Five years ago, I was still in the war, a lowly E-4 multichannel transmissions systems operator/maintainer, writing whatever I pleased on this blog and worrying about little other than counting the days until we loaded up my dirty little truck and went home.
Now I’m on the verge of promotion to E-7, in a different MOS (locked in the back of a humvee no longer – I’m now a true TOCroach!). I’m in charge of a few soldiers, and as part of the headquarters, I’m making decisions that reach far beyond my immediate presence, and can even extend far beyond my perception. It’s a strange feeling to know that I can make somebody’s life – somebody I’ve never met, in some far flung armory on the other side of the state – a living hell based on some flippant comment or hare-brained recommendation during any one of our innumerable meetings.
Indeed, flippant comments are my stock in trade; I find that levity (sometimes bordering on outright sass) is the only way I can deal with my job. When we’re told to plan for a mission, and the mission consists of nothing but “we’re going to go somewhere and do something,” you can either a) get angry or b) laugh. Most pick the first option, but for me, stuff like that is comedy gold. Luckily, this attitude hasn’t gotten me into trouble; I guess my services are so useful that everyone is willing to put up with my insouciance – so far.
But I always wonder: is this the “right” attitude to have, as a senior NCO? E-6 seems to me like the last “screw-around” rank, where you have responsibilities but you’re still closer to the bottom than the top of the organization. But E-7, hey, that’s a different story: now you could be a platoon sergeant, a senior drill sergeant, a staff NCO, in charge of a lot of serious shit. Ideally, you’ll be like Sergeant Apone from Aliens: chomping a cigar while yelling obscenities and gesticulating, commanding respect and obedience with only a withering glance. Apone, however, wouldn’t be much good on a brigade staff; he’d probably just put out his cigar on the face of some uppity major and get busted back down to a line company as an E-5.
Anyway, this thinking dovetails with this blog: how does my role as a writer on the internet change with my advancing rank? As a senior NCO, I’m expected to be a “company man,” toeing the line of the command (at least in public), while keeping my grousing about command policies to a minimum. It’s easy to bitch about things when you’re at the bottom of the pyramid; indeed, complaining is the God-given prerogative of every junior enlisted soldier. But closer to the top, such complaining is unseemly, particularly in public – and though this is quasi-anonymous, the internet is as public as it gets.
Many milbloggers in this war have been leaders, though, so it’s not like I’m treading new ground. Some of them have even blogged while leading troops in combat, something that you’ll likely never read about here.