State of The SGM SFMC January 2018

State of The SGM SFMC January 2018

Greetings, Marines!

Let’s dust off the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club where the remains of the cup of coffee and cinnamon roll I left after our last visit have apparently developed a civilization all their own that’s just short of applying for Federation membership, and the staff’s excuse for not cleaning it up revolves around the Prime Directive, which may result in a General Order 24 situation developing.

Since some of you may have noticed a subtle but important difference in the header of this report, let’s cut straight to the chase: my current STARFLEET membership expires on March 22, 2018, and I will not be renewing it. This is not a “rage quit” … this is simply me deciding after a great deal of thought and consideration regarding my own physical and mental health that it’s time to retire both as SGM SFMC and from SFI. I informed the Dant and Depdant a few months ago that this was probably coming, but that I would hold off on making any formal announcement to give me time to be absolutely sure, and then make that announcement far enough in advance to allow for a stable transition for the office.

Now as to the “why?”, in a nutshell … I’m done … burned out … used up … hammered down. I’ve been on the GS for  just shy of 10 years, and right now, my health and personal situation require all of what little strength I  have left. Without going into details that are on a Need to Know basis, starting a couple of years ago, things got rough and have gotten even rougher around here in my little corner of the Middle of Nowhere. Something has to give, and in this case, it’s a hobby that has all too often been a source of stress that can literally kill me.

In the past, I have mentioned publicly a few times that SFMC doesn’t stand for “STARFLEET Martyr’s Collective”. I have urged others to make sure their Life, Personal-One Each comes first and foremost.  It’s time I did the same.  And, in my case, I need to walk away completely. Half measures won’t cut it.

This decision was not made easily or lightly, and I gave myself plenty of chances to find some compelling reason to  change my mind. In the end, though, the only thing I could come up with was some of the truly wonderful people and friendships that have come into my life through my time in STARFLEET, and they’ll still be there even if we don’t belong to the same fan club any more. This decision is what’s best not only for me, but for the SFMC – it’s time for someone who still has that fierce dedication that I have lost along the way to step up and step into the job.

Now, I’m sure some of you  that are eligible are going to be hesitant to apply for the opening – I’m told I’ll be leaving some pretty big boots to fill (size 13 W, if you must know) – and there’s a good chance I’ll be doing a little private arm twisting on some folks that should give it a shot. But, please remember that 10 years ago, I was just an obscure E-9 from the middle of nowhere, and the first of the four Commandants I have been privileged to serve under gave me a chance to prove myself- not just to the SFMC but to that guy in the mirror as well. You could surprise everybody … especially yourself. Please give it some thought.

There are far too many people for me to thank from the past ten years in the space I have allotted myself for this message (pretty much ALL of you reading this, officers and enlisted alike), so consider this a blanket shout out and maybe even a respectful salute.  If I have been in any way exceptional over the years, it’s because I had the examples of a lot of exceptional individuals to guide me.  Bravo Zulu to you all! And, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for the past decade.

In Service and in Friendship,

MGSGT Jerome A. “Gunny Hawk” Stoddard

Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET  Marines sgm_sfmc@sfi-sfmc.org

 

State of the NCO Corps December 2015

State of the NCO Corps December 2015

Greetings Marines!

 

Stamp the snow off your boots and come on over to the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, where the coffee may occasionally taste like burnt hydraulic fluid, but at least it’s always hot, and the stockings are hung by the chimney with care in hopes that they’ll dry out before we have to return to our duty stations.

 

It’s been noted that I often answer questions by simply citing “chapter and verse” from the MFM, SFMC Policy Manual, or, occasionally, simply quoting appropriate official SFMC communications, such as posts from the Dant. It’s not that I don’t have opinions of my own, but one of those strongly held opinions is the best way to answer a question is to take the time to check and see if it’s something already officially addressed. If it has been, then there’s really not much more that needs to be said.

 

Or, to put it another way, and at a one hundred percent risk of repeating myself … Marines … every time you ask a question whose answer is clearly in The Book,  or answer a question without looking in The Book to be sure you’re right, some reasonably omnipotent being somewhere in the universe takes a completely innocent little adorable puppy, fluffy bunny, or playful kitten, or their alien equivalent, and cruelly promotes them to “butter bar“. Please, Marines  … think of the puppies, bunnies, and kittens (and alien equivalents)!  Check the current Marine Force Manual (MFM) FIRST …

 

As the year winds down, I’d like to remind you all to be sure that your unit OIC passes information on your participation in the Commandant’s Campaign up the line. “If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it” comes to mind. And, as a note touching a bit closer to my own office, remember that the March for the Disabled was extended to cover the entire year by action of the Dant. If you’re not sure if something you’ve done qualifies for recognition under that campaign, get in touch with me ASAP and ask..

 

At least in this neck of the woods, winter weather has officially reported for duty, and that brings up two points as far as community service is concerned. The first is something I’ve been endorsing for years now, namely seeing what you can do in your own community about helping out those who may need warmer clothing to deal with the cold. It’s often not just a matter of being more comfortable, it could literally help someone survive. Remember HUGS: Hats, Underwear, Gloves, Socks. These are often in short supply, and sorely needed.

