A reader sends:
SPC Slick and You
A long time ago in a war that actually had an end, I was a young lieutenant that had just recently graduated Officer Basic Course (OBC). My unit was a reserve unit that had been put on active duty for the war. But this story isn’t about me. It’s about one of the young soldiers in my unit, one SPC Slick, and you, gentle reader.
Slick was a good guy, more than a bit lazy but very likable with a great sense of humor. Of course, Slick wasn’t what one would call a model soldier. Getting him to pay attention in training was difficult, to say the least. Getting him to work at his MOS (Light Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic) wasn’t an easy task either, but when you go to war, you go with what and who you have. As good fortune would have it, we had the perfect job for him.
In the desert, there was no running water or sewer system for latrines. There was also no portajohn service available, so alternate means needed to be found to remove those obviously inconvenient and smelly human waste products. In the case of the US Army, the solution was found in the art of shit burning. 55 gallon drums are cut in half, partially filled with diesel fuel, and then placed in a latrine box. People would shit into the diesel filled cans and then the shit burning detail would remove the cans, add a little extra diesel and then would burn off the diesel in the cans and the shit would burn with it. Of course, diesel would be added throughout the burning process as the initial charge of diesel wouldn’t be enough to finish the job. It should also be pointed out that this fine stew of burning diesel, shit, and toilet paper would require the occasional stir just to keep things going.
Now as you can imagine, this was not the most popular detail at camp. In fact, it was considered so unpopular that the shit burners got a reduced work day compared to everyone else just to make the duty a little less unpleasant. Did I mention previously that Slick had absolutely no problems with jobs that most of us would find quite grotesque? Lo and behold, when this trait intermeshed with Slick’s inherent laziness, Slick would always volunteer for shit burning detail. Slick got to maximize his slack and our more industrious workers weren’t burdened with the misery of shit burning detail. Everyone wins.
A couple of months or so into our deployment in theater, one of the other guys began to film the activities of our deployment with one of those fancy new VCR cameras, with the CO’s permission of course. Our young cameraman made his way throughout the camp recording various aspects of camp life and interviewing members of the unit. At the end of the recording, all of the company leadership gathered together to watch our young cameraman’s work. This included the company CO, XO, 1st Sgt, all of the platoon leaders, and all of the platoon sergeants. All was going as would be expected until Slick appeared on the screen.
It seems that Slick was just getting to the end of his shit burning detail that day and had become a little impatient about finishing the job and getting on with some serious slacking. As he was dumping the ash out of the barrels, it seems that one hadn’t completely burned out yet. No worries, it was just a little bit of burning diesel that would cleanly burn off when it hit the ground, or so he thought. Slick turned the barrel upside down, dumping out the burning remnants to discover not just burning diesel, but a BURNING PIECE OF SHIT! Thinking quickly, a little too quickly, he jumped into action and stomped it out.
The best part? The cameraman was there to capture the sequence for all of eternity on a VCR tape. Now, theoretically, Slick could have been hit with a reprimand or maybe even a company grade Article 15, but he got a far better punishment, specifically the embarrassment of being seen by all of the company stomping on a burning piece of shit. In case anyone is wondering, the whole company leadership probably couldn’t have written up an Article 15 or reprimand anyway because we were laughing too hard.
Now, my intrepid reader, you may be wondering why I have taken the time to write this story or why the keeper of this blog has made the effort to publish it. The answer is actually pretty simple. You may think that I think that Slick was absolutely worthless. Far from it. Let me explain. First, Slick did a necessary job freeing up other people to do other tasks. In short, he made himself useful within his skill set. He wasn’t seeking glory, or trying to upstage anyone else. He just did his job, admittedly not perfectly, but well enough and it’s always better to perform a necessary task well with humility than to try to go seeking glory and fuck everything up.
This brings me to my next point. In a post SHTF situation, there are going to be a lot of mundane, but extremely important, jobs that need to be done that don’t require lots of military training. If you’re not prior military, don’t try to do all of the fancy military stuff. Even if you are a former 11B with lots of experience, keep in mind that you won’t have the resources or the recent training that you used to have. Oh, and in case anyone is thinking that they’ve taken a tactical class at tacticool school and can beat Slick, think again. Even though Slick was combat service support, Slick went through 8 weeks of basic training and Slick’s more recent successors have gone through 10 weeks. In those 8 weeks, Slick learned to handle the M16A1, the M60, the M203, and the M2, as well as familiarization with the M72 LAW. He learned to patrol, set up a defensive perimeter, and learned to do fire and maneuver. He did this for approximately 14 hours a day (in some cases more) 6½ days per week, with a few hours off Sunday mornings for church. If you take into account a few days for admin, he had approximately 7 weeks, with the new recruits having 9 weeks, of this regimen. That’s 637 hours of training in Basic alone.
Now some of you will rightfully point out that a lot of that time is learning drill, customs, wearing a uniform, etc., and you would be correct. AND WRONG. All of those items teach discipline, the following of orders, and unit cohesion – concepts just as important to winning as any tactic that you may or may not learn in a class. None of this counts any additional tactical training time that he got in AIT, with the unit prior to mobilization, or the refresher training that we got during mobilization. Add to that the fact that Slick could pass an Army PT test (how many people can actually do that for real, not just behind a key board?) and could do 15 mile road march with a fully loaded pack in 3-4 hours. Yup. Slick could.
Could Slick or any of the rest of us in the unit do infantry? No, at least not well, and I was combat arms. My point? Tacticool school doesn’t even qualify you to take on Slick, much less 10th Mountain, but guess what?
YOU DON’T NEED TO DO THAT! You just have to be able to protect yourself from thugs in a LA riot or post-SHTF situation.
What does that mean? Learn the basics of defense. Cover, concealment, interlocking fields of fire. Setting up a good perimeter. Keeping a good watch. Use and know your terrain. Know yourself and your limitations. At the Battle of the Bulge, an Engineer Construction Battalion was able to hold off German Infantry and Panzers by practicing sound defensive principles. Being on defense is a solid combat multiplier in its own right and is legally defensible, as opposed to offensive training. It’s also, quicker, safer, and easier to learn, with fewer problems for an aging population.
And don’t get your knickers in a knot when an 11B points out that you’re not infantry and you won’t ever be infantry. No, you can’t do what they can do, but they can’t do what you can do. That’s why the Army has different branches. Play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses by admitting them, coming up with strategies for getting around them, and learning solid defense.
Train to be useful.