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TOW Platoon, 6th Marine Regiment, Part II.
Not so suddenly I was a squad leader with TOW Platoon, 6th Marine Regiment and the slightly unusual staff sergeant was the platoon sergeant. I didnít really feel that he treated the rest of the platoon, other than 1st squad, his old squad, fairly. His people deployed three times while the rest of us were stuck in garrison. He did have some good people, though, new to the Marines, but still very good. He sent two people from 1st squad to Marine Scout-Sniper training, a very demanding course, and they did well. He sent one person to Navy Diving school, which is very demanding, and he passed. He sent one person to Army Airborne training and he came back as the Honor Graduate. All of these things look really good in a military personís record book and three of the five were sergeants within two years of joining the Marines. We also sent a Corporal to Army Ranger training and he was sent back on the first day because, from what he said, they didnít like the way he did push-ups. I suspect that it was really because he had the spine and lack of tact to call someone on a silly order. If you really feel that you are a professional, you expect other people to treat you like one. In our military schools, at least for non-officers, you used to start off as just another piece of garbage. The instructors were not there to help you. They only wanted to witness you saying, ďI quit.Ē
Back at Camp Lejeune the TOW platoon was in the middle of its long slide from grace. We were in the middle of the Ďno field dutyí period. There may have been two reasonable reasons for this. We had had a young jeep driver from 1st squad killed on maneuvers and a staff sergeant had wrecked a jeep on the same execise, almost losing his life. Also, the cost of fuel to send 40 jeeps to the field could knock a large chunk out of even a regimentís budget. We were told that neither the regimental commander nor the regimental sergeant major liked us. They were both Medal of Honor recipients, but I doubt that had anything to do with it. It would have been nice if we had received some word from our unit leaders to the contrary because it is hard to stay motivated when you think that everyone hates you.
There were some memorable incidents, like our first morning run with headquarters company. The company commander was obviously ill and decided to head the unit back before it had run the scheduled distance. Our platoon commander decided that we would go on. It is difficult to express to non-military people how serious this is. We finally got back to the barracks after dawn, and in heavy rain. The platoon commander had arrange a particularly bizarre display for us and made us stand in the rain to watch it. Someone from another platoon had been given a Less Than Honorable discharge from the Marine Corps for something fairly serious. The sentence of the Court Martial had been several weeks earlier but it took time to process the paperwork. His relatives were waiting at the front gate of the post to pick him up and take him home. (The front gate at Camp Lejeune is about 15 miles from the main post.) Our platoon commander decided to do things the old-fashioned way and had all of the buttons and insignia removed from the unfortunateís uniform and then loaded him into a jeep, under armed guard. They drove him to the post gate that was the farthest from the front gate, maybe 30 miles as the crow flies, and dumped him. They also instructed the gate guar not to let him use the telephone. I have picked up trash along that road while on the rifle range and I know that it is at least 10 miles from that gate to the nearest phone.
Unfortunately, company first sergeant watched the local part of this little performance, and he was not pleased. It is uncommon for a senior enlisted man to speak harshly to a junior officer today, but I can attest to the fact that it does happen. Not in front of the men if the NCO has kept his temper, but it does happen.
I think that little things like this and the frequent call-outs and consequent waste of fuel got on the regimental staffís nerves. We did all right at the rifle range and at additional duties, but we were pretty much excluded from any of the regimentís activities. At one time they were in a very heavy training cycle and their week was pretty much built around a series of Ďmarchesí. Five miles on Monday, ten on Wednesday and 15 on Friday. Over and over again. By marches I mean moving as fast as they could with an 80 pound pack and whatever personal weapons were assigned to them, mainly in deep sand. Iíve donít that a few times and it is extremely unpleasant. Not the distance, but the dust, the sane, the accordian effect, the fact that you can never hit a comfortable stride in formation and maintain it for more than a few seconds. The point is, though, that TOW platoon didnít go on any of them. I donít know why, and I suggested a few times that we do it, but nothing ever came of it. I think that we might have Ďfit iní better if we had done ANYTHING with the rest of the regiment.
