Last time, I introduced you to The Trail Boss. This week, the adventure continues as The Trail Boss meets Tallil Tom, an Iraqi turkey with a bad attitude. As I was not actually present for some of the activities described herein (that’s called, “plausible deniability”) I’ve enlisted the help of my Command Sergeant Major (CSM) in the retelling of this fable.
Mike: We had been in possession of the former Iraqi Airbase for a couple of weeks. Our team had established it as a critical logistics node, supporting the combat forces. We had also provided some help to the Air Force who wanted the base as a launch platform for their A-10 Warthogs. Having that base 100 or so miles closer to the action, enabled an increase in loiter time, which from my point of view as an Infantryman, is always good. After all, who wouldn’t want to be protected by an aircraft designed around its 30 mm gun?
Sergeant Major: On one of The Trail Boss’s first forays outside the wire, he and his team of stalwart Soldiers (and one Marine) discovered an urgent need for potable water among the locals, as Saddam had used control of the water supply as a means to subdue his own people. Fortunately, we had brought a water trailer with us. Returning to base, The Trail Boss and crew, hooked up the trailer and brought it to the village. Needless to say, the locals were ecstatic.
Mike: This water resupply operation became yet another mission our team handled. We often discovered requirements and “assigned ourselves” the responsibility to fulfill them. Being the leader of such a talented crew was a pleasure. Most things got done without my input and often without my knowledge. When stuff did come to me for decision, my CSM was always there to assist. One particular “look” meant, “It’s OK Sir, give ‘em the go-ahead.” Another meant, “Sir, if you let Trail Boss try this sh….er…stuff, they will put him UNDER Ft. Leavenworth and us along with him.”
As with most things, the real work in setting up all the moving parts for the water mission was done by the team led by The Trail Boss, who had a knack for getting cooperation and assistance from other units. The CSM, brought them and their plan to me for my “blessing,” which I gave after getting the “OK” look. So for the first time in a long time, several hundred Iraqi civilians were getting fresh water…water devoid of parasites and other pollutants.
Sergeant Major: On one of our water missions, The Trail Boss and I spotted a small herd of goats. This was not unusual. But along with the herd was something, actually two somethings unusual; two American wild turkeys. A gobbler and a hen. Immediately the men started yelling, “Supper!” We had eaten only MRE’s since D-Day and the thought of a turkey dinner was overwhelming.
Because it was only a short time until darkness, I would not allow the men to take the turkey until the next day. Trail Boss strongly objected sarcastically asking, “I guess you’ll want a five paragraph Operations Order (OPORD) too?” I replied, “Of course.”
Mike: My CSM and I often had discussions about The Trail Boss and his future. This mission into Iraq and Trail Boss’s assignment as my XO would be his opportunity to refine his considerable talents. Writing, briefing and executing an OPORD was a part of that training. Although Soldiers are often required to make decision on the fly, whenever possible, we do try to plan things out. That way when things do go awry, we can change the original plan, as opposed to figuring things out from scratch. At left, the author conducts a pre-combat briefing as his team prepares to conduct a reconnaissance operation to locate a new base of operations.
Sergeant Major: I explained that taking the time to dress and cook the turkey would push our arrival back at the compound to well after dark and likely irritate our Commander to no end. Furthermore, there was no way to cage the turkey until morning. Although all the troops, including The Trail Boss offered to “properly secure” the turkey, I knew this would result in a complete beatdown of my Soldiers. I denied their request and we saddled up and headed back to base. Subsequent events would prove my decision correct.
Mike: I had just walked outside of the Operations Center (crappy room in an abandoned building with maps tacked up on one wall and radios along another) when in rolls in our latest recon mission/water resupply team, led by The Trail Boss, with my CSM along for adult supervision. The guys were all fired up. Evidently an Iraqi farmer had offered them a turkey as a “thank you” for keeping his village supplied with fresh water. The Trail Boss wanted to mount an early morning operation to go secure said turkey, bring it back and prepare a special dinner (we’d been subsisting on MRE’s, cold coffee, and in my case, cigarettes, since we rolled North from Kuwait). As had been my custom, I glanced over to my CSM who gave me a sly wink (a version of the “OK” nod). Giving my assent to The Trail Boss’s request, I tempered it with a directive to prepare and brief an OPORD detailing the entire mission. He (sheepishly) acknowledged the order while off to the side, my CSM suddenly had a big grin on his face. I didn’t find out why until later.
Sergeant Major: COL Ford told me to go with the team. Pointing his finger at me he said, “Sergeant Major this is a direct order; Not a shot to be fired; got it?!” I quickly acknowledged. That was the first and only time COL Ford had ever given me such a direct order. That was never necessary, so I realized the importance of his directive to avoid starting an unnecessary firefight in a place we had only recently pacified.
