Saturday, March 29, 2008

While I was away...

I sat in for my brigade commander at a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and I was literally the lowest ranking guy in a room of about 30 people. By my rough count there were 4 Majors, 13 Lieutenant Colonels, 10 Colonels, and the General--except that the General wasn't there.

As the meeting began he was elsewhere, no doubt doing important General things. It appeared that I was off the hook, and I would brief my brigade's portion to a room full of disinterested higher ups who were really only there because they had to be, not because they wanted to know what all the brigades had to say.

But since this is me we're talking about--and my morning with the General was not to be denied-- he made his entrance 30 seconds before it was my turn to speak. No big deal, I told myself. If there's one thing I'm good at it's briefing stuff. But seeing as the General didn't know who I was, I felt an introduction should be my first order of business.

"Good morning, sir. Captain Exnicios, Task Force Cincinnatus S9 standing in for the Brigade Commander."

It was a pretty good start, I thought--forceful, confident, everything a fine junior officer such as myself should be.

"Exnicios?" the General responded. "Is that your real name?"

"Yes sir, for my entire life." Where was he going with this?

"Wow. It sounds like some sort of horrible disease." But hey, at least he pronounced it right.

And from there I did my briefing, which went fine. The General (who seems to be a genuinely alright fellow, insults to my Exnicios heritage aside) complimented me on my performance, and that was that.

About a week later I happened to find myself driving in an SUV with the General's aide, a recently promoted Captain who carried himself with a slightly obnoxious swagger as befits his aide-de-camp/West Pointer status. The two of us were chatting with our driver, a Civil Affairs sergeant who had recently arrived in theater, which led to the following exchange.

CA SGT: "Some of the officers we have aren't that great, but some are really good."

General's Aide: "Yeah, I've heard that a lot of times you CA guys get stuck with really horrible IRR officers who got called up, don't want to be there, and just fuck off the whole time."

I resisted the temptation to reveal my status as a proud member of the IRR, and the conversation moved on to other things. Later that day the good Captain was asking for my story, and I informed him that I was one of the aforementioned "good for nothing" IRR officers. If he was embarrassed he hid it well, and he quickly feigned interest in my life and times. He let me know "how much it must suck" to get called back. He also cited the recent WaPo article on Captains getting out of the Army, an article that I don't have a very high opinion of. I pointed him to the vastly superior NYTMag piece from last summer, though I'm sure he hasn't looked it up.

Anywho, there's no really exciting way to end this story, so I'll just say this--how have I not gotten into the oped writing business yet? I suppose that's something I can look at on my way out the door...


Colin C. said...

Fair warning, I kinda only skimmed both pieces and my only Army experience was working with a Transportation Battalion in the US. A blog comment also doesn't leave a lot of room for proper discourse. However, as an O4 serving at Headquarters (albeit another service), I'll throw in my $0.02.

When I was an O3, I remember frequently hearing the phrase "if only (O3's) ran the (service)...." O3s are eager, willing, much more mature than your O1s, have sufficient experience, and, hopefully, a good head on their shoulders. They have the tactics down. They see problems and want to tackle them right away. And that's what's needed. O3s get a lot done and essentially run the military.

Between O3 and O7, reality and discipline set in, especially with a HQ/Pentagon tour. We realize that there's a difference between running operations as an O3 and making things happen at the national level. Our focus shifts from the tactical to the strategic. We see officers trying to make the next grade. We understand the politics of command and the service. We understand that the military is a tool used by those in political power to achieve their objectives. We may not agree with every decision, or whether what we're doing is "just" or even what's "best for America," but it's not our call. Because we're reminded that we still have a duty to comply with lawful orders, whether we agree to them or not.

We try our best to make positive changes... we learn to give our "but Sir...." We learn that sometimes we can change the mind of our senior officers, although they may not be able to change the minds of those senior to them.

So we gripe in private, but trust me... we gripe. But when it comes down to it, we do our duty. We stand tall and salute and comply with orders, because that's our job. Heard & understood. We carry-out the orders of our seniors as though they were our own, because that's what's required of a leader. We may not like it, but it's required. We won't bitch in public. So long as the orders are lawful and the military is used in accordance with the Constitution, we obey. If we don't, the system breaks down.

If we can live with it, or believe we can still make a positive impact, we stay in. If we don't like it, we get out. If we're out and senior enough, we might try to influence the system from the outside.

I get why the O3s leave... reality set in. They wanted to make changes that their senior officers wouldn't allow. They didn't like what they were fighting for or like what the country was doing. They wanted something better. So they did the right thing: they served their time as best they could and got out.

I get why people blame the Generals for not griping... because the Generals either did it unseen behind closed doors, or they knew, no matter what they said or how hard they tried, their seniors wouldn't listen. So the Generals did the right thing: they served their time as best they could and got out; and once they were no longer in uniform, they exercised their right as civilians to speak out.

I get why the aide said what he did... he's power trippin' with the gold rope and doesn't like slackers. But I don't like it... he's an idiot for letting the power go to his head and for stereotyping.

As for the way you handled that aide... pure class my friend.

Keep up the blogs. Love 'em.

Dianne said...

Andrew your name seems to bring about comments in the strangest of situations.
This week my sister, Mark and I sat in the office of Father Stanley, the Priest who would perform my mother's funeral. We began reviewing with Father Stanley who would be participating in the ceremony; when we told him Lauren's name he suddenly stopped and asked "what sort of name is that?" We then went on to have a ten minute discussion on where the name came from and the different posibilities of what it might at onetime been.

The original X-man said...

The first record of an Exnicios in what is now the US is a 1799 baptismal record in the archives of a church just outside of New Orleans. The father of the baptizee is listed as Juan Luis Exnicios, formerly of Germany and your 7th great-grandfather. You could have shaken-up the general by telling him that your (possibly) Hispanic forebearers wouldn't have liked his comment. Would have ruined his day.

Exnicios said...

It should also be noted that Juan Luis (as fine a fellow as ever there was if baptismal certificates and bills of lading are to be believed) is sometimes listed as Jean-Louis.

So not only was the General discriminating against my heritage, but against multi-culturalism itself!

Not cool, General. Not cool.

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