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State of the NCO Corps, May 2011
Tuesday, 10 May 2011 13:00
Greetings Marines!

Well, it’s not hard to guess where I am as these words are being written: the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of the local NCO club, where we consider forty degrees F t-shirt and shorts weather (in these parts anyway) and we have a growing pool as to when the weather forecasters can get it right for a whole week in a row that promises to be a pretty good size if anybody ever wins it (I have mid-December).

We can joke about the weather locally, but frankly, there are other places where the recent weather has been no joke at all. The southeastern US was recently hit very hard by some very bad storms, including tornadoes, and the storm season is just beginning. If there was ever a time for local SFMC groups to step up and lend a hand in whatever way they can, this would be it. Sometimes it is easy to talk about wanting to do more to help people far away, but for many Marines, there is now a crying need close to home,
I have no doubt that many of you are already mobilizing to lend what assistance you can. It would be of particular interest and benefit to the SFMC, given the high profile of the storm damage, to hear what our Marines are doing to help. So, I would really appreciate you taking the time to drop me a line and put me in the loop. As I have said more than once, contrary to Corps legend, Top is neither all knowing nor all seeing.
No effort you can make is too small when it comes to giving back to your community. Keep up the good work, Marines, and please let me know about the contributions you make in terms of time and effort so I can share them with the rest of the Corps.
Now, if you read the job description of the SGM SFMC, you will find that I have the assigned duty of promoting and encouraging community service throughout the Corps, but as just another SFMC NCO, there is another duty assigned to me that I have not talked much about until now.
If you turn to your copy of the latest edition of the MFM (and you DO have a copy, right?), you will note (Page 20 for those following along) that, in addition to leading the way in community service, SFMC NCOs have another assigned function, namely “to recruit, encourage and guide new members in the SFMC and their local chapter.”
Given that the Commandant has expressed a goal of seeing the SFMC grow, I am going to call on the NCO Corps to help make that happen, and devote space from time to time in this report on the subject. The first thing that I would like to stress is that hand in hand with Recruiting comes Retention. It does no real good to bring someone in only to have them disappear again after their membership expires.
The first step in that process is giving new Marines accurate information. That means (you guessed it) being familiar with the written policies for the SFMC contained in the MFM and Policy Manual. Again, nobody expects you to memorize it, but have it available, and be willing to look things up and point people in the right direction. And, if you have any doubt, ASK.
The NCO Chain of Support is there for you to use, and if nobody knows the right answer, someone will kick it up the chain, or help you find out.
Speaking of the the SFMC’s head count and the enlisted ranks, I have submitted my full report on the initial round of data to be published in an upcoming CQ and the AOD! Extra. I will not spoil it for you, but there are some interesting numbers that jump out, and I am looking forward to my next round of data collection which will involve the June BDE reports.
Special tips of Top’s eight point go out this month to CWO3 Jenn Hoover, who has moved up to the always demanding job of heading the SFMC NCO Academy, and the 17th BDE’s Star of Valor winner for this year, PO1 Marsha Beighley (SFMC Reserve). Well done, Marines!
One question that crops up from time to time is why some BDEs do not award the Star of Valor every year. Honestly, there may be a couple of factors at work here. First, sometimes the obvious candidate for the award will voluntarily remove themselves from consideration “to give someone else a shot at it.”  Second, and highly likely, nobody submitted anyone for that particular award. Again, odds are the Other Guy was supposed to take care of it.
So, as the time for IC/IM draws ever closer, I will remind you yet again that, at the end of the day, YOU are the one responsible for nominating all those hard working Marines you know for awards to be given out at all levels of the SFMC. The Other Guy never gets it done. In between touching up the shine on your boots and making sure you know where your coin is, spare a few minutes and write a recommendation or six.
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.
Now it’s time for Top’s History Lesson. As I write this, Memorial Day is approaching here in the US, a holiday originally established to honor those who have fallen in war, and now, by extension, to remember all those who have gone from this life. This year, I will be adding the names of two real-world enlisted men to those I remember: former US Army Corporal Frank Buckles, who passed away at the age of 110 at the end of February, and former Royal Navy sailor Claude Choules who very recently quietly also left 110 years of life behind him. These two men were the last known surviving combat arms veterans of the seventy million who served in World War One. I will go into more detail on both of these men at some later time.
But, for now, I want to speak briefly of the only person left alive who served in the War to End All Wars. Now living in Norfolk, Florence Green (then Florence Patterson) served as a young mess steward in the Women’s Royal Air Force at RAF Marham in 1918. It was a sign of the times that she served in a non-combatant role, and it was not until January 2010 that she was identified as a veteran of World War One.
Mrs Green is also 110 years old. She has lived a long and fruitful life, with a marriage of 50 years that produced a son and two daughters (one of who she still lives with), four grand children, and seven great grandchildren. I can only hope that she has a few more years left, and that her current life is a good one. She is the last living link to that period in our planet’s history.
She was never in a position to see combat, but she still served, and the world will be a somewhat poorer place when her time finally comes as well. Keep a good thought out for her, will you, please?
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!