I was working the other day in a small town about 30 minutes from where I live. I stopped to get a soda from the convenience store and I saw a friend that I had not seen in person for quite some time. I hollered and at first he didn't recognize me (I was out of context ) but when he did we gave a hand shake and man hug. We were shooting the shit when he asked me if I would come talk to the high school class he was teaching about the War on Terror. Maybe tell about some of my experiences in that regard. I agreed, with the proviso that I was working as a paramedic and if I got an ambulance call I would have to leave.
So the next morning I showed up and he met me at the front office and took me down to his classroom. Several students were seated in a semi circle and another teacher also joined us. He introduced me and I took a seat. The students had written some questions on the board and they took turns asking me each question and allowed me to answer. As conversations do we got off on some tangents but it was fun and they seemed truly interested. Eventually I was asked " What was your most impactful experience?" Just then my radio squawked for a 911 call and I had to thank them and leave in somewhat of a hurry. I never got to answer the question.
I have been thinking about it since then. What was my answer going to be? I have chronicled many of my experiences here on this blog. Stories like this http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2010/04/baxmal.html and this http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2010/05/kirkuk.html andthis http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2010/04/road-to-klaw-kut.html and this http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2010/04/april-9th.html and this http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2010/07/no-mans-land.html and this http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2010/09/wrong-place-wrong-time.html and this http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2012/02/war-dogs.html and this http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2013/02/i-dont-dance.html and this http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-little-girl.html and this http://mikemac356.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-banya.html .
Good stories all but were they impactful? I think the one that was most impactful was the one I haven't told. Its the story of my time as Team Sergeant on a Special Forces Military Freefall ODA.
I have to go back in time a bit to set the story up. I was put on the promotion list to MSG shortly before my move from 1/10 in Germany to 3/10 in Ft Carson Colorado. I had recently left the best ODA I ever had the pleasure of serving on,ODA 014 MFF. That team was solid from top to bottom. I then spent time as the Battalion Operations NCO as well as the interim Team Sergeant on ODA 016 on a Kosovo deployment. By the time I moved to Colorado I was a newly promoted MSG and was assigned to the 3/10 Battalion Military Freefall Team as the new Team Sergeant, the senior enlisted member of the team. I was well qualified for the position having been on MFF teams for 10 years and also being a former MFF instructor at the Special Warfare School. I was qualified but under prepared.
No one told me to expect the personalities I would encounter. The team I walked into was as tight as the team I had just left. They worshipped the former team sergeant like a god. I had enormous shoes to fill in their eyes. I had quite a good reputation in the Special Forces community or so I thought. These guys didn't give a shit. It was obvious that it was going to be a tough road. Several guys were helpful and over the months ahead proved to be very valuable. But with a few of the guys I experienced something I have never experienced before or since. I believe they actually hated me, as in despised me. They hated my personality, my training ideas, they way I did things. They just hated me. This was a shock, it had never happened before. I was second guessing myself trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I could do better. The guys who could not accept me as team sergeant undermined my authority at every turn. Instead of helping me and working together they actively looked to make my job harder. This sucked. I was at the epitome of my career. I was a god damn Team Sergeant on a Special Forces MFF ODA and I was miserable. My ego was in tatters. I started believing that I wasn't up to the job.
This went on for months and through multiple training deployments and real world missions. Slowly the old team members started rotating out and they were replaced with guys I had known from 1/10. Guys who requested to come to my team. But still there was that little hard core clique of naysayers. Eventually we got the call to deploy to Romania for the invasion of Iraq. I was now getting along with most of the team but my Senior Communications Sergeant was not having any of it. He was the last hard core member of the "We Hate Mike Club." Where ever I went, what ever I did he would subvert,bitch, moan, complain and downright ignore my orders. I tried talking to him, talking to his peers, asking my boss what I could do. Nothing worked. He thought I was a moron and I thought he was a insubordinate little fuck. This went on so long because he was very good at his job. I needed him or so I thought. But finally I had enough. I went to the Company SGM and on the eve of what was the greatest real world mission of my military career I asked for my Senior Communication Sergeant to be removed from my ODA. They didn't argue too much as I was adamant. I would rather go to war a man down than deal with the drama anymore. For his part he didn't argue either. I think he was relieved. They moved him to the Company HQ just prior to our infiltration into Northern Iraq.
Impactful? Yes. This experience made me question my leadership abilities, my knowledge, even my own self worth. I was so shaken by this terrible time in my life that upon return from deployment I put in my retirement papers. Maybe that's what they wanted all along.
Through the lens of hindsight I see that I had a lot of positive experiences as Team Sergeant. I have friends and old teammates from that ODA that I still stay in contact with. In the past 12 years of civilian management experience I have been quite successful and can dispel any myths that I am not a good or effective leader. But I still wonder that if I would have had a better Team Sergeant experience if I would have stayed in the Army longer. I guess I will never know. One thing I do know is that wherever that guy is I hope he somehow reaped what he sowed.