Monday, November 20, 2017

1973 to 1975 -- Air Mobile to Air Assault Part 2

What to you is good leadership? Is it a guy with a gun who could shoot you if you got out of line? Is it a wet behind the ears officer our of West Point, OCS or ROTC? Or is it the kind of man who has been there, done that and lived to tell the tale?

No, none of the above.

Good leadership is a man or woman in the position of power that remembers your name in a group of 17,000 names: Generals John N. Brandenburg, Gary E. Luck, Sidney B. Berry and Teddy Allen and so does Col Burnett R. Sanders fall into this category.

Good leadership is a man or woman who recognizes you for your good traits, your skills and talents and then supports you beyond what you thought you could do: Col Burnett R. Sanders falls into this category.

Good leadership is a man or a women who let's you fall on your face, picks you up and says, "Let's try not doing that again, shall we?": Col Gerald E. Lethcoe and  Col Burnett R. Sanders both fall into this category.

And last, but not least, good leadership -- especially in the military -- doesn't try to publicize himself or herself.  Although they could have their own publicist. Instead, its the actions, the achievements and the wide assortment of unique individuals who are down in the trenches so to speak who deserve the publicity. Col Burnett R. Sanders is another fine example of this.

Starting to see the trend? There's one bubbly mess -- I say this in total respect for her -- Mrs. Emily Bell Sanders, whom which provided me in more than one occasion with some pretty cool human interest articles and in humorous hot water with a West Point Officer by the name of Major McDermont. Not to worry, I still had my head on my shoulders after the incident.

So this primary MOS 67Y20 Cobra mechanic decided in January of 1974 decided to offer his services as the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry with a nick name of  "Out Front".

Having no idea what I was about to get myself into, I told at the time LTC Sanders why I should be the Squadron stringer and pointed out some of my achievements including the Army Times article on visiting an orphanage and the photo feature in Rendezvous with Destiny.

Up to this point, I always saw the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Commanding Officer as a headliner. With the Colonel's name first, the squadron second and the men last. So I tried a Ego Charm on him and that backfired.  In one of those looks that only he could do, "Do you think you can do stories about my men and not me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good", he smiled. "Let's go to work."

And that we did. I was now in charge of our news releases, our Out Front news letter, being at promotions to take pictures, taking images of our color guard, pictures of our role in the Air Assault in action demonstrations, and, of the utmost importance, doing photo-features on our soldiers performing their jobs.

Now, I had to sell myself to Division Public Affairs.

So, I introduced myself to LTC John A.G. Klose and to a man by the name of Shepard who was the editor of the Courier Post.

The one thing I learned in Nam was I had an natural eye for taking images.  Not quite up to the technical level one would call professional. But the talent was there.  I just had to learn all the technical stuff. I also knew that "no" didn't always mean no. It meant at the moment, no.

Shepard basically, blew me off with "We have plenty of good images, we don't need yours."

Wanna bet?

I was also very honest with LTC Klose so he paired my up with a SP5 by the name of Chuck Drake who helped me hone my skills as a writer.

Our unit was jammed packed with thousands of amazing stories to tell.

Unfortunately, the way the system worked back then, the reporters at Division Public Affairs thought mentioning the unit in a single story was the only story to be told in an entire year. 52 issues of the Fort Campbell Courier and you get honorable mention once a year???

How much do you want to bet that was about to change as well?

There was another goal that LTC Sanders had. And while all this PR stuff was going to mature over the course of the next 18 months into something even I couldn't have predicted in a million years even with an active imagination.

He had tremendous impact on raising the bar on troop morale within the ranks of the soldiers he commanded.  The best description here would be "Your role as a cog in the wheel" briefings.

While initially met with some resistance by Troop Commanders, the Troop Commanders were soon to realize these briefings improved enlisted understanding of the role each one played in the success of the Troop. This resulted in a more effective combat ready unit and stronger sense of unit pride.

Looking back on my time in Vietnam, the one thing that flat lined Esprit De Corps was the noticeable gap in knowing what the unit's mission was.

"What's your mission, son?"

"Don't know sir.  I just get up in the morning, go to work and do what I'm told to do."

Which parallels the song lyrics of Country Joe and The Fish, "Its one, two, three what are we fighting for? I don't know and I don't give a damn, Next stop is Vietnam."

Very reflective. And just as damaging to soldier's morale.

I tasked five solders with the duty of handling their news releases and directed them to LTC Sanders wishes of having a news release filled out correctly by each soldier regardless of rank.

With all of this in place, with my own recognition of my strengths and weaknesses, from a public affairs management perspective, I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were, where I stood with the division Public Affairs Office and I knew what course of actions I needed to take to turn those  "nos" into "yeses".

Normally, at this point, I would simply summarize and say that we are responsible for the shift in public affairs duties and job description but Col John O'Brien Retired at the Don F. Pratt Museum tells me there is a gap in the historical information. So, part three of the Air Mobile to Air Assault
will be my best effort in remembering what the Squadron did between 1974 and 1975.

Suffice to say, by the time it was all over with and I was on orders to go to Germany, I had one image published on the cover of Army Times, close to 120 images published in the Fort Campbell Courier, Hopkinsville New Era and Clarksville Leaf Chronicle.

I also received a Commanders Certificate and an Army Accommodation Medal for my work. When I was ready to get out of the Army, I got a call from Department Of Defense from a Colonel there who told me to put my fingers together.  He told me I was that close to changing the entire way the public affairs system worked.

I thought he was pulling my leg and ETSed. Here's the job description. Get rid of the web stuff, add the local newsletter and try finding one of these at division level. Nope. They are assigned the various units.

Public Affairs Specialist (46Q)

Job Duties

Research, prepare and disseminate news releases, articles, web-based material and photographs on Army personnel and activities
Gather information for military news programs and publications within your unit and around the Army
Develop ideas for news articles
Arrange and conduct interviews
Write news releases, feature articles and editorials
Conduct media training

I guess they weren't pulling my leg after all.

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