share.
The Post War Period (1945-1950) saw a great rebuilding effort to restore a broken economy and to realign the workforce to support this realignment. Since WW ll was thought to have been the last of the great wars, there was little interest in maintaining a standing Army, Navy or Air Force.
Accordingly, personnel reductions were immediately initiated, equipment to include aircraft were mothballed or reduced to scrap, and arms and ammunition were sold as surplus items. The forces were thinly spread to man the real estate that we now controlled. Since this country was considered to be the “Victor” in this effort, all actions were upbeat, morale was high, and the mood was one of a proud nation. All of this was supported by the movie, music and entertainment industries who flattered service in time of war and glorifying the deeds required to win under these conditions. Yes, this became a proud soldiering nation.
The Korean War (1950-1953) changed much of this in a rather harsh manner. In June of 1950, while I was enjoying a break from the rodeo circuit, we were having a backyard Bar-B-Q. A news break broadcast the unfamiliar voice of Syngman Rhee, who represented the Republic of Korea (South). He was making a compassionate plea for assistance in defending against the invasion by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North). To this day I well remember parts of that plea. The communists supported by Russia and China were moving to invade the South which was supported by the United Nations assembly and the United States. While it is still uncertain who fired the first shot, one was fired and it started a lopsided invasion by the North against a poorly organized, trained and equipped defender.
At that time the United States had a rather large contingency of troops in Japan operating as a peace keeping force. They too were poorly trained and equipped. They had lost their focus, equipment, support, as they leisurely walked through their peace keeping duties. Yes, they stopped soldiering while they were just going through the motions of an occupying force.
None-the-less, the decision was made to support Rhee’s request for assistance by deploying these unprepared troops. The outcome of this decision has been well documented. The southern troops were decimated as the communists moved south.
These actions quickly became a call to arms for young men like me who had been in training for many years. There we were, recalling the glory days of WW II, well trained, in great physical condition and ready to go. We were what I called, a recruiters dream. Now it is my turn to be a real soldier, was the feeling of the young and restless.
So off we went to a war that we were unprepared to fight. The equipment was WW II surplus, the clothes were the same, and the heavy equipment and artillery could have easily been classified as junk. None of this was on a par with what our counterparts had in hand.
After this venture I returned to college a different person. Being a decorated combat veteran I was heavily recruited by the ROTC department. However, I wanted nothing to do with the military. On several occasions I had long and in depth discussions with the Professor of Military Science and Tactics (PMS&T). He was an infantry officer who had also been involved in the Korean War. While I liked him from the outset, I was not in the correct frame of mind to pursue additional military training or going on active duty upon completion of my degree program.
It was the summer following my junior year in college when I began my first effort to obtain employment following graduation. To this end, I fell in line and signed up for several job interviews for positions that I thought I would best be qualified. Most of the interviews were done on campus and hosted by professional recruiters. I thought these a breeze, but never really found anything that I thought would be challenging enough to hold my attention. So I kept looking and interviewing throughout the summer. While I did not recognize it at the time, I was looking for something challenging to the point that I was again soldiering.
At the beginning of my senior year, with no job in hand, I returned to the ROTC office and rekindled my conversations with the PMS&T. He was again most receptive and really went out of his way to accommodate my concerns and most importantly modified my thinking, perception of life and a possible career in the military.
As a result of these follow on conversations, I was convinced that rejoining the military as a commissioned officer was the proper thing for me. In order to complete the necessary academic requirements, course schedules had to be adjusted to accommodate some doubling up and most important I would have to attend the ROTC summer camp after graduating. This was not unusual, but it did take me out of the regular flow from college to active duty.
After graduating from college and the summer camp program with the honored designation of Distinguished Military Graduate (DMG), I was given a set of orders dispatching me to Fort Bliss, Texas to attend a Basis Officer’s Artillery course for Air Defense. I was entitled to be cross-trained in both Field and Air Defense Artillery as all Regular Artillery Officers were. This course was designed for Reserve Officers coming on active duty, therefore, was not a good fit for me because I had earned the right through the DMG program to be a Regular Officer, not a Reserve Officer. Believe me, there is a big difference.
It took me several months to get the necessary corrections made to my records and for me to be sworn into the Regular Army as a 2nd Lieutenant, Artillery. During this long drawn out process, I spent much time at Fort Bliss in various and sundry positions awaiting the administrative corrections so I could proceed with the required training necessary to complete the DMG contract. This was important because with these requirements came important privileges – one of which was my first choice of assignment after being commissioned, a privilege that I never got to exercise. There were other important ones too…
A long story short – Because of a hang up at Army Headquarters, I got off on the wrong foot. I had missed out on so much on my initial training. I was far behind my peer group and no opportunity to catch up. I was reconsidering whether or not I had made the right decision when I elected to return to active duty as a commissioned officer. This feeling of emptiness and lack of support festered and was promoted by those with whom I was serving because they were interested only in meeting minimum requirements so they could be released from active duty. Something that I often thought about – that is just how disappointed I was at that time. The truth was that I was not soldiering.
