Leadership Starts at the Bottom

Please note that I had never been a squad leader, and was – very briefly – in charge of a fire team. As a corporal in charge of the Bn Safety Office for 8th ESB, the CO informed the companies that only a SSgt or higher was worthy of reporting to me on safety matters. Before long (WAY before long), I was promtoed to Sgt, and then made the Platoon Sgt in charge of the S-4. If this wasn’t a sign of madness, then I don’t know what is. But one thing can be discerned from all of it, and it’s that leadership starts at the bottom.

And now for a little story.

 

If this was a site about ethics in general I’d throw a good number of groups under the bus. But this is about the USMC, which has commercials about how in the heart of every marine is a promise kept (so sign up Evangelical Christians!), and this one where everything looks totally badass. I’m not kidding, either. Watch that commercial and tell me you don’t want to be a fucking marine blowing shit up, executing Port Arms, and even being one of those old vets just sitting around, likely because your knees don’t work so good after 11 years of carrying boxes around a warehouse when you were 19 to 30-years-old.

Opposite the amazing marketing machine the Corps is, is the day-to-day bullshit and outright lies you have to bear witness to when you’re a hard-working, dedicated patriot, or some kid just trying to earn a paycheck to give a good life to your wife and baby.

But enough with the generalities.

This is a story about

  • An out-of-standard Sgt who forged official orders for his married girlfriend, a Cpl, so she could change apartment complexes before her husband got home from Iraq, and
  • A thieving PFC who worked in the same office as that Sgt

And our adventure to see who should be accountable for the things they did.

PFC YoungAndStupid

PFC YoungAndStupid had the qualities a Plt Sgt looks for: He could PT and didn’t mouth off. I was in charge of the S-4 (meaning I had only 4 people directly above me, a SSgt, GySgt, Lt and Captain) when this and another PCF came in. Immediately, they told me that their previous unit’s NCO would call me to disparage them.

Now, it’s a sad fact that when the S-4 needs a body it often gets people who just failed a drug test, or someone who is unpopular. This is how people are deemed to end up on duty rosters more often than others, and it’s also how “the roster got messed up” when you want training. The S-4 is in charge of moving people and gear across whole oceans, so, obviously, send the worst people if you can help it.

I assured the PFCs that this was a clean slate.

“Besides,” I told them, “in about two weeks you’re going to reveal yourself for what you are, anyway.”

 

Well, weeks later PFC YoungAndStupid lifted a set of golf clubs from the bed of a marine’s pickup. This was found out when that marine went to a nearby pawn shop to replace the set, finding his own.

“Why did you steal those clubs?” I asked him one day, privately.

“Don’t know, Sarn’t. Wanted a set of golf clubs, I guess.”

“YoungAndStupid, you already have golf clubs. Plus, if you wanted them, you wouldn’t have pawned them off.”

“Oh yeah,” he said like he’d just realized that was a bad story.

As I said, things would be revealed. The PFC hardly ever said anything because he must have learned not to talk. Half of what he said was untrue; the other half was offensive, such as not believing a female could be President of the United States. The Base Commander was a woman as was the Co CO, but that was his belief, and, to date, it’s unproven, so maybe I’m the asshole here.

For his crime the PFC lost pay and was restricted to the barracks.

Sgt Terminal & Cpl CheaterPants

Cpl CheaterPants’ husband, Sgt DUI, was in Iraq when I arrived at the unit. Most details I have are secondhand so I’ll just say that she wanted very badly to change apartments before he got home, but you can’t break a lease without orders, so she presented a set to her landlord who followed up with the command, and it was found out that they were fake..…so where did she get them?

That evening, myself and the GySgt were kept at the office until 9:00PM. The fallout settled after she spoke to the Bn Chaplain for about 3 hours – a shrewd move if I ever saw one.

In the end Sgt Terminal took the rap he should have, suffering shame and worry, but no loss of pay or rank, and no barracks restriction. Cpl CheaterPants came out unscathed if not unblemished.

NCO Antics Continue

As parents we know that consequences can create results. For example, PFC YoungAndStupid learned that stealing didn’t pay. The following year he also learned the importance of punctuality when he got a Page 11 after being written up about 6 times for being late. He did the crimes, and he did the time.

Cpl CheaterPants, on the other hand, would try to be in charge, telling marines that PT was cancelled when it wasn’t, and volunteering to man the phone, which was necessary in the S-4, but not her place to decide. It was causing confusion, so I finally just had to give her a verbal ass-handing about her place in the platoon.

Meanwhile, Sgt Terminal was in Iraq and had been ordered by Lt Citadel never to speak with Cpl CheaterPants again. So he set up a fake email account under the name Serial Killer (I’m not making this up), and then began emailing to CheaterPants’ military email account. I shit you not, this idiot created an account with the name Serial Killer, and began conversing with a federal military member.

His first email (I swear, I’m not making this up):

 

Dear Number 2:

This is Number 1. You are to write to Number 1 on only this account. All transmissions are to be destroyed after reading. Together Number 1 and Number 2 will work to take down Petty Officer and Afro Man…….

 

And it goes on from there.

