Growth Pains of the All-Volunteer Army

When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum.  There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.  When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”  So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

  • Luke 7:1-10

“The greatest light may enter into the darkest places.  We may find the choicest flowers blooming where we least expected them.  Here was a Gentile, a Roman, a soldier – clothed with absolute power – and yet a tender master, a considerate citizen, a lover of God.  Let no man, therefore, be despised because of his calling.  The best of pearls have been found in the darkest caves of the ocean.  What if we had never heard of him, though he loved his servant; perhaps we had never read his name, though he tenderly nursed his slave; perhaps he had found no place in the record of inspiration, though he loved the Jewish nation and built them a synagogue; nor had we read the story of his life, though he had become a proselyte to the Jewish faith.  The one thing that gives him a place in these sacred pages is this: he believed in the Messiah.  He was such a believer in the Son of God that Jesus said concerning him, ‘I have not found so great a faith even in Israel.’  But the remarkable thing is that the greatest faith was coupled with the deepest humility.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

In reading this Scripture, I had mixed feelings.  I graduated college and became a commissioned officer in the Army on the same day, just about a week after the last troops pulled out of Vietnam.  For four years in college, I imagined going to Vietnam as my destiny.  I avoided being drafted, with a very low draft lottery number (didn’t need all my fingers), by accepting an ROTC scholarship.  Now, the draft was no more, and the Army had a surplus of officers.  I got a deferment to go to graduate school.  I went to SE Texas, met my wife, got my degree, and then went into the Army three years later.

What I found in the engineer officer training was a bit different than what I expected.  The troops were all volunteer now, the last of the draftees had served their commitment.  The old officers were used to barking orders and then turning away, knowing that it would be done.  But they thought the new officers should have a different approach.  Part of our preparation, although we already were officers, was to take what became known as “Touchy-Feely” class.  We learned the subtlety of persuasion versus simply barking orders.

While I hated touchy-feely class, I was kind of a natural when it came to persuasion versus orders.  I wasn’t good at barking orders.  I was just a dumb old farm boy from the backwoods of Mississippi that by a stroke of luck and a signature from the Secretary of Defense I wore a bar on my collar.  Who was I to bark orders?  Most of the time, I let the sergeants do that.

It is odd.  When I left the military, I learned that I had to hide my military experience on my resume.  No company hiring an ‘engineer’ wanted someone who was accustomed to barking orders.  Yet, wherever I was hired, I ended up working for a guy who barked orders.  I only had 4-5 good bosses in 40+ years of working and two of those were while I was in the Army.

So, I knew that I could say “Go” and “Come” and they would do as I say.  When it came to ‘wishes becoming commands’, I experienced that once.  We needed something to complete a project.  An inspector was coming the next day and, in a lapse of thought, I ‘wished’ out loud.  The statute of limitations is long since gone, but my guys ‘obtained’ the needed material and we passed the inspection, burying the evidence before I reached the jobsite, not having a clue what had happened our how we passed the inspection.  The only thing left was for me to act dumb when the guy whose stuff had been stolen came by to ask about it and accuse me personally.  Since I had never seen his ‘stuff’, I played dumb naturally.  Yes, I could bark orders and have them obeyed.  I just didn’t.  I wanted my guys to want to do it and thus share in the accomplishment.

So, I understood the power that the centurion, the leader of 100, had.  And I also understood the love that he had for his servant.  My guys were my guys.  Most were single.  Some were married and sent to Germany with the family behind in the States.  Some had their family with them, some of them not living in government housing, adding to their hardship, but at least with the family with them.  I knew which guys were late because one of the kids was sick and which guys were late because they drank too much the night before.  If the drunk was in the wrong kind of uniform after hours and got caught, I was usually the one who signed for him at the drunk tank and drove him back to the barracks.  Most just sat in the backseat and stared out the window, but those who understood how I felt for them apologized for disappointing me and letting me down.  The platoon sergeant was their surrogate Dad, but we were all family.

I was promoted and moved on to other things, but the guys would bump into me on occasion and they seemed happy, even excited that we bumped into each other.

Now, were there still officers that barked orders?  Sure, I was just not among them.  The birth pains of a new idea take time to implement.

But this Scripture and the Spurgeon quote are about faith, faith in God.  How do you think that an old farm boy from the backwoods of Mississippi survived as an Army officer?  By a lot of faith in God and with a lot of prayer.  Like Spurgeon said, greatest faith (although I don’t claim the greatest) coupled with the deepest humility.  Add to that the knowledge of absolute power, and it does not seem possible.  For many it is not possible, only through faith in God can it be possible.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

One Comment

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  1. Always love your military stories

    Liked by 1 person

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