Suicide by Bully

I found an interesting article in the news this morning.  As usual, incidents like these are buried on the web.  A young soldier killed himself in Afghanistan after being abused by other members of his squad.

In a rare turn of events – the military is actually recommending court martial for these individuals.

Notice the ranks of these individuals?  There are a lot of NCO’s on this list.  It leads me back to the same question that I have asked time and again – what is our NCO Corp coming to?  It was the same question after Abu Ghraib and after each story of Sexual Assault and Harrassment.  It is the same question after stupid things like Koran burning.  What happened to the good NCO’s?

Any leader knows that there are days that you have to take corrective action.  In fact, every leader knows, that there are some people who are just not playing with a full deck.  Not the quickest bunnies in the hutch or the sharpest crayons in the box.  How do you bring these little black sheep back into the fold and TEACH them something?  It is a question that all leadership has to deal with.

I had a young soldier once who just didn’t get it.  She was very young and so green that you couldn’t tell where her uniform ended and her skin began.  She was an intelligent young girl…she just didn’t have the sense that the good Lord gave a cabbage!  It was a constant struggle to teach her the simplest tasks.  One of her favorite tricks was to assume that any duffle back that was green and any sleeping bag that was black…must be hers.  This also went for any gear that might look like hers, vehicles, protective masks, weapons, helmets and MRE’s.  The reason she would pick up any weapon or any mask was because she was always misplacing her own.  Yup…she had a history of laying down her weapon and failing to remember where she put it.  Even when gear was clearly labeled with someone’s name…she would still pick it up and think it was hers.

The question became how do I, as her NCO, train her and teach her without humilitating her.  Some of her habits, like picking up a sleeping bag that isn’t hers, are relatively harmless.  Some of her habits, like chronically misplacing her weapon, are potentially deadly.  The rule is:  Train as you fight.  Regardless of being in a training environment, you have to assume you are going into combat.  The additional problem with the weapon is that the weapon could fall into civilian hands.  We train with live weapons, and they are capable of firing in a three round burst.  Even when we don’t have ammunition with us…you can purchase the ammunition just about anywhere.

The annoying habits have to be broken through constant monitoring.  Making sure that her bags, her sleeping bag and her gear is clearly labeled.  Gentle and private reminders to her when unloading gear to make sure that she grabs the ones that have her name on them.  Of course, while I am babysitting her – there are several other individuals that aren’t getting any of the attention that they need.

The security items are a whole different story.  These things become serious safety hazards.  Anyone who has gotten stuck searching through the woods for a lost weapon or a missing pro-mask understands this.  On one field problem I spent way too much of my time doing accountability checks on her.  I finally had enough the 3rd time she misplaced her weapon in one day.  I put a zip-strip around her wrist and a zip strip around the front site post of the weapon and I zip stripped them together.  She wasn’t happy with me.  Now it was impossible for her to misplace her weapon.  I had recommended that she do her own dummy cord – I even gave her the parachute cord to do it with.  Nope – she didn’t want to help herself – so I had no choice but to help her the hard way.

I had an NCO that worked for me once that was such a poor soldier that I spent 6 months counseling her every drill weekend.  I was responsible for the recruit platoon.  This was a reserve type unit that had kids who hadn’t even been to basic training yet.  Because they weren’t really soldiers yet – they didn’t have to cut their hair and we couldn’t hold them to uniform standards.  Yet, each one of those kids wanted to learn how to wear the uniform and they wanted to look like soldiers.  “You know – you volunteered to be here and I’m not going to tell you that you have to cut your hair or iron your uniform or shine your boots.  However, if you want to be a soldier – you start by looking like one – how can I help you?”  Every one of those kids ironed their uniform, wore their hair according to regulation and shined their boots.  Every one of those kids…except the piece of work SGT I was given as a squad leader.

Every month started with uniform inspection.  Mostly to teach them what to expect and how to behave during an inspection.  Every single one of them tried to look “inspection ready.”  Their Squad Leader – slept in her uniform, was missing parts of it, shined her boots with hot Hershey bars, had her hair all over her collar with pink scrunchies and had none of her inspection materials (dog tags, drivers license, military ID.)  Every month was the same story and I often felt like I nagged her to within an inch of my sanity!  I never did it in front of the “kids” – but every morning at drill I would present her with another counseling statement for her file.  It reached the point that I just had them made up and ready to go.  She would weep and sniffle and cry about how she didn’t want to train new kids – she wanted to be out with the “real soldiers.”  Well – my response was always, “When you become a real SGT – you can serve with the real soldiers.”

It is a hard thing – to keep your soldiers on the straight and narrow.  There is a fine line between corrective action and abuse.  It wears at an NCO – dealing with people who just don’t seem to get it!  It appears in this recent case of Suicide by Bully – the NCO’s crossed that line. 

I was a road guard one day when I was in basic training.  All I had to do on this road march was to push the button that dropped the road barrier so that cars would have to stop.  I pushed the button too soon.  As the platoon ran by in their full battle rattle – the LT said to me, “You didn’t follow the instructions, PVT…as a result – you have made good soldiers run.”  I learned a valuable lesson that day – more about leadership than about running or road barriers.  I was the only one who heard his statement.  I wasn’t made to do pushups or made to run or forced to low-crawl across the road.  The only one that knew I had made a mistake was that LT and the PLT SGT.  The PLT SGT never said a word to me and the LT never brought it up again.  I learned to listen more closely and to understand directions fully.  There is nothing wrong with asking a question.  I wanted to be one of the GOOD Soldiers. 

I wanted to be one of the GOOD leaders – I hope that I was.  If I was ever any good at my job as an NCO – I know it is because of the leaders who taught me well.  I wish I could thank them.




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