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March 17, 2005

"NCOs were running the war and it was a sight to behold..."

Go here, read that Corner entry by Rich Lowery, and come back.

Done? OK...let's review the most salient point in the article...

"12. Said one of the biggest problems was money and regs. There was a $77 million gap between the supplemental budget and what he needed in cash on the ground to get projects started. Said he spent most of his time trying to get money. Said he didn't do much as a "combat commander" because the war he was fighting was a war at the squad and platoon level. Said that his NCOs were winning the war and it was a sight to behold."

Bet you thought the Instapilot would bite on the paragraph about air, eh?


NCOs running wars at the squad and platoon level ain't exactly a novel concept, but neither is humanity rediscovering martial lessons learned from the time your average Roman soldier was running his gladius hispanicus through Carthaginian throats.

Anyway...reading these kinds of things reminds me of my NCOs. Granted, in the Air Force, the sergeants and Chiefs have talked the officers into doing the vast majority of the actual fighting, but you can't help but be impressed by both the NCOs themselves, and the society that produced them. Coupled with the unique American military culture that, well, unleashes them, and the Iraq war should hold few surprises (albeit always in retrospect, unless you're VDH).

Two of my most successful leadership phrases were: "Knock yourself out." and "Call me when you're done." The message was a combination of, "Do this; impress me." and "I trust you to do this." Powerful stuff with 21-year-olds.

The guy/gal that launched and recovered me rarely had more than three stripes on his/her sleeve. The average Russian Air Force crew chief rank during the cold war was a Captain...Major was not unusual...but enlisted crew chiefs, plane Captains, whatever you wanted to call them, simply didn't exist.

But Americans barely on the cusp of beginning their adult lives could make sure a 7+-million dollar airplane--that had enough firepower hanging on it to lay waste to a city block in a matter of seconds--was ready to go at 0300, 2200, 1200, whenever. They'd rather have meanest E-9 ("the Chiefs" I often refer to)chew their a$$es until they had to a$$ left than have "their" jet...*shudder*...ground/air abort.

That's why, as a squadron commander, I was very, very, very careful about giving the Airman First...The Look...if/when my jet died before taxi/arming/takeoff/over target, ESPECIALLY if we were loaded for bear and going out to do something important. It would have been redundant--he/she was silently sh***ing on him/herself and giving the airplane a baleful stare that assured me it wasn't going to happen again...not for a while, anyway. They knew as well as I did how importnat the mission was. I didn't have to tell them.

God forbid a Chief get involved.

Anyway, I have two points:
#1) That Corner post was not about things (cosmic F/A-22s; M1/A2s; stealth destroyers, whatever) but about people...and not the known ones, rather the unknown ones who really take the fight--or help take the fight--to the enemy in ways no other nation can match. Most of the regular readers of this blog know that already, which brings me to point...
#2) Every war is discovery learning for the vast majority of Americans, particularly about their fellow Americans.

It's fun to watch our supporting commentators marvel at the "average" NCO in the Corner and it's sad to listen to the opposite side of the spectrum say, in unison, "Screw Them" or "Steal the yellow ribbons off their cars." me America, the NCOs doing what they do--and their breathtaking ability to do it better with every passing day--should make you sleep well at night. I always did.

Dusty | Permalink | Comments (9) | Observations on things Military
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