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State of the NCO Corps, June 2011
Thursday, 16 June 2011 13:00
Greetings Marines!

After taking my once yearly weekend off to attend my BDE muster, I am back in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, where we spell “karaoke” using only four letters, and personal recording devices used unwisely suffer an alarming degree of failure when subjected to impact testing.

Let me lead off by congratulating a few enlisted members who figured prominently in their BDE’s Valor awards. Over in the First, SGT Jonathon Pittman is the latest Star of Valor winner, with 1SGT Carl Christianson winning their Cross of Valor. When an NCO is Marine of the Year, I just have to smile. Also guaranteed to make me smile is the fine work done by younger members of the First BDE, with CDT SGT Anya Walker winning the Cadet Cross of Valor, and Midshipman Tori Gahrmann winning the Cadet Sword of Valor. Over in the 5th, which has either the problem or the privilege of being my home BDE (depending on who you ask), GSGT James Maarsingh is the latest Star of Valor winner, and at the muster, I also announced a special Letter of Commendation to CDT CPL Alexandra Shepherd. CDT CPL Shepherd was a shoo-in for a Cadet Valor Award, but membership problems meant she could receive no OFFICIAL award this year. However her BDE OIC and I made sure that something nice would happen for her.

Of course, making something nice happen for our fellow Marines is pretty much the job of every one of us, and in addition to congratulating the people who win awards, be sure and thank the folks who took the time and effort to make sure they were nominated instead of letting the Other Guy drop the ball.

The past month has been a difficult one for people in a LOT of places. I have received scattered reports of Marines doing what they can help people in other areas affected by sudden disaster. This is admirable, but remember: there may be people in your own area in need of help as well. Look around and you may be surprised at the opportunities you have to lend a hand. Community service is not always about the big picture or national/international efforts. Not all disasters happen with a capital “D”.

In fact, there is a perception that “community service” means working with some organized charity or program, but the simple truth is the MFM mentions things as simple as volunteering to clean up a local park. Even in a place as small as the one I live in, if I look around I can find someone who needs a hand, or a little job that needs done to make someone’s life better. 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, let’s take a minute to talk about Recruiting and Retention. Plans are under way at the Corps level to do something more in this vital area, and I will doubtless have more to say on that effort, but as it stands right now, the ONLY ones in the SFMC specifically charged with recruiting and retention duties are the NCOs. So, let’s talk about the most important part of that again: retention.

Sometimes the biggest problem with getting someone to STAY in the SFMC revolves around the group they join. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the chapter, unit, or even the people involved, but merely that sometimes a person may be a better fit with another group. Keep an eye on those new recruits, help them to fit in, and if they seem to be having a problem, perhaps it may be that you can introduce them to a group that fits them better. This is NOT passing the problem to someone else. At the end of the day, the important thing is to try and keep that new Marine interested and staying with the SFMC somewhere.

Now, another thing that helps retain new people is to be having FUN. Find something that everyone can get involved in, be it a movie or poker night, paintball, gaming nights, role-playing email lists, etc. Keep informed as to what other Marines in your area are doing and ask to join in. A unit that is having fun and makes everybody welcome is a success, no matter how many streamers they have on their guidon or how many ribbons its members have on their Class A’s.

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. Before I go on, I would like to announce that, by request, I will have a compendium of all the History Lessons available as either a PDF or Word document (your choice) available by IC, simply for the asking. I will announce when the document is ready.

Now, ask a Marine who the greatest sniper of all time was, and odds are the name of Gunny Hathcock will come up, and indeed I have promised to cover him here sometime. But I have done some digging, and I think that a case can be made for a Finn named Simo Häyhä, who earned the nickname “White Death” during the Winter War between Russia and Finland in 1939-1940.

During 100 days where the hours of daylight were short, and the temperatures got as low as 40 below, the white clad alikersantti (corporal) used every trick in the book as he stalked the enemy. For instance, he preferred to use iron sights, rather than a scope, since that let him stay lower and offered no flash off the lens (and scopes fogged up in the extreme cold.) He would pack the snow down to avoid it puffing up from the muzzle blast of his Mosin-Nagant rifle, and reportedly kept snow in his mouth to cool his breath so it would not “smoke” and give him away, In those 100 days, his CONFIRMED score was 505 enemy soldiers, plus as many as 200 more in more direct fighting.

The Russians tried everything to stop him, including counter sniper teams and even artillery strikes on areas where they thought the man they called “Belaya Smert” might be hiding, but the former farmer and hunter kept rolling up his score. Finally, on March 6, 1940, they succeeded. Häyhä was shot in the lower left jaw by a Russian soldier during combat. He was picked up by fellow soldiers who said "half his head was missing", but he was not dead, He regained consciousness on March 13, the day peace was declared.

Although his injuries were severe and disfiguring, Häyhä not only survived, he went on to become a successful moose hunter and dog breeder after World War II, and spent his final years in a small village located in southeastern Finland, near the Russian border. At the time of his death in 2002, he was 97 years old, and possibly the greatest sniper who ever lived. When asked in 1998 how he had become such a good shooter, he answered, "practice." When asked if he regretted killing so many people, he said "I did what I was told to as well as I could."
 
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!