Some people have asked me where the name Mustang 09 comes from. It was my call sign when I was the First Sergeant of an M198 howitzer Battery. I’ve had many calls signs, but that one, for some reason, has always been my favorite.
There is no job in the world that is more paternal than that of the First Sergeant. The First Sergeant is the Senior NCO in a Company sized unit, the NCO everyone else looks to for answers on everything. It really is like being everyone’s Dad. No other position in the Military directly affects the day to day lives and well being of soldiers as much, not even Command. At least in my humble opinion.
I have been a First Sergeant twice. I like to believe that I left my mark on both of the units I led, some sort of lasting legacy or at least an organizational, collective memory of the lessons I tried to impart or the attitudes I tried to exemplify. My first unit was a Target Acquisition Battery, a Field Artillery unit whose mission is to find hostile artillery and direct fire against it. I “grew up” in this unit, moving from an E4 just out of the Marine Corps, through section leader, Platoon Sergeant, and finally First Sergeant. I deployed twice with them, and brought all my soldiers home twice. After I moved on, the unit was activated for OIF 2. I watched them leave, some of them for the 3rd time, soldiers I had trained, soldiers I consider family, and I felt a combination of pride and guilt.
My second battery, my howitzer battery, was a very different experience. I arrived an outsider, hardly knowing anyone, having to earn their respect without the advantage of years of shared history. I must’ve done something right, because within a year by every measure I was the First Sergeant of the finest unit in the battalion. In all honesty it was luck on my part. I walked into a great unit and reaped the benefits. I was transferred out of that unit way too soon for a dreaded staff job. Six months after I left they were alerted. Two months later, I was. And again I watched soldiers I had trained leave.
When I arrived in country last January I was fortunate enough to meet up with “my” target acquisition battery, as they were completing their tour. We had one night together as I was transiting their base on the way to mine. I had dinner with some of my old NCO’s, and they told me the stories of the close calls. One of them told me” Top, it’s a miracle we didn’t lose anybody”. A week later they were all home safe, and I could breathe a little easier.
Over the last ten months I have had the opportunity to spend at least a little time with soldiers from my howitzer Battery. They had been retrained and were performing MP duties in southern Baghdad. They’ve had close calls. Soldiers have been wounded. On Sunday, I got confirmation that every one of “my” soldiers were back in the United States alive. Breathing gets easier still. One of our other Batteries was not so fortunate, and one of the first things I plan to do when I get home is to visit the graves of the 3 men they lost.
I know I am not the perfect leader by any stretch, but I have always cared about my soldiers. When I was in the Marine Corps, I came across a series of books by Major Gene Duncan, USMC (Ret). He ended a book on leadership with the following quote, which I have learned applies equally to my soldiers as it does Marines:
I have grown to look upon Marines as something sacred;
I have laughed with them and cried with them;
Cursed them and prayed for them;
Shivered and sweltered with them;
Suffered with them;
Fought with them, bled with them, and held them in my arms
While they died.
I have buried them.
And all the time, I have loved them.
If I have been that kind of leader, I have been a success.