This impacted on me to the point that I was seriously considered resigning my commission and returning to civilian life. To this end I thought that I best do something that would prepare me for employment in the civilian arena after a short military career. After visiting several branch offices and listening to what they could or would offer me if I were to transfer to that branch, I decided that the Finance Branch made the best offer. While I only had one three hour college course in accounting I would have a lot to make up before I would be up to speed with my peers. I thought that a good challenge to accept, so I did.
Now harking back to when I received orders to report to Travis Air Force Base for transportation to Viet Nam. Upon receipt of these orders I immediately contacted branch to determine what I would be doing once I hit country. I was told that I was being placed against a Major Headquarters requisition and would most probably again be in the budget business.
There I was: a major, serving in a branch I had little use for, in a job as a budget officer that I could barely tolerate, and headed for the only war that we happen to have at that time, Viet Nam. I was very disappointed.
Fortunately I was working for an infantry officer at that time and he well understood my feelings. He was a highly decorated solider with several combat tours under his belt. So when I solicited his assistance in transferring to infantry branch, he was quick to respond. In fact, he was going back to Washington soon and he would put this topic on his agenda. After that visit, he reported that things were all set at branch to make this transfer possible.
A couple of weeks later, the Colonel called me into his office to give me the bad news. While infantry branch was more than willing to accept me, my branch would not agree to release me. It seems that the principal sitting on my branch desk had the power to veto any transfer action, which he did. As a side note, that Colonel retired rather than to go the Viet Nam where he could have served in one of those cushy jobs he reserved for others.
Once I hit Viet Nam and was bussed to the Major Headquarters to which I was being assigned. My first stop was to meet my new boss. As luck would have it, he too was a disappointed Infantry Colonel who was stuck in an unwanted staff job, so he knew exactly how I felt and how disappointed I was in what was about to unfold.
After a long and heartfelt exchange of feelings, wants and desires, the boss told me he would cut me a deal that I could not afford to turn down. First he explained that his biggest problem in theatre was the lack of discipline in the finance network. Troops were not being paid correctly or on time. Other functions performed by that network were also in a state of disrepair. As he explained it, every time he went to a staff meeting with visiting commanders they would let him know how disappointed they were in that service. He was catching it from all sides, according to him.
He went on to tell me that if I would give him six months and fix this network, I could pick my next in-country assignment. I did not like the offer, but it was the best one on the table. So I agreed to six months on staff and an additional six months or more in a position of my choice, considering I had to stay within branch guideline.
With that agreement in my pocket, I raced upstairs to the assignment folks to see what jobs would be coming open in six months. Luck is the best way to describe what I found out during that visit. A job with the 3rd Brigade, 82dnd Airborne Division would be available at that time. I told them to pen me in as the replacement and immediately reported back to the boss what I had arranged. He too was satisfied and unless I missed my read, also very proud of what I had chosen to do.
As a disappointing side note: About three months into this assignment the finance guy with the 5th Special Forces Group was relieved. I have no idea why. All I knew is that they would need someone like me and I could be that guy. As soon as I heard that news, I approached the boss and told him I really wanted that job. He reminded me that I had a six-month contract with him and that I was working an important issue for the command. As disappointed as I was, I had to agree – A Deal is A Deal!
In order to get my arms around the problem described by the boss, I arranged to visit six in-country finance offices, three division offices and three numbered offices, non-divisional. By location: two in the north, two centrally and two in the south. There was also one located on the installation where I was assigned; I also put that one on the list to visit during my fact-finding effort.
After I dispatched a command approved travel itinerary that include many “about dates” for my visits, packed my ruck sack, a couple of weapons, some food products to sustain me, and headed to the nearest airfield to literally bum rides to supporting airfields, landing zones, or drop off points. Once on the ground, I was again on my own.
