Sometimes “Joe” Puts One Over On Leadership . . . for a While

| May 24, 2014

In any large organization, there will always be a few malcontents. In that respect, the military services are no different from any other organization.

Now during the days of the draft, I could understand why some would have a bad attitude towards the Army – even if I couldn’t agree with it. Hell, I’m not completely sure it’s coincidence that “drafted” and “shafted” rhyme. (smile)

However, by the mid-1970s or so, that justification – as meager as it was – for having a bad attitude was gone. By then, virtually anyone serving was a volunteer (I think we still had a draft for selected healthcare professionals, but that was it). Everyone serving then had either raised their hand voluntarily when they first signed up – or they’d stayed on voluntarily after their draftee term of service had ended. So by that point in time, well, malcontents were just that:  malcontents.

As malcontents do everywhere, sometimes in the Army they’d try to “get even” with “the man” – e.g., their chain-of-command. Usually, that didn’t work out so well. Whenever “Joe” made such an attempt, “Joe” generally forgot two key points:

  1. (Stuff) flows downhill; and
  2. Joe lives at the bottom of the hill.

However, every once in a while Joe managed to pull a good one. And I’m about to relate one such, as told to me by an acquaintance about 30 years ago.

Standard disclaimer: I didn’t see this firsthand; it’s a second-hand story. But the source claimed to have firsthand knowledge, and it’s an individual I trust. So I believe what follows to be the truth; any errors in relating it are mine.

Here’s what happened one day . . . .

. . .

Place: Germany
Time: between late 1977 and late 1982 (other clues say it was probably in 1980 or 1981)
Unit: an Army combat support unit of company size
Scene: a field site during an exercise
Background, for non-Army types:

  1. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Army’s primary focus was Europe (remember, this was during the height of the Cold War).
  2. While most Army combat units (infantry, artillery, armor, air defense) in Europe at the time (and in the Army in general) had tracked vehicles, many of the support units primarily used wheeled vehicles. And even in combat divisions, many of the support vehicles were wheeled vehicles.
  3. Combat support units often had electronic equipment. Putting this equipment in tents after setting up an operating location usually didn’t work out so well. So many units had shelterized configurations for that electronic equipment. These shelters were big metal boxes – formally called S-250 shelters and S-280 shelters – mounted on the back of 1 1/4 ton or 2 1/2 ton trucks; their purpose was to provide some degree of environmental protection for the equipment. They were actually quite mobile; it was really amazing where a good driver could get one of those things.
  4. Some equipment configurations required multiple shelters – pairs or triples – that were deployed together to perform the mission.
  5. The shelters (and their vehicles) were painted in woodland camouflage pattern. In 1980 or 1981, the Army changed that pattern – I think they went from a 3-color pattern to a 4-color pattern, but that memory is 30+ years old now and I might have it backwards – and all vehicles had to be repainted with the new pattern.
  6. When these units deployed their equipment, they also set up camouflage netting over that equipment. This was a lightweight net with embedded plastic/fabric strips woven into it in woodland colors, and with small metal rings (for radar dispersion) as well. Its purpose was to break up shapes and obscure the equipment, thus giving some degree of protection against observation from a distance or from the air. It came with poles and spreader assemblies so that it could be suspended off the vehicles in an irregular, hopefully somewhat tree- or hill-like, shape. When properly emplaced, it was reasonably effective.
  7. Units didn’t stay in one place for the duration when they went to the field. They moved periodically (called “jumping”) – because they were expected to have to do that a lot if the “balloon went up” in Europe. To do that, they tore everything down, packed up all their stuff (hopefully), moved, set up their equipment, nets, etc . . . , and resumed their mission.
  8. Although this was well after Vietnam, there were quite a number of Vietnam veterans still in the force. Many Vietnam-era terms and acronyms were still in common use. One such Vietnam-era 3-letter acronym in particular was a favorite of Army malcontents – and was absolutely detested by senior leadership. Let’s just say it does not stand for “Fun, Travel, Adventure”. (smile)

Now, back to the story . . . .

An Army Brigade Commander of a combat support brigade was flying, performing an aerial inspection/visit of his units during a field exercise. O6-level commanders could sometimes wrangle a bird for part/all of a day to do so in those days.

He lands near one of his units. The Company Commander of that unit is at the site.

The Brigade Commander is not a happy camper. He finds the Company Commander and verbally rips into him, tearing him a new one.

The Company Commander doesn’t seem to understand why he’s getting reamed. Finally, the Brigade Commander tells the company commander, “You really don’t know, Captain? Hell, get in the bird and I’ll show you.” (Or words to that effect.)

They got in the bird, and took off. They overflew the site.

The Brigade Commander pointed out to the Captain one spot where a group of the unit’s vehicles were clustered together.

