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State of the NCO Corps, September 2011
State of the NCO Corps September 19, 2011

 Greetings Marines!

First, my apologies for a very late report this month. Real Life (in this case a delivery from the Bug of the Month Club) has left me wandering about in a bit of a fog for over a week now, and writing has been very hard

Well, after helping shift 3,823 cases of Gremlin-b-Gone over to the offices of the new COINFOCOM, I am back in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, where our new 4 star cook seems disappointed that we mostly order the burger and fries, and the weather seems to be changing faster than the number of stripes on Prigal's Class C's.

And that brings me to a little reminder. Before you know it, winter will be upon us again, and honestly, as I watched geese flying south here in late August, I have a feeling it may be a rough one. So, the time to start thinking about winter related community service activities is probably now-ish.


Odds are deserving children will need your efforts for Toys for Tots more than ever this year, and your unit should probably already be making plans for helping that effort. I will also remind you of my personal pet project, namely assisting those in need with warm clothing for the winter (Remember H.U.G.S.- hats, gloves, underwear, socks)

Frankly, given all the curves nature has been throwing at all of us this year, no matter how small the community you live in, there is ample opportunity for Marines to make a difference. No effort is too small, and please let me know of special efforts' in your units so I can give you due praise in this report.

As a reminder on the OTHER duty that SFMC NCOs are charged with, FORCECOM is still looking for someone to handle a new Recruiting and Retention program they plan to roll out. Please contact FORCECOM if you are interested for further details.

Overall, there is a lot of room for growth in the SFMC, and FORCECOM could use an enthusiastic, motivated individual to help make that happen. Sounds like a lot of Marines I know, both enlisted and officers. So, consider getting in on the ground floor.

The second round of data collection still supports an estimate of roughly 25% of the SFMC holding enlisted ranks, with the average BDE having somewhere around 21-29 % of its members enlisted. The outlier in the sample is still the 5th BDE, who report just over 40 % of their members are enlisted. Interestingly, although several BDEs in the sample had an overall decrease in members in the time between data points, the general trend was for the percentage of enlisted members to actually increase. I will be looking closely at this over the next few data points.

As you know, I like to single out enlisted members of the Corps for special attention, or as I generally refer to it, a tip of Top's eight-point. To that end, here's one for the new CSM of the 13th BDE, SGM James Stephens. I am sure that he will prove to be an exceptional Top Kick for the 13th.

For all you enlisted Marines out there, please keep me posted on the goings on in your unit and BDE so I can give you the public praise I am sure you deserve in my reports. And, never hesitate to drop me a line just to touch base. The NCO Chain of Support relies not on official reports, but mainly on just enlisted Marines lending each other a hand when needed.

While we're on the subject of dropping folks a line, 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. In March of 1968, Chief Master Sergeant Richard Etchberger was part of a small, hand picked US Air Force complement at a top secret radar installation known as Lima Site 85. The reason for all the secrecy? Lima Site 85 was in a place that it was not supposed to be: across the border in Laos. 19 men, including 16 airmen officially listed as "civilian employees" of Lockheed Aircraft, 2 CIA agents, and one forward air controller, along with some local guerilla fighters held the tiny base and directed bombing missions against Laos and North Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese figured out something was up after successful bombing missions occurred even with heavy cloud cover, and they began hunting for the radar site they knew had to be out there somewhere. A call was made to evacuate Lima Site 85, but it would prove to be too late. Early on the morning of March 11, they scaled the surrounding cliffs, and attacked. Soon, only 7 of the so-called "civilians" remained, including Dick Etchberger.

Despite not being combat trained, Etchberger helped tend the wounded, called down air strikes, and fought off the attackers single handed until a rescue helicopter arrived. He then helped load the wounded into slings let down from the hovering Huey, and finally, climbed aboard himself. As the helicopter took off for an air base in Thailand, an enemy soldier on the ground unloaded a burst into its underside, and Etchberger was fatally wounded.

One of those wounded men, John Daniel, had been taking shelter amidst the bodies of his fallen comrades when Etchberger placed him in that helicopter sling. Upon regaining consciousness and learning that Etchberger himself had been killed, Daniel voiced his disbelief: "Hell, he hasn't been injured, he hasn't been shot. How is he dead?"

Etchberger was recommended for a Medal of Honor shortly after his death, but the fact that Lima Site 85 was someplace where it was not supposed to be, and the classified nature of the mission resulted in him being awarded the Air Medal instead. Even then, the ceremony was held in secret at the Pentagon. His family was told at the time that he had died in a helicopter accident.

Years later, the Lima Site mission was declassified, and in the early 2000s, veterans of the Air Force's 1st Combat Evaluation Group began requesting that Etchberger's Air Force Cross be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. They got their wish. The Medal of Honor was presented to Etchberger's sons at a White House ceremony on September 21, 2010.

I will let John Daniel have the last word here. After the whole nation finally recognized the unsung hero who risked his own life to save him, and gave his own life at the end of a day of almost Hollywood heroics, Daniel told Stars and Stripes:

"It should have happened 42 years-plus ago, and he should have gotten a damn 55-gallon drum full of them if he wanted them."

Semper Fi!

MGSGT Jerome A. "Hawk" Stoddard

Sergeant Major of the Starfleet Marines

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