rear-seat drivers

Being in charge of a formation or group of personnel is quite a thing.

When a person is in command of a formation, they stand just a few paces in front of the mass, commands committed to memory, ready to steer the living beast to or from an event. While in charge, he has every opportunity to show his knowledge of drill (or lack thereof) and get the chance to be berated and criticized by every swingin’ Richard in the ranks.

“Why don’t we do this inside?” “They’re just gonna have to do this again after the cards are passed out.” “I’m signing this sheet too?” “God, why are we running so fast?” “My feet hurt, why don’t they slow down?”

And in a lot of cases, the troops are right–things are often done in silly ways. Pointed-out opinions are a lot of times correct.

But the ones doing the griping often have never been in charge, and have no idea how your mind turns to mush when things pop up or you’re expected to make snap decisions on little to no information.

Coming back from Iraq I was the NCO in charge of the baggage detail–a fun little romp involving the repeated lifting of many hundreds of overstuffed duffel bags. It was hot, it was heavy, but it had to be done.

Getting off the bus, they’d yell for the baggage detail to form up while every one else went to chill in the air conditioning. We’d gather outside before being ushered to our labor zone by one of the attending civilian quarter-millionaires.

You know that game “memory” where you are asked to look at a series of objects for two or three seconds, they’re covered and mixed around, and then the sheet is whisked away and you have to reassemble everything?

That’s how being in charge feels like when faced with a new task. You remember how things should or could go and–whoosh! There goes the curtain, now…how best to assemble my troops in a system of efficiency and effectiveness to both maximize output and assuage any gripes and complaints before they manifest?

Older cats have more experience, of course, but even that only gets you so far. Our first sergeant does things at times that make me frumple my brow. Joes like me take to it as best we can, but it will always lead to some of the “suggestions” being thrown out by the troops.

Now, old-school Army would have the ol’ sarge scream, shout and kick the sh*t out of the complainers; but we can’t do that in the sensitive, feeling Army. So, I’m left with second-guessers and rear-seat drivers.

And not to say that I’m the calm, cool and collected SOB either. There’s a lot of times I have no idea what’s going on.

“We’re NOT moving these off the palettes? Green bags on the–where?! Ok guys, stop. Move these back on to there, take these others and lash them to the back.”

“Aw, com’on!” “I’m thirsty!” “Sergeant, you got all these people here that aren’t doing anything.” “We need more people on the top.”

And the all-knowing, almighty specialists begin their mantra. Would-be NCOs–some too young for stripes, but many too lazy to care. It’s far easier to sit back and bitch rather than follow instructions and bear with things.

Command at any level is tricky, but E5s are a special bunch. We’re the ones who typically interact with the soldiers directly. Commands trickle down the chain finally to the E5s who whip the troops into a reluctant blob and accomplish the work.

I ain’t the best at it, but I try. “There’s nothing like command,” I hear the colonels and majors say, smiling. Yeah, from the lofty perches, I’m sure it is a glorious thing. Down with the Joes, it’s day by day, one complex puzzle after the next, and there’s no shortage of gripes and complaints.

Still, it’s where you can make the most difference. I’ll leave all the movie and book deals to the officers and glory hounds. I’m a sergeant. I keep it real.


About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

One response to “rear-seat drivers”

  1. priya says :

    stumbled on your blog several weeks ago and am now officially hooked. Tremendous perspicacity —that’s my $20 word du jour 😉

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