State of the NCO Corps September 2014
I had this ready to go several days ago, but just before I posted it, I received the news of the untimely passing of LGN Gary “Tiny” Hollifield, and I decided to do what amounted to a substantial rewrite. So, with a bit of further ado, let’s head on over to the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, where there’s a prominent sign that says “Check your weapons at the door”(let’s see … locked, loaded, safety on … I’m good) and a snowstorm early this month resulted in a few choice words re the Meteorology gang and an uptick in computer queries about “Tar and Feathers”.
When we lose one of our own, the usual sympathy messages in STARFLEET and the SFMC often refer to dimming fictional running lights on vessels, or the “Missing Man” formation being done by fictional aerospace craft, or even the lowering of usually fictional flags to half mast, and, don’t get me wrong … it’s a genuinely touching and heartfelt gesture. But, something about that has always bothered me – it’s ONLY a gesture. I’ve been known to take it a step further out here in the back side of nowhere, taking out a venerable old rifle that actually saw combat in WW2 and firing the ceremonial three volleys on the day of a funeral for a fellow STARFLEET member (please, unless you live out in the boonies like I do, do NOT try this at home), but, at the end of the day, it’s still only a gesture.
But, Tiny’s untimely death had me sitting here at my old desk, filling the air with smoke from my favorite briar pipe, trying to find some way to DO something that wouldn’t be just a gesture – to find a way to bring some meaning to what I was feeling and to somehow making my personal sense of loss into something positive. And then, my personal musings were interrupted by a voice inside my head that reminded me that I had a JOB to do in the SFMC, and I had a “light bulb“ moment.
As I have often reminded you, one of the assigned responsibilities of my office is “promoting and assisting in the organization of community service activities at all levels within the SFMC,” and THAT was the answer I’d been looking for. Perhaps instead of a gesture, no matter how special or sincere it was, a better way to mark the passing of one of our own might be to find some form of community service related to a cause they supported and do the work they could no longer do.
So, I’m going on the record right now as pledging to find some way to help or raise funds for an organization dedicated to helping fight against diabetes – that disease was a large factor in Tiny‘s health problems. It’s not going to be easy, considering the fact that I only get into town once or twice a month usually, but somehow, I’ll find a way. And if I don’t, I’ll at least have tried.
Returning to my regularly scheduled report, one of the “perks” of being an enlisted member of the STARFLEET Marine Corps is the ability to earn and wear the NCO Development Ribbon (aka the NCO Academic Ribbon). This is currently one of the highest ranking “Training Awards” in the SFMC, consisting of the usual white ribbon with a silver “1”,”2”, or “3” added to it to designate the level of training at the SFMC NCO Academy passed. But, in the years since this ribbon was added to the awards a Marine can earn, commercial sources for the attached numerals in SILVER have completely dried up. It is still possible to find the numeral ribbon attachments in a bronze or gold tone, but, at this time, the silver attachments required seem to be “unobtainium”.
Now, it is POSSIBLE, but not very practical to paint one of the bronze or gold numerals that are still available from the usual sources and make them silver. That would entail first roughing up, then priming, and finally painting a very small piece of metal, and if your hands are steadier than mine, you’re certainly welcome to do so. But, after bringing the problem to the attention of the General Staff, I am duly authorized to inform you that, unless and until the silver numerals become commercially available again, using a bronze or gold attachment “as is” will be considered perfectly acceptable, and the next edition of the MFM will reflect this.
Speaking of the next edition of the MFM – a reminder that the Commandant has informed everyone that any suggestions, questions, comments, etc that you may wish to see addressed in the next edition of the Marine Force Manual should be sent in to him …well …NOW would be a good time. Please take a moment to go through the current MFM (perhaps for the first time) and jot down whatever notes you feel need addressing, and email them to the Dant.
Always remember that 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. In 1944, near Littoria (now Latina) in central Italy, despite an artillery duel going on between Allied and German forces, a peasant farmer apparently out weeding his fields stopped to tie his shoes, then shook his fist at the German soldiers about 600 meters away, then at the distant Allied forces, apparently in anger for the interruption and noise, before returning to a nearby farmhouse. That “peasant” was actually Reconnaissance Sergeant Tommie Prince, a Canadian member of the infamous First Special Service Force – better known as “the Devil’s Brigade” – and he had used the action of tying his shoes to cover up what he was REALLY doing, namely fixing a break in the nearly a mile of carefully concealed telephone line he was using to report on the nearby enemy troops and call in fire corrections that eventually resulted in the destruction of four enemy batteries during the three days he spent behind enemy lines. For this, the young member of Canada’s Ojibwa tribe was awarded the Military Medal, the citation reading in part “Sergeant Prince’s courage and utter disregard for personal safety were an inspiration to his fellows and a marked credit to his unit.”
Not long after that, the 1st SSF was moved to southern France, and once again the marksmanship, and skill at tracking and moving stealthily through the countryside that Prince had learned as a youngster in and around the reservation in Canada came into play, as he and a private went on a long scouting mission behind enemy lines near the border between France and Italy. He came across an enemy battalion’s encampment, and started back to report on its location when he and his single companion came across a French partisan group engaged in battle with an enemy unit. They stopped to lend a hand, and their accurate fire coming from concealment and an unexpected direction drove the enemy off. When the French commander, glad of the unexpected reinforcements, asked where Prince’s “company” was, the Canadian Sergeant pointed at the private and said “Here”, leading the Frenchman to exclaim that he was sure that Prince must have had at least fifty men with him. That commander nominated Prince for the Croix de Guerre, but the courier carrying the nomination was killed en route and the medal was never awarded, However, after a grueling 72 hours with little rest behind enemy lines, Prince made it back to his unit, reported on the location of the enemy battalion, led his unit back to them, and participated in the attack that resulted in most of the enemy surrendering. For his part in locating and wiping out this substantial force, he was eventually awarded a Silver Star by the Allied command.
After World War Two, he returned to Canada, and tried to make a go at civilian life. I’ll spare you the details, but, after some initial success, it didn’t go that well, and when the fighting began in Korea, Tommie Prince re-enlisted in the Canadian Army, at his previous rank of Sergeant. He was later to say “As soon as I put on my uniform I felt a better man.” Sergeant Prince earned further honors and served with distinction during the Korean War, despite increasingly painful arthritic knees that removed him from action for long periods during the war.
After the war, those knees made civilian life even more difficult for him, and his personal life went downhill again. Fighting against the prejudices against “First Nations” people that was rampant at the time, and unable to cope with life outside the service, he became estranged from his family and alcoholism claimed him. Despite a brief period of public acknowledgement in 1955, when he saved a man from drowning, he withdrew to a lonely life, eventually passing away in a Salvation Army facility in 1977.
But, Tommie Prince has not been entirely forgotten in Canada. There are streets, schools, barracks, and even scholarships bearing his name now, and in 2010 it was announced that there was a movie in development about one of the most decorated “First Nations” soldiers in history. Perhaps somewhere, the spirit of Tommie Prince is resting a bit easier now, even though that recognition came a bit too late to help him directly.
But, if you take anything away from his story, perhaps you’ll ask yourself the next time you pass by a ragged, homeless veteran “Was this another Tommie Prince … another genuine hero fallen on hard times?” and perhaps whatever you say or do may not be too late for them.
In service and in friendship,
MGSGT Jerome A. “Gunny Hawk” Stoddard
Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET Marines