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Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal

Peacocks and Lilies

J. D. Pendry

Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless: peacocks and lilies, for instance. -John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

When I was a first sergeant in Germany, I almost got pink slipped by the Group CSM for an opinion sharing moment (a bad habit of mine - I like to think it's a candor thing). He insisted that we nominate a quota of NCOs per unit to compete for Sergeant Morales Club membership and suggested that NCOs selected for important positions, like platoon sergeant, be Morales Club members. He asked for feedback, but as I think about it, he actually wanted agreement. I offered feedback. I told him, that in my humble first sergeant's opinion, we can't measure a NCO's ability to fill an important job, like platoon sergeant, by whether or not he is a beauty contest winner (pretty much my exact words). The CSM responded to that with a king sized, red faced, spit flying, pounding on the table, four letter word screaming, Alpha Charlie right there in front of my 1SG peers and some staff pukes. He then reiterated the same words to my battalion CSM while questioning his ability to select first sergeants.

Now, before all you Morales and Murphy club members start firing missile salvos at me relax your grip on the mouse and listen for a minute. I personally know quite a few members of the Morales club, not too many of the Murphy club. Those I know are mostly good NCOs who work hard and model the type of leadership these clubs stand for. Sometimes, however, a mile wide and inch deep bum slips through that tough selection process.

This NCO spends much time preparing to compete for NCO of the quarter, year, universe, etc. His leader's notebook is beautiful (fresh pages, no rain stains, no coffee stains, nothing erased or scratched out and the binding isn't even worn). He can answer rapid-fire military trivia questions all day long. When it comes to NCO leadership however, he pales in comparison to the NCO who became a leader by spending time learning his job, being with and taking care of his soldiers.

Back to the Group CSM... This stellar example of NCO ship called me one night when I was up to my REFORGER butt in lost convoys. He asked me if I was coming to the Morales Club induction ceremony the following day - a nice long, German winter drive from the middle of the field site I just happened to be standing in. I explained to the CSM that it was hard for me to get away at this stage of the operation besides, I didn't know I had any NCOs from my unit (also his unit) being inducted. I went on to explain that I did not nominate anyone and every NCO I had worthy of consideration was in the field with me. Alpha Charlie 2 inbound. He cut loose with another tirade and informed me that he nominated his sergeant because I did not support the NCOs of the unit. I responded by telling the CSM that I didn't think his sergeant merited nomination and in my opinion (again, getting me into trouble) his induction didn't speak highly of the club. Alpha Charlie 3. In his next outburst, he told me he'd deal with me when I got back in from the field. Funny, we deployed for Group level REFORGER support and our Group CSM never visited units or soldiers at the field site. Speaks volumes doesn't it - peacocks and lilies?

His Sergeant (and I use the title of sergeant loosely) failed an APFT about a month before his Morales appearance and one of the only two soldiers he supervised was overweight and couldn't pass an APFT. While his eight months pregnant wife was sitting at home, he got his head broken open by a one-liter beer mug at the October Fest winning him a stay in a German hospital. He was articulate, smart and even had a college degree. But, when it came to being a NCO leader he sucked in all departments. Yet, he was inducted into the Morales Club.

I shared that story to help me make a point. Too many NCOs nowadays try to become members of these elite clubs not because of the desire to epitomize the leadership they stand for. They do it because being a member is a helpful boost to their career ambitions, which unfortunately lowers the prestige of the clubs. What's even more unfortunate is that they learned the what's in it for me (WIIFM) approach to leading by following the example and guidance of senior NCOs like my buddy the Group CSM who stressed membership as being more important than leadership.

As a Drill Sergeant, I occasionally ran into Hollywood Drill Sergeants - peacocks. They became Drill Sergeants for the WIIFM, not because of a desire to do the job. Soldiers' training suffered under the peacocks and their peers often had to pick up the slack. I knew and served with first sergeants, the Army's most important NCO job, who were afflicted with WIIFM syndrome. Most weren't even shy about letting everyone know that they were there for their two-year peacock strut (also known as a ticket-punch). And, sure enough, after about a year of diamond time they started looking for their next job.

In these cases, soldiers received mediocre leadership and training, but the NCOs got the full career benefit of doing two of the Army's toughest jobs just as the CSM's kid got the full respect and benefit of being a Morales member.

Be cautious of peacocks. Make your evaluation of a NCO's leadership skill and ability based on his performance and not the colorful spread of his tail feathers.

When mentoring young NCOs, tell them to seek membership in prestigious clubs because they want to epitomize that type of leadership and only nominate them when they do. Stress that leadership may lead to membership, but it doesn't work the other way around. Teach them to seek out tough and important jobs because they want to do those jobs. And, to never do either for the WIIFM (also known as peacock feathers).

© 2000 J. D. Pendry