Saturday, August 06, 2005

 

Profiles: The Motor Sergeant

"What the f*** are you doing in my Motor Pool?!"

It may certainly be true that Mac's bark is worse than his bite. But given the sometime ferocity of his bark and the secret softness of his heart, as Herschel Bernardi said on that famous commercial for Tootsie, "The World May Never Know."

I know in my heart of hearts that Mac should be able to get a handle on his anger, that it gets in his way and someday could hurt him. I'm sure there are sensitive and thinner skinned co-workers and superiors who he has fully insulted or even hurt their feelings. God forgive us both, him for the habit and me for repeating it, but if the motor sergeant ever had a rap, "Jeeesuhs fookin chroyst" would be the chorus.

I've seen Mac lift and swing his M4 countless times and mock a homerun swing at the nearest tree or pole. He won't follow through, of course. He loves that M4 and refuses to put a sling on it. One, that's partly from his early days -- Mac's the latter half of 50 -- and the other is that he knows well the training that told us that slings can get in your way and kill you. So as he moves about on convoys, he cradles his weapon in the low ready, but somehow with a deep affection, he might as well be carrying one of his grandkids.

What gets Mac so hot? A number of things. Stupidity. Carelessness. "Do as I say not as I do" kinds of command hypocrisy. Anything that hurts his motor pool, his vehicles, his soldiers. He runs a tight ship, the motor pool passed its first monthly Health and Welfare Inspection with zero deficiencies, and has gotten more squared away every day since. It's immaculate. And this for a working motor pool that maintained over 70 organic vehicles, a couple dozen non-tactical vehicles (SUVs) for the FOB, and vehicles for a couple of the neighboring MP units.

He hates anything that takes away from (his) mission. Getting vehicles fully mission capable (FMC), and keeping them that way. Keeping his mechanics on the job and off of FOB details. Making sure these vehicles won't break down off the FOB and put soldiers at risk. He takes it deadly seriously. "Do you know what we do? Do you know what we have to put up with?!" It took a couple of "conversations" with Mac before I realized something important.

He blows up. Then he cools down. Before he's even fully cooled down, he's got his guys half way through whatever request was asked. He'll do whatever it takes, he'll do whatever he's asked. But if it impacts or hurts his guys and gals or his trucks, you're going to get the cream of his rage first.

I talk softly to Mac. I let him vent. I let him blow off steam. I hear his concern, I listen for anything new he's trying to tell me. And I make sure I tell him I understand, even when he says, "No you don't!" I think this is part of how Mac survives. I am certain it's part of how he keeps all of us alive.

The Battalion staff sections are terrified of Mac. "He'll chew my head off!" But then, they never show up on time for their weekly QA/QC, they pester with unknowledgable demands and questions, they expect the mechanics to perform the preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS). Operator level maintenance, as they say. They're sometimes rude to his mechanics, they have often belittled the utterly critical role they serve, despite all the many convoys they both support and drive and ride and gun for themselves.

These same mechnics that, when the up-armoring team was backed up with work, got the up-armoring done for our ground assault convoy (GAC, or how we got from Kuwait to Iraq). The days grew short for our departure, we were still waiting for our vehicles to make it to the top of the list, so they jumped in with their civilian welding skills and the strength of their backs. They took up the kits with the 7.62mm (the size of an AK-47 round) resistant tempered steel, and spent the better part of our 2-3 week stay welding frames and swinging 100 pound doors into place.

I first met Mac as he was newly reassigned as a Motor Section NCOIC, following a stormy career as a Headquarters First Sergeant. His reputation preceeded him by a country mile. His tenure as 1SG was stormy, in a political environment that wanted nothing to do with his kind of candor.

Just as his division was to mobilize and deploy to Iraq, he was removed from his company and reassigned as our motor section Master Sergeant. There could be no harsher rebuke, than to call the unit to war but excuse Mac from leading the company. I don't know the reasons, but I can guess. I do know that it broke his heart.

I made it clear to Mac that as a new First Sergeant, I would absolutely need his help and mentorship, and he could count on my professional and personal respect. I had him fill in a couple of times as 1SG during a couple of pass periods, when he was agreeable; but he clearly wasn't often. Once spurned, I don't think he could return to his first love. We weren't his old unit, but some of his mechanics shared the same histories.

It takes a certain temperament to run a first class motor pool for the U.S. Army. It takes a tremendous amount of knowledge and grease and sweat experience, too and perhaps a few things more. Mac runs the finest motor section in Iraq, and Mac's got everything he needs. It starts with first class mechanics.

That was another thing Mac did. He canvassed the state, hooked up with and recruited the best full time technician and Guard M-day (one weekend a month) mechanics, generator men, and parts specialists. We had soldiers show up at our mobilization site weeks before we'd ever see transfer or mobilization orders on these guys. Mac would say, "They're assigned. The paper will catch up." I don't know how he did it, and maybe I don't want to know, but we left for Iraq at about 120% strength in the motor section. The best. Experts. Level Three (full rebuilds) experience with most of the major specialities (HVAC, generators, electrical, welding, transmissions, etc.) included.

Patience. He also has tremendous patience. That would no doubt sound incredible to the same staff who views him as a collosal nemesis, but he does. He has his share of "characters" and "knuckleheads" in the motor pool. But if anyone tries to mess with them, Mac will be the first one to run them down and back them off. He knows his people. He knows what they can do, and can't do. He knows their strengths and weaknesses -- professional and personal -- and tries to help his youngsters (and not a few oldsters too -- navigate the tricky waters of marriages, finances, careers, and personal discipline.

Mac is trying to convince as many of his guys and gals to do another turn in the box, just with different sand. He wants to come home, take 90 days to play with his grandkids, then pack it all up again and head to Afghanistan for his final year in service before retirement. "Where is the Army gonna find another motor pool like this," he asks with all of us knowing the answer, "Nowhere."

I will always remember something else about Mac that somehow wrapped up the parts of him in one common vignette. When we were first going on convoys, I went on a few, and once shared a vehicle with Mac in the Truck Commander (TC) seat. Mac had his beloved M4, which he kept cradled left to right, with the muzzle pessed up against the glass of his window. As we rolled past the berm and off the FOB, Mac would push out the heavy bullet proof glass just slightly. Not enough to push the muzzle out, but just enough to keep the window unlatched and out of the locked position. This was so he could push against the glass and pop the window open if he needed to engage the enemy.

I've not seen anyone else before or since do that. It wasn't taught, I'm not sure even if it should be. But it works for Mac. And it reminds me, when I think of it, that we none of us know when we'll get into the s*** as they say, and need to sping into action to defend ourselves and our friends.

And he'll be yelling all the way. And he'll be keeping us yelling, too. Because when we're full of that WTF anger, we'll be too busy sending rounds downrange to realize how scary that mess can be.

If it ever happens, I have no doubt that Mac will be just a second or two ahead of us, swinging around that M4, barking out orders to his team, doing everything in his human power to bring them all home safe. Every one. Even the knuckleheads he has to tell the same thing to time and time again. Because, we're all of us his guys.

NOTE: This is the second of a series of Profiles of some of the Patriots with whom I serve. For the previous profile, follow the link to Profiles: The CO.

(Linked for weekend Brunch over at Basil's Blog, and linked at Mudville Gazette.)



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