Monday, October 26, 2009

Soldiers always fight the war with ethics and morality and it is that war that comes to define the virtues of a professional soldier. There are thousands of instances where a soldier must make decisions that in any other setting would be mundane. However insignificant these decisions are, these instances cause us to evaluate and re-evaluate our belief system and this constantly challenges the very basis of those virtues. These are also the decisions that, in the eyes of our peers, project what each and every one of us is capable of. Loyalty, honor, respect, and self-discipline are a few of the virtues that a soldier must constantly work for to earn the mark of a professional. The story I am about to tell you is one of those instances.

We have be running around our FOB with blanks in our weapons to simulate walking around a FOB in a war zone with live rounds. A few days back one of the guys in my section lost his Magazine with five blanks in it. I don’t know the specifics of how this happened, but speculation has it that someone picked it up off his bunk and threw it in the trash. Fortunately the mag was found, but it is what happened in the 24 hours between the loss and the recovery that I am going to tell you about.

Shortly after the wag went missing, the Joe came up to me with his plan to replace the mag to avoid punishment. I was taking part in training that required me to be away from the rest of the company so he wanted me to lend him my mag with blanks while he acquired blanks at the training event the rest of the company was going to be attending. I declined his request for two reasons: one he is a grown man with a combat patch so I expected him to do the right thing and two; I am not in the business of babysitting grown men, especially men with combat patches.

If anything, they are the men that should be watching me and preparing me for the day we cross the imaginary line into a combat zone. Let me clarify this a little bit more, there is a fine line between babysitting men and being a leader. A babysitter never takes the training wheels off the bike when he sends his men out, but a leader slashes the front tire after taking the training wheels off. He allows his men the opportunity to grow and learn from the experience.

He and I are on the same team and this is where loyalty kicks in. I knew if I ran to our section Sergeant and dimed him out, I would lose the trust and respect of most of the guys in my section. I am about to go to war with these guys the last thing I want is half the guys hating me. My mistake was assuming he was going to do the right thing and take his mistake up the chain of command.

I know that assumption is the mother of all screw-ups and I wish I had taken that into account then because he did not come clean with his mistake until the next day. Like I mentioned earlier, I was separated from the company so, when I returned from my training that day I arrived to see him and the Non Commissioned Officers in our section tearing his living area apart looking for the missing mag.

What happen next made me feel like a dirt bag. Our section Sergeant walks up to me and asks why I hadn’t informed him of the incident. I didn’t want to sound defensive so I took a hit and ended up taking one of the other guys down with me. When the lost mag came to my attention I had asked one of the combat hardened Joes in our section for advice. He had the same mentality I had so we decided to let it ride out, hoping our buddy would do the right thing. The look of disappointment on my section Sergeant’s face made me want to crawl under my bunk and and curl up into the fetal position.

I have had very ambivalent feelings about the whole event. Part of me is upset that my buddy put me in that position but part of me does not care. We all make mistakes; it is how we learn. Part of me is upset because I should not have assumed that he would have done the right thing, while part of me knows babysitting is not in my job description. Part of me is upset because my reputation of being a turned on Joe took a hit but my loyalty to my guys did not. It is a very precarious situation to be in; I knew it then and I know it know. I may have lost a little trust from my chain of command and my honor as a soldier took a hit but it is a lesson learned. I must have forgotten to inflate the tire after the training wheels where removed.

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