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State of the NCO Corps, November 2010
Friday, 12 November 2010 13:00
Greetings Marines!

This report is running a little late this month because of a little time spent on sick call. Nothing to fret over, just a combination of tweaking an old shoulder injury, and finding out that someone has apparently signed me up for the Nasty Bug of the Month Club when I wasn’t looking. The combination of one arm in a sling and other parts of my body in a state I would prefer not to talk about meant that writing was on hold for a bit. But, having been cleared to return to duty…

This month finds me back in my usual spot: the booth in the back, in the corner, in the dark of the local NCO Club, where when that Naussiccan waitress starts looking good, you know it’s time to switch to coffee, and it is really best not to ask what’s in those tasty little deep-fried nuggets on the appetizer menu. (Hint: Rocky Mountain Oysters are completely safe for anyone with a seafood allergy.)

As I write this, the first snow has fallen where I am, and that means that the weather for many of us is turning cold again. Last year, I made it a point to ask my fellow Marines to keep those in their own communities without adequate shelter and warm clothing in mind. Please remember HUGS (Hats, Underwear, Gloves, and Socks) and, if you can, help collect or just donate items that may make the difference between someone making it through the winter or not. I may not be able to give you a medal for it, but you will have my personal thanks.

Community service takes many forms. Members of the SFMC clip coupons for OCP to help military families around the world. They support causes like Special Olympics, or Breast Cancer Awareness, or their local animal shelters. They serve as volunteer firefighters, or assist in cleaning up their local parks or highways. Throughout the length and breadth of the Corps, they do it not for glory, but because that is what decent sentient beings do: lend a hand and make everyone’s day better. Your efforts are appreciated, and keep up the good work.

Please take the time to let me know about the accomplishments of enlisted members in your area, and your unit’s community service efforts. I would really love to be able to take the time in my monthly report to let the rest of the Corps know about it. (And, despite Marine tradition, I am neither all knowing nor all seeing.)

And, please feel free to contact the SFMC General Staff with any questions or concerns you have. 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.

Speaking of enlisted members, I have been asked by several Marines for an update on SGT Stevens, my old friend (and trouble making partner) who recently had to have part of his leg amputated. The kind thoughts you have expressed to me for his recovery have been duly passed on to him. You will be happy to know that he is healing nicely, and plans on asking his prosthetics maker about that silly peg leg. (Although he does want a newer style leg as well, if only to get the best use out of a pair of boots.) I am also pleased not note that, thanks to the efforts of the Marines in his unit, and his Civil Air Patrol squadron, he has been issued not one, but three Parrots, Shoulder Mounted, Squawking Type in various sizes and colors.

Returning to the General Staff, changes are about to happen. There will be a new commandant following the election, and the odds are pretty much dead certain that means changes for the rest of the GS. Please give the new folks, whoever they may be, time to settle in, and get their feet under them.

About thirty months ago, the GS took a chance on a unknown E-9 to fill the series of big shoes left behind by previous holders of the senior enlisted position in the Corps. They showed me to my office, showed me the ropes, and most importantly, kept my head above water while I settled in. They are a fine bunch, and have been a great team to be a part of. No matter what the future holds, I will look back on being part of that team with pride.

Now it’s time for Top’s History Lesson. It has been a great pleasure for a fan of history to dig into the past (and present) outstanding enlisted personnel that have often failed to receive their fair due of fame these days, and this time I would like to give a nod to all my comrades in Medical teal and talk about PFC Frank J Petrarca, who in one fateful week in 1943 earned his place among legends,

Serving with the medical detachment of the 145th Infantry Regiment during the Solomons campaign, on July 27, 1943, Petrarca braved intense enemy fire to tend to 3 gravely wounded soldiers. Less than 100 yards from the enemy lines, he went as far to shield the most severely wounded one with his own body. Two days later, on July 29, during a heavy mortar barrage, his sergeant was trapped in a collapsed foxhole and partially buried. Once again, the young man from Ohio risked his own life, and went on a rescue run. After digging the sergeant out, he treated his wounds, and helped ensure that he was evacuated to a place of safety.

It was on his 25th birthday, July 31, 1943 that Pertrarca’s incredible luck ran out. Braving heavy enemy fire yet again to go to the aid of a wounded soldier, the daring medic made the mistake of briefly exposing himself over the crest of a ridge, and got everything but the kitchen sink tossed at him. He made it to within 2 yards of his objective before light mortar and automatic weapons fire caught him. Even then, he still struggled to finish the job he had started: treating and rescuing a fellow soldier. The citation for the posthumous Medal of Honor he was issued for all the actions mentioned above says he “shouted defiance at the enemy” as he made a last attempt to reach his wounded comrade before his own wounds claimed him.