In keeping with my promise not to publish the names of the units or personnel I visited during this fact-finding tour, I arrived at a division office located in the north. After checking in with the Chief of Staff and explaining just what I was doing, I moved down to the finance office for a close look at that operation. Here, I found it operating in a satisfactory manner. The office was well maintained, the troops well presented, document flow was smooth and functional, and that payments to the troops were both accurate and on time. While visiting with the Finance Officer, a Lieutenant Colonel, I found him neatly dressed, desk well organized, and the “in” and “out” boxes empty. The administrative offices were clean throughout and one could tell that discipline was the order of the day. This office was well manned; about 120 percent of authorized personnel were present for duty. I had a couple of meals at the mess hall, and found it to also be first class. The barracks, recreational facilities, PX stores and additional support functions were all above par. All and all, this operation was well-organized, highly proficient organization doing an outstanding job under harsh conditions. I noted these soldiers were first class and proud.
I concluded my visit by clearing with the Chief of Staff where I again promised that I would not publish any of my observations, but if I were to, they would indeed be most positive when I made reference to this operation.
After concluding this visit, I made my way down to the motor pool where I caught a ride to the nearest numbered finance office. It was located about 15 miles down an unsecured road. This non divisional office was responsible for all aspects of finance and accounting operations for the tenants in this area. These included the payment of both military and civilian pay, travel pay, commercial accounts, currency exchange and conversions; check cashing and other cashier duties, etc.
Upon my arrival, I met the young Finance Officer in the grade of Captain who looked as if he was pretty much worn out. His person and office both looked to be in a state of disrepair. The entire office also had this appearance. Because of the added responsibilities, he not only had military personnel but also a large contingency of civilians employed in this office.
For the better part of the next two days, I spent documenting the status of this office by looking into backlogs, tracking commercial account payments, doing some light reconciliation work and reviewing document flow and tracking patterns. While I did accumulate a great deal of information, I reserved comment on what I found or my personal evaluation as to the operating efficiency of this operation. One could easily tell that these soldiers never had the opportunity to soldier because of the understaffing, uncontrolled workflow and lack of command support.
As I was traveling to the next two offices, I had a lot of time to reflect on what I had just experienced. On the one hand I had witnessed a highly professional effort, and on the other, an over worked, loosely controlled, poorly manned and staffed, operation that was just barely keeping its head above water. If I were to assign numerical scores to my finding, the division office would be about 90 percent efficiency while the non-divisional office would be about 50 percent efficiency. These are gross estimates, but I feel realistic.
The next two offices that I visited were about the same as the first two offices. Again, the division office looked like a professional operation while the non-divisional office looked to be a disaster. I was able to document my finding very rapidly and get back on the road, and in the air, to the south where I would visit the next two on my itinerary.
I spent little time with the first on my next stop. I found a sharp Division Finance Officer in the grade of Lieutenant Colonel in charge. He was also a personal friend of mine. Much like the first office I had visited on this trip, doing a big job under adverse conditions, but making the best of it and getting the mission accomplished. They were soldiers, going about their duties in a soldierly manner.
After I cleared the division area, I headed for the next office to be visited on this trip. Upon arrival I found another Finance Officer in the grade of Lieutenant Colonel who was just barely keeping up with the demands of the office. He too, was under manned, over worked, and got little support from the local commanders for whom he was providing support. This officer was also a personal friend of mine who I had known for many years. He like me enjoyed hunting and fishing. He and I had made several trips together to collect various game and fish. I knew and liked this officer very much and knew I could trust him. He was indeed a real soldier.**
I spent little time in documenting this non-divisional office status of operations. It was much like the other similar offices. Instead I shared the observations that I had been gathering during this trip with this officer and a couple of other junior officers and a senior civilian employee or two with a view of – Let’s fix it! Let’s get this office back to soldiering.
Accordingly, we pulled some desks together to create a “war room” environment and began to war game what we needed to do to make this system work. We addressed all aspects of the office to include command and control, staffing, office layout, document flow, reporting, accounting, cashier operations, and all elements of pay – military, civilian, and contract, etc.
Much of this work had been done for us and was captured in various publications which has long been left on the shelf and seldom referred to during daily operations when the heat was on and the pressure was high. Where this was true, we would simply reorganize to put our operation in compliance with that standard. If we had no standard to guide us, we would ad hoc our way through to an acceptable solution.
So procedures were written, rewritten, modified, deleted, changed, etc. for several days. We debugged as we went along until the pieces fit. When we thought we had developed the “perfect” model we computed the staffing guideline for each element within the office. Once these tasks were completed, we folded it all together and were ready to publish. However, we were not through because without command support nothing would work. So this model had to be sold at the headquarters level and we knew going in that this support was going to meet with much resistance from the field commanders who were about to be saddled with another function which they would not be staffed or resourced to accommodate.
