State of the NCO Corps August 2015
Have a seat in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO Club, where EOD and Hazmat teams are helping with the cleanup for our annual “Pity Party” for those who couldn’t attend IC/IM, and we’d really appreciate your keeping your voice down for the next few days out of sympathy for those suffering through Weapons Grade Hangovers.
At the IC/IM just passed, it was announced that I had the privilege of awarding the Star of Honor to CWO4 Adam Hudson of the 3rd BDE. Gunner Hudson’s commitment to community service (over 500 hours in one year documented on his nomination) and his leadership role on the 3 BDE staff, requiring a level of professionalism and diplomacy always expected but sometimes not seen in senior enlisted members, more than met my expectations for what the Star of Honor stands for. Bravo Zulu (well done!), Marine.
But, there are NO “losers” in the Honor Awards process, and I would like to also give a Tip of Top’s Eight Point to SGT Paul G Dyl of 1st BDE. SGT Dyl, at just 16 years old, is showing himself to be an exemplary SFMC NCO in terms of leading by example and community service, and a clear sign that the future of the SFMC NCO Corps is a bright one. In the end, it was a close race for the Star of Honor, and although the award ultimately tipped in CWO4 Hudson’s favor, I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more from SGT Dyl in the future. In recognition of all of that, SGT Dyl was issued a Leader’s Commendation in my name by the Commandant. Bravo Zulu, Marine!
And, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the always hard charging CDT SSGT Edward Tunis IV (whenever I read the reports of all this eleven year old Marine does, I swear he’s bucking for my job some day) had his leadership skills rewarded with the Cadet Sword of Honor. Bravo Zulu, Marine!
CWO4 Hudson and SGT Dyl were also both granted the SFMC Achievement Award in recognition for their efforts, along with GSGT Tim Barrington (10 BDE). CWO4 Hudson, GSGT Barrington, and SMAJ Russell Selkirk (7 BDE) were also among those awarded the STARFLEET Cross for their service to STARFLEET in general. If you haven’t worn out your “Bravo Zulu” switch yet, hit it again for these outstanding examples of what we expect SFMC NCOs to be.
Finally as regards the annual awards, I’d like to express my personal thanks to everyone who took the time to nominate their fellow SFMC members for the recognition they ultimately received. From where I sit, the most important part of the SFMC awards process is NOT the “Issuing Authority” that decides whether or not an award should be given, it’s all those individual Marines who take the time and effort to write a nomination and send it up the Chain of Command to explain WHY that award should be issued. As I often say (quoting the Dant) “If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it.”
Since this report is already running long (even for me), next month I’ll try to go into some of what the Dant covered at IC as regards my office, but I wanted to touch upon an important community service reminder, in addition to my usual reminder that community service doesn’t have to involve any sort of organized charity or cause at all. Just giving of your time and energy to someone who needs a hand is the spirit of community service.
As those of us in western North America are all too aware, the wildfire season is proving to be a very bad one, and not only are the skies being choked with smoke even out here, with hundreds of miles and some very tall mountains between me and the fires, but people have already lost their homes, three firefighters lost their lives, and whole communities have been evacuated. I know that simple financial contributions don’t qualify you for any sort of SFMC award, but the organizations best qualified to deal with the problem generally request that you send them the money they need to do their work, and let their people and supply contacts do the rest. But, I will point out that time spent RAISING funds for these organizations would, in my opinion, count towards “community service” hours. Also, if you put in time for your local branch of, say, the Red Cross, doing whatever you can, you free up resources towards helping folks in the affected areas out. So, if you want to help out besides just sending money, there are ways to do so.
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. In March of 1940, a 25 year old British Columbia man named Ernest Alvia Smith joined the Canadian Army, becoming part of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. By October of 1944, Smith, who was generally referred to by the nickname “Smokey”, had managed to be promoted to Corporal and busted back to Private nine times, for reasons history chooses to remain silent about. It can be inferred that he was something less than a model soldier, but there was something about him that kept him bouncing up in rank, even if it was only to slide down again. Perhaps the events of the night of October 21, 1944 in Italy can help explain just what that “something” was.