 

The second is a little less obvious, and concerns the “community” that we are all a part of: STARFLEET in general and the STARFLEET Marines in particular. Bitterly cold weather can affect all of us, and there’s often not a lot we can do about it. One thing we CAN do is check up on each other, or simply let folks know we’re doing ok. It may not earn you another star on your Community Service ribbon, but it may just set some of your fellow STARFLEET Marines’ minds at ease. If we can’t help each other, I’m not sure how much real help we are to others.

 

Remember, community service doesn’t have to be any part of any organized charity effort. Just giving of your time and energy to someone who needs a hand is the spirit of community service. Whatever you do, make sure that whoever is filing the report for your unit knows the details, and sends it up the Chain of Command in their official report so you can be given the recognition your efforts deserve. Again … “If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it.”

 

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. I’ve told this one before, and odds are I’ll tell it again. To me, it is not only one of the bright spots in history, but it’s a little beacon of hope for the future. And, I guess it’s become sort of a tradition for me for my December report, and tradition is important to Marines of any country or era.

 

By November of 1914, trenches stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier, As December came around, heads of state on both sides of World War One, and even the power of the Vatican had proven unable to negotiate some sort of cease fire for Christmas. But, on Christmas Eve 1914, for a time , the guns fell silent in many areas along the Western Front in a spontaneous mass act of human decency by roughly a hundred thousand soldiers on both sides of the trenches that has become known as the Christmas Truce. The generals and leaders on both sides had no part in it- it was driven by the actions of common soldiers in the front lines- who gave their enemies leave to search for and bury their dead without fear, and even shared precious small luxuries from home.

 

They discovered that they knew many of the same Christmas songs – just with different words, and they sang them together. They shared pictures of their families, and despite the language barrier, they managed to get along. In at least one spot along the lines, they even improvised a soccer field and played a spirited game.

 

In the middle of a terrible war, they found time for “Peace on Earth – Good Will to Men” … and perhaps saw the soldiers on the other side as people not much different from themselves.

 

It wasn’t universal, of course, and the “Good Will” was sometimes just restricted to recovering their dead without being shot at by the other side. But , even then, it was a bit of a respite from a bad situation that would come to grow even worse as the war went on.

 

Needless to say, the high commands of both sides were a bit concerned about all this “fraternizing with the enemy”, and stern orders were passed down the Chain of Command. Soon, everybody was back in their own trenches, and the “War to End All Wars” resumed. To give credit where credit is due, the politicians and generals tried to arrange a similar truce in 1915, but the war had gotten even uglier and nothing came of it. The unlikely series of events that led to the Christmas Truce never happened again.

 

If the Christmas Truce of 1914 teaches us anything, it’s perhaps that the person best able to treat those around us well is staring back at us every time we look in the mirror.

Please accept my best wishes for the season, and my hopes for a good 2016.

 

In service and in friendship,

 

MGSGT Jerome A. “ Gunny Hawk” Stoddard

Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET  Marines sgm_sfmc@sfi-sfmc.org

State of the NCO Corps October-November 2015

State of the NCO Corps October-November 2015

Greetings Marines!

 

Crowd on in to the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO Club, where what you call “snowmen” we call “biodegradable reactive targets” and the sign by the big bowl of leftover Halloween candy at the end of the bar notes it’s “strictly reserved for handing out to visiting children and/or lost second lieutenants.”

 

I’ll get right to the apology for missing the October report and being very late with the November report. Sometimes, Real Life has a way of slapping you upside the head, and the past couple months have seen health problems for myself and my immediate family that just kept on a-comin’ and took up time normally reserved for the SFMC. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count as “community service” , but I taped a big note for next year up by my desk “Get the dern flu shot as soon as they start giving ‘em …. IDIOT!” Now, if I can just decipher my own handwriting next fall …

 

As we enter the coldest months of the year for most of us, I’d like to remind you of a personal project I’ve been championing for years, namely seeing what you can do about helping those who will be dealing with a lot of cold and not so much in the way of heat (such as those who are homeless) by applying a little of your time and energy into collecting needed warm clothing. Remember H.U.G.S. (hats, underwear, gloves, socks) may make someone’s life just a little easier this winter. And, it may literally be a matter of life and death to someone.

 

We’re also well into the time of year when your unit’s participation in the annual Toys for Tots program should be well planned out and ready to kick off. And, please don’t forget the other components of the Commandant’s Campaign, namely the Special Olympics and the SFMC’s own March for the Disabled. I know for a fact that the Dant likes getting LONG lists of STARFLEET Marines who have lent their time and energy to those (and other) worthy causes.

 

Having said all that, here’s my usual reminder that community service is a big part of what we do, but it 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. And remember: “If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it.”

 

I’d like to give out a big Tip of Top’s Eight Point this month, to SSGT Chad Steinberg, who, when the Dant managed to break his personal computer in early October,  turned to and scrounged up the needed parts in short order.  As I communicated privately to the Dant at the time “A General broke his machine … an NCO broke the repair time estimate by 13 days.” Thanks for helping preserve the reputation of NCOs as the folks who get stuff DONE, Staff Sergeant!

 

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.  Occasionally in the SFMC, one encounters the “reverse mustang” – an officer who resigns their commission and continues their career as an enlisted member. A strange as it may sound, if one digs deep enough into the pages of history, once can find real world examples of the “reverse mustang”.