We had to build two bridges. The first: From the senior commander in the area to all subordinate commanders throughout the area. The second: From each command to the supporting finance operation. These bridges had to be monitored, policed, and exercised daily. We felt that the two star Division Commanders were the only ones that could build these bridges. These commanders would be given the responsibility to supervise all finance functions in their Area of Operations. They would be charged to supervise both division and non-division finance offices. Accordingly, each finance office had to report to a Division Chief of Staff who had operational control. Now we had bridges and structure in place.
For execution, we were sure that the Division Chief of Staff would look to his Division Finance Officer to provide the required monitoring, policing and exercising of the finance network thorough out their area of responsibility. This alignment put the necessary Command and Control elements in place that provided the finance network the badly needed support.
Returning to headquarters I was anxious to brief the boss, the infantry officer and the one that was catching the flak about the weak financial network and the unsatisfactory service being provided the soldiers in the field. I think he would have bought off on anything that would give promise of improvement. But again, he would have to first sell it at the headquarters level and then to the field commanders. Neither of these selling jobs was going to be easy.
After spending a week polishing the field developed procedures and getting the boss’s approval, he set up a briefing scheduled for the senior staff members. The Mission then was: To Sell This Change. While it was not an easy exercise, it became a seller with staff support. Then the field commanders have to be sold on this concept to the point that they would accept this responsibility and put forth the effort and resources to make it work.
A week before the commanders were going to be briefed we summoned the senior officer from each finance office in Viet Nam to our headquarters in order to brief them on many things, but this reorganization was the central issue. During this day long effort, I was charged to brief the realignment plan to the group. While the briefing went well, I thought, the concept met with much resistance because those in more secure positions were now going to be put at risk to make this work. Their job security was going to be challenged as never before. While this was not true with all, I felt it was pretty much across the board.
Of course, the Non-division Boys could see the Calvary coming to their rescue and they loved it. They could see additional staffing, better communications with supported organizations, and a more efficient use of the PSNCO’s in both the finance and personnel channels, additional operations and maintenance support to include much needed supplies, equipment and transportation upgrades so they could literally reach out and touch the commands they were supporting.
All and all, the group got the message and I guess they carried the message back to their commanders, who when briefed a week or so later, had no major objections and each pledged their support. It was a couple of months after the implementation that I got to visit a couple of the non-divisional offices and they were both something anyone would be proud. The soldiers were wearing the appropriate division patch, neatly dressed, and smartly going about their busy days in a competent manner. Their facilities were upgraded with fresh paint, new equipment, desk, chairs, etc. These upgrades had a positive impact on the moral of the entire office – one could easily see the improvement and when the records were checked and bounced against the recorded pay complaints, this effort had to get a Grade of an A+. Why, because the finance community was again soldiering.
This effort clearly established the need for a formal command and control organization for the entire finance network world-wide. The rest of the Army was organized into companies, battalions and brigades so why should the finance offices be any different. They need constant supervision and command support. This message was clearly delivered to the finance assignment guys and those in the Pentagon, Finance Center and School along with the recommendation that the finance corps units be organized in this manner. That was my last official act at this headquarters.
I was off to my next assignment – 3rd Brigade 82nd Airborne Division. I could not get there fast enough and once in place, had no desire to be anywhere else. This is the perfect size for a combat unit. We had a little over 5,000 airborne soldiers with basic infantry and artillery battalions and a division slice of the other units to flush out the brigade. A one star general with a colonel deputy commanded this unit. Simple, slick, workable, functional – could accomplish assigned missions without delay. Of course, the airborne spirit prevailed everywhere. These were real soldiers, doing great things. And, yes, I was again soldiering.
My predecessor had done a great job under difficult conditions. My job, as I saw it, was to improve on what he had in place and expand what we could do for the soldiers. I was blessed, great NCOs, troops with the airborne attitude and the will to do more and improve as we moved forward. So my initial focus was on assigned personnel. The question that I wanted answers to was – are they soldiering because they want to or they just responding to the demands of the job? Here I found a little of both worlds. Need to improve to the point that it just comes naturally. The second question that I wanted answers to was: Are we really doing everything that we can be doing for the troops? Here again, I found a little of both.
The Fix: In regard to the troops, what do they need and when do they need it? When deployed in combat, there is little need for cash, either US currency or script because their needs are literally issued to them and having cash on hand leads to security issues. However, when standing down and in a garrison situation, they do need cash for any number of reasons. Once, they have been in country for six months, they were eligible for a Rest and Recreational (R&R) out of country break. In that situation, they need all the cash they can get their hands on, more so if their spouses were joining them. And during the course of normal activities, sometimes the folks back home just need a little additional money to make ends meet. Accordingly, the pay system had to be modified to meet all these demands. Pay day, once a month and in cash would not do the trick. The solution was to split the voucher to accommodate all of these needs. While it meant a lot more work, it also meant that the system was doing what it needed to do, support the troops who were engaged and laying it all on the line.
