Talking with a Three-Star General

I think one of the weaknesses we all face is — let’s be honest — we all think we’re pretty much nobodies. We lack almost any self-confidence and we stick to generally the same group or circle of friends/contacts.

Breaking out of that is the key to becoming successful, and as the son of a construction worker and secretary, it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing. For me, it began when I was in college, and at the age of 22 or 23 — remember I went to school late because of the 4-year hitch in the Marine Corps — I wrote a letter to my Congressman about the pending Iraq War. I was fired up about it and damn it, 22 or not, I was going to tell him what I thought of it.

I mailed it and forgot it until holy shit, he wrote me back. And I hadn’t even voted in his district as I recall, having only recently moved back to the area. I learned an important lesson then, which is this: We’re only small if we think we’re small.

How many people honestly write Congressmen? Not many. Most comment on news articles anonymously, and they sound like two year olds when they do.

Since that day, I’ve written about everyone, including the President. (He also answered my letter, though it was certainly one of his staff; still, I got some cool-ass stationary from him that I’ll keep forever, and it did answer what I wrote about.)

But I had never written a General… I mean, holy shit. Could a Sergeant even look at a General without melting down or getting the shit beat out of them by some First Sergeant or Gunny?

And yet I crossed that line just a few weeks ago. A Lt. General — that’s three stars for those who are counting — wrote an excellent blog post that I mostly agreed with except for one part. In it, he said, “Our unit will never go admin or bivouac during a training event . . .

Well, as a long-time suffering infantryman, that’s one of my pet peeves. So, I took my time, wrote what I hoped was a coherent counter-argument, and nervously responded thusly:

General,

This is a great post with some much needed resolutions in it. One resolution that you made that I’d like to advocate the flip side of is possibly this one:

“Our unit will never go admin or bivouac during a training event . . . we are always in the offense or defense, even during an AAR. . . we are in an operation until we return to the unit garrison area.”

Speaking as an infantryman who served in A/1/8 from ’95-’99, I’d respectfully suggest staying tactical for entire training operations is a bad idea. Here are my reasons why, though they may be dated since op tempo is different now (When I served we did many and long field ops, even up to six to eight days on work ups; these, obviously, wrecked havoc with your body and fitness).

[ ] First, it’s miserable staying tactical, especially when you’re not in leadership. I can remember vividly two different days laying in the prone behind my rifle for hours and hours on end. I nearly went crazy, as did all the others I served with. Staying tactical makes the Marine Corps more miserable than it has to be, and encourages great Marines to get out, in my opinion.

[ ] Second, it doesn’t require a lot of training and practice to learn how to remain tactical. You spread out, you stay alert, you practice light and noise discipline.

[ ] Third, that time wasted behind your rifle — pissed off and wishing you were anywhere but laying in the mud — could be used for cross-training on other weapons systems, leadership/history lessons, PT, and dozens of other more effective things, in my opinion.

One of the best field ops I ever had involved us getting in boots and utes and going for a hard run with our weapons and load bearing gear. In my opinion, it should be a rare day that you lay behind your weapon an entire day. Adding just a good lesson or run into it would do wonders for re-enlistments, morale, and both physical and mental fitness.

I end with this thought. Let’s not forget that when I was in, you could only re-enlist as a B billet, so at the end of four years, you were forced to contemplate the next sixteen years, most of which would be in the infantry — or something super taxing like DI, range instructor, or recruiter — and much of that time you served in the infantry would be in the field, which means only one thing to a guy who just spent four years you’re in the infantry: You can about be guaranteed that you’re going to be tactical and bored out of your mind for much of the next ten-plus years. That, no matter how tough you are, is not a fun future to contemplate.

Respectfully submitted,
Stan R. Mitchell
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Honorably discharged as a Sgt. from A/1/8 in 1999

Amazingly, the man — wait, the GENERAL (and that’s three stars people, stand up while you’re reading this shit and show the man some respect) — answered with the following comment:

Stan,
Point taken . . . probably overstated the point to make the point . . .your comments made me remember running PT in the field and the positive impact it had . . .I guess what I was trying to say was to make going to the field an operation and we should not just because we ran out of ideas/things to do, forget the needs for security and to always keep our guard up. V/R Neller

I ended the exchange by saying,

Sorry, General. I probably over-reacted, but it’s a real sore point with me.