This particular group was 3 vehicles with shelters that were typically deployed together. They normally were backed into a “T” formation, with a platform laid between the tailgates, for normal operations. I’m pretty sure these were the larger shelters, the S-280s; those were normally the ones used for multiple-shelter configurations. So the roofs of those shelters were pretty big – about 12ft by 7ft each.

The vehicles had been parked in their normal “T” formation. But the camouflage netting wasn’t yet up, so you could see the roofs of the shelters – which you can’t see from the ground, and can’t see too clearly when standing on the hood. And there’s often no place in a unit motor pool parking lot high enough to get a clear view of the shelter roofs, either – unless you want to climb a light pole.

Apparently some “enterprising lads” had taken a few liberties with the camouflage pattern on the roofs of those shelters – most likely during that 1980 or 1981 mandatory repainting. Because on those roofs, there it was – clear as day.

“Fun, Travel, Adventure.”  Abbreviated to one letter per word, of course. In big honking letters 5 or more feet high.

They landed. A very sheepish and chagrined Company Commander got off the bird.

As I recall the story, the Company Commander didn’t get relieved. He actually ended up having a successful tour in command.

But he did get the roofs of those shelters repainted again posthaste. (smile)

Category: Pointless blather, Who knows

Comments (22)

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  1. AW1 Tim says:

    Heh. Now THAT’S funny. I don’t care who you are. 🙂

    With us, it was F. T. N.

    Along those same lines, we Navy Aircrew types had a little game called “tagging”. Every flight crew had a stencil of their squadron insignia, or number aboard at all times, and a can of spray paint in the squadron color.

    The idea was to get to some place inside the other squadron’s bird and leave your mark. Kept security on their toes, etc. Places that I, for certain, know got tagged were inside the bomb bay, usually on the forward or aft bulkhead, inside the radar dome in the nose, just below the radar dish, Inside the aft fairing of the searchlight on the starboard wing, and inside the Maine Electrical Load Center inside the aircraft. 🙂

    Good times. Good times. 99% of the time, if you got caught, punishment was cleaning it all off, repainting if needs be, and writing a letter (the letter of shame) to the other squadron’s skipper for to be read at quarters to all hands, apologizing for your actions.

    • Joe Williams says:

      Late 1966,my assiged to the LPH Princeton for Ampib ops off the coast of VN. On board with us was 4of VMO 6 gunships. Just before deploying to Ky Ha helo base. The gunship’s section had our squadron emblem. I do not know how those Hueys had our Ugly Angel on their helos. Joe

  2. Airborne says:

    A buddy of mine was selected for the paint detail when our tracks were getting repainted around 1987. His handy work was FTA on the driver’s hatch.

  3. streetsweeper says:

    BTDT, we had more than a few malcontents in company, battalion (esp) and luckily none in HQ Co (it was a small company). Any time HQ needed another body, I’d jump up n down and usually got to go. Several platoons decided to “mark” their territory as well. The whole damn company spent a week sanding and repainting the V-150’s they tagged in spare time. 1st Sergeant made sure he got the offenders in one fell swoop… I missed the sanding (by hand) and painting party having reported to HQ the day before. 😉

  4. Sparks says:

    I will first say that the draftees I served with, however they felt about being drafted, served admirably. They knew, draftee or not that their lives depended on the men next to them and they in turn watched over others when they slept. Most I served with though were volunteers. To the point though, I heard FTA out of volunteer’s mouths as often or more than draftees. Volunteers who thought they would be going on an “adventure” to Germany, Italy, Great Britain or whatever place their recruiter told them was in “high demand for guys with your skills”. “Yea son, with your scores I can see you in a great technical MOS headed for good duty in (fill in here, the name of place, wide eyed recruit said he’d always wanted to see)”. “Yea I can even make some calls to let ’em know about you. I see good things ahead for you son. The Army needs smart, sharp men like you.” Then when they were slotted as an 11B and sent to Vietnam, they were NOT happy campers. Draftees, on the other hand, seemed to have few illusions about where they believed they were going and if they were sent elsewhere as an 11B or got AIT for other than Infantry they were surprised and happy. So FTA is something I heard across the board.

  5. Devtun says:

    Wait, I thought it meant…

    – F**k Them All
    – F**k The Alliance
    – Face, Titties, A$$
    – Free Trip to Asia

    I recall COL Hackworth admitted in his book he didn’t know what “FTA” meant when he took command of 4/39 in Vietnam in ’69. Many of the soldiers had “FTA” stenciled on their steel pots, and he had to ask his medic Doc Evans to give him the translation.

  6. streetsweeper says:

    I had no time for those that espoused “FTA”, gave them a real wide berth. I could get in enough trouble on my own without hanging around with that particular crowd. The majority of ’em got what they earned, BCD’s or OTH’s and gone doggy!

