State of the NCO Corps March 2014
Let’s take five in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, where if the coffee isn’t hot, and the drinks from the bar aren’t cold in their proper season, you can get a weapons grade discharge of LNFP (Language Not Fit to Print), and some kind soul has affixed a Leader’s Commendation ribbon to the brand new sonic cleaner that blasts all the mud off your boots as you walk in … probably the last guy who had to clean up after some clown tracked half the drill field across the floor.
Since this is the State of the NCO Corps, let’s touch briefly on numbers. At the end of February, I received a data file that listed the ranks of every current member of the SFMC. Analysis of that data shows that 23.8 percent of the Corps holds some form of enlisted rank (from CDT PVT to CWO5). If we drop cadet ranks of all types from the sample, 18.7 percent of the SFMC held enlisted ranks. In more simple terms, if you pull five STARFLEET Marines at random from across the organization, there’s a good chance at least one of them will be enlisted.
By now, you have probably heard that the Commandant has declared that the March of the Disabled campaign has been expanded to cover the rest of the year. What began as a time limited effort a couple of years ago will now be recognized as a year round part of the Commandant’s Campaign. As a reminder, STARFLEET Marines are being asked to turn their energy towards projects that assist directly or raise awareness for those with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. This can be in support of some recognized charity, or simply assisting someone in your own community. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
The simple truth is that there are a fair number of our fellow SFMC members coping with disabilities at close hand. So, in some ways, the “community” we end up serving is … ourselves.
Now, since we’re on the subject, you may recall that last year, 1SGT Russell Selkirk asked fellow members of the SFMC (and anyone else of a mind to help) to take a minute every day and cast a vote for him in a contest that would give him a chance at winning a new wheelchair accessible vehicle. The SFMC responded with a surge of votes, but, because 1SGT Selkirk had learned of the contest after it was already under way, we fell a bit short of the goal. It’s a new year, and a new run at the same contest. You can find the link on the SFMC Facebook group, but since not everyone that reads this report is on Facebook:
Take two minutes to watch the video he created, and then, if you’re of a mind, cast your vote daily and help spread the word about this cause. My thanks in advance for all your efforts.
Speaking of thanks, here’s a big tip of Top’s Eight Point to SGM John Radle, who has taken on the position of Director of the SFMC NCO Academy and SGM TRACOM (Sergeant Major, Training and Doctrine Command). The post of SGM TRACOM is one of only two “Corps level” posts in the SFMC that must be filled by an enlisted member, and that cut the pool of potential applicants down quite a bit. The “burn out” I’ve been discussing in this report for months now reduced that already small pool even more. Bravo Zulu (Well Done) for answering the call, Sergeant Major!
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 1965, in South Vietnam, an NCO “advisor” from the US Army’s 82nd Airborne was on patrol with members of a local infantry regiment when he stepped on a mine. They evacuated him back to the United States, and the doctors decided he would never be able to walk again, and began drawing up his discharge papers. But, Raul (Roy) Perez Benavidez had other ideas. Late at night, he began dragging himself out of bed in a completely unauthorized and very painful self administered rehabilitation program. Slowly, sometimes fighting back the tears from the pain, he set out to prove the doctors and everyone else were wrong, and, a year later, he walked out of the hospital on his own two feet, with his wife at his side and still a US Army NCO that was determined to return to combat in Vietnam.
Now, you’d think that would be enough toughness for anyone to show in a lifetime, but Roy Benavidez wasn’t done yet. He applied for, and passed, the rigorous training for the Army’s Special Forces and return to Vietnam as a member of the 5th Special Forces, Studies and Observations Group (SOG).
On May 2, 1968, a small Special Forces patrol, augmented by a handful of Montagnard tribesmen got on the radio and called for help. They were surrounded and in combat against an entire enemy battalion, and in dire straits. Staff Sergeant Benevidez boarded a helicopter headed their way, and carrying only a knife and medical bag, jumped out and rushed to the aid of the patrol. What happened next was described as “Six Hours in Hell”, and years later, a very highly placed individual reportedly said "If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it".
According to official documents, Benavidez "distinguished himself by a series of daring and extremely glorious actions... and because of his gallant choice to join voluntarily his comrades who were in critical straits, to expose himself constantly to withering enemy fire, and his refusal to be stopped despite numerous severe wounds, saved the lives of at least eight men." Only after everyone else was safe did he allow himself to be pulled into a helicopter, after reportedly sustaining 37 wounds from bullets, bayonets, and shrapnel. Back at the base, they sadly put him into a body bag, and waited for the doctors to pronounce him dead. But, when the doctor was getting ready to zip up the bag, Benavidez managed to literally spit in his face and prove, again, that the doctors were wrong.
Benavidez was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, and the Army kept him stateside for the rest of his career. In 1973, more detailed accounts of the action finally became available, and there was a push for Benavidez’s DSC to upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Because the time limit on such an appeal had expired, Congress had to grant an exemption in this case. But, there was still a problem: the Army needed eyewitness testimony to upgrade the medal, and, as far as anybody could tell, other than Benavidez, there was nobody left alive who could provide it.
Benavidez retired from the Army as a Master Sergeant in 1976, and that would seem to end the story … except everyone had been wrong about Roy Benavidez before. It turns out that there was ONE survivor, a radioman named Brian O’Connor, who had been wounded and evacuated stateside before being fully debriefed. O’Connor had retired to Fiji, and by chance, while on vacation in Australia in 1980, chanced upon a newspaper story about his old Special Forces teammate, and he quickly stepped forward, providing a ten page report that resulted in that aforementioned “highly placed individual”, President Ronald Reagan, awarding Benavidez the Medal Of Honor in February of 1981.
If you’re looking for an absolutely jaw dropping read, I urge you to look up the text of that Medal of Honor citation. But, as you read it, remember that that citation never would have happened but for a bit of luck, and the loyalty of another NCO who was ready, willing, and able to help a comrade.
In service and in friendship,
MGSGT Jerome A. “ Gunny Hawk” Stoddard
Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET Marines