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January 06, 2006

First Sergeants.

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1st Sgt. Fidelito Ordonio, first sergeant with Co. A, TF 1-27 INF, stands against a wall with Sahilia elementary school students during the dedication of the school March 3.

Ahh, the First Sergeant. The Spine of the Company/Battery/Troop. Sometimes known as the First Shirt.

This is a story about a 1st Sergeant. In a First Shirt mode.

Top Sergeants are the unit Bearer of Standards. Yes, yes, the officers are supposed to be that way, but a good Top Kick can overcome slovenly officers. The success of my battery level command is testament to that. More importantly, the First Sergeant has ad hoc tools available to him that a prudent officer will avoid.

While normally a First Sergeant is selected from NCO's of requisite caliber in the same branch as the unit they allow their officers to take responsibility for, this is not always the case. This has to do with the requisite quality in a First Sergeant is the ability to capital-L Lead. The duties of the 1SG generally doesn't extend to that of leading the troops around taking bunkers, breaking track, serving the guns. His or her job is to move among the soldiers and make sure that the troops are being taken care of, the NCOs are doing their jobs, and making sure it's all done to standard.

My first unit, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery Regiment, then assigned to the 1st Armored Division Artillery at Pinder Barracks, Zirndorf, Germany, is an example of a unit that did not have an MOS-related 1SG. 1SG "Z" was a dental technician. Yes. A dental tech. Yet he rode herd on that battery of 250 souls as if he were born to the trade. He did much to teach me how to interact with Sergeants and Soldiers as an officer, and mindful of being a junior officer. A direct support artillery battalion HHB is a large, lumbering monster, with many moving parts, usually not moving in synch. By design. The first 'H', the Headquarters, is just that . The Battalion Commander and his staff, including the battalion Command Sergeant Major, the senior NCO in the battalion. Lots of egos to deal with there. All of 'em prissy and prickly. They are the reason the battery exists. Yet, because this is a DS unit, it also contains the FS Element, which has all the Forward Observers in it, who scatter to the winds to their supported armor and infantry battalions and companies when those units are out training or deployed. The 1SG has to manage all of that in consonance with his commander, and 1SG 'Z' did it well.

I hid the best part of this below the fold, in the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry.

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Now a friend of mine had a similar situation, except that he commanded an M110A1 8 inch howitzer battery at Fort Carson, Colorado. The 8inch is the finest cannon the Army ever fielded, SWWBO sez so. And the howitzer wasn't bad either. Mike had a recruiting poster 1st Sergeant, who had gone through his career as a Air Defense Artillery soldier. He was a tall, big-chested, narrow-hipped, starched-uniform-in-a-mud-puddle kind of guy. But he was also a Sam Damon, not a Courtney Massengale.

But he was *also* not a gun bunny (cannon crewman) or chart monkey (fire direction specialist).

First mission of the day out in the field at Carson was a 0600 DIVARTY TOT, a mission where all the rounds of the massed guns of the division are to fall on the target at the same time, +/- 5 seconds. This is the First Shirt's first TOT (time-on-target) ever. He and Mike are standing there, 100 feet or so behind the gun line (which is staggered in echelon taking in the terrain) which means that the guns run on-line to them on their flank, up and away from them.

The First Shirt is there, in all his starched, STRAC glory. Mike is somewhat scruffier, but serviceable. The First Shirt is tall and handsome, Mike is, well, not tall.

The First Shirt has his steel field cup full of steaming joe, and is watching his watch. He knows it's important that the lanyards be pulled on time and the guns fire together. Mike is doing the same. With one, tiny, difference.

Mike knows what a Time on Target is. The First Shirt *thinks* he knows. The key is time ON target. Which means you calculate Time of Flight, and SUBTRACT it from the TOT. This little useful tidbit is unknown to the First Shirt, and it didn't occur to Mike that his 1SG didn't know it.

So, there's the Command Team, watching their watches... tic tic tic tic

Did I mention the 8 inch howitzer is a *large* gun?

Time of flight was, oh, 50 seconds or so.

So the guns fired - with one voice - 50 seconds before the First Shirt was ready.

They really *are* very large, the 8 inch, 203mm gun. With very efficient muzzle brakes. Which divert a lot of energy (and noise) to the sides, to help reduce recoil.

Loud. 4 of 'em firing at once. With one voice. When you weren't ready for it.

The First Shirt was suddenly *wearing* his coffee, dripping down like Christmas lights from the rim of his helmet onto his immaculate shirt.

Mike sez he took a short walk to the FDC to check on upcoming missions - and the First Shirt showed up, immaculate.

They can do that, y'know. That's why they are First sergeants. Like First Sergeant Kasal, USMC.