That night, Private Smith was in the spearhead of an attack across the rain swollen Savio river. The high waters meant that no friendly armor or cross could cross, and the steep, soft banks made laying a bridge impossible at the time. The infantry would have to take and hold that bridgehead alone, with a clumsy, spring loaded weapon called the P.I.A.T as their only hope against enemy tanks. Private Smith was part of a two man P.I.A.T. team deployed forward of his company when things went south in a hurry. An enemy unit consisting of heavy Panther tanks, with self propelled guns, scout cars, and half track mounted enemy infantry to support them, were coming down the road. “Smokey” Smith and a companion, Private James Tennant, scurried across the road to snag another P.I.A.T. and things went from bad to worse, as the lead tank opened up with its machineguns to rake the roadside ditches, and Tennant was wounded. Smith dragged him to cover, and then popped up, in full view of the enemy, and fired his anti-tank weapon at a range of only thirty feet, taking the lead tank out of action. Ten enemy infantry riding the rear deck of the tank dismounted, and charged Smith with submachineguns and grenades, but he stood his ground, and returned fire with his Thompson, killing four and driving the rest off.
Another tank opened fire, and more infantry attacked, but Smith was able to scrounge more magazines for his Thompson from the ditch, and he held his position, protecting the wounded Tennant, driving the enemy away in disorder again. He managed to damage another Panther enough to cause it to retreat with the second P.I.A.T, and by now, the enemy had lost a tank and both of its self propelled guns, but they weren’t done yet. As another tank raked his position from long range, Smith got Tennant to a nearby aid station for treatment, and then went back out to keep his position secure against another expected attack. That attack never came – having lost three tanks, two self-propelled guns, a scout car, a half track, and at least thirty infantry, the enemy decided to pull away from the Highlanders’’ position, and Smokey Smith was held to be a major reason for that decision.
For his actions that night, Smith was personally presented with the Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace. The last line of the citation is worth quoting: “ Thus, by the dogged determination, outstanding devotion to duty and superb gallantry of this private soldier, his comrades were so inspired that the bridgehead was held firm against all enemy attacks, pending the arrival of tanks and anti-tank guns some hours later.” However, it is also worth noting that legend has it that Smith spent the night just before the ceremony in a jail cell in Rome “to keep him out of trouble.” For the rest of his life, Smith would neither confirm nor deny this rumor, which is probably all that needs to be said.
The “poster boy” for Canadian War Bonds left the service in 1945, but re-enlisted for the Korean War in 1950, where he was held out of combat due to his “iconic status”. He retired as a recruiting sergeant in Vancouver, BC in 1964, and he and his wife Esther eventually opened a travel agency, often visiting sites associated with World War II. He retired for good in 1992, and enjoyed four years with Esther before her death in 1996. By 2000, he was the last living Canadian VC recipient, and despite his age, devoting much of his time to veteran’s issues and speaking all over the world at Remembrance Day ceremonies. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1995, and a Member of the Order of British Columbia in 2002.
Smokey Smith passed away quietly in his Vancouver home on August 3 of 2005 at the age of 91, and his country mourned his loss. He lay in state at the Canadian House of Commons on August 9 (only the ninth person at the time to be so honored) and government flags flew at half mast. Then, on August 12, he lay in repose at Vancouver’s Seaforth Armory for a day to be further honored by his home town, before a full military funeral on August 13, 2005.
And yet, in researching this story, my mind keeps drifting away from the images of the grand old hero, beloved and honored by his country, and coming back to a photo taken around 1945, of Private Smith, in his Seaforth Highlanders kilt and Glengarry, looking mischievously at the camera as if to say “So? What are you going to do about it? Stick me out on point? Make me take on a Panther with a stupid P.I.A.T.? Been there, done that.”
In Service and in Friendship,
MGSGT Jerome A. “Gunny Hawk” Stoddard
Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET Marines