State of the NCO Corps July 2014
Welcome once again to the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, where tossing in a repainted dummy grenade will probably get you a good seat in a hurry, but you‘re also likely to get something less desirable and a lot less comfortable soon thereafter, and the cook has trotted out a new “Fast Food“ menu, but if you slap it hard enough you can stun it and keep from crawling off the plate.
It’s getting on to that time of year again: the STARFLEET International Conference and SFMC International Muster. It’s a time to officially inform the membership of what the various departments of STARFLEET have been up to, what their plans for the coming year are, and for those lucky enough to attend to enjoy the company of other members of the organization we belong to, and for those of us unable to attend … well, if your “IC/IM Pity Party” is a fraction as interesting and fun as some of those I’ve … err …heard rumors of … just remember that the General Staff will probably disavow any knowledge of your actions if need be. (As a certain fictional television NCO was often heard to say “I see nuthink …NUTH-INK!”) Have fun, marines, because that should be the main reason we’re all here.
Now, another facet of IC/IM is the announcement of annual awards, both STARFLEET and SFMC, and I’d like to take a moment to thank all those who obviously put a great deal of time and effort into writing award nominations – not just for annual awards, but all through the year. This marks the seventh time I have been part of the SFMC Honor Awards process, and the overall quality of the written nominations that I have been privileged to read each year just keeps getting better and better, making for a lot of careful thought and some tough decisions. No matter what names are announced at IC, just be aware that those who didn’t “win” are still the “best of the best” that the STARFLEET Marines have to offer, and from where I sat, there were no easy decisions. Here’s a Tip of Top’s Eight Point and a loud and long “Bravo Zulu!” (“Well Done!”) to every nominee, every person who wrote a nomination, and the folks behind the scenes who inspired them to excel.
Turning to community service, I’d like to address a common misconception. SFMC doesn’t stand for STARFLEET Martyr’s Collective. Community service activities can and should involve an element of fun as well, if only the fun of getting together with fellow members and lending a hand where needed. Although the SFMC is very generous with awards and recognition for such actions, don’t do it for another bit of ribbon or another entry under your name in the database. Do it because you ENJOY it, and the rewards you’ll gain both from somewhere inside yourself and the thanks of the people you’ve helped will far exceed anything the SFMC can give you to pin on your Class A’s.
As usual, I simply can’t stress enough is that “community service” need not be part of some organized charity or done on behalf of some national or international organization. Any effort made to help others that simply involves you giving up your own free time and energy to make a difference probably counts. And, please, make sure your unit OIC is aware of your efforts and includes the information in the bi-monthly report that goes up the SFMC Chain of Command. As the Dant continues to remind us: “If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it.”
(And, speaking from my “other hat” as a Unit OIC myself, keeping track of what your Marines have been up to, and reporting it up the Chain of Command so they can be recognized isn’t just a job requirement- it’s part of what makes submitting those reports every two months worthwhile to me. The fun of explaining to a stunned member just WHY they got that unexpected award can’t be beat.)
As always, the SFMC General Staff needs your input and ideas in order to properly do our jobs. Don’t hesitate to contact the appropriate GS member with your questions, comments and ideas. You can find all the email addresses at the SFMC website, and, of course, we monitor the Corps-l list, and the SFMC Facebook group.
Now it’s time for Top’s History Lesson. When you say the words “Seventh Cavalry”, most folks will immediately make the mental leap to Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. As someone born and raised (and currently living) in that general area of Montana, I’ll have to concede that the association is a natural one. The “Seventh Cavalry” and “getting your tail kicked by enemy forces that heavily outnumber you” seem to have become almost interchangeable when seen through the lens of popular culture, and in 1965, in the Ia Drang valley of South Vietnam, it looked like history was getting ready to repeat itself.
At a place simply known as LZ (Landing Zone) X-Ray, elements of the Seventh Cavalry (who had long since traded in their horses for airmobile operations from helicopters) found themselves up against overwhelming enemy forces – about 200 of them versus an estimated 1600 of the enemy. It was the first major battle between regular forces of the US Army and regular forces of the enemy, and the fight for LZ X-Ray was the major focus of the action. The Seventh managed to hold on through two days and nights of desperate fighting, reportedly inflicting heavy casualties against the enemy, before they finally had to pull out. In the opinion of the officer in charge, then LT. Colonel Hal Moore, one of the reasons the Seventh was able to hold out was the presence and leadership of his Battalion Sergeant Major, the man his troops called “Old Iron Jaw”- Sergeant Major Basil Plumley.
Plumley was no stranger to hard fighting. He’d served in World War Two as one of the new Airborne soldiers, and when Korea rolled around, he was there as well. All told, he had FIVE combat drops to his credit, and none of those could be termed a walk in the park. But, at Ia Drang, the big NCO seemed to be everywhere at once when he was needed, leading by example and pushing the troops to do their best. He was a man of few words, and reportedly a lot of those weren’t fit to print here, but he made the most of them, and let his actions do his talking more often than not. When, on the first of those nights of fighting, a parachute flare came down right in the middle of a stack of munitions, everyone more or less dove for cover, but Plumley simply walked over, grabbed the burning flare, and tossed it away (earning a Silver Star for that simple action.)
Moore recalled later, in a book co-authored with civilian photographer Joseph Galloway (We Were Soldiers Once … And Young) that he remarked to Plumley at one point that it was the Little Big Horn all over again, to which “Old Iron Jaw” replied “Custer was a (censored). You ain’t.”
When Plumley finally retired from the US Army in 1974, after rising to the rank of Command Sergeant Major, he had received some 40 decorations, and had fought in the front lines of three wars. For the next 15 years, he continued working for the Army in a civilian capacity before finally retiring for good in 1990. He passed away in 2010 from cancer, only about 10 months after the loss of his wife of 62 years, and one obituary of him stated “To this day, there are veterans of the 1/7 CAV who are convinced that God may look like CSM Plumley, but HE is not nearly as tough as the Sergeant Major on sins small or large.”
I have said before that one of the greatest burdens I bear as SGM SFMC is trying to live up to the example of some of the great NCOs of history in terms of courage, professionalism, and leadership. Basil Plumley is one of those that set the bar so very high.
In service and in friendship,
MGSGT Jerome A. “ Gunny Hawk” Stoddard
Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET Marines