Sunday, September 25, 2005


Profile: Supply Sergeants

The first Supply Sergeant I ever met was in Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood. He set the pattern that only recently I’ve seen confounded in my current supply people.

He was on his third or fourth trip through the enlisted pay grades. Not to slam a fine American Corporation or Jack Welch’s legacy, but Army Supply is kind of like what you experience when you talk to most any long-time veteran of the various General Electric manufacturing operations. “You’ve been with GE thirty years? How many times have YOU been laid off?” For some in Army Supply, it’s “How many times have YOU been busted?”

Before you quartermaster or supply types jump me for this, I want to say right up front: there’s no more demanding job in the entire military. The reason so many Supply NCOs have had to make more than one trip through the pay grades, is that Commanders will ultimately hold them responsible for any missing equipment. Equipment drawn and used by sections and command elements, not properly tracked or maintained or secured, that turns up Lord knows where. All bucks stop at Command, and unfortunately, some Commanders’ attitude is, “That’s my Supply Guy. It’s his a**, not mine.”

My troops rag on my Supply Sergeants about hand receipts. “They make us sign for everything,” they complain. Yet when the mission’s urgent, or the Soldier is out some essential piece of equipment, Supply somehow manages to get the right resource to the right person at the right time, paperwork to follow.

Some Supply specialists make the mistake of placing “customer service” and helping the Joe’s ahead of watching the CO’s back on Property Book. (The Property Book is the method by which the Army tracks and maintains accountability of the trillions of dollars of military equipment in the system.) In my small Battalion alone, my Supply tracks a $8 million dollar property book, and I don’t think that even includes my Intel specific equipment that got transferred in and will be transferred along to the next unit. When a Supply Sergeant loses control of Property Book, someone may very well get caught holding the bill for a lot of expensive equipment.

Up until this final effort to locate, pack and ship as we near the end of our tour, my Supply guys ran only two Reports of Survey, with a total value of less than $500. (A Report of Survey is what gets generated when an item cannot be physically inventoried or located.) Sometimes that just means it’s been turned in for repair or servicing, or left in storage, and other times it means something’s lost, gone, or “stolen.” (Some old timers have a hard time acknowledging certain kinds of intra-unit pillaging as “theft,” believing quite fervently that if it ain’t locked up or secured it’s “found on installation” by definition. (Found on Installation refers to equipment that gets added to a Property Book by conscientious Supply Sergeants who properly account for ANY military equipment they come across, even if it not originally their own.) A Report of Survey will help Commanders determine whether any specific member sof command have been in any way negligent, and need to be “held to account,” financially or otherwise.

(Mrs. Dadmanly would have made an excellent and thoroughly trustworthy Supply Sergeant. Not only is she devoutly protective of our personal property, she is so scrupulously honest that we make frequent trips back to stores to report being undercharged for items sold.)

Back home prior to Deployment, my Supply Sergeant (NCOIC) is a local Cop, a Police Sergeant. He’s got over 18 years in the military, was formerly in our Military Police (MP) Company before they converted us to Military Intelligence back in 1996. (Only one word to change, right?) He threatens us all the time with getting out; but then again this is the same guy who always maintains that, on any given day, it’s the Fourth Best Day of His Life.

I asked him about that. He says that the day he married his wife was the best day, and the birth of his two kids were interchangeably the second and third, depending on who’s in the doghouse at any given time. He quickly adds that the day he met his wife is up there too, but he counts that as a tie, because he couldn’t have married her if he didn’t meet her.

That makes every other day tied for the Fourth Best Day. Even on his worst days, when we try real hard to get him to post his 5th Best Day, he pretty much sticks with a tie for Fourth.

I don’t know if it’s because he’s a cop, or if he was just born or grew up that way, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him really mad, and if there’s anybody who helps keep all of our heads tied down, it’s him. And I know he’s got the CO’s back on Property, which is why we are always signing hand receipts.

Our Armorer came to us from a unit stationed in Bedford Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn. Many of my upstate New York Soldiers, and most of my fills from elsewhere, wonder why the General is so ruthless when it comes to hand receipts and signing equipment out. My city Soldiers, and those in the know, hear “Bedford Stuy” and that’s all they need to know. Of course he’s going to have sign posted at the Supply window, “In God We Trust. All Others Will Sign.”

