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Monday, November 27, 2006

Crater Analysis: Terry

When a U.S. military position receives incoming mortar fire, if the firing tubes are not identified through other means, the unit can conduct “crater analysis” to find out where the round came from. To start this, they measure the impact of the round – its depth and direction.

This series, which will make occasional appearances on the blog, will recount the impact that different people I met while on active duty had upon me. This first one dates back to 1997.

By the time I became an Army Aviation platoon leader, I had spent time as a staff officer and as an executive officer for a headquarters company. This allowed me to view aviation units from the outside, and I had come to a sobering conclusion – the US Army Aviation Warrant Officer lacked military discipline.

This demands two rapid clarifications. First, Army Aviation warrant officers have a different career path and set of responsibilities than other warrant officers. The lowest warrant officer rank is Warrant Officer One (WO1). In aviation, a WO1 would be responsible for essentially showing up on time. In other branches of the Army, a WO1 would be responsible for an entire battalion’s maintenance planning and performance, for example. As an aviation warrant officer progresses, their responsibilities creep up only a little bit each time. At no time are they responsible for troops, or for a unit’s performance. Yet, these officers are afforded the same level of privilege as commission officers, who are responsible for every aspect of their troop’s lives and their units functioning. This combination of greater privilege and low responsibility breeds poor discipline.

The second clarification is that while they lack military discipline, they do not lack professionalism. In fact, their occupational professionalism is unmatched. They take great pride in being the best pilot, maintenance test pilot, instructor pilot, safety officer, or whatever specialty they work in. They can be counted on to do an excellent job at their aviation tasks. It is military discipline they lack – they do not look, speak or present themselves as soldiers and officers. Obviously I am not speaking of them all – I have had some very disciplined warrants – but the group as a whole suffers here.

That preface complete, on to the story!

With that in mind, I prepared my initial in brief for all of my warrant officers. Unlike some other commissioned officers in Aviation, I was committed to maintaining a level of discipline and order, and that began by addressing my warrant officers by “Mr.” and their last name, as opposed to their first names. I would let them know that I would continue to do that, as a measure of my respect for them, and I expected a reciprocal level of professional respect for me. I would inform them that I felt that aviation has a poor image outside of the branch, and that I would hold them to a high level of military bearing in appearance and conduct, and mentioned three specific things – uniform appearance, physical fitness, and military courtesy.

The first person I briefed was Terry, a CW2 who was the platoon instructor pilot. When I finished my monologue, Terry looked at me with narrow eyes and said, “Let me tell you something, sir.”

I was cringing inside, anticipating what came next:

“Don’t you ever change that!”

He went on to tell me how he agreed, how he held himself to high standards and he was glad to have a leader who would do the same for him and his peers.

Having Terry in support of my leadership style made all the difference in the world. Over time, I became better friends with Terry. I know that God placed Terry in my life at the right time for the right reasons. Had I met Terry two years earlier, we never would have been friends. Terry had left his wife for another woman – and although he justified it with his wife’s abusive relationship with him at the time, he knew by the time we met that it was wrong, but that the right answer was not to leave his new wife. We discussed scripture and its application, professional development, and personal decisions. On a helicopter flight to Louisiana, Terry revealed to me what a mistake it was going to be to marry the woman I was engaged to at the time, for which I am eternally grateful. It went like this:

“Sir, close your eyes. Imagine that you are at the altar with X, and you have just said ‘I do’. What are you thinking?”

I snapped my eyes open and said, “My God, what have I done?!”

Terry remains the model of professionalism. I wrote recommendations for his selection for Officer Candidate School and promotion to a commissioned officer – but he eventually turned it down, feeling he could make more of a difference within the warrant officer corps. One of the downsides of my departure from the military is that I unexpectedly lost my Army email account, and lost many of my Army friends’ contact info. Terry is one that I miss most. Hopefully when I return to the Army as chaplain (Lord willing), I will see Terry as a CW4 and find out what kind of difference he has made and is making. I hope I made as positive an impact upon him as he did upon me.


  • Great post!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/28/2006 01:52:00 PM  

  • Hi Hammer,

    I have to agree with rightthinker; great post!

    In this one piece you have articulated why the army needs chaplains and why you will make an outstanding army chaplain.

    With only slightly more ambition, you might even make it as a Marine Corp chaplain. : - )

    By Blogger David M. Smith, at 11/29/2006 11:39:00 AM  

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