The Plan


            The platoon sergeant, a non-commissioned officer, is a wiry man with clear eyes and a calm demeanor.  It is his duty to train the lieutenant, a commissioned officer who is a recent college graduate.  The sergeant’s son is almost as old as the lieutenant, but a good bit smarter.

            Everybody knows it is the sergeant’s job to train the lieutenant.  Tradition and the commanding officer told the sergeant it was his job.  Likewise, the C.O. told the lieutenant something like, “Go out there and let your platoon sergeant tell you how to do it.”  Some children are smarter than others.  The lieutenant didn’t get it.

            The platoon was on annual recertification maneuvers.  They had five missions to complete.  The outcome of the missions would be a rating of green, amber or red.  Green meant the platoon was combat-ready and could be deployed.  Amber was deployable, but with problems that had to be corrected.  Red was complete failure and a return to training.

            In the field, the sergeant walked the line then returned to the lieutenant and said, “Okay, you need to walk the line.  Tell Private Villante that his foxhole isn’t deep enough.  When you get to Corporal Harkins, he’s got his markers placed wrong.”  And so on and so on.

            The lieutenant objected.  “Why should I do this?” he asked.

            “Because,” said the sergeant, “you need to establish yourself with the troops.”

            The lieutenant replied, “I am an officer in the United States Army and I don’t have to establish myself with anybody.”  The lieutenant has just qualified for a diagnosis of Stupid Child Syndrome, and it’s going to be a long war.

            The sergeant continues to work with him, difficult as he is, but the lieutenant is resistant to learning.  At one point the lieutenant is leading the platoon through rough terrain, not to mention dark woods.  The sergeant has been an Army scout for twenty years.  The lieutenant has been leading the platoon for two hours and he’s getting the troops lost.  The sergeant is still trying his genial best to get the lieutenant’s head out of his butt, but Stupid Child Syndrome is most irresolvable because it is embedded in the system.  The system has empowered the child, usually because the child has an academic degree, and the system intends to validate itself.  Therefore, a child in power will remain in power until acted upon, for example, by a clear-eyed sergeant.

            When the sergeant gets a little more forceful in trying to redirect the lieutenant, not to mention the entire platoon, the lieutenant orders the sergeant to fall back to the rear.  The platoon’s rear, not the lieutenant’s.  The sergeant follows orders, and the platoon.  From the rear, he enjoys a nice walk in the woods and keeps track of exactly where they are so that, in the event of a broken leg or some such thing, he can get his troops out quickly.  So goes the rest of this mission, and the other four.

            When the five missions are completed, the platoon receives an amber rating for the mission in which the sergeant laid out part of the plan, and four red ratings for the lieutenant’s work.  The commanding officer calls the lieutenant in and asks what happened.

            “My platoon sergeant screwed up,” is the essence of the lieutenant’s answer.

            The C.O., having worked with the sergeant longer than the lieutenant, knows this isn’t true but, being obliged to do it by the book, calls the non-commissioned officer in and asks what happened.

            “The lieutenant ordered me to the rear, sir, and I complied,” says the sergeant.

            The N.C.O., the O. and the C.O. have a little chat.  Finally, the C.O. says, “Sergeant, if you were in combat and this occurred, what would you do?”

            The sergeant replies conversationally, “I’d shoot the lieutenant.”

            This being the correct answer, but an unacceptable threat to a superior officer, the C.O. has to do something.  He applies discipline with a Letter of Concern.  A Letter of Concern is of such insignificance that it doesn’t even go in a soldier’s personnel jacket.

            Afterwards, the lieutenant asks the sergeant, “Would you really shoot me?”

            “I wouldn’t kill you, sir,” answers the sergeant, “just damage you enough to get you out of the field.”

A child in power will remain in power until acted upon, and a good leader always has a plan.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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