Among the many odd things about Operation Lone Star is the absence of a Sergeant Major who actually visits the troops. Jim Betts, a retired E-9 in the Navy, knows something about what E-9’s do. In the US Army, the E-9 is the Sergeant Major. There is a SGM at command level from Battalion up through Army level in Washington, D.C. There is a top SGM in the Texas Guard assigned to Camp Mabry. SGM’s perform one critical function: ensuring the welfare and discipline of the individual soldier.
During my time in Iraq, I observed first-hand what happens when an army does not have a tradition of strong NCO’s. The Iraqi army had no tradition of strong, capable NCO’s.
And, at the top of the NCO food chain is the SGM. A SGM will generally visit every soldier and observe first-hand his/her discipline and equipment. If there are problems, a SGM will fuss at the NCO responsible. And, the SGM will report that deficiency to the Commander. The SGM is the Commander’s eyes and ears.
Master CPO Betts (Ret) is the father of one of the Texas Guardsmen deployed to the border. MCPO Betts says the SGM’s in the Texas Guard are not doing their jobs. They are not visiting and checking on the soldiers. See Texas Scorecard report here. Contrast that with my experience in the Texas Guard. No matter where my Infantry unit was, the SGM always found my soldiers. I would run into the Battalion SGM in the deepest darkest corners of Ft. Hood.
MCPO Betts says the soldiers are living in miserable conditions. When they first came to these long shuttered motels, they found dead roaches, dead rats and drug paraphernalia in the rooms. The soldiers who live in the trailers from tractor trailers are squeezed into very cramped quarters. They lack cold weather gear, first aid kits, Individual Body Armor (IBA), and helmets. They are sometimes shot at by the narco terrorists across the river. This problem is similar to the problem in the Viet Nam War. In that war, field grade officers rarely visited the soldiers in the bush. Never seeing the big cheese indicates their mission is not important. The worst thing you can do with a soldier is to ask him/her to risk their health and life for a mission that does not matter.
“Aren’t Doing Jack Shit”
And many soldiers are ding exactly that: nothing. As one soldier said, he is on duty two hours a day. Then he goes back to his quarters, drinks alcohol, and then does the same thing the next day.
I work probably two hours a day. I just go back to my room and drink. And then rinse and repeat. I’ve been doing this for four months,” one member of the Guard told TPM. “I really don’t have a problem with the mission. I think the execution was the issue, and the fact that we have way too many soldiers down at the border, and a lot of them aren’t doing jack shit.”
Guardsmen expect to make sacrifices protect their states and their country. But, to sacrifice your job, your family, your business to work two hours a day and drink is more than they can bear. Mental health issues are worsening. See Talking Point Memo here.
The other problem is equipment. Because the Guardsmen were activated not through an Army post, they have to rely on state owned property. But, the National Guard is just not set up to acquire enough equipment for 20,000 members of the Guard. The OLS soldiers even lack radios. They have to rely on cell phones – if the phone has service. There is a reason why the Army does not rely on cell phones. Service in rural areas is often non-existent. Try getting cell phone service in the middle of North Ft. Hood. Without radios, the Texas Guard is just one catastrophe away from a scandal.
No Sick Call
Remarkably, the Texas Guardsmen often do not have sick call. A long-time military tradition. Sick call is supposed to work like this: the soldier reports he has an illness. He is then sent to a clinic for a check-up. But, MCPO Betts says his son had strep throat last November. He could not go on sick call, because there was no sick call. Again, being on state orders, they have no access to U.S. military hospitals or clinics. Texas is asking the Guard to perform a mission it cannot support.
And, I have to say, as a Company Commander or Battalion Commander, there is no way I would tolerate no SGM checking on the troops. The lack of SGM visits suggest they did not activate enough SGM’s to get to everyone. It is time for some officers to start transferring to the IRR and protest this complete lack of command support. There is no reason for the absence of a SGM.
The problem for most of us is that when the Guardsmen start leaving the Guard, we will not have them the next time we see a Hurricane Harvey.