Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Into The Breach - Another Friend Goes To War 

BLACKFIVE: Into The Breach - Another Friend Goes To War

From our Friend Matt at Blackfive:

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." - Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, Number 1 (1776)

I’ve lost three good friends in this War on Terror. I have more than a few friends over in Iraq and Afghanistan now. I wish they were all home. They wish they were all home. But we must all be resolute in our engagement and destruction of the enemy. And now, I have one more good friend heading into the breach.

Chief Steve is a very good friend of mine. He wasn’t always my friend or a Warrant Officer.

More than seven years ago, I was a Company Commander (again). Bar none, it’s the best job in the Army. My previous First Sergeant, Mike Thompson, had been promoted to Sergeant Major and, since he could no longer fill the position, was moved out of the Division. I loved working with First Sergeant Thompson. He made chewing ass an art – he could make you laugh, wince, cry, cower and stand tall all within ten seconds. I enjoyed being around him all of the time. He made me proud to be his commander – but I was more proud to be his partner and friend.

To replace newly promoted Sergeant Major Thompson, Division sent me Steve – a newly promoted First Sergeant. Steve was a Boston Democrat who instantly hated me the moment he saw my Yankees hat on a shelf in my office. I tried to explain that I was more of a Boston fan, but liked the Yankees, too. Of course to a true Red Sox fan, that just made it worse.

Professionally, Steve didn’t care for me too much at first. In his eyes, I worked and talked with the NCOs too much. It’s not like we were all on a first name basis or that I micro-managed them. I wanted them all to get promoted. I wanted all of them to know what a great place the US Army could be for them. While I was involved in their work, they knew that they called the shots and made things happen. They knew that my job was to remove obstacles (sometimes with extreme and violent prejudice) that kept them from doing their jobs and training for war.

Steve thought that I ran a tight ship – maybe too tight. Steve thought that I was a bit crazy. And, after a few weeks, when he discovered that I was a mustang with an SF background, he liked me even less.

It took us a long time to build a working relationship. We rubbed each other the wrong way. It was a learning experience as much for me as it was for him. Eventually, he saw where my intentions lay – with creating the most cohesive group of soldiers in the Army. Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t his irritation with Officers that made it tough for us to get along. It was the fact that he was following in the footsteps of an awesome First Sergeant who everyone talked about long after he was gone. And that I had a relationship with the troops that did not have...yet.

We worked like hell, into the night, day after day, through weekends, and we created something great. After seven months, we had one of the best companies in the Division. That was something that not even Mike Thompson and I accomplished in a year...

After my command tenure was over, I took an assignment at another unit, and Steve and I became friends. Good friends. We spent many nights at the VFW, in backyard BBQs, and at ball games. A few years later, after Steve was moved to Missouri and I had left the service, he would fly to Chicago for a weekend two or three times per year. I would meet him in KC for Chiefs’ games and to see his family.

I also strongly encouraged his decision to attend the WOC school.

Question: What’s a WOC, you ask?
Answer: It’s swomefing one fows at a wabbit.
Sorry for the old joke. Steve went to the Warrant Officer Course. He’s now a Chief Warrant Officer (CW2) about to be promoted to CW3. He’s heading out for Iraq. Tikrit to be exact. We’ve talked a few times about what Steve needs to do, what he needs to focus on.

So, Saturday, we talked one last time before he was to head down range – mostly about how his kids were going to handle his absence.

Steve said, “Danielle won’t look at me when I tuck her in at night. Right now, she hates me for leaving. And Nicky is really too young to know what’s happening.”

He’s got three kids and one on the way. The baby is due in January. Can you imagine being Sue, Steve’s wife, with a job, three kids, a baby coming, and your husband in Iraq? It’s something our military men and women AND their spouses and families deal with every day.

I tell him, “I’ll fly out and see Sue and the kids during Christmas.”

“Sue would love that.”

Me, “What about the delivery? Do you guys have that covered?”

“Yeah, our neighbors are going to help out. I think we’ll be okay as long as there aren’t any complications.”

“Okay, I’ll call Sue and let her know that I can fly there at anytime and that I have a lot of vacation saved up so it’ll be no problem if I need to stay to help out for awhile.”

“That’d probably help relieve some stress.”

“Consider it done.”

Pause. We’re just dancing around the reason for the call. I knew it was coming and was making small talk to avoid it. We both know where Steve is going. The company he’s replacing had seventeen Bronze Stars and a ton of Purple Hearts.

“Matt, I have to say this…”

Shit! I knew he was going to do this!

“I’m sending you four letters for my kids. If I don’t make it back…”

I interrupt him, “Talking like that might get you killed. You know I’ll take care of your family. No matter what happens. You get your ass over there and forget about us. Focus on the mission. Keep your soldiers alive. We’ll always be here for you.”

Then, I launch into all of the organizations that can help get comfort items to his unit, letters to his troops, etc. I try to rile him up by telling him that I’m sending 400 Yankees hats to his battalion. I tried to change the subject, but he wouldn’t have any of it.

“Just promise me,” long pause, “just promise me that if I don’t make it back, you’ll take care of Sue and the kids.”

I can barely say “Of course I will…You have my word.”

“Thank you.”, two simple words but I can hear how much they mean…

Another pause. He’s relieved. I’m worried about him. We’re emotional. So I say the only thing that I can think of to bring us back to reality…

“Go Yankees!”

“@#$% you, Matt…”

“Hey, just remember what George Patton the Elder said, 'When it's all over and you're home once more, you can thank God that tweny years from now, when you're sitting around the fireside with your grandkids, and they ask you what you did in the war, you won't have to say, "I shoveled shit in Louisiana!" Stay in touch, you big lug.”

“You, too, pal.”


Chief Steve left for Iraq on September 5th. While he'd rather be home with his wife and kids, he's not shrinking from his service, and he knows the stakes of this war. And he deserves our thanks.


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