Number 1 is Sgt Terminal, Number 2 is CheaterPants, Petty Officer is me, and Afro Man is the SSgt I shared an office with, who had shown open disdain for Sgt Terminal, and refused to suffer fools and morons as a general rule.

After about a month of nonsense that alternated between mild paranoia, daily updates about nothing, and complaints about Petty Officer and Afro Man, I read what I determined to be the end of the line.

 

Dear Number 2:

Number 1 wants Number 2 to know that Number 1 is very proud of Number 2. Number 2 is doing a fine job of taking down Afro Man and Petty Officer……..

 

The operation was over. These two brainiacs weren’t hurting anyone, but they had been given a direct order not to talk to each other. And, frankly, calling a black guy Afro Man when he wasn’t a cover artist for the rapper of the same name is racist, and calling me Petty Officer when I’d done 150 days outside the wire in Falluja is just laughable, and very bad for Cpl CheaterPants because she was actually starting to believe I was more like a sailor, and therefore stood in a lower regard.

I compiled the emails, and when Lt Citadel came to my office I gave them to her.

“How did you get this?” she asked.

“I stole it,” I told her, “over the course of about a month.”

“Okay,” she replied, looking to the SSgt I shared an office with, “you can’t do that.”

“You told him not to talk to her; they’re still talking.”

“I’ll address it,” she concluded. “Get rid of all this.”

She left.

“Close the door,” SSgt Afro Man said. I did. “Are you out of your mind?”

Honestly, I was. Due to my wife’s reserve activation I was a single parent on a Marine Corps schedule. Also, prior to this, I’d taken action against a line unit with some terrible leadership, and was simply done taking crap from anyone anymore.

“You can’t do that. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I did.

“Good. Now I’m going home.” As he left I heard him from the hallway, “p-fff. Afro Man! Fucking idiots.”

Sgt Terminal’s Final Days

Upon coming home from a successful deployment Sgt Terminal was selected for SSgt, but where justice failed, karma prevailed. He was overweight. Despite it being 2008, the year that even Sgts Major were getting re-enlistment bonuses, marines still needed to be in standard.

He was awarded a NAM, thanked for his service, and summarily dismissed from duty.

Cpl CheaterPants’ Final Days

When CheaterPants couldn’t weasel out of training, she began refusing to do so. I was told that counseling her off the bat would look like I was singling her out, but that if I kept a PT log of everyone’s progress, then her deferments to training could be sent to the Co Office where they would handle it.

So I began keeping track. She must’ve gotten word, and went from trying to win a contest that didn’t exist to seeing what she could do to escape the punishment she was earning, successfully moving to the S-3.

Half my headaches were gone.

Later, 3 LCpls informed me that she’d gotten drunk at a party on base housing and told people that I was getting Court Martialed for being a coward in combat, that I had “abandoned my marines” while under fire. I asked them to put it in writing, but they wouldn’t, so I did nothing. She also spread a weak rumor that I wasn’t a 1371 (combat engineer) and some boot-ass LCpl took the bait, got smarmy with me, and I dressed him down in front his company and mine.

Alas, Cpl CheaterPants being in the S-3 really was perfect for her, for in the S-3 you can input PFT results, raising your cutting score. She was going to be promoted to Sgt and get a re-enlistment bonus of $34,500. The night before her promotion she must have been feeling especially excellent, because she drank herself stupid – so stupid that her friend called for help. When she woke up at 10:00AM the morning of her promotion to Sgt it was in the OOD hut wearing a set of olive drab USMC sweats.

As the Bn Safety Manager I had to interview her, and it was determined (at her insistence) that it was not an accident. Her friend panicked; “that’s all,” she said. And that was all. Until she saw the Bn CO who non-rec’d her for promotion.

From what I heard she was told that if she stayed in it would be more than the non-rec Page 11 she was getting, and the very last I heard from her she was yelling in the hallway about how she had gotten fucked over.

Where Are They Now?

I tried to look up these NCOs who seemed like Teflon to formal punishment, but found nearly nothing. No LinkdIn page, no Facebook, no seat on corporate or charitable boards, or personal blogs. Cpl CheaterPants is no longer married to Sgt DUI, but that’s all I know about either of them.

As for me, it would be more than a year before the S-4 had a Sgt more junior than I. While I grew into the role that was required, I’d had more experience as the captain of my high school tennis team (10 weeks) than I had as even a fire team leader prior to being in charge of an entire platoon. Senior to me was Sgt Terminal with 12 years in, then Sgt SingleDad, who had just had back surgery, hence his time in the S-4, then Sgt B&E, who was soon sentenced to the brig for breaking and entering a USMC warehouse. In addition to them was a Sgt and SSgt in the armory, both of whom were technically under me.

And, as I mentioned in the beginning, on my first day as safety manager, LtCol Buffalo told all of 8th ESB that “a Staff Sergeant or higher in each company will report to Corporal Pascale.” It was the craziest shit anyone had ever heard.

Author: Chris Pascale

Christopher Pascale is the author of War Poems: A Marine's Tour 2003-2008. He served in the Marine Corps as a combat engineer.