When There Are No Privates

Back in the Cavalry, I would constantly hear my lower enlisted scouts gripe and complain about secondary tasks which seemed… custodial. Sweeping and buffing floors, picking up trash, mowing parade fields are not exemplified in any military advertisement. Often, such tasks were accompanied by a chorus of the Army’s triumphant sounding theme music from the commercials. But mostly, they would complain how senior NCOs (e7+) and senior officers (O3/4+) were not taking part in the details.

Usually, the reason is that those individuals were planning future tasks and operations and completing administrative backlog. Mostly this is true, other times not so much. Part of it is the privilege that comes with time and rank. If that irritates you or ruffles your feathers, then chances are you were never in or near that position. Even officer heavy elements like Brigade or Division HQs have contingents of lower enlisted or brand-new officers they can throw out to the training area with some rakes and garbage bags.

However, most Soldiers do not know that there is a land where you can watch a few O4s, E8 or two, and a ton of O3s and E6s with lawnmowers and weed whackers. Better yet, most of these individuals have been through over a year of specialized training, language instruction, and more. When a whole company is only 32 people, you better believe everyone is helping out.

Civil Affairs is a lesser-known branch of the Active Duty Army (their reserve presence is enormous) specializing in support to civil administration, information management, and humanitarian assistance. They often deploy in teams of four with an O3, an E7, an E6, and a medic (ranks vary depending on unit) to achieve high-impact results with a minimal footprint. When you’re overseas doing what you trained to do, it’s a preferable setup to massive movements and high-profile operations.

But then there’s garrison life. As most have found out as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars drew to a close (kind of, not really) garrison life became much different when another deployment wasn’t breathing down your neck, and for soldiers in the small SOF family, it was no different. More upkeep details, dog and pony shows, and traditional military activities we thought were left back in the 90’s. When an order came down from garrison HQ for Operation Clean Sweep or gate guard details, and simple unit area maintenance, there were no lower enlisted to take the brunt.

Have you ever seen a Captain checking your ID at the gate? No, you haven’t. Technically, it’s not permitted according to some MP contacts who had turned away our gate guard detail because it included too many senior NCOs and Officers. That is what happens when the individual in charge of maintaining the well-being of all Soldiers in a Battalion does not use logic to determine that a 250-person CA Battalion cannot match the troop commitment of a 700 Soldier Infantry Battalion.

So, what’s the point of this rant? Be careful what you wish for, youngins because you just might eventually get it and by then you’ll be an E6 with no Privates to push the work on. You’ll be working next to a Major who is just happy to be outside away from their desk and an E8 who is going to make sure you hear every “back in the day” story. Because some dreams are actually nightmares.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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