With this new focus came the need to be closer and more in step with the troops. Here we integrated the finance team with the combat unit it supported. For example, for an infantry battalion, a three man team was literally assigned to that battalion. Coupling that manpower with the PSNCO representing that unit, provided the support needed to meet these demands. If the battalion was committed to combat, so was the finance team, not as observers, but as participants. When that battalion stood down in garrison, the finance team continued to work to make sure the financial needs were met. When the battalion was released for their R&R travel, it was the responsibility of the finance team to ensure the troops had the cash in hand necessary to finance this break. The troops, those supporting them, and those supporting that level of effort were now dedicated to full time soldiering.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that this brigade had one of the finest AG officers heading up that function. He was a South Carolina boy, who was very outgoing and like me was always searching for ways to improve service to the troops. Most often when one of our pay teams was being dispatched to a fire base, the AG would assemble a team from his office to accompany them. With both finance and personnel records in hand, face to face meeting with the troops provided the opportunity to get all administrative details in order. This effort was much appreciated by those with whom we would meet and provide this service.
In my reflections, I remember being most disappointed because I could not and did not find a way to recognize this level of effort through the standing awards program. My research led me through the various awards commonly awarded for this service, but none really fit. Awarding the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) is reserved for infantry and Special Forces personnel assigned to combat units and deployed in a combat role. This award, by definition, did not fit what these young airborne troops were doing as a matter of routine, their service and actions deserved more recognition than was provided by the standing awards.
Accordingly, this is another issue that should be addressed along with command and control of units during combat operations. Exercising and emphasizing the need to soldier and to be a better soldier goes a long way in inspiring the troops to excel to the next level of support and effort.
This brigade was sent to Viet Nam as part of the buildup to counter the Tet Offensive. In order to get around end strength limits the brigade was put in a Temporary Duty (TDY) status when deployed. While no one really knew when the brigade would be returning to Fort Bragg, the feeling was that because we were in a TDY status that we would be one of the first to exit Viet Nam. I was prepared to stay and return with the brigade whenever that was. Actually, it stayed in Viet Nam a total of 22 months.
Then I got the news, my Dad had passed after a long battle with cancer. I headed home ahead of the brigade to take care of my mother and family business. I left this unit with a heavy heart. On the one hand, still much to be done, and on the other, I had no idea when I would again be given the opportunity to serve with another airborne unit and the men that make that service so rewarding.
Damn, I had fought my way out of a senior headquarters assignment so I could serve with a deployed airborne unit and now, I had just received orders directing me to report to the Pentagon for my next assignment. I remember being disappointed to the point that I contacted anyone and everyone who I thought could be or would be instrumental in getting those orders rescinded. As it turned out, I was just whistling in the wind. I guess what I had accomplished to date and particularly on my last tour had impressed the man who was pulling the strings that was controlling this assignment. So I really had no choice, but to report and make the best of what was going to be a most challenging task mostly because of the way I thought our business should be conducted vs the way that it was really going down.
A major, with recent combat experience with a dynamic airborne unit, in the Pentagon – What a dichotomy! Another way of saying it – A soldier vs those who had no idea what a soldier was, what he did, how he thought, how to meet his needs, and or how to use this valuable asset. Yes, a real dichotomy!
As a junior staff officer, I was given many tasks on which to work. One of my first and a real eye opener was to formulate a reply to a general officer who had inquired about a matter that was being addressed as the new and future pay system was being developed. This pay system was to be known as “Jumps Army” or Joint Uniform Military Pay System – Army. This letter contained three items that needed to be researched before a reply could be formulated. Now the reply was going to be signed off by a two star general whom I was going to have to brief to obtain both his approval and signature.
Upon receipt of this “tasker” along with the correspondence in which these issues were surfaced, I updated my inventory file – actually a 3x5 card file to reflect that I had this action, and noted any other important information such as suspense date, points of contact, required coordinations, etc. This was my way of controlling my working files.
I then set out to research the three issues. The first two, were indeed real world concerns that had been addressed and documented during the development and testing phase of this new pay system. They were legitimate concerns and items of interest. However, the third issue – and I don’t recall what it was about, but I do recall that my research lead me to nothing but dead ends. I could not find any literature and anyone who could or had the ability to shed any light on this issue. I was stumped!
