Battles are planned by generals and won by sergeants, so the saying goes. The saying didn’t include anything about who runs things in the meantime. That’s because the people who run things were very keen on ensuring that their names are left out of popular sayings.
Those people are the specialists of the U.S. Army.
For the uninitiated, specialists are those soldiers that bridge the gap between privates and sergeants. They are not yet non-commissioned officers, and they are not privates. They live in a nebulous zone that everyone finds confusing. And specialists take advantage of that to create an environment of barely controlled chaos.
Who am I? Oh, I’m a nobody. Once upon a time, I was somebody. I was part of something pretty big. But then I strayed and took a commission as an officer, leaving the E-4 Mafia. The Godfather looked at me askance when I left, but didn’t put a hit on me. That was kind of him.
The Sergeant Major of the Army may be a scary man, but he’s got nothing on the Godfather of the E-4 Mafia of the Army. Ever see specialists do work? Neither have I. And yet the Army runs.
I’ve only seen the Godfather in action a few times. Once was when a staff sergeant came in and told Specialist Godfather to mop out the latrines. Godfather stared at him for a second, then slowly shook his head, murmuring, “This thing you ask of me, I cannot do it.” The staff sergeant seemed surprised, then confused, and walked away scratching his head. It was the damnedest thing I’d ever seen.
Woe betide to those who crossed the Godfather, however.
I once watched a private first class be hauled in, guilty of some minor crime, such as not sharing tobacco or not stealing 2nd Platoon’s guidon. The PFC was white with fear, and said, “I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your barracks on the promotion of your brother. And may their first child be a masculine child.”
“Is this guy an idiot?” asked the Godfather, looking around. “Rest of you, get out of here. You,” he said, pointing to me, “can stay.” He put in a thick lip of tobacco and got right up in the PFC’s face.
“Now you come to me and say, ‘Specialist, give me justice!’ But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me ‘Godfather’. Instead you come into my barracks on the day my brother is to be promoted, and you ask me to do work. For money.”
The Godfather glanced at me. I looked back, wondering what would happen. The PFC was shaking with terror.
“What will you do?” I asked.
“I’ll do what I always do,” said the Godfather; “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
“And what would that be?”
The Godfather furrowed his brow and spit into an empty water bottle. “Well…if he doesn’t toe the line he could sleep with the fishes.”
“Ah,” I nodded sagely. “KP duty.”
“Yeah; or I could have the other E-4’s give him a sock party,” mused the Godfather.
“That might get the sergeant involved,” I said, never one to rock the boat.
“Sergeant!” spat the Godfather. “The NCOs may tell us what to do, but we have the power. Who cleans the weapons? We do. Who empties the garbage? We do. Who stands roadguard during brigade runs? We do. Who cleans the motor pool? We do.”
I pointed out to him that it was actually the privates who did all that, but he merely looked at me with the familiar pitying glance in his eye. I guess it was then that I knew I was going to be an officer.
E-4’s do run the show. They are the lifeline, the conduit, between the non-commissioned officers and the private soldiers. They are Legion, yet they are rarely all seen at once. Like the Warrant Officers, they have never been spotted working. They will lead working parties, but when you come to check on them, the specialist is somehow nowhere to be found and an enterprising E-2 has taken charge.
If you go out to the motor pool late at night, and are very quiet, you can sometimes catch wind of the secret Specialist’s Creed. It is spoken softly, out of cigarette-clenched jaws, through gulps of Monster energy drink:
“No one is more unprofessional than I. I am a specialist, a shammer of Soldiers. As a specialist, I realize that I am a member of a time honored corps, which is known as ‘The E-4 Mafia’. I am proud of the Mafia and will at all times conduct myself so as to bring no attention to myself, the military service and my country regardless of the situation in which I find myself. I will totally use my grade or position to attain pleasure, profit, or personal safety, preferably all of the above.
Competence is my enemy. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind—sleeping and the messing with other Soldiers. I will strive to remain technically and tactically illiterate. I am aware of my role as a specialist, I think. I will fulfill my responsibilities inherent in that role. All Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will notprovide that leadership. I know my Soldiers and I will always place my needs above their own. I will communicate inconsistently with my Soldiers and usually leave them uninformed. I will be neither fair nor impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.
Officers of my unit will have zero time to accomplish their duties; they will be babysitting me. I will lose their respect and confidence as well as that of my Soldiers. I may be loyal to those with whom I serve; seniors, peers, and subordinates alike, providing it is in my best interest and it comes with controlled substances, such as alcohol or tobacco. I will exercise initiative by making things up in the absence of orders. I will not compromise my integrity, but I might forget about it if sex is mentioned. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are shammers, specialists, E-4 Mafia!”
I shared this with you at great pains to my own safety, as behind any officer is usually a gang of specialists, who can make that officer look great, or look like a complete moron.
And what of that PFC?
He’s a specialist now. And is probably sleeping in the back of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the motor pool, while some privates do his work. Because that is the way of the specialist.
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