Saturday, February 3, 2007

A Sergeant's Last Tour

“The Sergeant is the Army.”
General Dwight Eisenhower, WW II

My orders have been issued calling me to active duty as of February 1, 2007 as an infantryman. I am an observer/controller trainer who will participate in the training and mobilization of infantry units headed to war. My civilian career as a police officer is on hold once again, but I believe I am needed more as a soldier for now. This is my third mobilization since 9/11.

My Army Reserve unit is aware of my desire to return to Iraq. My second choice would be Afghanistan. Should our unit be tasked with missions in those theaters, my name is on a list of volunteers.

Yeah, I am well aware of my age. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t serve in a war zone as long as I am in the active reserve and physically able to do the job. I have never believed that service in war should be restricted to the young; the kids need an old hand every now and then. Still, this will be my last active duty tour.

I am beginning my final two years of military service. I will turn 60 in February of 2009 and that is my mandatory retirement date. I will surely be one of the few remaining Vietnam veterans serving in the Army by then.

For those military souls who wonder why a 57 (almost 58) year old soldier is still only an E-7 or sergeant first class, I would simply say “Don’t worry about it.” I have been in and out of the military several times since I returned from Vietnam as a young first lieutenant. It was that first break in service of nine years that cost me the commission. However, I have enjoyed my time as a sergeant and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.

I believe I have one of the three most important ranks in the Army. Over many years I have learned that battles cannot be fought or won without sergeants, staff sergeants or sergeants first class. Non-commissioned officers, or NCOs, are indeed the backbone of the Army.

As a very young lieutenant, I served in the jungle with sergeants who taught me how to read trails, smell the enemy and think like a guerrilla. As a sergeant, I have shared my warrior skills with younger soldiers in various training schools and also in the deserts of Iraq. I spoke today with an Army major who is retiring. I was one of his trainers when he was in Officer Candidate School preparing to be a lieutenant. He may be retiring, but I am still around.

It won’t be too much longer before I hang up the uniform for the last time. Until then I hope the big Ranger in the sky will permit me to fill many days of useful service to my country.

After all, if I can teach just one soldier something that might keep him alive, then the old sergeant still has a purpose.

“Rangers Lead the Way”

SFC Chuck Grist

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