By Captains Kenneth Bellows & Gregory Trahan
Staff. Army Officers spend most of our time on it and most of that time we spend looking back to our last job on the line and looking forward to command, broadening, or the sweet release of ETS. Staff time is never the highlight, despite 70% or more of an Army career spent on staff, our time there feels transient. We look in our mirrors every morning and see an infantryman or artillerist, or logistician gazing back at us but a more honest appraisal is that we see a staff officer that occasionally does what the insignia on our dress uniform or the back of our lifted pick-up truck tells the world that we do. Why can’t we be proud of being on a staff? Pilots are proud that they fly planes, naval officers are proud that they can guide a ship through unsafe waters.
Staffs operate massive formations; it is something to be proud of. Using nothing but aging laptops and Microsoft Office we can plan and resource the actions of thousands of America’s sons and daughters. It is a difficult and complex task and something that we should be proud of.
No longer should we despair time behind the oar that the XO and S3 tell us we need to row. What we all need to admit to ourselves is that this is what we came for. Whatever reason we became an officer for, we are here to serve on staff. Be proud of your staff time; it is probably the most impact that we have on the Army during our careers. It is when our influence is greatest, when properly used. It is when we can make or break the unit.
This goes for NCOs as well. They have lived life on the line their whole career until now they truly find themselves in a transitional period. Being on staff must seem like an agonizing purgatory or a pleasant respite for them. It is in fact their opportunity to have the greatest impact that they could have in their career. They now can influence a battalion or greater element. They can solidify all the great techniques and best practices they used on the line into unit SOPs and help make life on the line a bit more bearable. This graduation to a higher role is cause for pride and ownership of one’s role. It is a cause for celebration.
To that end, we humbly propose St. Jude as the Patron Saint of Military Staffs. Each branch has their own patron saint, why not the staffs as a whole? And why not St. Jude? As one of the Twelve Apostles (not to be confused with Judas Iscariot, the traitor) St. Jude was comfortable working in the background and not in the spotlight (ahem, Peter). He met his end following Simon the Zealot to preach in Beirut. St. Jude knew the difference between a boss that walks on water and one that has more bold ideas than good ideas but did his job anyway and he was martyred for it. In his veneration, it is claimed that God proclaimed that Jude should be the patron saint of the impossible. Today, officially, St. Jude is the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, Desperate Situations, and Sick Children. We’ll take it. Appropriately two of his signs are an Oar and Club. Symbols anyone on a staff is familiar with.
We created the Military Order of St. Jude because wanted to get our staff together for a drink after a deployment and a “unit event” was the only way such a gathering would pass legal review. So we created the Military Order of St. Jude and got a passing legal review. Lawyer’s note in hand, we gathered the staff. Don’t get me wrong. The staff was dubious about going to another meeting. The way we lured them to the first St. Jude’s was the promise of free beer at a local brewery. The staff straggled in late, warry, and skeptical like attending a higher headquarters OPORD brief. But a few pitchers on the table washed those feelings away.
As we talked about the unit, vented about commanders and being the expendable person who would dive or be thrown under the bus to protect them we bonded higher, the pain of staff-time became a bit more bearable. We bitched about late breaking taskers, worried about upcoming operations, and even admitted that we had at least a little bit of fun working together. We shared our successes and failures. We reminisced about a recent deployment and debated whether Dubai can be called a deployment. Together as a group we experienced catharsis about the challenges facing staff and pride in our accomplishments, and we bonded.
Everyone left with a Noble Order of St. Jude medal and a warm feeling that was partially beer and partially that elusive esprit de corps. To the staff officer about to assume command we awarded the Ancient Order of St. Jude. Yes, we told stories, made fun of one another, and generally caroused like any other Friday night, but by doing it as a group, as a tribe, we added an element that is often lost in today’s Army, camaraderie.
As for the paraphernalia of the Military Order of St. Jude. We decided to do this on the cheap, not because we are cheap, but because nobody is a dues paying member. As staff officers we try and make things cost-effective. We selected a fairly heavy burned brass medal for the Noble Order that has a figure standing with arms stretched above its head (St. Jude probably) wreathed in 18 stars (no idea what they mean, we’re open to suggestions). Emblazoned across this figure are the words YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE, on the reverse was inscribed “FOR UNSUNG STAFF WORK – THE NOBLE ORDER OF ST JUDE.” The medal was suspended on a ribbon of brown, for the shit that we take. But if anyone that matters asks- it is to represent the land domain and a reminder to keep our team grounded in reality. The Ancient Order was a literal staff (shovel handle from Lowes) with the woodburned phrases “Lest You Forget” and “Until You Return” a reminder not to forget that you came from the staff and you will come back to it. A distinctive unit insignia was mounted to the staff head.
We plan to meet again as the lockdowns end; we have new 1SGs and Commanders that we need to send off to the line. We would like to leave you with a personal request. Give a St. Jude’s a shot in your unit. Build a staff that has pride in what they do and can poke fun at themselves. Shoot us an email, we will give you everything that you need to set one up. Go out and have fun and make the most of being on a staff.
For more information about founding a St. Jude’s Chapter and conducting a ceremony please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Authors: CPT Ken Bellows is an active duty FA officer and the commander of C BTRY, 3-27 FAR (HIMARS). Any opinions expressed here are his and his alone.
CPT Greg Trahan is an active duty Field Artillery officer. He is a former HIMARS battery commander and thrilled to be going back to staff. All opinions are his own and his own only.