He’s originally from Trinidad, and combines a Caribbean zest for life with an honest faith and a love of music and football (soccer). He’s also not afraid of anything, or anyone.

Much like my Motor Sergeant, our Armorer came on strong first thing, set a very high standard for weapons and equipment accountability, and has never looked back or lowered his standards. Armorers must get together and trade secrets on how to drive their troops crazy. Ours had his own dental hygiene kit – not like floss, but the actual stainless steel tools used by Dental Hygienists – with which he could scrape infinitesimal amounts of carbon out of any weapon. I’m convinced he could do so with a weapon straight off the assembly line at Colt.

Then again, my first visit with the Armorer after our first range required four follow-ups before I was allowed to check my weapon back into the arms room. Listen, I keep a very clean rifle, but no kind of kit you get issued will work as well as the woman in the dentist’s office. (That’s actually a bit like what it felt like, too.)

But that’s how he approaches his job. It doesn’t matter if you’re the First Sergeant (trust me), or the Battalion Commander or S3. Numerous times during Mobilization training, we had to intervene before some Officer or Senior NCO would get unhinged by the Armorer’s refusal to accept a weapon that wasn’t clean to his standard.

We conducted dozens of qualification ranges on our personal and crew served weapons, and I think in all that time, we had one M2 .50 caliber machine gun and one M16 that ended up unrepairable. Some 200 odd weapons, always meticulously maintained because the General wouldn’t have it any other way. Both of our Supply Sergeants are just that way.

Not because, as some thought, that they are on some power trip as a Staff Sergeant and buck Sergeant, or to punish people they don’t like. But because their company commander made it clear that they were to maintain the highest standards in accordance with regulation, and ensure the unit never lost anything due to neglect or inattention to detail. If they did, if they enforced a tough standard, if there was any push back, the CO would back them 100%. And he always did.

They make quite a pair, these two. The passionate and sometimes Fiery Islander, matched with the laconic Upstate Cop. They compliment each other perfectly, and for the rest of my life they will both stand in my mind as the epitome of loyalty in the way they support and follow their commander. “They work for me,” he has said, “and I’m the one that tells them how I want things done. Someone has a problem with that, they have a problem with me.”

They may sometimes be reluctant to get out of bed in the morning, or get dressed completely (unless there’s a convoy), but they are usually the last two working in HHC when the rest of us have kicked off and turned things over to the Charge of Quarters (CQ).

The troops may not always get to see it, but these two have great big hearts, too. They always make sure they have packages of candy made up for the kids that often gather at the gates to the FOBs. My Trinidadian SGT also helped the other Soldiers who were eligible get their U.S. citizenship through Naturalization. There are several Soldiers duty detailed to Supply, and no matter what caused them to fall into that situation (sometimes disciplinary), from the moment they took their place in Supply, they belonged.

All during training at the Mobilization Site, we needed to maintain a 24 hour Weapons Guard of our Arms Room. All the lower ranking Soldiers took their turn in accordance with the DA6 (the form name for Department of the Army Form 6, by which Platoon and First Sergeants maintain a duty detail roster so that all Soldiers are tasked fairly). My Supply Sergeants started a snack and soda bar for these Soldiers, and allowed them to set up small DVD players that would help them stay awake through the night as they maintained positive control of unit arms. I think my NCOIC might have spent several hundred dollars keeping that Soldier care item going.

Not that they ever seek out any public display of our appreciation. They’d just as soon stay in the background. And when we get back home, and the Property is all properly signed over or stored back in the Armory, the Commander will be able to take a nice deep breath. He won’t have any big albatross of liability hanging over his neck, like some. Rather, he’ll know that he brought back everyone and everything with which we went to Iraq.

He may thank God that He brought all his Soldiers home. He’ll have Supply to thank for all that equipment.

UPDATE: Apparently my Profile of our Supply Sergeants had special meaning for John Schroeder of Blogotional, whose father was a Supply Sergeant. Learning more about supply discipline helped John understand something more about his Dad. Go read his post.

Other Profiles in the Series:

Cooks and Contractors
The LT
The Motor Sergeant
The CO

Links: Outside the Beltway, bRight & Early, Blogotional, Basil's Blog

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