 

There is perhaps no stranger case that I have found than that of Siegfried Freytag. Beginning in 1940 at the age of 21, Freytag became a highly skilled and highly decorated ace in the German Luftwaffe. By the end of the war, he had over 100 confirmed kills from both the Eastern and Western fronts, and due to his performance in the Mediterranean campaign, he was sometimes known as the “Lion of Malta”. He finished the war as a Major, and was slated to be Group Commander of a jet fighter unit, and had also been nominated for the prestigious Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross, but the war ended before either could happen.

 

Captured by US forces, he initially worked as an interpreter. He discovered that none of his friends and family had survived the war, and worse yet, when Poland seized his native Danzig at the end of World War II, all of his family property was lost to him as well. For several years he worked in the mining industry as a technician, and rumor has it he even drove a taxi for a while.

 

In 1952, Freytag decided to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, apparently under the assumption that the Legion needed pilots. He ended up as a common infantryman, and yet, he seemed to have found a home.  After basic training, Siegfried Freytag (aka Legionnaire Siegfried) served and fought with distinction, seeing action in the First Indochina War and the Algerian War. In 1962, after 10 years of service, he was promoted to Sergeant (which was equivalent to a US Army Staff Sergeant) … and then things got a little more strange. Freytag soon made an odd request – for reasons that were known only to him he wished to be demoted to Caporal Chef – essentially the NCO in charge of a single fire team. I’m sure that request raised an eyebrow or two up the chain of command, but it was granted, and it was at that “lowly” position the former officer and fighter ace served out the rest of his years in the Legion.

 

Siegfried Freytag finally retired from active duty in 1970, having served the Luftwaffe for nearly five years and the Foreign Legion for eighteen. History is silent about his life between 1970 and his death in 2003, but does note that he was buried with military honors that acknowledged all the decorations he had earned in his years of service, both from Germany and France.

 

He had been both a hot-shot fighter pilot and a common infantryman, and it seems he may found more fulfillment in the latter. Speaking only for myself … I guess maybe that’s not so strange after all. I suspect some of you reading this may be nodding in agreement at that thought.

 

In Service and in Friendship,

 

MGSGT Jerome A. “Gunny Hawk” Stoddard

Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET  Marines sgm_sfmc@sfi-sfmc.org

State of the NCO Corps September 2015

State of the NCO Corps September 2015

Greetings Marines!

As usual, I’m in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO Club, where we could really use a big shovel or maybe even a Combat Engineering Vehicle to clean up the “fertilizer” that stacks up during some of the late night “discussions“, and the mandated weekly meeting of Senior NCOs is still opened the same way: “Jacks or better, nothing Wild but Top.”

By now, you should be aware that the latest revision to the MFM is available for download at the Library section of the SFMC Website. That would be a STRONG Hint, folks. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that the most extensive changes were made in Section 7 (Uniforms), including a new TNG era Class B uniform, and a new, “off the rack” Class A uniform, as well as organizing all the little “bits and bobs” authorized for wear on our uniforms.

And, with the publication of a new edition of the MFM, it’s once again time I reminded you all (with my tongue mostly in cheek) … Marines … every time you ask a question whose answer is clearly in The Book,  or answer a question without looking in The Book to be sure you’re right, some reasonably omnipotent being somewhere in the universe takes a completely innocent little adorable puppy, fluffy bunny, or playful kitten, or their alien equivalent, and cruelly promotes them to “butter bar“. Please, Marines  … think of the puppies, bunnies, and kittens (and alien equivalents)!  Check the current Marine Force Manual (MFM) FIRST …

Since this is the “State of the NCO Corps”, it’s perhaps time to look briefly at a couple of numbers from a recent data dump from the STARFLEET database. The following information may be assumed to be B.A.D. (Best Available Data). Of the roughly one quarter of STARFLEET’s total membership  identified in the database  as Marines (Active or Reserve) holding any sort of adult rank (which would exclude Cadets and those with no rank assigned), 20.1 percent hold enlisted ranks. When we add those excluded into the total, 23.7 percent of the SFMC does NOT hold an “officer’s” rank. In other words, about one Marine in five is enlisted, and only about three out of four Marines are officers.

As I promised last month, I’m going to briefly touch on the report I gave the Commandant for IC. In addition to my duties assigned by the MFM and Policy Manual, I continued to oversee and promote the March for the Disabled campaign. This component of the Commandant’s campaign has now been expanded to run all during the calendar year. And, I “put my money where my mouth is” by logging and reporting up the Chain of Command 20+ hours on this campaign since IC 2014, despite my personal disability and remote location. I also had to note that I quietly celebrated the milestone of serving over seven years in this post, spanning three administrations, and concluded with “Did NOT shove anybody, living or otherwise,  headfirst into the trash disposal system, despite possibly justified provocation.”

That last bit is keeping with the last of my stated goals for the coming year, which included continuing to do the jobs assigned me by the MFM, Policy Manual, and Commandant, explore the possibility of collecting all the “History Lesson” segments into one document and making it available to the SFMC Library ( a few folks have asked me to do this – feel free to add your voice if you’d like to see it happen), and finished up with “Take my position seriously, but not TOO seriously to avoid burnout.”

As I’ve said many times before: SFMC does not stand for “STARFLEET Martyrs Collective.” We are supposed to be doing what we do because it’s fun, and keeping that firmly in mind is one of the reasons why I’ve lasted over seven years as SGM SFMC. Having said that, here’s my usual reminder that community service is a big part of what we do, but it 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. And remember: “If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it.”