The next day, as Trail Boss and I returned to the village with the team, the question arose, “Who is gonna to take the turkey?” Boss immediately volunteered, I took my Kevlar helmet off, placed a twenty-dollar bill in it and declared, “I got twenty bucks on the turkey.” The rest of the team did the same, except they placed their bets on The Trail Boss.
While holding the helmet full of cash, I reminded The Trail Boss of COL Ford’s “no weapons” order. He took his M4 carbine off and handed to me while also removing his uniform shirt. This revealed a 9mm Beretta he carried in his waistband. That weapon had become second nature to him—he even slept with it on.
Now Trail Boss stands 6’2”, weighs, 230 pounds and is quite the athletic lad. He assumed a linebacker pose, gave the turkey the evil eye and began moving in on his prey. Ole Tom Turkey however, immediately sensed the danger and wasn’t having any part of The Trail Boss’s plans. He began strutting in a semi-circle around Boss with tail feathers flared, cussing as only a Tom turkey can. All you hunters know what that means and what’s coming next. But The Trail Boss hadn’t a clue.
Just as The Trail Boss made his move, the turkey went into full attack mode. He jumped off the ground with wings flapping and talons scraping at Trail Boss’s upper body. The turkey was flailing so fast and so erratically that The Trail Boss never even got a counter punch in. He went down like Joe Frazier vs George Foreman. Down goes Boss. Up jumps Boss. Down goes Boss. Up staggers Boss. Down goes Boss.
The turkey was wearing him out. The only difference was Joe Frazier did not have a weapon and The Trail Boss did. As the turkey came in for the final kill, Trail Boss went into survival mode, drew his pistol and got off a fatal shot to the chest. The turkey was down for the count. The Trail Boss, pretty close to it. After The Trail Boss managed to get back on his feet, our victorious team loaded up and returned to Tallil with their trophy turkey. The team members remaining on the compound were informed by radio that we were returning with the prize. We were met as victorious gladiators.
Mike: One of my sergeants poked his head in my (what passed for an office) and told me the team had made it back safely and was preparing the turkey. After I dealt with a couple of issues common to a forward Commander, I sauntered out into the compound’s common area, a piece of ground where we had set up a cooking area, including a “stove” made from a truck wheel rim. I got there just in time to see The Trail Boss pull the turkey out of the pot of boiling water used to divest it of its feathers. Then I noticed it—a small, red, 9mm-sized hole, dead center of the breastbone. As I started to open my mouth, my Sergeant Major, ever-watchful over his Colonel, gave me the “Be quiet Sir & I’ll tell you later,” look. I immediately changed, “What the….?!” to, “Great job guys!” and after some chit chat, wandered back to my cubbyhole to deal with the latest outrage from our higher headquarters.
Sergeant Major: While the troops were preparing the meal, COL Ford pulled me aside and asked, “Were there any casualties two legged or four legged other than the turkey?” I replied, “No, sir.” He said, “Good” and never mentioned the incident again.
Mike: One of the things I had a tough time learning, especially as a junior officer, was that sometimes an officer has to “not see” some things. This can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a good team and more importantly, a great Sergeant Major who you trust implicitly. Fortunately I was blessed with a great team and the world’s best CSM. If I had actually “seen” the bullet hole in the turkey and started asking questions, then I would have had to discipline a number of folks for disobeying a direct order from a Field Grade Officer, thus quite unnecessarily truncating some very promising careers. This was one of those “let the dog lie,” cases.
Sergeant Major & Mike: A prayer of thanksgiving was offered to the Good Lord and we enjoyed the most memorable turkey dinner of our lives. We don’t foresee any meal ever surpassing that one.
Sergeant Major & Mike: Today’s military has become way too risk averse and politically correct. Fighting wars is a tough business. We need tough, smart men to fight these wars. At the pointy end of the spear, there is a certain locker room aspect that binds men and enables them to triumph over adversity. We also need men who understand how to assess and when proper, accept some risk. If a Soldier takes a risk and fails, it’s not always necessary to bludgeon him with “bad paper.” The Trail Boss and his team (always watched over by the Sergeant Major) are some of the best young Americans our great country has to offer. They will be the ones leading the next fight America finds itself in—as long as leaders allow them to take risks and learn from mistakes.
Next Time: The Great Train Robbery
Mike Ford is a retired Infantry Colonel who realizes that he would have never made it as far as he has, without folks like The Trail Boss and the Sergeant Major.
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