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State of the NCO Corps, January 2011
Thursday, 06 January 2011 13:00
Greetings Marines!

Well, the last week or so has been like a Klingon fire drill at SFMC HQ (lots of folks running about franticly, a fair bit of shouting, occasional brandishing of edged weapons, and even the odd individual bursting out into song), but the changeover is complete, and the new GS is ready to dig in and set to work. I want to pass on special thanks to INFOCOM for all the timely and tireless work that went into making the changeover smooth and seamless.

With many of the GS making announcements concerning their staff this month, I would like to lead off by announcing that there will be no changes for me. It has been suggested that I bring PVT Prigal aboard as a kind of sounding board, figuring that anything he thinks is a GOOD idea probably has a fatal flaw in it somewhere, and anything he thinks is a BAD idea should probably never be spoken of again. I will merely point out that Prigal thinks this would be a bad idea.

But, I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to welcome aboard the new SGM TRACOM and director of the NCO Academy, GSGT James “Fireball” Maarsingh. His enthusiasm and “can do” attitude will serve him well, and he will bring a unique perspective to the job. I look forward to working with him the way I did his immediate predecessor.

Also over at TRACOM, CWO3 Jennifer Hoover has moved from being ADC clerk to heading up the ADC program there. I want to give her a BIG “Bravo Zulu” for the way she decided to tear into the E-certs backlog last month, in spite of being very ill. Her attitude was pretty much “If I am just sitting here feeling awful, I may as well do something constructive.”

It is now officially THAT time of year. Calls are beginning to go out for annual award nominations from the various BDE OICs. At the risk of repeating myself, don’t assume the Other Guy is going to get the job done for the Marines you know. Take the time to write them up for those well deserved rewards for all their hard work this past year. And, don’t forget the Cadet awards.

Toys for Tots has wrapped up for the season, and scattered reports reaching my office indicate that a lot of Marines (and Fleet) worked their tails off to help make a lot of deserving children happy this year. Give yourselves a hand! As a special note, I have pledged that if my own chapter can double their output next year, I will personally take a pie in the face from one of our Marine cadets. Any other NCOs out there willing to put their face on the line in a good cause?

Speaking of causes, I would like to remind you again of my own personal campaign, namely  helping those without adequate shelter and warm clothing this winter. 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 would also like to remind you that I am still looking for ways that a Marine who is pretty much out on their own can make a meaningful contribution to their unit’s community service activities. A recent great example was the Holiday Mail for Heroes program. Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

On my personal project list right now is developing a couple of courses dealing with a pair of fictional NCOs for SFA. (That’ll teach me to give a certain SFA director grief on the Corps-l list). I am also looking for help and input on a longer range project to possibly develop some enlisted ranks specific material for SFA. After all, whether our uniforms are SFMC blacks or all the colors of Fleet, we are all Starfleet together.

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. Most of you have likely never heard of SGT Michael Strank, but at the same time, I would be willing to bet that most of you have at least caught a glimpse of him many times.

Born Mykhal Strenk in Czechoslovakia, his father emigrated to the US, and saved enough money to bring his family over. Strank graduated high school in 1937, and after a brief stint in the Civilian Conservation Corps and as a highway worker signed up for the Marines in 1939. By early 1942, he had made sergeant. He first saw combat in WW2 as part of the 3rd Marine Battalion on Uvea, and went on to serve with the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion before ending up as a squad leader in the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Division.

His men had the highest regard for their veteran squad leader, calling him a “Marine’s Marine”, and those who served with him recall that he had a way of putting them at ease, and making them feel like they could survive the war. He died in heavy fighting on March 1, 1945, a casualty of friendly artillery fire.

But, only a few days before his death, SGT Michael Strank became part of history. Not for something he did in combat, but rather for carrying out what seemed to be a rather simple routine task along with a few other Marines and one Navy Corpsman. The job?  Well, Strank is reported as saying: "Colonel Johnson wants this big flag run up high so every (expletive) on this whole cruddy island can see it."

Yep …THAT flag. A fortuitous click of a camera shutter captured Strank, along with CPL Harlon Brock, PFCs Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousey and Rene Gagnon, and Pharmacist’s Mate John Bradley as they replaced the small flag run up earlier in the day on Iwo Jima and created what has been called the most copied photograph in history. It is an image that to many is one of the first things that come to mind when they hear the word “Marine”. It is an image that I feel will doubtless follow Marines of the future wherever they go and whatever flag they fight under.

For that reason alone, SGT Strank should be remembered, but there is a curious postscript to the story. In 2008, GSGT Matt Blais, serving with the US Embassy Guard in Slovakia, discovered that, although Strank’s parents had been made naturalized citizens in 1935, Michael Strank had never received official documentation of his US citizenship. Blais petitioned the US Immigration and Naturalization Service on Strank’s behalf, and in July of 2008, the official documents were presented to Strank’s youngest sister, Mary Pero, in a ceremony fittingly held at the Marine Corps War Memorial, a bronze sculpture that reproduces that famous flag raising.

So, even while you hold SGT Michael Strank in your memories, spare some time to give a little thought of thanks to Gunny Matt Blais, who serves to remind us that Marines, of whatever era and under any flag, take care of their own.

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!