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.   For the most part, the military career of Sergeant Soichi Yokoi of the Imperial Japanese Army can be summed up with one word: undistinguished. Born in Nagoya in 1915, he was an apprentice tailor when he got drafted in 1941. Initially he was posted to the 29th Infantry Division in Manchuria, and then was transferred to the 38th Regiment, and sent to Guam in February of 1943. There, he was assigned to the supply depot, working mainly with the Japanese naval garrison on Guam.

Then came the US invasion and recapture of Guam in 1944, and I know what you’re thinking: Sergeant Yokoi must have done something dashing and heroic in that fight. Maybe he did, but nobody ever knew about it. What he mainly did, along with a lot of other Japanese soldiers on Guam, was to head for the hills when the battle was lost and the Japanese command structure was in shambles. They were told to “prefer death to the disgrace of getting captured alive.”

In the next few months, thousands were killed in mopping up actions, and by the end of the war in 1945, about 130 remained, hiding up in the hills and presenting no real threat. All they were concerned about was simply surviving and evading capture. Over the years, 114 of them either finally surrendered or were otherwise persuaded to come on in, and the rest died, often from malnutrition. But one of them was still out there- Soichi Yokoi.

Initially part of a group of ten soldiers, his group soon broke apart, and eventually he and three others settled in small, hand dug caves in the same general area. The others died in 1964, probably of starvation, since despite their efforts to live off the land, food was often in short supply, leaving him alone until January of 1972 when two local hunters checking their shrimp traps at night were attacked by a strange, emaciated figure in home-made clothing. Yokoi had assumed they were hunting HIM, and figured they were going to kill him. He made a desperate, weak grab for one of their rifles, but the two younger men easily subdued him, and brought him out of the hills at last.

For 28 years (over a quarter of that completely alone), Soichi Yokoi lived in a tiny cave, eating whatever he could catch or find growing wild, making clothing from bark and whatever he could scrounge on his forays under the cover of darkness. He had learned of the end of the war in 1952, but felt that to surrender even then would be dishonorable, and he continued his life of hiding.

To his surprise, when he returned to Japan, he was greeted with cheers, and considered a hero for his devotion to the “old ways”. He is quoted as saying upon his return simply “It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned.”

The former sergeant soon married, and settled down to a simple, rural life … mostly. He had become something of a celebrity, and often spoke and taught about survival skills and the benefits of austere living. He appeared on television, and even ran unsuccessfully for the upper house of the Japanese parliament in 1974. One small ambition of his, to meet with Emperor Hirohito was never achieved, but, in 1991, he had an audience with Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace, where he said “Your Majesties, I have returned home … I deeply regret that I could not serve you well. The world has certainly changed, but my determination to serve you will never change.”

Soichi Yokoi died of a heart attack on September 22, 1997, and was buried in his native Nagoya under a tombstone commissioned by his mother in 1955 when he had been officially declared dead on Guam.  He was simply a soldier who did what soldiers have done through the ages: obeyed his orders to the best of his ability, and do his best to survive when doing so.

In his case, he didn’t just survive all those long, hard years hiding in the jungle on Guam. He faced the greater challenge of surviving a change to his country’s entire way of life and I’m thinking that must have been a profound shock to him at first, and something that he was never completely comfortable with. Sometimes, change is harder to survive than any jungle or enemy attack.

In Service and in Friendship,

 

MGSGT Jerome A. “Gunny Hawk” Stoddard

Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET  Marines

sgm_sfmc@sfi-sfmc.org

State of the NCO Corps August 2015

State of the NCO Corps August 2015

Greetings Marines!

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

sgm_sfmc@sfi-sfmc.org

State of the NCO Corps July 2015

State of the NCO Corps July 2015

State of the NCO Corps  July 2015

 

Greetings Marines!

 

As we head over to the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO Club, please note that despite the weather and the rather difficult intervening terrain, it still doesn’t qualify you for the Wilderness Challenge ribbon, and the Special of the Day is “pretty much anything that doesn’t require a hot stove to make.”

You have probably worked out already that, yep, it’s still summer here, and the same holds true for where most of you are living. And, you’ve probably guessed what’s coming next, because it’s a “community service” that’s often overlooked.

Dress appropriately for the weather, and please, keep an eye on each other for signs of distress.. Remember, it’s not just a good idea – it’s official SFMC policy. MFM 2012 p 48: “ Our members are our most important asset and must be treated with care and respect for their safety and comfort.” And, while you’re at it, keep an eye out for others in your community that may be having problems due to heat, storms, or any extreme weather, and if you can lend a hand, even in some small way, I’d appreciate it.

There are times you must think that the next bit is tattooed on me somewhere, but it‘s something often overlooked, and so I‘ll keep reminding you: 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. But also make sure that whoever is filing the report for your unit knows the details, and sends it up the Chain of Command in their official report so you can be given the recognition your efforts deserve. “If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it.”

