The Command Sergeant Major’s Nightmare

Patrol Base Diamond II in Vietnam, 1969 - Archive Photo of the Day - Stripes

I saw this picture in Stars and Stripes (online) and kept it open in my browser for a few days. I kept coming back to it. It’s one of those “cool” war pictures that came out of Vietnam – the sunglasses, cigar, ammunition around the neck and machine gun hanging over the shoulder. He even has a dust brush in his helmet band. “Fuck it,” he’s saying, “I’ll do it.”

It looks cool, but it’s a Command Sergeant Major’s nightmare.

Back in OCS, a well-respected CSM was speaking to the class shortly before we graduated, instilling us with his parting words. He wanted to talk about standards and discipline – surprise! The movie ‘Restrepo’ and its companion, the book ‘War’ by Sebastian Junger had recently come out and he wanted to use these to paint his words.

He couldn’t remember the author’s name, but was pretty sure it was Sebastian Bach.

I remember sitting there in the front row, biting the inside of my lip to keep from laughing. There was something about the forcefulness of him saying again and again that it was Sebastian Bach that got to the absurdity of it all.

Anyway, he said he was able to stomach Restrepo and enjoyed it, but couldn’t finish War because he kept wanting to throw the book across the room because of all of the glaring discipline infractions he kept reading about.

He then went into a story about meeting a fresh 2LT outside of a dusty chow hall in Afghanistan. As the 2LT approached, the CSM gave him the usual once-over, checking out his uniform and appearance.

“He had these boots,” the CSM recalled, “that looked odd. And as he got closer, I could see that they weren’t Army issue boots at all, or even a pair of authorized aftermarket boots. They were some fancy brand of boots, that had been spray painted tan to make them look passable.”

The CSM went on to talk about why shaving is professional, rebutting the thoughts in some of our heads “but special forces!” by telling us we’re not in Special Forces.

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