Master of the obvious
Honey, did you see the LA Times? Bob Kaplan
says I'm the backbone of the Army. Wow. I never
In praise of the noncoms
# Commissioned officers may give the orders, but in war it's the poorly paid, blue-collar sergeants and corporals who get things done.
By Robert D. Kaplan, ROBERT D. KAPLAN, a correspondent for Atlantic Monthly, is the author of "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground," published last month by Random House.
WHETHER IN New Orleans or Baghdad, at home or abroad, the real workhorses of our post-9/11 military have not come from among the generals and colonels, or even the captains and lieutenants, but from the enlisted ranks of sergeants and corporals.
As any West Pointer or Annapolis-educated officer will tell you, these noncommissioned officers — NCOs or noncoms in military lingo — are the heart and soul of the U.S. military, the repository of its culture and traditions.
They are a poorly paid, blue-collar corps, many of them just high school graduates. Two-thirds of all Marines are noncommissioned and in their first four-year enlistment. Nearly 90% of Army Special Forces soldiers, or Green Berets, are sergeants of one grade or another.
The average American has not worn a uniform since the draft ended more than three decades ago, so perhaps we may be forgiven for clinging to the stereotype of the growly sergeant hovering over a recruit doing push-ups, as in the 1960s comedy series "Gomer Pyle, USMC."
Wow, so many cliches in one article. Gomer Pyle? That was an insult in the 1960's. Uh, Mr. Kaplan, watch Band of Brothers. You will see NCO's leading their men. Buy Brothers in Arms. When you play, it will be as an NCO. Many American officers got their start as oh, NCO's. The Marines even have a name for them, Mustangs. This is NOTHING new. My father can remember the NCO's he served with 50 years ago. Wow. Mr. Kaplan doesn't even realize that a service academy officer is the rarest of breeds, about 10 percent of the officer corps.
Never before in military history have noncommissioned officers — who deal at the lowest tactical level, where operational success or failure is determined — been so critical. This is because of the changing nature of conflict.
Really? Someone would have to tell that to Eisenhower.
Because the world of NCOs is tactical, they do not voice opinions about such things as "should or should we not have intervened," and thus for the media they often remain invisible.
Because NO ONE ASKS THEM. Believe me, they have opinions. Especially the more educated ones. They have opinions. It's just that they may be punished for giving them.
The idealistic captain or lieutenant has become a mainstay of much military reporting, including my own. NCOs, by contrast, are generally tight-lipped, except when you ask them about the technical task at hand. Then they can't stop talking. Ask them what they do, never how they feel, has become my motto.
Have you ever read a newspaper? Because NCO's are all over them. They talk to officers, but NCO's give far better quotes.
This fine NCO corps is also a product of America's middle-class society. In many a Third World army, the gulf between officers and enlistees is that between aristocrats and peasants. Because such class distinctions do not really exist here, the consequence is an NCO corps that deals confidently with its superiors, so that lieutenants revere and depend upon their sergeants. It is that bond that is at the core of a military that gets the greatest possible traction out of the worst possible policies.
Wow. I hope no one in the British Army reads this. Since it's been said that all a young officer has to do is be brave and die well. Or in the German Army, where officers first serve in the ranks. Wow, this shit is pretty obvious to anyone who cares to know.
But NCOs are not sufficiently listened to. The three most desperately needed items in Iraq today are ones that NCOs have long been emphasizing: armored Humvees, "blue-force" trackers for situational awareness of the battlefield and SAPI plates (small-arms protective inserts for flak vests).
Gee, that's the same reason David Hackworth was given when he was about to refuse a commission. A wise old sergeant told him: "Look, Dave, no matter how right you are, some officer is going to give you an order and you're gonna have to follow it. It would be a lot better if you were that officer."
Robert Kaplan needs to read more, because this is hardly anything new.
Wow. NCO"s are the backbone of the Army. And in other news, it rains in California in the winter.
posted by Steve @ 11:46:00 AM