Saturday, December 17, 2005

Trash Detail

I’ve learned a lot about the other services since I’ve been here. One of the biggest differences I’ve come across is how officers interact with the enlisted.

From all the way back in my days at The Citadel I’ve always had a feeling, both from experience as the junior guy and experience as the senior guy, that the officers that get the biggest amount of respect from the enlisted, and consequently get the most work done, are the ones that aren’t afraid to get dirty with them. Since then I’ve done everything I could to show them that I understood how much being enlisted can suck sometimes and went that extra mile for them. I’ve done walkarounds and worked on planes with wrench-turners. Every single time we landed with pallets on board I never left that Herc until all the cargo had been offloaded, usually with me helping push. When my T-37 would break in the 115 degree Texas heat I would wait on the ramp with the crew chief until the parts arrived instead of going inside into the air conditioning. After every C-9 mission I would clean the trash all the Space-A’s had left in the back of the plane with the med-tech’s. Not everyone would do this, and I never ordered a junior officer to do these things with me—I just learned from example over the years that the guys that did this tended to be the best officers. And it has paid off big—whenever I needed these guys to go the extra mile for me, they have never let me down.

This mentality doesn’t exist across the services. One, in particular (and I won’t mention it here), has such a complex of the difference between officers and enlisted that I wonder how they have ever managed to get things done. This has carried over to the point that they come across as arrogant, holier-than-though SOB’s to even other officers in other services, in particular the Air Force. I pity the enlisted ranks in this service, because they must absolutely despise the people they have to work for.

An example happened today. We have a pretty high-level DV coming through the CAOC. My boss asked me to check and see if floor was in a state of general cleanliness. Someone had dragged a bag of trash down the stairs and messed things up pretty bad. There is a schedule posted of those responsible for cleanup on a daily basis. This one section, a liaison section for this particular service, is due to take care of things today. Unfortunately for them, they only have two officers (same rank as me) manning the shop. Incidentally, they only work about four hours a day.

When I went to ask them to check on things they looked at me as if I had just asked them to betray their country. The conversation went something like this:

“Hey guys—you’re on the schedule for cleanup today. Would you mind taking a look around?”


“The (their section) is on the schedule and we could use some help.”

“Oh, well that’s not us. You can call (apparently their superior) upstairs and ask him.” The guy was an O-6.

“Ok, so I can go ask the O-6, but not you.”

Blank stares.

“Look, we have (DV) coming by today and we need to clean things up.”

“Well you’re asking the wrong people. Don’t you have any enlisted guys that can do that?”

“Thanks for your help, guys.”

These guys were doing nothing, whereas I was already getting behind just asking them to do their job. In the end, an Air Force TSgt who probably had more time in the military than they did volunteered and cleaned things up in about 10 minutes.

Thank God, I joined the right service.


  1. Hmmmm, I was USAF 71-76 and you are so very, very correct. I worked for some Sr NCOs that I would follow anywhere and do anything they would demand knowing that they would be there with you. I also worked for some Sr NCOs that I would follow only reluctantly because they were self-serving and would abandon you if it meant that they would dirty their shoes.

    What you do is a true sign of a leader, don't demand from others what you, yourself, are unwilling to do. Serve tjpse that are beneath you so they know that they are important.

  2. Thank you. This is one of my FAVORITE subjects! :) Really, I'm not kidding or sarcastic.

    Having been ex-USAF enlisted (Airman to SSgt - '81 to '87), working on the flightline (328x4 - Avionics & Doppler Nav), I have had the opportunity to interract with _several_ officers and enlisted. They have ranged from those that fly, those that nav, those that target (RSO), those that confer, those that work on different parts of the plane, those that guard, those that feed, those that CE, and those that "do it all".

    SIDE NOTE: I discount those in CBPO and Medical because they are _always_ nice - sorta wired in I guess. :)

    In both cases their involvement with me and other folks ranged from those that delegate, those that coordinate, those that participate, and those that "do it all".

    And THEN, there is the rare breed: BOOT STRAP OFFICERS. Those officers, and I only worked _WITH_ two (take note the word "with" is important) they were special. I would jump in front of a bullet for the Boot Strap Officer - and we Air Force types rarely end up in a gunfight! :) And I had one Boot Strap officer jump in front of someone to protect _ME_ on the flightline. He, obviously, is my favorite officer! To you, Capt. Tolliver, thanks for watching "my six" on the flight deck in Aviano, Italy.

    I believe that the key is that the "do it all" officers, as I believe you are of that type, and the Boot Strap officers, take leadership to an entirely different level. When you have placed yourself in the other person's shoes, no matter what tier or slot in the Chain of Command, comaradery becomes electric. That is the key to being a great leader, whether in the private sector or in the military.

    I've gone on too long ... but, Hercs and C-9As I know very well! Rhein-Main AFB was my first duty station. In fact, I was on a team to install the first Carousel IV-E systems in our Nightingales. That was a great time, a great base, and our Hercs were the BEST (a little biased, eh?)