Speaking of recognizing outstanding effort, this past month, I had the privilege of being a part of the Honor Awards process for the eighth year in a row.  I can’t be sure, but I think anyone who’s ever been on the SFMC General Staff might agree with me that it is one of the toughest parts of being a GS member, and yet, one of the most personally satisfying. To go over the various nominations and have sitting in front of you the accomplishments of the best the SFMC has to offer … and then having to CHOOSE among them, because there can be only one winner, involves a great deal of thought. Often the difference between who gets the ribbon and who does not comes to the thinnest of edges, maybe even just a few words in the nominations we receive, and making that call is never easy. So, well in advance of IC/IM, let me just say that, from where I sit, there are no “winners” or “losers”, and I hope that those whose names aren’t announced for the ribbons understand that, and keep up the good work.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a very special, very big and elaborate Tip of Top’s Eight Point to all those fine folks who began the whole process  by taking the time to write nominations for their fellow members of the SFMC, whether it be for Corps level recognition like the Honor Awards, or even something as simple as some “unofficial” recognition at the unit or chapter level. Bravo Zulu (Well done!) and thank you for your service to the STARFLEET Marine Corps as a whole!

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.  Often in this space, I have introduced you to enlisted heroes, often those played a pivotal role in war, and displayed courage and devotion to duty and to their comrades in arms above and beyond what might be expected. Among them are some of my personal heroes, and I take inspiration from them as I perform my duties as SGM SFMC. This month, I have added a new hero to that list of those who make “Service Before Self” and “Excellence in Everything We Do” more than words to me, and it’s someone who did it without firing a shot or raising a hand in anger.

Just this past month, 39 year old Gunnery Sergeant Francine Jarrett was retiring after 20 years as a US Marine. She had most recently served as part of Enlisted Professional Military Education, Marine Corps University at Marine Corps Base Quantico, where she practiced what she preached: the importance of continuing education. Jarrett earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees while in the military. Her coworker, Master Sergeant Zachary Bourgeois, had arranged her retirement ceremony, which featured letters from the President, and the Commandant, and speeches praising her leadership, honesty, and compassion. There were flowers, and cheers, and then it was Master Sergeant Bourgeois’s turn to present one last gift in appreciation – a gift from him.

Leading up to her retirement, he had asked her “100 times” about various Marine memorabilia, trying to get a hint of what might make the perfect gift for the “picky“ Gunnery Sergeant, and one conversation stood out. Jarrett’s face lit up every time she spoke about the poster that had inspired her to enlist 20 years ago. Instead of the usual “military” images, it featured three proud women in dress blues, and the caption “After years of fitting in, maybe it’s time to stand out!”   She recalled saying to herself “ They can shoot, they can do everything else, and they are gorgeous. This is it, I’m joining the Marines.” Bourgeois knew that he had his answer, and he acquired a copy of that poster to have suitably framed. But, he didn’t stop there.

He managed to track down those women, and after contacting them, and telling them about Gunny Jarrett‘s retirement, he drove to their homes himself so each of them could sign the poster that had inspired Jarrett all those years ago. When the large package, wrapped in simple brown paper, was opened at the ceremony by Jarrett, her hands flew to her face in delight and surprise. It was absolutely perfect and a jaw-dropping gift, but, Bourgeois wasn’t done yet.

You see, one of the women in the poster, who had retired after 22 years in the Corps, lived fairly close by, and she had asked the Master Sergeant if it might be possible to attend the retirement ceremony. At that moment, I’m guessing a light went on for Bourgeois, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he got that Look in his eyes that for ages has signified a senior NCO with a truly inspired Plan.

As Jarrett received her framed poster, the other shoe dropped, as all THREE of the subjects of that poster came on stage, to gasps not just from Jarrett, but from other members of the audience when they realized what was happening. Jarrett couldn’t hold back the tears as she said “The ladies are here?” and she hugged each one of them.

“Marines take care of their own”. Master Sergeant Zachary Bourgeois went the extra mile to do just that for a fellow NCO. As she retired, Gunnery Sergeant Francine Jarrett received a reminder of why she had become a Marine in the first place, and a memory she will carry to her grave that, to a fellow Marine, her service demanded nothing less than perfection in a parting gift.

(Hat tip to Matthew Miller for drawing my attention to this story.)

 

In service and in friendship,

MGSGT Jerome A. “Gunny Hawk” Stoddard

Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET  Marines

sgm_sfmc@sfi-sfmc.org

State of the NCO Corps June 2015

State of the NCO Corps June 2015

Greetings Marines!

Please join me in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO Club, where the air conditioning unit sometimes struggles to keep up with all the hot air from those “No Sierra ” there I was  stories, and the kitchen staff tends to take their own sweet time on any errands that take them into the blessed relief of the big walk-in cooler lately.

For most of the SFMC ( with due apologies to the 11th BDE), we’ve slid into the time of year when outdoor activities, be it some form of community service or social activities (like picnics or various games) make having ready access to water (and sunscreen, especially for us glow-in-the-dark-pale types) a VERY good idea.

 

Dress appropriately for the weather, and please, keep an eye on each other for signs of distress.. Remember, it’s not just a good idea – it’s official SFMC policy. MFM 2012 p 48:  Our members are our most important asset and must be treated with care and respect for their safety and comfort.

 

And also remember, 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. But also make sure that whoever is filing the report for your unit knows the details, and sends it up the Chain of Command in their official report so you can be given the recognition your efforts deserve. If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it.

