State of the NCO Corps February 2012
Once again I am here in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, where in hindsight, we are cutting the Meteorology boys a bit of slack since the weather even has groundhogs scratching their heads, and bets on the Big Game are paid off promptly and with good grace.
By now, most have us have gotten used to writing 2012 instead of 2011, so it’s time to remind you about something else you should be thinking about writing now. With the new year, soon your BDE OIC will be issuing a call for nominations for annual awards, and the time to get your notes together on deserving Marines is right about now while 2011 is fresh in your mind. As I am perhaps overly fond of reminding you, the Other Guy is probably not going to get the job done. Please remember that the more detailed you make your recommendation for any award, the better the odds are that the person you feel deserves it will actually get it. “Deserves” is a key word there- don’t be satisfied with just listing why you feel a person is qualified. Let the person issuing the award know why you feel the Marine in question has earned the honor you would like to see them get. Sometimes all the issuing authority has to go on is whatever you put in your recommendation, so take the time to be thorough.
Remember that the MFM tasks the NCOs of the SFMC with taking a lead in their unit’s community service efforts. No matter how small the community you live in, there is ample opportunity for Marines to make a difference. No effort is too small, and please let me know of special efforts’ in your units so I can give you due praise in this report.
Last month, I told you about SGM Marie “M” Wilson, of the 20th BDE, who was Freezin’ for a Reason on New Year’s Day, as she and other members of her crew, took part in a Polar Bear Plunge in an effort to raise funds for Special Olympics Great Britain. I have since received an after action report from SGM Wilson, who reports that not only did they raise 98 pounds (about $150 USD), but she found the experience exhilarating and plans to join the local outdoor sea swimming club. So, her community service efforts have had a personal benefit by giving her a new interest. I call that a win all around!
By now, you should have gotten the word on the March for the Disabled, but just in case: members of the SFMC are being asked to undertake a special Corps-wide community service campaign in the March of 2012, with the goal of providing assistance and raising awareness for those with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. I need to stress that this is not aimed at a specific program like the Special Olympics, which the SFMC already supports through the Commandant’s Campaign, but rather any program or effort that takes on disabilities. In fact, any personal efforts you make will qualify for recognition for the campaign, such as assisting someone with a disability with simple tasks such as getting to the store, or helping them with yard work or other household chores.
The scope of this campaign has been deliberately kept very wide reaching in the hopes that every Marine out there can find a way to do something, no matter how small it may seem. As some of you know, I live in a very rural area (the population in my county is right around 5 people per square mile), and I have identified several opportunities for me to go out and lend a hand. I am confident you can as well.
As announced on the official STARFLEET list, February is Retention Month for the organization we are all a part of. (And, I bet you know what’s coming next). Since NCOs are specifically charged with recruiting and retention efforts in the SFMC, hopefully this will be a month of business as usual for you all as far as your fellow Marines are concerned. But, I am going to request that you take it up a notch and make sure your chapter or region has the benefit of your experience in the area of retention regardless of whether or not the member is a Marine.
As always, remember that the SFMC General Staff is here to serve you. The email addresses are ALL on the SFMC web page, and their doors are always open. Your questions and input are always welcome and needed. And, remember that some of us tend to read and follow the SFMC group on Facebook, so feel free to comment and share with your fellow Marines there.
Now, it’s time for Top’s History Lesson. If you ever get a chance to visit the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, you will probably come across a simple uniform shirt with Airman First Class stripes on it displayed in a place of honor. Nearby are personal effects and other memorabilia of a remarkable young man: William H. Pitsenbarger, “Pits” to his fellow members of the USAF’s 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron.
Pitsenbarger was a PJ, one of the elite Air Force Pararescue Jumpers, who had gone through the demanding training of his specialty. He arrived in Vietnam in August of 1965 and by April 11, 1966 had more than 250 missions under his belt, including one where he rescued a wounded South Vietnamese soldier from a burning minefield. On that fateful April day, two HH-53 helicopters from his squadron were sent out in response to a call for assistance from a company of the US First Infantry division who were engaged with an enemy battalion. Outnumbered about 5 to 1, they were surrounded and pinned down, and casualties were mounting. To make matters worse, they were in a heavy “triple canopy” forest, with no clear area for a helicopter to set down.
Pitsenbarger rode a cable down through 100 feet of forest canopy, and once on the ground set about treating and evacuating the wounded. Time after time, he elected to remain on the ground despite heavy enemy fire, and sent others up via the hoist. Finally, when one of the helicopters was damaged by ground fire, he waved his ride out off, and stayed with the beleaguered soldiers. Due to the intensity of the enemy fire, no further rescue missions would be attempted until the next day. It was a situation described by one of the soldiers there as “a hellhole”.
The 21 year old PJ kept treating the wounded, improvising when necessary. When ammunition started running low, he exposed himself to enemy fire to collect magazines from dead or wounded soldiers and re-distribute them to the dwindling number of effectives in the company. Perhaps mindful of the ammunition situation, survivors of the action report that he only fired on semi-auto, presumably being able to better see where the enemy fire was coming from because he was constantly up and moving instead of safely behind cover. Even after being wounded, he continued to treat casualties, collect ammo, and snap off some careful shots. Eventually, his luck ran out. Eyewitness reports say that his body was found with his rifle in one hand and his sorely depleted medical kit in the other.
For coordinating the successful rescues, caring for the wounded and sacrificing his life while aggressively defending his comrades, Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross in July of 1966, but … as the years went by, survivors of the action and his hometown Chamber of Commerce began to lobby for a review of the award. Testimony was provided from the handful of survivors of that action (the company suffered 80 percent casualties), and on December 8, 2000, a ceremony was held at the Air Force Museum. There, his family was given Pitsenbarger’s Medal of Honor, and it was announced at the same time that he had been promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant. The ceremony was attended not only by his family, and survivors of the battle, but by literally hundreds of PJs, past and present that came to honor one of their own, a young man who embodied the Pararescue motto “That others may live.”
MGSGT Jerome A. “Hawk” Stoddard
Sergeant Major of the Starfleet Marines