Monthly Archives: September 2007


I still have, in my mind, a peculiar fiction, an image of the good NCO, part Audie Murphy, part benign older brother. I’ve known lots of good leaders, and they inspire admiration and loyalty. But the bad ones inspire a disgust far beyond comparable feelings about bad officers or apathetic soldiers. Officers are almost expected to be boobs; they can’t help it — after all, their only qualification for office is a college degree, which is hardly a guarantor of charisma, empathy, decisiveness, or even clarity of mind. But more importantly, with the exception of young lieutenants, officers operate in a world almost wholly detached from the lives of their soldiers, a realm of paperwork and meetings and PowerPoint presentations. And joes are just joes — they’re not in charge of much, and not much is expected of them. But NCOs are the living embodiment of the Army, its authority, its ridiculous regulations — they are the interface between all the Army’s abstractions and its physical body, the soldiers themselves. Fairly or unfairly, good NCOs stand out as individuals, but bad NCOs seem representatives of an ill-conceived system, one driven by the often-petty caprices of those stubborn enough to stay in it until their abler colleagues have gone off in pursuit of other work. I don’t believe in good NCOs (as an institution) anymore, but I can’t help striving to do the right thing and embody what I would like one to be — if only because the alternative is to end up subsumed in the great, amorphous mass that’s been suffocating us these past few years.

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