 

On that note: as the time for the annual SFMC wide awards approaches, I’d be much obliged if you’d take the time to look around you at the good things some of your fellow STARFLEET Marines have been doing, then take a look through the Awards section of your copy of the MFM, and see what you can do about getting them some recognition at the Corps level.  Any Marine can recommend another Marine for an award , don’t wait for the Other Guy to do it, because we all know the Other Guy is famous for dropping the ball.

 

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.

 

However,  when it comes to questions, it’s likely time I once again reminded you with my tongue mostly in cheek,  Marines  every time you ask a question whose answer is clearly in The Book,  or answer a question without looking in The Book to be sure you’re right, some reasonably omnipotent being somewhere in the universe takes a completely innocent little adorable puppy, fluffy bunny, or playful kitten, or their alien equivalent, and cruelly promotes them to butter bar. Please, Marines   think of the puppies, bunnies, and kittens (and alien equivalents)!  Check the current Marine Force Manual (MFM) FIRST   (And remember that the Policy Manual is included by reference in the MFM, so Read The FULL Manual.)

 

Now it’s time for Top’s History Lesson.  In April of 1991, the President of the United States presented a long overdue Medal of Honor to the surviving sisters of an NCO whose name by rights should rank up there with men like John Basilone or Alvin York when we talk about heroes rising from the enlisted ranks, but who had remained relatively obscure since his death in combat  seventy three years before that ceremony. The name of Corporal Freddie Stowers had turned up during a review mandated by Congress of old records of holders of the Distinguished Service Cross who might have been denied a Medal of Honor unfairly  Stowers had been recommended for the award almost immediately following his death in November of 1918, but nothing had ever come of it (the official verdict was the paperwork got (misplace). You may feel free to be a bit skeptical about that, because Corporal Stowers was a member of the 371st  Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, serving under the direct command of the French, even though they were part of the American Expeditionary Force. You see, the 93rd’s full designation was the 93rd Infantry Division (Colored). Due to the policies of the time, it was decided that the segregated 93rd would best be utilized as badly needed reinforcements for the French Red Hand division, and they were placed under the direct command of General Goybet. It was his orders that had C Company of the 371st, where Stowers was an assistant squad leader, in the lead of an assault on a heavily defended hill overlooking a farm near Ardeuil-et-Montfauxelles, in the Ardennes.

 

The attack was barely under way when the enemy began indicating that they wished to surrender both verbally, and by actions such as standing atop their positions with their hands held in the air. But, it was a trap, and as C Company advanced to take the offered surrender, mortars and machineguns opened up on them at close range. In short order, Stower’s platoon had taken over fifty percent causalities, and had lost not only their commanding officer, but all their senior NCOs. 22 year old Freddie Stowers had just becoming the ranking member of his battered unit, and what he did next, in a fair and impartial universe, should have been the stuff of Hollywood.

 

He began crawling forward to the closest enemy machinegun nest, and what was left of C Company followed him. Despite the strong defenses, they succeeded in overrunning and capturing the enemy position, but that wasn’t good enough  their orders were to TAKE that hill, and Stowers took some time to reorganize his small force, and then personally led a charge against the next line of trenches. He kept low, like any well trained soldier would, but he was hit by machinegun fire. Still, Stowers kept going, and his men followed. He was hit again, and made it only a little further before collapsing from blood loss. Despite that, he urged his men onward, and inspired by his courage and dedication, the remnants of C Company continued the attack in the face of overwhelming odds against them, and with the rest of the 93rd involved in the fight following their lead, drove the enemy from the top of that hill and into the surrounding plains. But, Freddie Stowers never knew that. He died on that battlefield, and still rests in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, along with 133 of his comrades.

 

But, the legacy of Corporal Stowers is not just a grave marker, or a battle won, or even his country’s highest honor for courage in the face of the enemy.  As a direct result of the review of his case, in 1992 the US Army began looking into the cases of other soldiers who might well have deserved the Medal of Honor, but were given a lesser award  instead due to racial bias on the part of the Decorations Board of their time. Several of them (or their surviving families) were eventually presented with the honors their actions had earned them back in the day.

 

Decades after his death, the hero of that bloody November morning in France became a hero again for soldiers like himself and helped right old wrongs. Personally, I tend to rate that as an even greater reason to remember him now.

 

 

In service and in friendship,

MGSGT Jerome A. “Gunny Hawk” Stoddard

Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET  Marines

State of the NCO Corps May 2015

State of the NCO Corps May 2015

Greetings Marines!

Please join me again in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO Club, where we’re preparing for mosquito season in the usual fashion (20-liter jerrycans of bug repellent and a couple of Gatling phaser AA set-ups) and the rising level of the nearby river means the Catch of The Day just might be somebody’s garden shed before long.

It’s the time of year when your community service activities may well have you working outdoors, doing anything from manning a fund raising table to helping clear trash in a local park or along a local road. Please remember to dress appropriately and safely for those activities. The All Weather Work Uniform (aka Scotty C’s) found in the MFM 2012 beginning on page 47 was designed and approved with such activities in mind, and is probably one of the easiest STARFLEET Marine  uniforms to put together. It may well be worth your time and effort to have your unit look into them. (And, if I can put together a set on a limited, fixed income while living in the Middle Of Nowhere, Montana, odds are you may have an easier time of it.)

