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State of the NCO Corps, February 2011
Friday, 11 February 2011 13:00
Greetings Marines!

Well, the new GS is settled in, and working hard, and I have just enough time to slip off to my favorite spot for a bit of a breather. So, here I am again in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of the local NCO Club, where we PROMISE to take the popcorn out of the bowl before we throw it at the video screen next time (no matter what the score of the Big Game is), and the weather outside is best described in language I really can’t use here.

The weather has been on the minds of many of us in the SFMC this past month, from the flooding in the 11th BDE to ice and snow, well, pretty much everywhere else. So, this is a good spot to remind you again of my own personal campaign:  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. There are a fair number of Marines who live apart from the rest of their units, or live in small communities, for instance. Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

One thing I have been doing this past month is answering a few questions about awards, and how I go about determining who I personally nominate for what awards. One way is to pull out your copy of the current MFM, read through the awards descriptions, and see who leaps to mind when you read the criteria. In other words, rather than saying “This person did this …what award are they qualified for?” turning it sideways and saying “This award is for doing this … who do I know that does this?”

From there, you usually have a really good head start on writing up deserving Marines for their good works. As usual, I will remind you that assuming the Other Guy is going to actually sit down and write it up is asking for disappointment. All it really costs you is a little wear and tear on your keyboard and some time. And, as a special reminder, take a look at the Cadet awards section.

We all know that part of my job is to keep the NCO Chain of Support up by recruiting and retaining enlisted members of the SFMC, but nobody seems to know just how many enlisted members we have and with the current SFI database, there is just no easy way to get the numbers. However, the good folks at FORCECOM are going to see what they can do about getting me some raw data from this round of reports.

Speaking of reports, although there is no formal requirement to report up the NCO Chain of Support, I would like to hear from all the BDE SGMs out there sometime soon just so we can touch base. In that vein, I would like to give a special shout out to SGM Shawn “Airborne” Williams, 2 BDE SGM for putting me in the loop concerning enlisted activities in his brigade.

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. In October of 2007, the USS James E Williams (DDG 95), an Arleigh Burke class destroyer went to the assistance of a Korean freighter that had been captured by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The action ended with six pirates captured and one killed. Her namesake probably would have been proud.

About 41 years earlier, Boatswain’s Mate First Class James Williams was leading a section of two river patrol boats (PBRs) in the Mekong Delta. Williams was a “lifer”, serving in both Korea, and Vietnam, and the young sailors of the “Brown Water Navy” simply called him “Willie”. The patrol was fairly routine, when they came under fire from a couple of sampans. They sank one, and pursued the other into an inlet, and then everything hit the fan as the enemy opened up from the banks with heavy automatic weapons fire. Williams punched through the ambush, and ran smack into a group of 10 enemy boats on the river.

He accelerated through that group and calmly requested help over the radio, calling in helicopter gunships, but before they arrived, he ran into ANOTHER, much larger concentration of enemy watercraft. Without waiting for the Huey gunships of the “Seawolves” (Navy Helicopter Attack SQDN 3), he led his forces in tearing up the enemy, exposing himself time and time again to heavy fire from both the river and the banks. By the time the gunships arrived, it was beginning to get dark, so Williams calmly ordered the searchlights of the two PBRs turned on, despite the fact that it would make it easier for the enemy to target them.

At the end of the day, over 50 enemy vessels had been sunk, an unknown but very high number of enemy personnel killed or wounded, and a major supply effort smashed due to the courage and leadership displayed by the veteran petty officer.

Williams retired in April of 1967, and just over a year later, on May 14, 1968, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, which added to his Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, and numerous other awards made him the most highly decorated enlisted man in US Navy history. From the Medal of Honor citation:

“His extraordinary heroism and exemplary fighting spirit in the face of grave risks inspired the efforts of his men to defeat a larger enemy force, and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”

Williams, who went on to serve a long career with the US Marshalls, was quick to admonish anyone who wanted to talk about his awards.

 "You gotta stop and think about your shipmates. That's what makes you a great person and a great leader - taking care of each other. You've got to think -- team. It takes a team to win any battle, not an individual."

Words to live by, Marines.

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!