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Exorcising the Salutin’ Demon

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Vassar wrote about a Salutin’ Demon a few days ago.  They weren’t uncommon in my day either.  Usually they are young Second Lieutenants who haven’t figured out their actual place in the chain of command.  Do you know the difference between a PFC and a First Lieutenant?  A PFC has been promoted twice. It kinda puts things in their rightful place. Theoretically a Lieutenant out ranks his Platoon Sergeant but in fact that Platoon Sergeant is, by Army regulation, responsible for the LT’s training.  The Platoon Sergeant has ten or more years of experience compared to the LT’s two.  Explain to me how I am responsible for his training and he’s actually in charge?  Its not possible.  If worse comes to worse and the LT refuses to see the light, you (his PSG) just agree, “Hell yes Sir, that’s perfect, you tell everyone how things work and we’ll just reap the rewards.  You’re f*ckin’ brilliant.”  It gets ugly fast and Lieutenants don’t know whether to shit or go blind.  Some folks learn best when lessons are learned the hard way.

In my first unit, the Wolfhounds, in 1988, Vietnam Vets were in abundance.  We had a Command Sergeant Major who wore a different combat patch on his sleeve every day of the week.  I remember seeing him with a Screamin’ Eagle, a Big Red One, a Papa Company Ranger scroll and the southern star of the Americal Division (of Mai Lai fame) among others.  Then came the day he inspected my company during the peacetime Army tradition of “Best By Test Inspections,”  CSM Lopez was an angry Filipino about five-foot four who, according to local legend hated everything.

We were dressed in Class A’s and gay-ass shoes.  I’m sure things would have gone better if I’d have been able to wear jump boots and a maroon beret like a real man but I was still “straight leg Infantry” at the time, therefore stuck with stupid shoes and an even stupider “cunt” cap.  The CSM was conducting the inspection that day and when he crisply stepped in front of me the first thing I saw, nearly covered by the epaulet on his shoulder was a tiny powder blue ribbon with five white stars zig-zagging across it.  I’m sure my eyes bugged out of my head and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the Medal of Honor ribbon at the top of his stack.

He looked me up and down while I sweated 7.62 bullets then asked to see my belt buckle.  I opened the front of my uniform to show him my highly polished buckle.  CSM Lopez asked me if I’d shined the back of my buckle.  My brain froze and probably audibly let lose a disgusting wet fart.  My thoughts froze on “Why the f*ck would I shine the back of my buckle?  How do I answer that?  That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”  I think some sounds came out of my gob but I have no idea if the sounds actually formed any words.  I was still enthralled by the blue ribbon crossed with white stars.  My Company won the monthly “Best By Test” as usual, no thanks to me.

Here’s one of my favorite country singers, Whitey Morgan to set the mood for the rest of the story…  Sometimes nothin’ goes right…

Two years later CSM Lopez had become the Brigade Sergeant Major, my best friend had become the HHC Brigade Armorer.  I stopped by the Bde Arms Room one day to see if Rick wanted to go to lunch at the mess hall.  He said he had to wait till the CSM turned in his .45.  The CSM showed up about that time, turned in his pistol and was bullshitting with us as we walked to the mess hall for lunch.  As we strolled down the street towards the mess hall a 2LT approached, Rick and I, being Specialists, noticed and snapped off salutes but the CSM was deep into a story about how poorly the Officers at the pistol range shot and didn’t notice him.  CSM’s can get away with that, a Specialist must maintain situational awareness at all times.

We got about two steps past the 2LT and suddenly the butter-bar says, “What’s the matter Sergeant Major?  We don’t salute officers anymore?”  The CSM turned and I could feel the anger radiating off him in terrifying waves like radiation off an exploding tactical nuke.  The CSM started stalking around the 2LT in a manner I didn’t recognize till years later when I saw the Velociraptor stalking his prey in “Jurassic Park.”  The 2LT didn’t know whether to shit or go blind so he snapped to a rigid position of attention.  Dumbass.  Maybe if he’d have assumed the position of Parade Rest the CSM would have shown him some mercy, as it was Medal of Honor recipient CSM Lopez had slipped into heavily accented English and Tagalog, his eyes turned solid black like someone possessed by a demon and he went off.  The parts I remember consisted of “You want a f*ckin’ sarute Rutenant?  I go change into my “Crass A’s” and we see who f*ckin’ sarutes who!  You rike that Rutenant?  Now get the f*ck away from me!”

Rick and I lingered till the LT preformed the crispest of about faces and broke into a double time headed anywhere there wasn’t a hungry velociraptor wearing chevrons, a star and a wreath.  As the LT was making his break Rick and I made our own get-away.  It’s best not to be in the vicinity of an angry velociraptor especially if you’re lower on the food chain.

That may have been the most beloved memory I gained from my entire time in service.  The Department of The Army always said NCO’s were the backbone of the Army but I saw it in action that day.  Absolute badassery wielded like a two-handed sword to deadly effect and a young Lieutenant who learned his place in the hardest of lessons.

Some people just have to learn the hard way, poor dumb bastard must have been ROTC.

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About the Author:

I joined the Army in 1988, served in the 25th IL (L) , 24th ID, The Infantry Training Brigade, The 82nd Airborne Division, Ft Polk and again The 82nd Division until I retired in 2008. I was a mortar maggot and retired with the rank of Master Sergeant.
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Comments

  1. Vassar  June 26, 2018

    Showed that to my reclusive brother, ret USN CSM, Allen. Hope he’ll join us. Stories keep getting better and better. A lowly captain, CSM’s bailed me out more than once, and even cost a full colonel his job (and career) on my account. A 3-star took his word over an 0-6. I’ll tell that story soon.

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    • Allen  June 26, 2018

      During Katrina I lived on a Marine Landing Craft ship for about a month, confusing as hell trying to figure out how to get up and down in those boats. The Chief’s Mess was the absolute shit! No Officers Allowed, that’s the kind of discrimination I can get behind. Just a bunch of NCO’s chillin, eatin, drinkin coffee talking through the troubles of their day. I did offer to get an invitation for my LTC, he was a former NCO, told him I’d get it cleared by the Chief of the Boat. He asked, even though he knew the answer, “What is it you call going to OCS?” I replied, “Going over to the dark side, Sir.” He said “Yea, I’ll bet the COB see’s it the same way, i’ll pass thanks.” He was a pretty smart Colonel.

      A CSM is supposed to live up to a certain reputation built by those whose shoulders he stands upon. Absolute brutal Bottom Line Up Front honesty, no political correctness, no mercy, no quarter. James Earl Jones played the character to a T in “Gardens of Stone.” The NCOs of my first unit were all like that, larger than life, bad to the bone… At least that’s how they affected me and how I remember them.

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