Big Red Car here on a grayish and muggy Veteran’s Day in the ATX.
There are three things about 11 November that are important.
First, it is Veteran’s Day. Second, Virginia Military Institute and Austin, Texas were both founded on 11 Novemberr 1839.
That is the trifecta!
The Boss is a veteran and his mother and father were veterans. Soldiering was the family business.
The Boss is a VMI graduate. VMI is a hard place to be but a good place to be from.
VMI takes a lump of clay — the Rats — grinds it to dust, mixes it with Maury River water, forms it into something strong, sticks it in a hot furnace, and four years later out comes a hard fired young officer who is ready to lead.
It has been that way since 1839 and continues now.
It is not a place for Political Correctness and they don’t give a shit about how anyone else does it. They’ve got their way. It works. They aren’t changing it. The fact that it is hard is just part of the process. They like their process and their graduates stand for the proposition that it works.
If you can’t make it — about half don’t — that’s just too bad.
The Boss got a whole lot more out of soldiering than they got out of him and he gave it everything he had.
After some tough schooling — Engineer Officer Basic Course, Airborne School, Ranger School — he was sent overseas and was assigned a platoon in a combat engineer battalion in an infantry division.
The TO&E (table of organization and equipment) called for 46 troopers but they were short and had only 30. Quickly, replacements arrived and The Boss had a full platoon.
The Boss’s father was a career soldier and had told him to listen to his sergeants, which he did. When he arrived, he knew less than a private but he learned quick because he kept his mouth shut and listened to his sergeants who had been doing this stuff for a long time.
Platoon leader, company XO (executive officer), company commander. It was a logical and quick progression.
By the time The Boss was 24 years old, he had almost 200 combat engineers and had served in three different units. At age 26, he had a way overstrength company with 400 soldiers.
Chinese Feudal War Lord
Being a combat engineer company commander is akin to being a Chinese feudal war lord. You get to promote people, demote them, award them, punish them, send them to schools, and train them.
You’re training to go to war on a moment’s notice. Combat engineers fight like infantry and blow stuff up in addition. It is the best branch of the combat arms. You usually have to have a degree in engineering to be a combat engineer officer.
Once a year, in those days, you got tested and whoa to the company commander whose unit gets a bad grade or — God forbid — fails an ARTEP (Army Training and Evaluation Program).
Twice The Boss’s unit got a max grade on the ARTEP. One time the unit hadn’t passed an ARTEP in five years before The Boss showed up.
Soldiering agreed with The Boss and he loved it.
The Boss crossed the Imjin River in Korea and the Rhine in Germany. It was great fun building rafts to cross the tanks at first followed up by building a floating bridge. Great fun.
Soldiering, for officers, is pretty damn easy. You take care of your unit. You take care of your men. You train them. You test them. You discipline them. You reward them. You protect their lives. You lead them.
It was the best preparation for business one could imagine.
The Boss says he never did anything in business that he hadn’t learned how to do as a platoon leader or a company commander.
It is best possible training for business you can get.
The hard part
Sometimes shit happens and men die. It’s worse when it’s your fault. It haunts you for the rest of your life. Forever.
The Boss delivered a few coffins to next of kin. Took a soldier to his final resting place. Notified a few mothers that their son had been killed.
You grow up fast even if you are in your early 20’s. This is some very serious stuff. You realize that freedom isn’t free and never has been.
And, then, you work harder than you ever have before to ensure that that never happens again. You sweat in peacetime to avoid bleeding in war.
Even if you’re only 25 years old, you quickly get it. The good ones do.
Later in life, you may be entrusted with awesome responsibilities but you will never be entrusted with anything as precious as a mother’s son. This is the ultimate trust and soldiering requires young officers to embrace this sacred trust.
At first, you don’t get it but then you do. They belong to you because their parents and our nation is counting on you to protect them and to safeguard them. You are the only thing between them and getting home safely.
And, one day, you realize that your only purpose in life — at that moment — is to serve your men. Nothing more. Just to serve your men. And you do it because that’s what you’ve been trained to do and it’s what you want to do.
Today, we will thank our veterans individually for their service to their nation. It is a honorable thing to do.
Today, The Boss wants to thank all the mothers and fathers who entrusted their sons to his care. He did the best he could. He did what he was trained to do. Thank you for the honor of being entrusted with your sons.
The Boss got a lot more out of his service than he ever contributed to the nation because of the trust that moms and dads placed in his care of their sons.
Happy Veterans Day and thank you! Thank you to my Brother Rats!
But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car but I’m owned by a veteran and a VMI graduate and, today, that counts for something. Be nice to a veteran today. Buy him a freakin’ beer!