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Jeff's Afghan Diary: A Matter of Trust
March 9, 2007

In the Army, the senior enlisted Soldier usually has certain responsibilities above those of the rest of the Soldiers.  For my team, I am now the senior NCO.  I have gone from being somewhere in the middle of the rank structure to being somewhere near the top.  My rank has not changed, but my responsibilities have.

This is not the first time I have had such a position - in the Navy Reserves, I have had plenty of opportunities to lead Sailors.  But I have not had to lead Soldiers before now.  It’s different - I have not been a Soldier that long, and there are men on my team who have had years of experience.  I will need to inspire confidence in them, despite knowing less than they do.

The senior enlisted person has two tasks: 1) accomplish the mission;  2) take care of the troops who are under you.  These are solemn charges, matters of honor for those in uniform.  Part of what the Army calls the “Warrior’s Code” includes the oaths, “I will never quit.  I will never accept defeat.  I will never leave a fallen comrade.”  These are not words on a poster; they are promises we make as Soldiers.  And the senior NCO is the promise-keeper.

I am not the person on the team with the highest rank - that distinction goes to the officer in charge of us.  Officers are those who strategize and create battle plans and give the orders, and enlisted people are those who make those orders become reality.  They work together, and senior enlisted members work closely with the officers to make sure the orders are something that can actually work and that are in accordance with prescribed regulations.  The senior enlisted serves as both a technical advisor and as an advocate for the interests of the troops.

Because the senior enlisted person is looked upon as a technical advisor, I am at a bit of a disadvantage.  I will have to rely on the training and experience of my fellow Soldiers to give me good guidance and input to provide to our officer.  We will have to work together.

Recently, on our first convoy, we had a mechanical problem come up on one of our HUMMWVs.  We thought about trying to drive back to our FOB, but we were at another FOB where we could stay and get repairs the following day.  We wanted to go back to our “home,” but there was a risk of further damaging the vehicle, and none of us wanted to get stuck on the side of the road, waiting for someone to tow us back.

We discussed the matter, and I asked for one of the mechanics on the base we were at to come look at the vehicle.  He was an Air Force sergeant, very knowledgeable about  HUMMWVs, and he told us we could make the 2 hour trip back to our FOB, but he would not recommend it.  Based on his recommendation, our OIC (officer-in-charge) and I chose to remain at the base until the next day.  In the morning, the vehicle was repaired, and we were on our way.

It was not a popular decision - most of the team wanted to leave and get back home.  But the Army is not a democracy, and at times leaders must make decisions and give orders which will not be liked or appreciated.  This is understood by everyone - those giving the orders and those who have agreed to follow them, whether they like them or not.  Even leaders get orders they must follow that they don’t like at times.  It’s part of being in the military, and it’s a necessary part.  The Army is not a democracy - wars cannot be fought by everyone deciding for themselves how they want to fight.  In such a scenario, there would be no coordination of forces, no support, no planning - it would be chaos, and would lead to ruin.  Militaries require someone to be in charge, to be responsible for the actions of all those under their command, who willingly takes responsibility and accountability for the actions of all his or her subordinates.  In many ways, it is a much bigger responsibility than you will find in most civilian endeavors.

The Army is full of responsibilities one will not find in corresponding civilian enterprises.  In a medical training session, we gave each other intravenous fluids, something even Emergency Medical Technicians cannot do in may states.  We are not certified, yet we did this, using needles on one another as human pincushions, just for practice, in case we need to get an IV going in an emergency later.

Soldiers will have the lives of their teammates at stake with what they do and what they order others to do.  It is a solemn responsibility.  Ultimately, it is a matter of trust.  We must trust our leadership, our Army, our country, and our God.  My Soldiers must trust me - I must earn their trust as well. 

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.