06 May 2010

Four More Things I Learned from My Uncle Sam

Continuing yesterday's musings about things I've learned during more than 20 years in uniform ...


Here's a confession: I gave up trying to lose the habit of speaking in radio-telephone lingo a long time ago. Instead of "bye-bye," I close my telephone conversations with "OUT." When I call someone--even a good friend, I'm likely to identify myself like I would on the radio: "Friend? THIS IS ..." For the record, Scout, they're called "procedure words" or "pro-words."

Years later, I knew I'd married well when Household-6 was about to give me some information over the telephone. When she told me to "PREPARE TO COPY," I fell in love all over again.

ROGER, honey!

I realize it all sounds a little silly, of course, but there's some family tradition here, too. Maybe that's really why I keep doing it. For the longest time, for example, my parents would talk over little Sherpa's head by using the same international phonetic alphabet the Army would eventually teach me. Example: "Time to give Sherpa a Bravo-Alpha-Tango-Hotel."

Take the first letter in each word. Get it now? I sure didn't.

Even if a kid can spell, the phonetic alphabet adds another layer of encryption. Used in short bursts, it's a parental Enigma machine.

In another example, I remember listening to my mother talk to my overseas Air Force father via some sort of telephone-to-radio link. It was a Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) call, that reached all the way into our kitchen telephone. I remember that Mom had to say "over" at the end of each thought, to let my father know it was his turn to talk. I also remember wondering how, exactly, my father was on Mars.

"I love you, OVER ..."


Whether you're on guard duty, or standing in some hours-long formation while 16 bloviating general officers wish you luck and give you advice, it's a good idea never to lock your knees. People pass out that way.

You can stand for hours with your knees bent slightly. Think of it as skiing, without the hills, the scenery, or the fun.


Some of my basic Army training took place at Fort Lewis, Wash. That's when I learned that parts of Washington state qualify as sub-tropical rain forest. It rained and drizzled constantly.

We had meager rain gear in those days--a rubberized poncho was about it. The worst part of the experience was when you were still a little dry, and you started to feel the soggy, creepy cold crawl up your skin: Your boots got wet, your socks got wet, your pants got wet--you got wet. After that, it warn't nothing but a thing. You still had to watch yourself for trench foot or hypothermia, of course, but the worst thing about getting wet wasn't the water, it was getting wet. Everything after that was just more of the same.


I remember seeing a squad of infantry introduce themselves, one by one, to an audience of us new recruits. Each one sounded off with name, rank, and their function on the team: "Grenadier," "rifleman," "radio-telephone operator," and the like. After naming their position, they'd rattle off their responsibilities: "I am responsible for ..."

The squad leader stepped forward last. "I am responsible for everything my squad does, or fails to do."

I can't tell you how many times I've waited to hear a political or business leader say something like that. Step up, say your name, take ownership of what happened. Tell people what you'll make happen, and let yourself be judged on performance.

Be responsible.

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