So there I was, in two days, I had to have as a minimum a draft reply to a general officer that addressed the three issues or concerns that he had raised – and I could only talk to two of them. As a new guy, I was not doing very well at this point. Accordingly, I went to my next higher with this issue and requested some guidance on what to do and how to handle the third or dangling issue. As it turned out, he too was stumped. So I was instructed to get on the approving general’s calendar to discuss the progress and status of this action. I did just that.
At the appointed time and date, there I stood only partially prepared to address my assignment. Major vs General – the atmosphere was so thick I thought I could have cut it with a knife. Soon after the meeting started the atmosphere cleared to the point that I really felt relaxed. I began my brief in the simplest of terms and worked the first two items to the general’s satisfaction. When addressing the third issue, I had to confess that I was truly stumped and had hopes that perhaps the general could shed some light on which a responsible reply could be based.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. The general had no idea what this question was addressing nor did he have the faintest idea on how to build a satisfactory reply. So as he was shifting his position in his chair, he said – “Let’s Throw Him a Waffle.” Until now, I thought a waffle was something that we had for breakfast, very much like a hot or pan cake. Not in the Pentagon. When you are stumped and have no idea how to address an issue, discuss a red herring – something that really has no answer or there is no end to the discussion. Just talk about something in a somewhat intelligent way so that the other person or persons are left somewhat satisfied and even more confused. A real no answer, but perhaps it could be an answer. That was the Pentagon way. Not mine for sure.
As I worked my assignments, constantly updating my 3x5 card files, I was being exposed to many issues and many key folks or better yet folks in key positions. The jury is still out on whether these were key folks or just folks setting in key positions. None-the-less – hard decisions had to be made during this development and test phase of Jumps-Army. Many of the decisions affected the troops in the field offices who had to make this system work. Here is where I really had a hard time accepting the methodology on which many of these decisions were being made. Why? Because we were now talking the language that I knew and understood, soldiering.
Many of these decisions were going to have a negative impact on how our soldiers performed and that would have an adverse impact on how this system would be implemented and managed. Some of those making these decisions had never seen a soldier up close or had any idea what motivated them to become soldiers and most important why would they then volunteer to become airborne soldiers. They were anything but the simplistic assembly line laborers that some were trying to turn them into. While that approach may work in an auto plant where routine tasks are repeatedly performed day in a day out, this approach would not fare well for the combat soldier who was required to perform way beyond that level.
So again we had the Major vs General, the major always on the short end of the discussion which really led to the decisions that later proved to be so unworkable in the field. The dynamics of the operations were so demanding because the forever-changing missions were anything but static and predictable.
Two years of this is all I could stand. Lucky for me, I got an early selection to Command and General Staff College (C&GSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I will never forget the day we left Washington, D.C. heading west on Highway 50 on our way to Kansas. The car was packed with wife and our two kids, when I looked out of the rear view mirror I could see Washington in the background. I told my wife that I would never again be assigned to the Pentagon. I would frankly, resign my commission before I would again be part of that bureaucratic misguided mess housed in that building. True to my word, I never went back unless it was for a short, very short visit to honor a request for some work or input on an assignment or task. The Pentagon was just not my cup of tea…..
The C&GSC curriculum was a real knuckle drill. While much of it was a rehash for the combat arms folks, it was new and refreshing for someone like me. So that part went well. I was also interested in advancing my formal education in the academic world so I took advantage of the graduate degree program and earned another master’s degree. So, for me, it was a year well spent.
About three months before graduation we were instructed to complete a form and submit it to branch outlining our requests for future assignments. We called this form – A Dream Sheet. I did just that and noted that I again wanted an airborne assignment, any job would do.
About a month later, the folks from branch came down to Leavenworth and delivered our assignments. They were placed in our mailboxes and available after class. I remember opening my envelope and how happy I was to read that I was being sent to 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I was thrilled to the point that I immediately called the Division G1 (Personnel) to express my delight and discuss travel plans, etc. During that conversation, I told him how thrilled I was to again being assigned to an airborne unit and getting back on jump status was a real plus. Here he stopped me in my tracks by saying that this division was in the process of turning in their parachutes. They were no longer going to be an airborne division. They were going to be -- airmobile. The helicopter was replacing the parachute. No jump status, no parachutes – Wow, what a disappointment.
As soon as my schedule permitted, I was on the phone with the guys at branch telling them of my discussion with the G1 at the 101st. They did not know that the 101st was transitioning to an airmobile division and that the 82nd would be the only airborne division in the inventory. However, there were other airborne units, not divisions, with which I could be assigned. I was informed that they would keep working to find me one of those positions. That was good enough for me.