  7. ArmyATC says:

    Everyone in the Army, and most outside it, know how much the 1st Cavalry Division loves that huge “Cav Patch.” They love to paint it everywhere and on damned near everything, even during deployments. It was rumored that no yellow or black paint could be found anywhere in the Middle East because the Cav had bought it all up. One particularly egregious example of 1st Cav over indulgence was a huge depiction of the patch, probably almost twenty feet long, at the entrance to taxiway D at Taji. Some enterprising young soldier, tired of seeing 1st Cav yellow and black on everything, decided that the horses head needed some modification. Needless to say, the 1st Cav brass was none to happy to see a huge pink unicorn horn painted on the horses head. Despite a lengthy investigation, the culprit was never found and rumor has it he even got promoted soon after the incident.

    • PFM says:

      I remember seeing it plastered all over one of the sites on Liberty. Always seemed the 2 units with the biggest patches (1st Cav and 2ID) loved to paint the damned things wherever they could fit ’em in.

  8. Just an Old Dog says:

    We had a particularly bad CO/XO/1st combination in my battery at Camp Lejuene. Just Plain Assholes. Morale was rock bottom, and office hours were held every Friday Afternoon.
    It didnt matter how good of a Marine you were, There seemed to be a conspiracy to “burn” every single Marine in the unit, and the chickenshit was neck deep. Enter one PFC Cross, who ended up getting two office hours almost as soon as he checked in. One was for checking in from leave without having a haircut ( 2 weeks) and the other was for using the “wrong” door to leave the barracks during the weekend.
    Cross became the Battery Gunny’s driver for a 3 week fire-ex. He was canned from that because the Gunny said that the kid was bonafide crazy, he talked in his sleep and was always mumbling to himself.
    He got his third ( and last) office hours becausehe was found to have several painted rocks in his wall locker during a Battery Commanders Inspection and he had cut he sleeves off one of his Summer Service blouse. When questioned he said the rocks were his pets and since it was Summer, short sleeves should be authorized.
    He got sent to Battalion for NJP and reduced. 45 days restriction and 45 days EPD, busted to private. He was also processed for a general discharge.
    During the entire time his duties were to help the police sergeant and clean up the battery office.He emptied trash cans, etc Made coffee. I was a Corporal at the time, and there not being a whole lot to do in J vile NC I often took duty on the weekends. Since he had to sign in I got to know him pretty good.
    Once the Staff Ncos and officers were gone and he knew the distain I felt about them for being such shitty leaders, he dropped the crazy act around me. He didnt come straight out and admit he was faking it, but I knew what was up.
    He pulled a few more stunts, the biggest being ordering 2 pizzas from Dominos and trying to pat for them with his rocks,,,,.
    He finally got his discharge. He stayed one last night in the barracks and asked me to give him a ride to the airport in J ville on Saturday morning. He gave me gas Money, ( not rocks) and the guy was actually pretty swift. His dad owned a parts store in Boston and he was being groomed to take over. His hitch in the Corps was supposed to be just a bit of world experience before went to School and got his business degree.
    I asked him how he felt about the way the command treated him. I’ll never forget what he said. He told me every morning when he made coffee he would dick-swipe and rub his nuts all over the CO’s coffee cup. He said “Everytime that fucker took a sip of coffee, he was sucking my cock”.
    As a SNCO I never let my coffee cup be unsecured or out of my sight.

    • A Proud Infidel®™ says:

      We had one backstabbing TURD of a politician for a 1SG in the unit I ETS’ed from on Ft. Benning in 1994. He would sell his own Momma out for brownie points, and probably hesitated to even flush the toilet in his office without clearance from higher up! He made a big deal about how he wanted the Extra Duty Personnel or the CQ Runner to clean his office, which was in the Barracks, and to this day I wonder how many times some pissed off EM in the unit rubbed his pecker or nuts in or on his coffee mug? It was rumored that one who was about to be QMP’ed due to a Field Grade Article 15 even pissed in his coffee maker before rinsing it, and it was rumored that when one CQ runner was cleaning it on a Friday night, some of his buddies came in after pigging out at a Mexican restaurant and washing it down with plenty of beer came in and took turns farting in his K-pot (Kevlar helmet for the uninitiated), thus his nickname among some was “1SG Farthead” when we were in the field!! It goes to show that if you piss on your subordinates, they WILL find a way to piss right back on you without your even knowing it!! And YEAH, with weak and poor leadershit (*OOPS*, Leadership) at the helm of that unit, I too, had “Short-Timer’s Syndrome” and MIGHT have had the mindset to cut at least a few good Mess Hall chili-with-extra-onion farts in his K-pot!

  9. Beretverde says:

    At the demo range at an unamed post… The demo guys blew FTA on the range with Bangalore torpedoes. We were “banned for life” from that range! At least they didn’t bend our dog tags and take away our heat tabs.

