Making Better Choices
SGT. 1ST CLASS SAMUEL B. PHILLIPS
1st Theater Sustainment Command,
1st Special Troops Battalion
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
When I was a young sergeant, squad leader and shop foreman in a forward support company stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, my section was shorthanded as we were training to deploy. As in any support unit, we had two missions when it came to deploying: First, make sure the unit we supported was fully mission capable; and second, ensure we were fully mission capable to deploy.
It was a Wednesday afternoon when my platoon sergeant told me to get to the company because I had a new Soldier who was to be the newest addition to my section. As a maintenance NCO knee deep in fixing a ton of things at my shop, I was furious I had to stop what I was doing and head all the way on the other side of post to pick up a new Soldier.
I arrived at the unit to see this new private standing at parade rest in the corner of the platoon sergeant’s office. He looked scared to death. I tried to be as personable as I could so he would relax because he looked as if he was about to pass out. The platoon sergeant filled me in on the Soldier’s background, gave me a copy of his in-processing packet and told me to take care of it. Oh, and I only had about 48 hours to take care of it because in a few days the section was headed to the field for two weeks.
I thought to myself, “There is no way. Not only do I have to take care of this kid, I also have three deadlines in the shop!” I asked the platoon sergeant if he had a room in the barracks already. “No,” he replied. “He just came to us 45 minutes ago. You have a ton of things to do because the first sergeant said this kid is going to the field with us, so make it happen!”
The Soldier had nothing but the uniform he was wearing and two duffle bags full of stuff. After I threw his bags into the back of my truck, I finally got the kid to start talking to me. He eventually began to warm up as we ran around post in-processing. I realized during our conversations, however, that this guy was going to be a handful. He had never been away from home before basic training and never passed an Army physical fitness test. On top of that, he’d gotten an Article 15 in AIT for underage drinking. I thought, “At least there’s no way this guy can mess up this weekend. He just got here.”
On Friday morning, we drew his CIF and I took him to his room and helped him put his stuff together. Unfortunately, the more I got to know the Soldier, the more I got a bad feeling about him. He kept mentioning how he was ready for the weekend so he could let loose.
I told him that during his first 30 days at the unit he was restricted to post. Our battalion’s policy was all unaccompanied Soldiers living in the barracks were restricted to post during the integration period. I also explained our unit’s do’s and don’ts, but he didn’t seem interested in what I had to say. It was like he’d already made up his mind about what he was going to do because this was his first weekend of freedom. He never came out and told me that; it was just a gut feeling I had. Turns out my gut was right.
Later that afternoon, the battalion command sergeant major gave the weekend safety brief. He even brought all of the battalion’s new Soldiers up front to help with the brief. My Soldier was one of them, and he actually did really well. I was impressed with his ability to brief a whole battalion without appearing nervous. He even recited things I said when we were in-processing him. My chain of command was pretty impressed too.
Following the CSM’s brief, I wanted to talk to my squad. I looked around for the new Soldier, but he popped smoke right after the platoon briefing. I was pretty mad since I hadn’t released him yet, but I wasn’t going to keep the rest of my squad because this Soldier wanted to get a head start on the weekend.
The weekend went pretty well until Sunday morning at 0700, when I got a call from my platoon sergeant. He said the new kid got into a wreck on post. I thought to myself, “He doesn’t even have a license. How could he have wrecked?” My platoon sergeant said I was to meet him at the CID office to help pick up the Soldier.
As I drove to meet the platoon sergeant, I wondered why we were going to CID. The new guy was supposed to be the designated driver for a group of Soldiers living in the barracks. Well, apparently he was sneaking drinks from another Soldier while they were at the bar. On top of that, he found a civilian at the bar selling cocaine; so the “designated driver” was not only drunk, he was high as a kite. Somehow the group made it back onto post, but the Soldier wrecked about a block from the barracks. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, though one Soldier in the back seat did get a little banged up.
Monday morning was quite interesting for me. I found myself in the CSM’s office with my first sergeant and platoon sergeant, and we got our butts chewed. One of the questions I was asked was, “Sergeant, what did you do as a leader to prevent this accident?” I looked at him and said, “CSM, I believe that this was the Soldier’s choice.” Before I could say anything else, the CSM stopped me and said there is always something a leader can do to help. I walked out of the office thinking about what I could have done differently, but I had nothing.
Later, I realized my CSM was right. There is always something a leader can do to help prevent accidents. In this case, I saw signs that this Soldier was going to be a handful, but I had other things on my mind like the deadlines in my shop. I should have brought it up to my platoon sergeant. Maybe he could have helped. And although I briefed the Soldier on our unit’s policies, maybe I could have broken them down so they related more to him personally. I also know now I should have checked on the Soldier throughout the weekend. Any one of these actions might have shown this kid that someone cared about him and prevented the accident.
After this accident, I was determined to not let anything like this happen again. I started paying extra attention to what was going on in my Soldiers’ lives. If I see something troubling, we talk about it so it doesn’t lead to a bigger problem. Ultimately, this Soldier was responsible for his poor decisions. But as his leader, I could — and should — have done more to help him make better choices.