A couple of weeks later, I got a call from branch informing me that the man in the 82nd had just decided that because of some personal problems and the status of the implementation of the Jumps-Army system that it best that he step down and move to a less demanding position outside of the airborne arena. I was also told that he was leaving a real mess. Then I was asked if I would take that job. Without hesitation, my reply was to the effect, I was their man. Then went home at told the wife and kids that we were heading to Fort Bragg. I think we went out to dinner that night to celebrate the good news.
In a couple of weeks we would be graduating and we would be on our way to Fort Bragg. Life could not have been better for us at that time. Then, the current 82nd Commander visited the class at Fort Leavenworth. As all visiting general officers did he gave a presentation to the class about the 82nd. By now these were rather routine presentations, but still interesting because these commanders were sharing their experiences and insights. I found this effort to be most informative.
That afternoon after class and before dinner, those of us, about 20, who had orders for the 82nd hosted a cocktail hour for the 82nd Division Commander. This was little more than a meet and greet event. That was until I had the opportunity to introduce my wife, Lenore, and myself to the Commander. Upon learning that I was the incoming finance officer, he stopped any further greetings and began to lecture us on how I would fail in this job with the 82nd. He was quick to point out that this new pay system, Jumps-Army, was not designed to support a dynamic division like the 82nd. He went on to defend his position by giving us another run down on just how active the three brigades were and had to be to carry out their world-wide mission. He was adamant in his evaluation, and as best as I can recall, almost apologized to us because we were literally being thrown under the bus and there was no way out according to him.
Of course we left that gathering feeling mighty low and wondering what I had gotten us into this time. To say that we were deeply concerned about our next assignment would be a bit mild. I was more than deeply concerned, but in the back of my mind I knew why the system was failing and I knew that if given a chance I could make the system work. Here I was drawing on my experiences in Viet Nam with the 3rd Brigade and later in the Pentagon where many of these unsupportable policies were being dictated by several unqualified and unprofessional self-promoting senior officers and civilians.
We reported in to the 82nd Division at Fort Bragg about ten days before I was to make my first payday for about 15,000 airborne soldiers. Many interesting things happened during that short ten-day period:
First, after checking into our newly assigned quarters, I literally turned everything over to my wife and now three children and headed up to the office. That was a hell of a thing to do, but I thought I had no other choice in view of the information that I had been provided about the current status of that operation.
Second, my initial inspection of the office and staffing surfaced several obvious problems with both the office layout and the senior NCOs.
Third, I got a call from the aide of one of the Assistant Division Commanders wanting me to compute and pay the general advance travel pay so he could finance their move to his next duty station.
Fourth, my wife and I attended our first Hail and Farewell for the division officers who were arriving and departing.
Fifth, I attended my first Division Officers Call where I was introduced as the new incoming finance officer.
Sixth, my first pay day at the 82nd Airborne Division.
Taking these events one at a time, here is how they rolled out. First, Lenore and the kids did a great job in getting the house in order. While I was available some evenings to chip in, I really had little to do with getting them settled and introduced to Fort Bragg. They pretty much had to do it all. The pressure was on all of us and they performed well.
Second, the office was poorly organized. The floor plan did not accommodate a smooth flow of documents and or customer traffic. Some of the senior NCOs had been around airborne units so long that they became what I called, parachute bums. They were not of the frame of mind that they were going to change to accommodate new times nor the demands of a new pay system. Realigning this office, changing attitudes, was going to depend on how well and soon I could get these airborne soldiers to start soldiering again and to put the past behind them.
Third, this incident came about because the general officer did not want to share his desire to purchase new golf clubs with his wife. He thought it easier to blame the finance officer for this small discretion. When I received the call to prepare an advance travel pay for the general, I responded that I would have a check cut and delivered in an hour. Within 10 minutes of that conversation, the aide called again to inform me that the general wanted cash, not a check. I informed the aide that the biggest bill in the office was a $20 bill and the general was going to be paid a considerable amount of money. I was told, that did not matter, the general wanted cash. Accordingly, one of the lieutenants was on Class A orders, so he could handle this cash transaction. He reported to the general and paid him the proper amount in cash. This was a very large bundle of $20 bills.
Fourth, the summer turnover in this division is probably second to none. These positions were highly sought by those wanting a successful career. On this occasion, those departing lined up on one side of the ball room in the officer’s club and those arriving lined up on the other side. The Chief of Staff did the introductions. First, a new commanding general was introduced, not the one that I had met at Leavenworth. My immediate thought was great! I hope this guy will give me a chance to make the system work, unlike the departing commander. By the way, the departing commander went on to make four stars and retire.