  10. Zulu02 says:

    Early 80s in the FRG. No one wanted to go up for the Soldier of the Month thing. So the 1SG and I (I was the CO) called – I’ll call him Smith – PVT E1 Smith (a mechanic and not much to look at), who had just done 45 days in the Correctional Custody Facility (CCF) for whatever and informed him that he was our candidate for the Soldier of the Month Competition. So the 1SG and his PSG drilled him and got him ready. He made Soldier of the Month. Then Soldier of the Quarter. Then Brigade Soldier of the Quarter.

    Now by this time, the whole thing is a standing joke in the company. PVT Smith is now going up to the Division competition. Then someone checked his records and the jig was up becasue you could not have disciplinary action on your record and go to Division.

    Needless to say there were folks who considered our actions less than “responsible” in the Chain of Command. Fortunately I had a pretty cool BN CDR, and although he did “have words” for me and the 1SG for doing this, he thought it was pretty funny the way we had gotten over on the powers that were. And the BC made sure Smith got to keep his awards etc.

    • Just an Old Dog says:

      The last board I took part in as a participant was an NCO of the quarter Board in 11th Marines.
      I was part of HQ Regt when I took their board, then I got transferred to 3rd Bn. HQ Battery sent up the guy I had beat on the board, and the 3rd Bn had their own Rep selected. The Regt Sgt Major told our Bn Sgt Major that I was going to go to the regimental Board as sort of a “free agent” so as not to screw the Battalion or HQ battery out of having a rep who was within the unit.
      The kid that came from 3rd Battalion was the Sgt Major’s driver and a real suck-dick. The Sgt Major was a douche rocket too, a real rock painter. The day before the board he called the battery and told them after he screened my record he discovered I was inelligible because I had an NJP 3 years before, ( yes it was under the dipshit CO I mentioned earlier).
      The board went, and of course I wasnt there. Afterwards the Regimental Sgt Major ( who had been at a SNCO graduation in El Toro) looked at the results and saw I hadnt competed. He ended up having a piece of the Bn Sgt Major’s ass for changing the criteria so it excluded me.
      The kid I beat at HQ’s Battery took the board and subsequently the 1st Mar Div Board earning Meritoriuos Sgt.
      The Bn Sgt Major’s Butt buddy came in dead last, and ending up poping on a piss test later.

    • Hondo says:

      Early 80s in FRG, Zulu02? The guy didn’t by any chance get his 45 days confinement for “creative camouflage painting”, did he? (smile)

      • Zulu02 says:

        For the life of me, I can’t remember why he did 45 days in CCF. All I recall is that he was a good tech, and did a really outstanding imitation of me. Even when I was present and he did not know I was standing behind him. Good times.

  11. Enigma4you says:

    I have a good friend who began his Naval career at NAS Meridian.

    His LPO was ridding his ass pretty good. My buddy and a few of his friends rounded up every Armadillo they could find, altogether about 14 or so. Sent them up the Control tower elevator over a long weekend.

    The LPO had duty and it was a well known fact that he did not check the tower as he was supposed to.

    The log showed that he had checked the tower. The armadillos proved he had not.

  12. RunPatRun says:

    3ID 75-78…and all those years I thought it stood for Frankfurt To America.

  13. Hack Stone says:

    March 1983, I escaped from MCCES in 29 Palms. I was the FNG at 3rd Amtracks and hopped onto a track for my first trip to the field. The vehicles lined up on the beach, then started heading North on the beach. Eventually we stopped and they are a out to pass out the MREs (the old dehydrated ones), when all of a sudden, there arose a clamor. SSgt Name Redatced is having a conniption, screaming at the Marines. He told us all to drop and start with the push-ups. Having no idea what the eff is going on, I look over and see written on the SSgt’s LVTP-7 “PUD”. I turn to the Marine doing push-ups next to and ask “What is PUD ?”. He replied “Pretty Uncool Dude.” Just remember, friends don’t let friends be PUDs.

  14. fibmcgee1 says:

    My descent into FTA-land started when I refused to buy Savings Bonds. I was called into the CO’s office
    and asked why I refused to sign up. I explained that, making less than $100 a month, it made no economic
    sense since I was spending every cent I made, every month. His rejoinder? “Well, you can cash the Bond in
    the next month!”

    Needless to say, I didn’t sign up. Seemed like the stupid detail assignments increased (as well as a late promotion).

    After that, I skirted the edge until my ETS date.


  15. Martinjmpr says:

    Most of that attitude was gone by the time I hit Germany in ’87 but there was a rhyme the short timers would use:

    I’ve done my time
    I’ve earned my pay
    Now it’s ETS*
    And FTA

    *(for the civilians on the board, ETS is End Term of Service or Expected Time of Separation – the end of a soldier/sailor/marine/airman’s term in the military)