When I got to my first permanent assignment in the Army, I was a 1Lt. I had been promoted due to having spent three years after my commission as a 2Lt. in graduate school. Yet, I was a new, green platoon leader. I was in the Corps of Engineers in a ‘Combat Heavy” battalion, formerly ‘Construction Engineers’. I had a vertical platoon. This means I was responsible for building bridges, houses, etc. The horizontal platoon built roads and ditches using earth-moving equipment. My platoon was filled with carpenters, plumbers, and electricians at various degrees of skill.
I was smart enough to realize when I was in over my head. I leaned heavily on my platoon sergeant, who I adored as one of my closest friends until his death six years ago. I had a fantastic group of sergeants and experienced specialists. There would be at least three sergeant majors out of the platoon. My platoon sergeant and I lost track with a lot of them.
Since the military, I have been abused by almost every boss who saw that I was internally self-motivated. Thus, they piled on the work and promoted everyone else, who didn’t work.
I had a different attitude in the military. I knew that if I got too many people promoted, some would have to leave the platoon. Yet, I did everything within my power to get these guys another stripe, not that the officer has a lot of control in that.
That brings me to two people that I had as jeep drivers. Their nicknames were “Big But” and “Mash Truck.” Most of the time, I drove my personal vehicle to construction sites and a few other places, but I would occasionally have to do something official and my driver would be available to take me in the jeep.
First of all, let’s look at the jeep. These were almost exactly the same jeeps as those used in World War II. They were top-heavy, making it easy to roll. Unlike the civilian Jeeps that look a lot like them, there were no roll bars. If you flipped, you were either going to hurt a lot or you were never going to hurt again.
My first driver was “Big But”. His last name was Butler and he redefined the term ‘large’ (thus the nickname). He was a specialist fourth class driver. He wasn’t necessarily a construction guy, not at all by MOS (military operation specialty). Big But was a giant. He was not only well over six feet tall, he looked like he was wearing over-sized football shoulder pads under his shirt, but it was all muscle. He was a mountain of a man, as they say.
One day, the platoon sergeant was cutting up with the platoon during a break (maybe be were waiting for a concrete truck). A few of the guys were taking a three pound sledge hammer, lifting it vertically with the arm straight out, arm parallel to the ground. By only twisting their wrist, they would slowly lower the hammer head to their nose and then lift it up again, no moving the elbow, just the wrist. I was challenged. I managed to not break my nose (again), but I was shaking like crazy getting it back up vertical again. Big But said, “I wonder if I can do that?” Instead of grabbing the three pound sledge hammer, he reached under his seat on the jeep and pulled out a ten pound railroad maul. (I never asked why he kept it there. Some question you don’t ask.) He lifted the maul to start. Then about one or two seconds later, the hammer was touching his nose. A second later, it was back vertical. The platoon as a whole, hung their heads. A few said, “Break’s over. Let’s get back to work. Big But wins.”
I saw the hammer one more time. The platoon was installing a concrete pad for reefer storage (huge refrigerated shipping containers, not the marijuana cigarettes). The local commissary needed to expand their frozen foods storage capabilities. We needed to anchor some prefab concrete forms, but no one in the platoon could drive the spikes. Our strongest guy was visibly shaking with exhaustion. It seems that the only fill dirt that we could get had a special binder in it that for a short time made it seem like granite. Half the guys had taken turns and had only set two or three spikes. Big But suggested he wanted to try. He grabbed his maul with both hands and took a mighty blow, but he missed. He missed on the second swing. Now, he got angry. On the third swing he made a direct hit and the spike was fully driven in. The other thirty guys cheered as Big But went around the forms. Other than bending a couple of railroad spikes, it didn’t take him long.
Big But wasn’t perfect. One of my sergeants and I were selected to go on a mission that required NATO clearance. Big But came along as the driver. On one day of the exercise, we went on a long trip. We were supposed to be back before dark, but I was the only officer that day who was successful in gathering information. By the time we got it all and then packed the jeep with the files, it was dark. We had to drive down a mountain to get to the highway. The German road was typical of a German mountain road with wide shoulders. It would have been a three lane road in the States, but Big But was crawling down the road at a snail’s pace. I really thought that we could make better time walking. I suggested that the curves weren’t very sharp and there was plenty of room on the shoulder. That’s when my sergeant explained that Big But had flipped the jeep just before I had taken over the platoon and lived to tell the tale. It was on a mountain road, at night. Once we got to the main highway, he was fine.
