What's The Diff?

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1st Sgt. Whatshisname

Does good leadership make a difference?   Hmmmm…… I don’t know?

Maybe we could ask the 2006 Detroit Tigers.  They got a new coaching staff and went from a 2005 record of 71-91 to a 2006 record of 95-67 and World Series appearance. 

Sure they got a few new players.  Sure the pitching was great.  But at the end of the day, Jim Leyland just had something that brought it all together.  He lit a fire under the team that made them stand up and deliver.

I know it can happen. 

I saw it with my own eyes, 20 years ago. 

I was in the Army.  I remember the day 1st Sgt. Whatshisname (I think it was Williams but I honestly can’t remember – so I’ll just call him 1st Sgt. Whatshisname) showed up at our unit.  He was one of those guys born to be a soldier.   You know the type.  Like the character in Apocalypse Now who says “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”  Anyway, he showed up and didn’t like what he saw.

“You soldiers are a sorry ass bunch,” said 1st Sgt. Whatshisname.  “You are a disgrace to the U.S. Army.”

He immediately initiated daily barracks inspections, six-mile daily runs, one hour of marching practice each week, and  daily uniform and boot inspections.  And, worst of all, mandatory rifle range practice. Which sounds fun, but trust me, cleaning a M-16 is NOT fun.  Needless to say, we weren’t happy.  We hated 1st Sgt. Whatshisname…

But, slowly a change began to happen.  Our barracks started to look really nice.  I got in better shape.  One day we had a parade to celebrate a new base commander.  As we marched to the ceremony, other companies and batteries stared at us in awe. 

“Damn, those guys ain’t playing.  They can march,” I heard a guy say as we turned a corner, with complete military precision. Each person knew exactly how far of a step to take to keep the line straight as we took the corner. 

And then, something happened that I didn’t expect in a million years.  Not from the guy who likes the smell of napalm in the morning. 

Early one morning, we were awakened at 3 a.m. with news that the U.S. had just bombed Libya in retaliation for Libya’s involvement in a Berlin disco bombing that killed two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish civilian. 

We were issued live ammo and told to group outside immediately.  1st Sgt. Whatshisname broke the news to us.  It was cold, I was tired, and I couldn’t believe my ears.  This isn’t happening, I told myself.  Several of they guys began to cheer and yell and hoo-rah with military bravado.  Then it happened.

The group was instantly silenced by a booming “SHUT THE <bleep> UP!” 

They stopped cheering.   

“Don’t cheer war, you ignorant idiots,” 1st Sgt. Whatshisname roared.  “Do you have any idea what’s it’s like to have your friend’s blood on your shirt? To hold your friend as he DIES?  DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE? Of course you don’t.  You’ve been sitting here in Germany drinking beer and collecting welfare.  If I hear another of you <bleeps> cheer, I’ll grab your rifle and break it over your head!  Now go back to your barracks and pray, to whatever God you know, that you don’t have to go to war.  Cause half you guys probably won’t make it back!” 

We silently walked to our barracks.  My respect for 1st Sgt Whatshisname had jumped 1,000 notches.  I liked him until I finished my enlistment, several months later. 

There were two kinds of leaders in the Army.  The ones who would keep you alive and the ones who wouldn’t.

I knew 1st Sgt Whatshisname was the kind who would keep me alive. 

I still think about him.  In fact, I’ll never forget him.

I just wish I could remember his name.

I want to end with a shout of support to my brothers in the Army today.  Keep your heads down and your spirits up. I hope you have a 1st Sgt. Whatshisname to lead you.

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  1. You are on a ROLL lately, man!

    Posted by: Charlie Kondek | December 12, 2006
  2. Seems like you learned through an abusive father figure like me…

    Posted by: Billy Leopardskinhousen | December 12, 2006
  3. Amen brother amen.

    Posted by: Ian Dow | December 14, 2006
  4. Great article Clay! Keep ‘em comin’! :)

    Posted by: Angie | December 14, 2006
  5. Not many people will say that “tough” is the way to learn. Something I’ve latched on to lately is, “hard is good.”
    It’s hard to improve yourself. I think we kid ourselves on that one a lot. Thanks, Clayda, for sharing this.

    Posted by: xyb | December 14, 2006
  6. Great article! We need more “whatshisnames”.

    Posted by: Trace | December 18, 2006
  7. His name wasn’t Sgt. Hulka, was it?

    Posted by: Madgeman | December 31, 2006
  8. You guys didn’t happen to have one of these, did you?

    Posted by: Madgeman | December 31, 2006
  9. No, I hate to disappoint you, but the weapons we used in the 8th Infantry Division’s artillery were far less glamorous than the EM-50.

    Posted by: Clayton | January 2, 2007

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Sunday, March 18, 2018