I am a United States Marine. I earned the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in 1981 in the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island, South Carolina. OPEN DISCLOSURE: My service was unremarkable and I stand in awe of my brothers and sisters who have defended us in the years since but, I did get some stories from my time. Here is one.
My MOS (military occupational speciality) was a logistics clerk. My role was to work with a team that was situated roughly three miles behind the line companies. We dispatched supplies to the front line and managed transport of wounded from the line (beans bullets, and bandages).
I was at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Camp Lejeune is the largest amphibious training base in the world. On this particular day we were out in the woods and my position was in a wooden camper-type vehicle, a mobil office, that was towed behind a jeep or truck. It had several desks and I was working with a Gunnery Sergeant. and a Major. There was also another PFC in the mix.
A Major is a fairly significant officer rank but not freakishly high. They are an O4 and, if you are a PFC, which I was, you snap-to for a Major but they are far from a flag rank ( a General). As a PFC, there is a certain awe instilled, at least there was for me, regarding any officer.
Generals are another issue. There are four distinct levels in the Marine Corps, Brigadier General (one star), Major General (two stars), Lieutenant General (three stars), and General (four stars). When a General is present, respect is rendered.
Now a Gunnery Sergeant is a different rank. It is an enlisted rank. I confess I am biased in favor of enlisted as I was an enlisted man. A Gunnery Sergeant is a senior staff non-commissioned officer (SNCO) an E-7. They have been in the Corps for a long time.
So here we are practicing this drill. The Major was not awful but, he definitely liked being an officer and being in charge. As we were working we hear a voice outside the mobile office call out, “General on the deck.” A General stepped into our mobile office where everyone now stood at attention.
He walked into our little mobile office and there we all stood, the PFCs, the Gunnery Sergeant, and the Major. The General stopped, looked about and then walked past all of us and up to the Gunnery Sergeant, he stuck out his hand and said, “How are you doing gunny?” And then as relaxed as could be they shot the breeze for a few minutes. Mind you, while all of this was going on, we all, including the Major stood at attention, not a move, not a sound!
After a few moments, the General turned towards the rest of us and says “at ease.” He turns back towards the Major and says, “well let’s hear how things are going,” and they step out of the office into the field to discuss the training ops.
We immediately ran over to the gunny looking for an explanation for what was, at a minimum, an unexpected exchange with an all-mighty flag officer. He chuckled and said, “Guys, he and I met early in our careers. I was a Private and he was a 2nd Lieutenant. We became friends and we have climbed the ranks together for more than 20 years.”
I remember at the time how startled I was because officers seemed bigger than life and I was a wreck when I thought about having a conflict with an officer but here was an example where the authenticity of the relationship transcended the rank or status or station of the participants.