When the platoon sergeant was looking at records for promotion consideration, he suggested that I help where I could. I did all that I could for Big But and, for the most part, the other guys in the platoon. When promotions came out, Big But was among those promoted. He was now a sergeant. I couldn’t have been more proud.
My platoon sergeant said, “You know that he’ll be gone in a week?” I asked why. He said, “Every Transportation outfit in Germany is short sergeants with a driver MOS. I doubt if he lasts a week.” He was transferred a few days later. Sgt. Big But was going to do work far above his pay grade, but I knew he could handle it.
I wasn’t left shorthanded. The earth moving platoon had a driver of whom they wished to rid themselves. That didn’t sound good. If you mispronounced his name, Nesteruk, you got both his nickname and his reputation, “Mash Truck”. Other than the fact that Mash Truck never slowed down for anything, he really was a great driver. He was fearless. His only problem was that he risked flipping the jeep on occasion. He never did.
They say you shouldn’t drive through standing water, but Mash Truck thought that if you kept going, you wouldn’t sink. We got very wet, but we never stopped, passing other jeeps that were flooded. He knew the roads. I was supposed to be pay officer one day. We were told that we couldn’t drive the usual route due to terrorists that laid in wait for the pay officers. Mash Truck drove down so many alleys that I was lost, but we got the money and made it back to the barracks.
On one exercise, I had set up an orienteering course. Each squad had to run the course as a team on foot. One of the earth moving squads was well over due. One of the sergeants hopped into the back of the jeep with a spare map. Mash Truck and I got in front. As usual, we were going way too fast for the road conditions. Then suddenly we were launched into the air. The earth movers had built a tank ditch without letting us know. It seemed like thirty seconds, but it was probably less than five seconds before we landed on all four wheels. The sergeant in the back seat flew over my shoulder and landed upside down in my lap. Once we determined that he was okay, Mask Truck asked if we can do it again. I didn’t know if the jeep could even roll at that point, but the answer was “No” regardless. We found the lost squad and guided them back to camp.
On another construction project, I loaned half of my platoon to another officer, including Mash Truck. Mash Truck was a truck driver, not a construction worker. One day they had tried to get an eighty ton rock hauler across a swamp. It sank. It took two bulldozers pulling with all of their might to rescue the rock hauler. The officer in the field said that no one had a solution except for Mash Truck. Mash Truck thought that if a small jeep would float long enough to go over a stretch of 100ft of water, a rock hauler could make it through the swamp. The rock was supposed to be dumped into the swamp so that smaller vehicles wouldn’t sink. He said he could drive really fast and dump the rock at the same time. He had never driven a rock hauler before. He got on a hill, sped toward the target, making it across and dumping the rock in the right place. This embarrassed the guys that were trained and certified. They followed his lead and the work was completed on that phase in less than two weeks. The swamp was deep and it took a lot of rock.
During that two week period, Mash Truck was the lead rock hauler operator. To get from the rock crusher to the job site required driving the main road that was dominated by military tanks. Tankers have an attitude. We were instructed to go into the ditch and let them have the road, but Mash Truck insisted that he missed that briefing. Besides, a rock hauler carrying 80 tons of rock at high speed can’t really go into the ditch. When the collision occurred, the tank was totaled, and they finally found a tiny scratch in the blade at the front of the rock hauler. From that day to the end of the project, the tanks went into the ditch when they saw Mash Truck coming.
When I left the platoon, Mash Truck was about to get his stripes if he reenlisted.
Why write this remembrance? Civilian organizations could learn something from the military. Take care of your people. When you have good people reward them with promotions. Nearly all of my bosses were afraid to lose me if I got promoted. But if you were smart enough to hire me, you would be smart enough to hire the next guy. The next guy would be better motivated, knowing that the last guy got promoted.
The practice of never promoting the Christian, because he or she is self-motivated to please the boss, could be considered a form of persecution. God, in His sovereignty, had made this person my boss. God doesn’t make mistakes. I make mistakes, but I also fix the ones that I make, usually on my own time. Instead of sabotaging the work and taking the boss down with me, I worked even harder, getting the boss promoted. I showed them God’s Love. They could spread the wealth a little.