Please keep an eye on your fellow marines if you’re working out of doors, especially in hot or inclement weather. From personal experience, I can tell you that sometimes it’s easy to overlook the first signs of heat exhaustion or being too chilled in yourself, and those problems can escalate quickly. If one of your fellow marines suggests you take five, and maybe get some water or get into shelter for a bit, thank them, and DO it. Remember, it’s not just a good idea – it’s official SFMC policy. MFM 2012 p 48:  Our members are our most important asset and must be treated with care and respect for their safety and comfort. That includes YOU!

And also remember, community service doesn’ 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. But also make sure that whoever is filing the report for your unit knows the details, and sends it up the Chain of Command in their official report so you can be given the recognition your efforts deserve. If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it.

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. Graduates of the SFMC Armor Branch school will likely tell you that despite what the Aerospace types think, there’s no MOS group in the SFMC that has more in the way of colorful traditions than those in the Cavalry. The thing most people tend to forget is that cavalry traditions are just as rich and colorful from places far removed from the American West, and when it comes to that, you’d have to look hard to find a more colorful bunch than the Royal Scots Grays, who, if you count their late 17th century predecessors, had a long and storied unit history that covered nearly three centuries (up until 1971, when they became part of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards). From their distinctive uniforms, to their trademark of being all mounted on gray horses (and when they became an armor unit in World War 2, their Sherman II tanks got painted in a dapple gray camouflage) the Scots Grays set a high standard for colorful traditions. And, two of their most distinctive bits of color – the regimental cap badge and the regimental nickname – owed their existence directly to the actions of one NCO.

James Ewart was born near Kilmarnock in 1769, and at the age of 20, enlisted in the cavalry. He was a big man, even by modern standards, reportedly standing 6 feet 4 inches in height, and possessed of Herculean strength. He was said to be a very good rider, and an absolutely top notch hand with a sword. By the time of the Battle of Waterloo, he served as the fencing master for the Scots Grays, and was a well respected and notably tough soldier. At Waterloo, the Scots Grays were part of the 5th Division, held in reserve on the right flank, backing up the Dutch-Belgian 2nd Division. The Dutch and Belgians found themselves being forced back over the ridgeline by the French infantry, spearheaded by the 45th Line Infantry. The Infantry of the 5th division, led by the famed 92nd Highlanders were ordered to stop this advance, and fierce fighting broke out. The French were veteran troops, and determined to break through, until, finally, the heavy cavalry (including the Scots Grays) that had been held in reserve out of sight, were ordered into the fray.

Despite any legends you may have read, the charge of the Scots Grays was actually more of a determined, orderly advance at a walk. The terrain, and the presence of the 92nd (still engaged with the French, but in danger of being forced back) ruled out the sort of thundering mass of horseman legend portrays, but even at a walk, the Grays were tough and able to punch through, rallying the 92nd as they passed through their lines to engage the French 45th, who had formed into columns in anticipation of breaking through the Highlanders. Suffice it to say, the presence of big men, on big gray horses, skilled and relentlessly drilled with their heavy sabers, was NOT what the 45th was prepared to deal with. The Scots Grays caught the French trying to switch back from columns to a defensive line, and rolled over them.

One of Napoleon’s traditions created for his troops, in order to link them back to the glories of France’s past, was the presence of Eagles like the legions of Rome had once carried as regimental standards. These were often proudly borne at the head of any regiment on the move, and this was the case with the 45th that day. Sergeant Ewart spotted the symbol of the French regiment and its guard in his path, and decided to try to capture it. He rode forward, and engaged the standard bearer and guard detail single handed. In his own words, recorded not long after Waterloo, this is what happened next: “One made a thrust at my groin, I parried him off and cut him down through the head. A lancer came at me – I threw the lance off by my right side and cut him through the chin and upwards through the teeth. Next, a foot soldier fired at me and then charged me with his bayonet, which I also had the good luck to parry, and then I cut him down through the head”.  He then rode off back to his own lines with the 45th’s Eagle in one hand.

The capture of their Eagle finished the job of breaking the 45th as an organized unit. Sergeant Ewart was ordered to take his prize all the way back to Brussels, to make sure the French had no chance of re-capturing it, and although history records he did pause to watch a bit more of the fighting from a safe distance, he carried out his orders like the good soldier he was known to be. The French never did get that Eagle back – to this day, it is proudly displayed in the museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Ewart was given the rare distinction of being promoted from the ranks, from Sergeant to Ensign (2nd Lieutenant), for his actions in seizing the enemy standard.

After that, an image of that Eagle became the main feature of the cap badge the Scots Grays proudly wore for the rest of their existence as a distinct regiment, and throughout the army, for the capture of that Eagle by Ewart, they became known as The Birdcatchers, all thanks to a big veteran sergeant, able to ride perhaps better than most and fight like few others could hope to match, who saw something important to enemy morale and decided he was going to take it away from them  all by himself. Never underestimate the effect of a bright shiny object on an NCO.

 

In service and in friendship,

MGSGT Jerome A. ‘Gunny Hawk’ Stoddard

Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET  Marines

 

 

State of the NCO Corps September 2014

State of the NCO Corps September 2014

Greetings Marines!

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

sgm_sfmc@sfi-sfmc.org

State of the NCO Corps August 2014

State of the NCO Corps August 2014

Greetings Marines!

Have a seat here in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, which finally re-opened after that “incident”  during the IM “Pity Party” ( note to that Armor SGT – next time, ASK before deciding we needed a “Drive through” window) and I am relieved to report a certain MP butterbar who was responding to the “incident” eventually got his pants back.