I fired mortars one time, in Squad Leaders Course as a Cpl. Prior to that, I’d never even handled them. Why was that? When so many times they were in our perimeter while we were staying tactical facing outboard and completely bored beyond belief. Same thing with 240s. I got very little hands on time with them, and when I did it was SOI and Squad Leaders Course. And given that mortar platoons used to be on alert to pick up downed pilots, which means you could lose well-trained men, it just never made sense to me. And why straight riflemen aren’t better trained with medium (and especially heavy) machine guns is beyond stupid. Turret gunners go down. A lot.

But your comment is dead on for non-infantry units. They should certainly practice tactical operations as much as they can.

I must shut up. Thanks for your comment. I’ve never spoken with a General, and I half expected two MPs to show up at the door. : )

Semper Fidelis,
Stan R. Mitchell

So, all this is great, right? I mean, pretty freaking great. Like, so great that you want to be my friend, right? Namedrop me and comment to all end, right? Oh, yeah, I see you smiling and shaking your heads. Come into the fold, my little ones… : )

Well, it gets even better. Today, that same General — three stars, remember — name dropped me in a blog post thanking me for pushing back against him. And slightly scolding other Marines for not

Here’s what he said in part:

Thanks to all who checked out my blog entry entitled, “New Year’s Resolutions for Marines.” I especially want to thank Marine Sergeant Stan Mitchell of Alpha 1/8 circa 1999, who provided some great feedback and insight on training Marines with some specific recommendations on things to do and just as importantly things not to do while in the field. I do have to say I was more than a little disappointed that Sgt Mitchell was the only one to come back on the blog. … Look, I know that many/most are not going to take me on if they disagree out of deference to rank/seniority. I find that troubling since if I am willing to put myself out on to the “blogosphere” then I knowingly accept the “wrath of the crowd.” If I didn’t want push back, I wouldn’t have engaged. My goal is, I believe, the same as all who write: to challenge, discuss, and work to solve the issues of the day. To make this Corps better and to hold all accountable to their responsibilities as leaders of Marines. If we as an institution ever lose that willingness to take on a “bad idea” or to “stand up to or push back on an incompetent or illegal act” then we will not be the organization I know we are capable of being. Like all other qualities in Marines, we cannot expect this willingness to pop up out of thin air the moment it is needed. It needs to be fostered and encouraged by leaders and honed in discourse. So, Marines, do not be afraid to engage intelligently and tactfully. And leaders, never discourage your Marines from speaking their minds in a professional forum.

So, what’s the lesson?

One, I’m still reeling a bit. I’m best friends with a, err, I mean I’ve chatted with a General.

Two, probably most of the Marine Corps officer staff and staff enlisted officers hate my guts now, which probably won’t do much for my books sales.

Three, you shouldn’t be afraid to chat with and counter those above you. It will help their decision making whether they’re Generals or members of Congress. And it will do wonders as you work toward making your goals.

I’ve got to run. I’m working on a letter to Tom Brady!

Stan R. Mitchell

Oak Ridge, Tenn.

P.S. Please accept the greatest gift I can give, a book I believe to be worth $10,000.

P.P.S. Thanks to all who continue to make my novels a success. I seriously couldn’t have done it with everyone’s support. I’m excited to say that Little Man, and the Dixon County War  has gone as high as No. 16 on the Amazon UK Paid List (see here and here). My second novel, Sold Outhas also done well, going as high as No. 81 on the Amazon Paid List for the category of War (see here and here). Learn more about both books here.

14 Comments

Filed under Stories about my life

14 responses to “Talking with a Three-Star General

  1. You’ve got backbone, Stan, and style to go with it. Speaking your mind isn’t always easy.

    Like

  2. Angie

    Wow! Besties with a General, an embezzling groupie, UK top sellers list, you Stan, are the man!!!!!

    Like

  3. You. Are. The. Man. Semper Fi.

    Like

  4. badelaire

    Awesome. As the man says, if you’re going to put it out into the Great Democracy that is the Internet, have you to be prepared to get pushback, and you can’t be a jerk about it when it arrives. Glad to see you had a constructive dialogue.

    Like

  5. Stan, this also goes back to my post from a couple weeks ago where you pointedly agreed that being a writer takes nerve. Well, I think you just demonstrated that applies to most great things in life and you were duly rewarded! Very inspirational, man.

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    • Thanks, Phillip! I had forgotten that. Man, I move too fast and have too many balls in the air! : )

      And I still have the email alert saved from your latest wrap up of that chapter. Look forward to reading it soon!

      Like

  6. Pingback: Marine Watch: A blog on American foreign policy. | An archive of posts about National Security from the past year

  7. Pingback: Gen. Zinni and I go way back… | Stan R. Mitchell -- Action fiction writer

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