combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2005

Playing the Game

"The duties and responsibilities of command ensure that every leader will be hated by alot of ordinary people for some very good reasons. It's important to function reasonably and impersonally, despite the enmity or detestation, so as not to earn anyone's disrespect."
leadership maxim

Sporadic sniping and intermittent contacts had plagued us all day. A pair of armored dragonflies had supported us the previous day, and Spooky had staged a light-show last night. The spit-shined briefing was typically inaccurate, and the chain-of-command seemed to exist only for hampering subordinates. Being tired and tense, I tried to assess our options as we hugged the ground once again. We were spending as much time hopping up and down as we were moving forward. Was this bout of ineffectual harassing-fire supposed to be bait for an eventual entrapment? Should we sweep or block, assault or reinforce? Would some recon by fire or H&I retaliation save another futile day of numbing steps, and reveal their intentions? Does the contact volume warrant gunships or tac-air sorties? ... and do I know our present position accurately enough to make the call? Will our marking signal invite them to employ suspected ordnance? Should I request authorization for my counteroffensive with the omniscient rear-echelon brass? As I pondered, the team sergeant arrived to interrupt my sophomoric debate with a question that I didn't expect: "What's the motto of the Infantry School?". At first amused, then bemused, and finally astonished; I became concerned that he'd lost control ... as had a sleep-deprived team leader on perimeter watch, who'd reported pink elephants dancing in the FOB's wire. I met his gimlet stare and considered the latest problem complicating my life: a trivial game of twenty questions in the middle of a firefight! Was he going to improvise a test on the effective range of small-arms, on the trigonometry of indirect fire-support, on the emergency first-aid priorities? Was he also going to query me about the 9th Infantry Division Varsity, about the 196th Infantry Brigade Chargers, and about the Army Security Agency Sentinels? Would I earn extra points for knowing that the Infantry School motto, expressed as theo-toi in Vietnamese, was the same as the 197th Infantry Brigade? ... and was also a battle cry adopted by the 24th Victory Infantry Division from their fight off the beachhead at Leyte? Why were we playing stump the expert in a combat zone? I patronized him with the proper answer, but he wasn't mollified. My restrained, almost defensive reply of Follow Me revealed my expectation of a trick or trap. Because he continued to stare at me, I became irritated by his demeanor, and again declaimed Follow Me, but more forcefully ... and he smiled as I finally recognized the prompt! Thank goodness for competent professionals, who not only adroitly guide obtuse superiors under adverse conditions, but also recognize the best way to finesse the obstruction ... which may be a light coating of lubricant, or a swift sure stroke to expose the Ghiordian Knot. The prodigious formulas for war always depend upon the human factor, which is both the strongest and weakest aspect of the art. There is no such thing as a scientific war, a mechanistic fight, a contest contingent upon technology ... even the sweet science of boxing is the spiritual harmony of learned fists. The soul of battle is the warrior's spirit!

by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.