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State of the NCO Corps, November 2011

Greetings Marines!

Once again, it’s time for me to take a break from my duties to speak to you from in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, where SGT Bear (my dog).is not the only one growing his fur out a bit long and shaggy for winter, and when we find the clown who put “Let It Snow” on the old jukebox in the corner and then arranged for it to play for two hours straight, well, it won’t be pretty. (Contrary to rumor, we have NOT discussed shooting whoever it was …shooting’s too good for them. However, I do have temporary duty papers drawn up for Prigal once the guilty party is identified.)

While the 11th BDE is enjoying their spring, pretty much all the rest of us are getting ready for winter (if we have not already had a little taste of it), and that means I need to remind you about several things on the community service front.

This is, of course, the time of year when your unit’s Toys for Tots drive should be already in gear. If it isn’t, and you are waiting for the Other Guy to get things moving, I respectfully suggest you may be in for a disappointment. Also of note is the Fleet Admiral’s Challenge, which involves donations to your local food banks, and runs through January 1, 2011. (See last months State of the NCO Corps for details). This project is not only Corps wide, but all of STARFLEET has been tasked with it. 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),

That’s a lot, but I want to lay one more request on you. As I write this, Veteran’s Day is coming up, and in spite of a lot of good work being done over the years, there are still many people who have served their country who have needs that are not being met, and I would urge all Marines to see what efforts they can make on behalf of veterans.

We have come a long way since Kipling wrote “The Last of the Light Brigade” (look it up, Marines. I promise it is worth your time to read) in1891, but there is still work to be done.

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.

Recently, the Depdant announced a new Recruiting and Retention award. And, the key word here is “retention”.  While getting new people to join is nice, we need those new people to stay around, and regardless of who recruited them, by The Book, a large part of seeing that it happens is tasked to the NCOs of the SFMC. Get to know those new Marines, help show them the ropes, and never hesitate to reach out through the NCO Chain of Support to help answer their questions and address their concerns.

Not to sound like a broken record (or a corrupted MP3 file for those of you less familiar with old vinyl records), but FORCECOM is still looking for an enthusiastic Marine to head up the Recruiting and Retention office. Contact FORCECOM for details.

As you probably know, TRACOM announced that the important post of SGM TRACOM (and head of the NCO Academy) had been passed to GSGT Mark “Gambit” Polanis. Gunny Polanis has settled in, and is ready, willing, and able to handle your requests for NCO development courses. I have no doubt that he’ll do a fine job. Drop him a line with any questions, suggestions, or just to say hello.

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.

This month I will be asking the good folks at FORCECOM for another slice of data from my sample so I can keep tracking the estimated number of enlisted personnel in the SFMC. To refresh your memories, so far the sample suggests that around 25% of the SFMC holds enlisted ranks, and predicts that a given BDE will have, on average, somewhere between 21 to 29 % enlisted members. Recently, I put that hypothesis to a test, asking FORCECOM to send me reports from two BDEs not already part of the study group (their choice, so long as the personnel data was complete and accurate), but I did ask for one larger and one smaller BDE.

The results were interesting to say the least. The smaller BDE had 7 of 19 (or about 37%) of its members holding enlisted ranks, while the larger BDE came in at 12 of 111 (or just shy of 11%) enlisted. In other words, one BDE was well above the predicted percentage, and the other significantly below what the sample suggested I would find. Right now, my best explanation for the lower percentage for the larger BDE is that it contains a high percentage of very high ranking individuals (i.e., most of its Marines have been in for a long time) and may reflect an “older” version of the SFMC. I also was not all that surprised to find a BDE with a significantly lower percentage of enlisted members, since every curve has two ends, and the presence of BDEs that have significantly higher percentages of enlisted members than the data suggested meant somewhere there would be someone at the other end. As always, more data is needed, and my bifocals will continue to get a workout over the next month or so.

Now, it’s time for Top’s History Lesson. This month, with a lot of history to choose from, by request I am going back to the roots of the NCO Corps: the centurions of the Roman legions.

In about 65 BC, a twenty year old man named Gaius Crastinus signed up for the legions in Spain, starting in either the 8th or 9th (history is unclear on that point) under Pompey Magnus (Pompey the Great). He was apparently an exemplary soldier, and had risen through the ranks to the post of a junior-grade centurion in 61 BC when he was one of the troops hand picked for the brand new 10th Legion, formed by a a Roman general you may have heard of: Gaius Julius Caesar.

Crastinus was given a century of his own to command, and fought with the 10th throughout Caesar’s campaign in Gaul. He was at Alesia to witness the surrender of Vercingetorix, and the century under his command held a river crossing against the Helvetii tribe early in the war. Caesar considered him one of the best soldiers he had, and promoted him to the rank of Primus Pilus (First Spear), the highest ranking enlisted soldier in the entire 10th Legion.

In 48 BC, during the Roman Civil War, he repaid his commander’s faith in him at the critical battle of Pharsalus, where Caesar faced Crastinus’ old commander, Pompey. Caesar’s forces were cut off from their source of supply, they were outnumbered, and the enemy held the high ground. But Caesar had a secret weapon: the finest enlisted man in his crack 10th Legion and perhaps the finest enlisted man in any legion. The First Spear led a volunteer “forlorn hope” party, slashing in from the right wing at the beginning of the battle.

Before their attack, Caesar reports that Crastinus said to his small force of volunteers: “Follow me, my old comrades, and give your general true service. Only this battle remains; when it's over he will regain his dignity and we our freedom." Then he turned to Caesar and said "Today, general, I shall earn your gratitude whether I live or die". The attack, intended mainly as diversion, came close to succeeding in breaking through the enemy line, and there fell Gaius Crastinus. First Spear of the10th. But the bold maneuver helped Caesar win the battle, and in gratitude, he reportedly raised a special tomb to the memory of his faithful and outstanding NCO.

Semper Fi!