Saturday, June 4, 2011

Vietnam -- Lifer

Anyone can be classified a "lifer" who has re-enlisted at least once.  The term -- in Vietnam -- had its negative and derogatory connotations. Fact is, anyone over the pay grade of O3 -- Captain -- should also be considered a "lifer" as well.

There is an old saying, "If you don't the true story, make one up" is true. Unfortunately, the made up one almost always made the situation worse. The personification of individuals -- especially lifers in general and more specifically,  NCO lifers  --  was tainted the worst.

With that said and with all the negative spin I put on one specific NCO, I thought it appropriate to provide an unbiased view into the life of one of the most misunderstood professional in The Army, the NCO Lifer.

What, exactly, is an Non Commissioned Officer? Back in Nam, it is a man who survived WWII or the Korean War and decided to make it a 20 to 30 year career.

Today both men and women can decided to make the Army their career and move up through the ranks of E-6 to E-9.

However, there are less and less of each pay grade the higher up you go. So, it also becomes more and more political .  For example, when you're wanting to make E-6, you basically go up in front of a review board, take some tests and  if you meet the requirements of time in grade and time in service, you're going to make that rank.

While it is true that most pay grades can be awarded based on supply and demand -- educational background also plays a role here -- the bulk of the E-5 to E-6 promotions are awarded as above.

However, going from E-6 to E-7 is an entirely different matter.  It also becomes more who you know and who you worked for than going in front of a review board, taking tests and  meeting the requirements of time in grade and time in service.

And E-8 to E-9 pits you against historical names, who you know at the Pentagon. Letters from Congressmen also help. But one negative document and your career is over.

Almost all E-7s through E-9s have had training in working with younger soldiers. Furthermore,
these NCOs are the ones that wrote the manuals and know the rules and regulations almost by heart. They should, many of them wrote them.

But there was also a different kind of lifer.  Rare.  Like a needle in a hay stack hard to find but once you do, you learn how to handle it without getting your ego hurt by it. These were your highly technical Master Sergeants. They were also Warrant Officers.

These men were the intelligence of the military and knowning one of these, personally, professionally, and in good favor meant you had a shot at moving up the ranks rather quickly.


Like any other kind of stream or content management system, the way a system is designed and organized dictates policy, proceedures and routines. Without these, no organization in the world could function and/or produce results.

Strife enteres the picture when NCOs started believing they were the military.  In fact, they owned it. But in truth, they didn't. And that is why there was so much tension between the younger enlisted and the senior NCOs.

Consider the following SP4's one day task list:

  1. Secure control settings 
    1. Place flight control gig into rear seat mounting position
    2. Secure and lock into place the pilots control stick
  2. Remove moving parts from tailboom
    1. Remove Shafts
    2. Remove 42 degree gear box
    3. Remove 80 degree gear box
      1. Mark chain and sprocket positions
    4. Remove hangers
    5. Note cable tension and  mark position...
The point to this is the task of taking off the tailboom not only involves the removal of the parts but the location of parts positions and the paperwork describing the actions, the effect those actions have on the ability to fly the helicopter.

A three hour job would have another hour fir all the paperwork.  So, there was a good day involved in taking off the tailboom and doing all the paperwork.

Of course, it never quite worked out that way. In fact, that tailboom replacement could take a week or longer.  The First Sergeant's area beautification project took a higher priority And when you're a PFC, you might not get it done at all.  The higher SP4s and SP5s -- not having to look at shovels and sandbags -- rank did have its privileges -- would wind up doing your job for you.

As far as I was concerned, not having any way to prove you're quite capable as a helicopter mechanic to perform those tasks despite the fact that you were a PFC was the most insulting, degrading, abusive and demoralizing position a human being could be in.  Worse than being in a concentration camp.  Worse than being a slave.

No wonder so many lifers were fragged by their own men.

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