At this time, the platoon was fat. We should have had 56 people in the platoon, including our (in-flight) missile repairmen, but we ended up with about 125 by the time that I took over, temporarily, as platoon sergeant. I had no idea in the world how to be a platoon sergeant, so I probably didnít help the situation any. We already had a reputation as having the most drug or alcohol related incidents of any unit our size in the Marine Corps I was told. Things got even worse when some members of the old first squad pressed charges against the odd staff sergeant, now a Gunnery Sergeant (E-7). The charge was that he had exhibited homo-sexual conduct, on numerous occasions, with the chose ones (1st squad members.) This resulted in a court martial, and no one comes out of court martial unscathed. I had seen some of the activity that the young troops referred to and, although I would not willingly have been involved in any of it, I felt that it was more of an indication of someone who had been raised in a large, active and competitive family than of any particular sexual preference. (I didnít attend the court martial but I understand that one of the major complaints was that the platoon sergeant liked to engage in wrestling matches after physical training, when everyone was hot and sweaty.) Anyway, he was acquitted and got out as soon as he could afterwards. No one would deploy with a Marine that was even suspected of deviant sexual behavior.
I had been having a lot of personal by the time I took over as platoon sergeant. I had problems with my knees from jumping off tank fenders when I was in the Army (bi-lateral Chondromalacia(?)) and severe problems with my sinuses. I also didnít see any future for myself in the Marine Corps if I stayed with 6th Marine TOWs. After two years there, people that I had gone to ITR with were still the same rank that they had been then, and so was I. We were living in Ďsuper-hoochesí at the time. New three story buildings with rooms designed for two except for the resident staff NCO rooms at the four corners on each floor that were actually two room suites. I lived in one of these suites for 45 days in 1992 and they were pretty nice.
I donít remember exactly how this happened, but I wound up FAPed out to the 2nd Marine Division Career Plannerís office. FAP stands for the Fleet Augmentation Program and was a tacit admission that the Marine Corps has cut its tail so short that it couldnít function when everyone is doing their real job. People were fapped out of infantry units to do jobs that were not even vaguely related to their occupational specialties. I was an infantryman/anti-tank crewman assigned to be the administrative chief for the division career plannerís office. The career plannerís office handled all re-enlistments, reserve officer augmentation to regular officers and all applications for enlisted people to become Warrant Officers for the division, as well as a number of other things like home town recruiting, a real plum, where a Marine was sent home to talk to his friends about joining the Marine Corps for 30 - 45 days.
Believe it or not, this assignment gave me my first positive experience with personal computers. As admin chief, and because no one else wanted to touch it, I had a an IBM XT compatible Televideo computer with two 5 ľ inch floppy drives, no hard drive, and 640k of RAM. (monochrome monitor of course.) My only previous experiences with computers had been a class in FORTRAN while I was in college in the Hollerith card days, and an intensive course in COBOL where everyone else in the class was already a COBOL programmer and I had never heard of it before.
Iím not sure how long I stayed at the career plannerís office, but it was an interesting and educational time. I worked for Master Sergeant Purcell, who was one of the best senior NCOs that I have ever met, and for Major John D. Harris, a remarkable man. The only other person I remember from those days was Rene Daley, the only real administrative type in the office, who had grown up on an island off the east coast of the US where cars were not allowed. The Marine Corps is a small organization and I ran into her again about a year and a half later on Okinawa. By that time she had dumped Bald Bob the Parafrog, a Force Recon supply NCO caught doing something unethical I think.
I had every intention of Ďstopping the madnessí toward the end of my assignment at the career plannerís office, since I was near the end of my enlistment, but three things happened. I sent out about 100 resumes and did not get an interview. I was awarded the Navy Achievement medal for services rendered. Master Sergeant Purcell used his considerable charm to talk me into staying in with a change of occupational specialty, with some help from Major Harris. I applied for re-enlistment and gave three choices for desired new occupational specialties. I was accepted and got the third of my choices. The same occupational specialty I had had the first time I had joined the Marine Corps, 18 years before. Just like dťjŗ vu all over again.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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