Let’s start off with huge Tip of Top’s Slightly Soggy Boonie Hat (it’s been unseasonably rainy here the past week, so the Eight Point is hanging in my office) to SGM Brian Chappell, who I had the privilege of naming as this year’s recipient of the Star of Honor. SGM Chappell’s leadership, dedication, and incredible amount of community service, all while living in a small town, brought him to the top of a crowded and outstanding field of nominees for the award this year.

And, the future of the NCO Corps seems in good hands, to judge by the Cadet Star of Honor (grade 2) that I was pleased to award to CDT SGT Edward Tunis IV, based on a long and detailed nomination submitted for him.

I was also pleased to note that the STARFLEET Enlisted Member of the Year went to an SFMC NCO who has long been an inspiration to me, personally – my immediate predecessor in this office, SGM Marie “M” Smith. Her example of “Service Before Self” and her dedication to the NCO Corps have helped me be better at my own job, both at the Corps level and in my own unit.

Turning back to the Honor awards, I have to note that in many cases, the members of the NCO Corps were NOT just nominees for the Star of Honor. Names familiar to me cropped up in several awards categories, recognizing the outstanding service rendered to the SFMC by enlisted members. Who knows, perhaps someday, we’ll see a sweep of all Honor awards (save the Sword, which you’ll note is for “Officer of the Year”) by enlisted Marines? It very nearly happened in the Cadet Honor awards for this year, and these fine young people are the future of the SFMC.

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,”  so it’s probably a good time to remind you 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. Remember “If you don’t report it, we can’t reward it.”

Making sure that deserving Marines are rewarded goes a long way towards the critical goal of recruiting and retention. That process starts with each and every member of the SFMC. As I’ve remarked in the past, don’t wait for the Other Guy to write that award recommendation or even find something fun for your unit to do – the Other Guy is famous for dropping the ball.  Maybe your recommendation or your idea won’t gain much traction, but you’ll never know until you try.

And that neatly segues into my usual reminder 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. Earlier this year, when the SFMC General Staff was going over submissions for the new SFMC motto, I was forced to cast my mind back about forty years to my high school Latin classes on a few points of grammar and vocabulary. That brought back memories of reading Caesar’s “De Bello Gallico” (in Latin, of course) and a story about not one, but TWO centurions … a rank often considered to be the basis of the modern NCO.

Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullio were both centurions in the Eleventh Legion, and, according to Caesar, there was little love lost between the two. As the two advanced through the ranks, they apparently used to argue “with the utmost animosity” about who should be promoted, each deeming himself the better man for the job. As they both approached promotion to the coveted post of a “first rank” centurion, their rivalry reached its peak.

The Eleventh was engaged in a hot fight against the Nervii (one of the Gallic tribes), and as the two centurions looked out at the enemy from behind the field fortifications the Legions had erected as a matter of course, Pullio reportedly said to Vorenus “Why do you hesitate, Vorenus? Or what better opportunity of displaying your valor do you seek? This very day shall decide our disputes.” And with that, Titus Pullio went over the palisade, and charged the biggest concentration of the enemy he could see. Caesar is silent on what Vorenus said – I imagine I couldn’t quote it here even if it HAD been recorded, but “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” probably comes close – but, not wanting to be shown up by his rival, Lucius Vorenus followed him into the fight.

Pullio waited until the range was very short, and then threw his javelin, killing one of the enemy. That brought a storm of enemy spears in response, and, because of the short range, one pierced his shield, and pinned his weapons belt to his body, and impeded his right arm so he couldn’t draw his sword from the scabbard that was now not where it was supposed to be. The Nervii swarmed over him, battering him to the ground, and stabbing at him as he lay under his shield.

But, Vorenus was right behind him, and HIS sword was out. The Gauls, assuming Pullio was dead or badly wounded, turned on the other centurion. Vorenus killed one, and his disciplined, trained sword and shield work had the others falling back. (As a side note, I can’t be sure, but it’s possible one of the Gauls may have said something like “These Romans are CRAZY!” right about then – points if you get the reference.) Then, Vorenus slipped and fell due to a hole in the ground, and the Nervii surrounded him and got ready to increase their bag of centurions for the day.

But, Pollo wasn’t dead, or even badly wounded, and Vorenus’s actions gave him a chance to get to his feet and draw his own sword, and it was his turn to come to his rival’s rescue. The two of them, after reportedly killing a fair number of the enemy as they made a careful fighting retreat back to the fortifications, were thunderously applauded by the rest of the troops.

Caesar closes the chapter by stating: “Fortune so dealt with both in this rivalry and conflict, that the one competitor was a succor and a safeguard to the other, nor could it be determined which of the two appeared worthy of being preferred to the other.”

History is silent on what happened to these two afterwards. It’s possible they may have even become friends. It’s almost certain that there was a new found respect for each other. But, reading this story again after all these years, one thing I am pretty sure probably happened is that, after the battle was over, the Primus Pilus (First Spear) – the top ranked centurion in the Legion -probably had a little chat with them, explaining the difference between being gutsy and being just flat out stupid.

In service and in friendship,

MGSGT Jerome A. “ Gunny Hawk” Stoddard

Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET  Marines

sgm_sfmc@sfi-sfmc.org