Thursday, August 18, 2005

 

Profiles: The NCOIC

We have a remarkable young man who leads one of our teams out at a remote site. They serve alongside some Scouts, and jointly participate with them on actual reconnaissance and what pass for search and destroy missions in the relatively hostile area they patrol.

They were on such a mission recently when Insurgents carried out a deadly complex attack against U.S. forces. I can’t share details about this attack, because to do so would:
* Aid an enemy making a Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) of the success of their attack;
* Spread knowledge of the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) to other cells that otherwise might not learn of new methods;
* Jeopardize operations security (OPSEC) for the Scouts, Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and other first responders to Jihadist attacks; and
* Open up specific unit and leader decision-making to inappropriate public scrutiny. This can create situations where information necessarily incomplete due to immediacy, preservation of individual Soldier rights, and classification, would otherwise distort how the overall information might be received and interpreted.
These are not trivial concerns. I cast no aspersions against my fellow MILBLOGGERS, in no way should this be interpreted as criticism of those whose very graphic and exciting stories provide vivid detail to an information starved public.

But as I stated in a post here:
[Some bloggers] are not at all careful or discrete about their identities, unit compositions, and even very minute operational details...this same accuracy and realism may be providing our enemies -- who gain some advantage they wouldn't otherwise have if we ignore their collection or reconnaissance capabilities -- with useful information for planning more effective attacks (and by the way, allowing them at least some useful battle damage assessment (BDA) information).
But I do hope that, sometime after we’re all safely home and the war has transitioned sufficiently that our stories will not compromise the safety of troops on the ground, our team will have a chance to tell their many stories. They promise me they will. But in the meantime, there was one story of theirs that I can share.

Now our young man who serves his men out in this “Wild West” environment is a Sergeant First Class. He’d been one of our Platoon Sergeants when our S-3 threw a fit and succeeded in having him yanked back to his paragraph and line (which refers to a published Unit Manning Roster or UMR) in the “Three” Shop (Plans, Training, and Operations).

So he spent the remainder of our mobilization training tracking Battalion training. He generated Operations Orders, completed a lot of the planning that ordinarily an Officer would do, unless as in this case, they’ve got a sharp, well trained NCO who can do all of it for them.

But shortly after we arrived in country, an opportunity presented itself for our Ground Surveillance Radar (GSR, nicknamed “Romeos”) to be attached to the Long Range Surveillance unit or other Scouts, conducting some real world on-the-ground surveillance and other efforts to interdict ongoing terrorist cell activities in what is still pretty hostile territory. They needed a mature NCOIC, one who could also handle OIC responsibilities, as there were no officers the unit was prepared or willing to give up. So our man (I’ll call him Hawkeye) got the job.

These are the soldiers, by the way, that I wrote about here and here.

Now Hawkeye’s been on the job now some 4-5 months, and in that time, they’ve had quite a few moments of excitement. They’ve been part of operations that have identified, located, captured and disrupted terrorists in the midst of planning and conducting attacks. And now, their guys have seen violence, death and destruction up way too close.

Hawkeye lives with the knowledge that only by the narrowest of possibilities did his team escape injury or death in that recent tragic attack. The complex attack had been staged in just such a fashion as to lure an unsuspecting QRF or other response team to then stage an ambush.

Our guys were first up and out to respond. Right place, right time, closest to the bait and ready for action. As they took after their intended target – and thus approaching unseen crosshairs – they witnessed what might have been a sign of even bigger trouble, and took the time to stop and investigate. False alarm, but it ate up a minute or two. On their way again, another group of responders got in front of them, and ended up the first on scene at the precise moment and place of the attack. They were slammed hard, and our guys were directly behind them.

Hawkeye relates that all hell broke lose on the scene. His team performed terrifically under fire. First thing, they didn’t immediately start firing into an already chaotic situation, knowing there were friendlies in between them and the attackers, who in the dark would likely mistake their fire for the enemy. They jumped into pulling security, assisting the combat medics, helping with IVs, assisting casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) and recovery efforts.

Everybody did their job. With a sense of urgency, but no panic. Hawkeye admits, there’s not a lot for you to do. If you are right security, that’s your 100% focus. If you’re left security, you cover the left. If you’re a medic or a Combat Lifesaver helping out, you are zeroed in on those casualties who desperately need your help.

Had there not been another team there – ours – the losses, already tragic, might have been much worse, if the attackers had exploited their initial success with a follow-up attack. So both teams were able to work together, secure the area, recover their Soldiers, and initiate an evacuation. Well executed. Orderly. With determination and purpose.

Sure, everyone finds it difficult sometimes. And for some, there are moments when it’s too much to bear. Like the Officer in Charge (OIC), confronted with mass casualties affecting half his troops, who needs to be told he’s out of the fight, led to the (non-contact side of the) truck, set down, and told to monitor the radio. Like the young troop who sees more carnage than young eyes should ever see, his pulse racing, who passes out. Like the leader who runs at 100 miles an hour through house-to-house searches, but towards the end of the day can’t keep anything in his stomach. It’s shock, and shock all by itself can kill a troop, or at least leave him vulnerable when he’s already vulnerable enough.

Hawkeye has changed in the course of his mission. As eager and aggressive as any of his young troops at the start, he’s changed. He is still determined, but there’s a different perspective tempering his rash exuberance from when they started.

He’s had to make decisions. Assigned men to tasks. Placed his soldiers in harm’s way, and made sure they were trained, equipped, prepped and ready. He’s seen death close up, and known that the next time it could be one of his.

I remember one of the episodes in Band of Brothers where the veterans, survivors, grow cautious in the waning days of the war they know will soon be over. No one wants to go on that Last Patrol, each day they want to think that they’ve already pulled it.

Hawkeye expresses some of that reluctance. We are getting short, too. As he put it, his excitement meter has maxed out already, he’s ready for the missions to be over. They’re still ready, they’re still psyched about what they do, but Hawkeye, responsible for them all, would find immense relief in the end of their adventures. They have enough stories to last the rest of their lives. (Secret for longer shelf life: tell the same stories often, especially the really good ones. They become legends, and then people want to hear your “classics.” Or at least you’ll think they will.)

But for now, the missions keep coming. Hawkeye remains careful, weighs the pros and cons of each mission decision. Keeps a very alert eye on his troops, looking for strain or fatigue. He knows his guys well. He knows who handles what best. He knows when they’ve had enough, or when they need encouragement.

As he leads his teams out into the night, he is ever on watch. Vigilant against the many threats, active in his mind, ready to take decisions instantly, courses of action clear.

If they get in the s***, they’ll get busy with everything they’ve got. Every man on his weapon, each team in their place. And right in the thick of it, their NCOIC will be there, making quick decisions, shouting out orders, and keeping the chaos at bay. Just long enough for them to get the job done, and get the boys back home in one piece.

Because that’s what Romeos do. They get ‘er done.

Other Profiles in the Series:
The CSM
The Motor Sergeant
The CO

Links: Mudville Gazette, Indepundit, Basil's Blog, Jack Army



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