Frank Petrarca was technically not an NCO, but I think you would have a hard time finding a better example of “Service before Self.” In an odd twist of fate, his name lives on at Camp Perry, Ohio, where a small arms range is named after him, a strange monument to a hero who carried a medical bag.

Semper Fi!

MGSGT Jerome A. "Hawk" Stoddard
Sergeant Major of the Starfleet Marines

I want to lead off this month with a request on behalf of an old friend, a retired real world NCO who is also a SGT in the SFMC. SGT Frank “Uncle Grumpy” Stevens and I have known each other for over thirty years, and some of the stunts we pulled in the past are probably still not fit for discussion without presence of legal counsel. We have seen each other through good times and not so good times, and this is one of those not so good times for him.

Very recently, as a result of prior medical problems, he was rushed to the hospital and they were forced to amputate part of his left leg. This is hard on anyone, but SGT Stevens, in his words, “turned seventeen for the FOURTH time” this year, and his health has been in a downhill slide. Fortunately, his general stubbornness and warped sense of humor is seeing him through. (He has requested an SFMC Issue, one each, Parrot, Squawking type, and Peg Leg, wooden). Please keep a good thought out for him as he goes through the process of rehabilitation. (And I’ll try and get those requisitions expedited through Supply)

When it comes to community service, I have often urged Marines to be creative, and look for unexpected benefits. This past month, the 503rd MSG did just that when they committed to putting in thirty six man-hours of community service at the park (mostly clean-up) in exchange on a discounted rate for the state park site they were using for their annual campout. They ended up putting in forty hours, and the park wants them back anytime. Nice thinking out of the box, Marines!

Speaking of boxes, and community service, if your unit is not well underway with its plans for giving a hand with Toys for Tots this year, take the initiative and light a fire under them.

And, let’s not forget, as I write this, we’re only about a month away from November 11th. I hope all of us take the time to do what we can to say “thanks” and lend what aid we can to all the veterans out there.

Please take the time to let me know about the accomplishments of enlisted members in your area, and your unit’s community service efforts. I would really love to be able to take the time in my monthly report to let the rest of the Corps know about it. (And, despite Marine tradition, I am neither all knowing nor all seeing.)

And, please feel free to contact the SFMC General Staff with any questions or concerns you have. 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.

Now it’s time for Top’s History Lesson. This time I want to take you way back to the roots of the NCO: the centurions of the Roman legions. There are a LOT of stories to choose from, including a few saints, a possible basis for part of the Arthurian legend, or even the story of two bitter rivals who saved each other’s lives in one historic battle. But, I had to choose just one for this month and so I decided to introduce you to a man for whom no image has come down through history, for whom we know nothing about as far as his personal life is concerned, and yet who stands as a shining example for every NCO (and every Marine).

It was January 15, in the year 69 AD. Galba, the emperor who had replaced Nero, and his deputy emperor Piso Licinianus were travelling through the streets of Rome when they were set upon by a large number of members of the Praetorian Guard (the Imperial bodyguard unit) in the employ of Marcus Otho. Otho was furious that he had been passed over for the position of deputy emperor, and had decided to seize the throne, suborning members of the Praetorian Guard to use as his weapon.

The Praetorians escorting Galba and Piso either quickly switched sides, joining the attacking party, or just as quickly discovered someplace else they had to be right about then and melted away into the streets …all but one. Centurion Sempronius Densus had no special reason to love or honor Galba (who was apparently notoriously stingy, and not given to paying, much less rewarding his troops), but there was one thing he DID love and honor: his duty as a Roman soldier.

According to Plutarch: “First, lifting up his switch of vine, with which the centurions correct the soldiers when disorderly, he called aloud to the aggressors, charging them not to touch their emperor. And when they came upon him hand-to-hand, he drew his sword, and made a defense for a long time, until at last he was cut under the knees and brought to the ground.”

Savor those words, Marines. One man, a veteran soldier, facing down a small army on his own, and the FIRST reaction he has is to give them what was probably the chewing out of their lives, reminding them of the duty that he would not forsake. I like to think he treated the bunch of them like a group of hopeless recruits who messed up in training. When words did not win the day, he turned to action, and held his own against impossible odds until he got taken down from behind.

Galba and Piso were both killed, and Otho became emperor, but only for a short time, as he was deposed by Vitellius, who was in turn deposed by Vespasian. It would go down as the “Year of Four Emperors” in Roman history, and that January 15th was generally accounted as a shameful day, with one exception: the gallant last stand of Sempronius Densus, “the single man among so many thousands that the sun beheld that day act worthily of the Roman empire”  (Plutarch) A bit later than Plutarch, the historian Cassius Dio also told the story, and singled out Sempronius for praise, and I will close this history lesson with his final thoughts on the lone centurion who stood up for what he believed was right that day:

"This is why I have recorded his name, for he is most worthy of being mentioned." Darn straight!

Semper Fi!