After all had been recognized, the formations were dismissed so we could return to the finger foods and drinks. As I was making the rounds sampling one thing and then another, a woman who I had never met and had no idea who she was, approached me and asked -- “Do you know what you did to me?” I was really caught short because as I said, I had no idea who this woman was. I came with some kind of a reply to that effect. Then she proceeded to say, “I am _____, general ______’s wife.” You sent us cash on which to travel and here it was on a Friday afternoon and we had to come over here so I could not take it to the bank. When my husband handed me that stack of $20 bills he told me that this is how the finance officer now pays advance travel pay. I then tried to counter with the fact that I had been instructed to pay the general in cash. She countered by saying that her husband had never been paid in cash and I made a gross mistake and if anything happened to that money that she hid under the mattress, I would be hearing from the general. She concluded her remarks to the effect that I had a lot to learn about soldiers. Then she paraded off.
It was not until Monday morning that I was able to get in touch with the aide to find out what was going on. He then shared with me the fact that the general wanted to buy some new golf clubs and took some of the travel money to do just that, turning the rest over to his wife and of course blaming the finance officer for paying in cash rather than check. This general went on to become the Chief of Staff of the Army. More on him later…..
Fifth, I made my first Division Officer’s call. It was held in the Division conference room which had staged seating. I was a bit early and knew no one so I took a seat in the back of the room on the top tier. Soon the room was filled and in came the new division commander. Again, I was sure glad that we had a new one after my conversation with the departing commander at Fort Leavenworth. After a few brief remarks, the commander said, “The biggest problem this division is now having is that we are not paying our soldiers. Where is Major Allred?” As I was rising out of my chair, I said “Here sir.” Then he said, “Here is the man that is going to fix that problem.” To that I said, “Airborne” and sat back down.
Sixth, my first payday with the 82nd Airborne Division was no surprise. What a mess! The office was swamped, it was hot, and the troops were swinging from the rafters. The counter had no windows it was just a long counter, so there was no order as to who was in line and who was not. Only thing for me to do was to take off my fatigue jacket that had my rank on it, stick a cigar in my mouth, and start working with those hanging on the counter to try to resolve their pay issue or issues. I do not recall how long the office stayed open that day, but I do recall that we did not close until after the last soldier had been serviced. What a day!
The beginning of a new era started with a meeting of the officers and senior NCOs. It was here that my expectations were clearly defined and a new course was set for the office. My first priority was to get the junior enlisted men to start believing in themselves again. Once they started soldiering, they would recover their self-esteem and respect. The junior NCOs would immediately fall in step as well as the junior officers. My major problem was going to be the senior NCOs, the parachute bums. They had to be handled differently. Having been a senior NCO, I knew just how to change both their minds and attitudes. While that took some doing, it was not long before those that wanted to soldier began to do so, while a couple of the others found jobs elsewhere in the division and no doubt left the Army in their present rank, if not a stripe or two lower.
I was lucky to have some sharp junior NCOs that I could empower to lead the way as we worked through the pay problems to the core of what was causing these shortfalls. Some of these core problems were related to the decisions that had been made during the design, test, and implementation of the new pay system – Jumps-Army. There was a major problem in turning airborne soldiers into assembly line robots. The thinking was shallow. These were soldiers, not robots. They needed job satisfaction, they needed to be needed and depended on. After all, they were soldiers who had volunteered for airborne assignments. They wanted to be empowered to succeed – and that is just what we did.
The Army Finance Center published monthly reports comparing data on all finance offices world-wide. These reports were underwritten and approved by the controlling office in the Pentagon. The reports captured various error rates as well as other information they thought would be beneficial in determining who was doing their job and who was not. They were issued in a blue book format. When I saw my first such report, I immediately looked for the 82nd, and there it was at the bottom in almost every category. These data supported what I had witnessed on my first payday with the 82nd. Now here was the data now documented by the folks who were engineering and promoting the new pay system.
After I recovered from the shock of the information in this report, I made a copy of the report and got on the Chief of Staff’s calendar for a 10-minute meeting. When that appointment rolled around I showed up with these reports in hand and briefed him on these findings. I left him a copy, and offered to brief the division commander. He thought that a wise decision.
Each month when these reports arrived in the division, I followed the same routine. It was not long before our numbers began to look pretty good. A while longer, they were the best Army-wide. Again, thanks to the empowered NCOs. So what had been the major problem for this division was no longer. The 82nd finance office was leading the way. I no doubt over played that brag, but I was proud of the progress that we had made and in such a short time.
(is you wish to post a comment on this bulletin, please log in)