Tales Of The Trail Boss: Conclusion-Green Beans and Ice Cream
We were back—alive—with no parts missing, which was no mean accomplishment. Upon our triumphal return we were treated like heroes—which lasted about a day. None of us were not ready for the letdown that follows the rush of being thrust into a dangerous, fast moving situation, albeit free from many peacetime constraints. We just got the job done—and well. Asking permission was just not in our operational vocabulary. Then—the letdown. But, we’re getting a little ahead of the story.
Mike: We unloaded at the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr and within a short time, crossed back over the border into Kuwait. We then began the long road convoy back to our main base at Camp Arifjan, from which seemingly only yesterday, we’d departed in the middle of a SCUD missile attack. During our adventure in Iraq, we had put our vehicles through the mill so to speak. They showed it.
Sergeant Major: Shortly after re-entry back into Kuwait from Iraq, we were traveling on an isolated Kuwaiti highway in an area too close to Iraq for settlers. We stopped for repairs on our Command Post Vehicle known by our team as, “The Hooptie.” While our multi-talented crew sweated in the hot sun to get The Hooptie rolling again, COL Ford pulled me aside to say, “You know…the closer we get to the flagpole, the less fun this is gonna be.” I knew exactly what he meant. I was also sure the Trail Boss was oblivious to it. Always confident in himself, his confidence grew (as did his hat size) even more, as result of his experiences in Iraq as our XO and living out the legend of, “The Trail Boss.”
Mike: So, we made it back. The very next day after our raucous welcome, I was back at work in my old duty position, Deputy Ops Officer, working for a new boss. COL B.G. Lee was a Gyrene! All inter-service rivalry aside, B.G Lee was yet another example of my experience working with Marines. He was sharp, in shape and a great Boss. As my other previous bosses had (wisely) done, he focused on dealing with our higher and adjacent headquarters while I ran the shop. I wasn’t known for my tact or diplomacy, so it was probably best that he remained the face of the command, while I worked in the background.
Sergeant Major: Upon returning to the headquarters of a Two Star General, The Trail Boss became “just another Captain.” In this large headquarters, Majors (except for one and that’s another story) and below, did some pretty menial work, while Lieutenant Colonels had to be pretty special to avoid such. Captains? There was no assignment for a Captain anywhere near as glorious as being…The Trail Boss. His crash into reality would be hard.
Mike: Based on his stellar performance in Iraq, I could see that The Trail Boss had, in the words in every Army Officer’s Promotion Order, “demonstrated potential for increased responsibility.” It was time to see if he could perform just as well in an important assignment that although not as “Trail Boss cool,” was still critical to mission success and necessary for his professional development. So, I seconded him over to another part of the operation—The D/ROPS (Deployment/Redeployment Operations) branch of the G-3. Redeployment was the most important thing in our world. Now that we had “won the war” (or so the higher-ups thought at the time) the emphasis was to “get the troops home by Christmas.” Where have we heard THAT before?
Sergeant Major: COL Ford arranged for The Trail Boss to work for COL Jim Raney. COL Raney was a brilliant, no nonsense leader with a well-earned reputation for, “get the job done or get the hell out!”
Mike: For his current task, my good friend Jim Raney not only needed a hard-nosed attitude, but he also needed a couple of battle-proven Action Officers to put together and enforce the redeployment schedule. Quite naturally, the Commander of every combat unit in the theater, thought HIS own unit should be first in line to get out of the desert and back home. This of course, was impossible. We had to develop a clear, well executed system, enforced by competent staff. If not, we’d never be able to withstand the quite justifiable ire of Commanders and Troops champing at the bit to get home after a job well done. The Trail Boss, as part of his continuing education, would get to be a part of that grueling and and absolutely thankless task.
Sergeant Major: Did I mention The Trail Boss’s crash into reality would hit hard? Late one night and after only two days of working for COL Raney, Boss comes to see his wise old Sergeant Major seeking advice. Now I love The Trail Boss, but that night, he was whining and sniveling like a little girl who had lost her best Barbie. He was crying about how demanding COL Raney was and how hard it was to work for him. He wanted to quit the Army when we returned to stateside.
The reality was that COL Ford had allowed Boss pretty much a free hand as long as he got the job done. To say Trail Boss got the job done, is a gross understatement. He got all tasks done along with many others, before they could be assigned to him…or anyone else for that matter. He rolled through Iraq cleaning house before anyone knew the house was dirty. If you were that type of worker and achiever, COL Ford would allow you a little “operational leeway.” The Trail Boss had become accustomed to a lot of leeway with COL Ford, but had yet to make his bones with COL Raney.
Mike: I was more fortunate than The Trail Boss. Being “demoted” from Commander of a forward-deployed element, back to Deputy G-3, wasn’t near the fall The Trail Boss had to endure. I got right back into the rhythm I had left; 20 hour days making sure stuff stayed coordinated while swilling coffee, smoking Marlboros and making my boss look good while doing it. All was well with my little world…or so I thought.
Sergeant Major: Although I was honored that The Trail Boss would seek my experience, after listening to his complaints, I knew there was only one person that could straighten him out. “Follow me,” I said. He did. I took Boss directly to COL Ford’s desk and threw him right under the bus. At that point, The Trail Boss firmly believed that after hearing his story, COL Ford would go right over and “straighten Raney out.” That wasn’t an unreasonable belief. COL Ford and I had regularly jumped anyone who jacked our people around while we were in Iraq.
I had no clue what COL Ford was going to do, but I knew that “straighten Raney out” wasn’t it. Barely looking up, he growled at the young Captain, “Assume the position.” As The Trail Boss came to attention, I tried to dismiss myself, but COL Ford said, “No, Sergeant Major. You need to hear this too.”
Mike: This one was going to be easy. I could see the problem right off. What this all came down to was Green Beans and Ice Cream. Like Momma used to tell us all, “No dessert until you eat your green beans!” The U.S. Army hadn’t been in a major fight since Desert Storm and before that Viet Nam. There had been the small contingency operation here and there, but nothing involving pretty much our entire Armed Forces, Active, Reserve and National Guard. When Trail Boss’s cohort entered the Army, there was the expectation of a lot of paperwork, inspections, vehicle maintenance and very little field work—in short, a lot of “Green Beans” and very little “Ice Cream.”
This was important. The kind of young men we need to recruit, are those motivated and capable of winning a bayonet fight in Fallujah. They don’t join the Army to do paperwork, maintain vehicles and attend “Consideration of Others” classes. They put up with those in order to have the all too infrequent opportunities to do cool stuff…jump out of airplanes, drive tanks and blow stuff up.
The problem I was facing here, was that this young Captain had gotten to eat a lot of Ice Cream (and very few green beans) very early on in his career. His Ice Cream wasn’t just Vanilla either. As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, his Ice Cream had all kinds of extra flavors, flavors in the form of being a very young Captain, routinely taking responsibility and making decisions that in peacetime, would likely be withheld to the Colonel or even General Officer level. Heady stuff indeed. And now full of Ice Cream, this young Captain didn’t want to eat his Green Beans.
Sergeant Major: COL Ford read the riot act to Trail Boss in the form of the now famous “Green Beans and Ice Cream” speech. The bottom line was that before Boss could have more Ice Cream, that being more rank, responsibility, and respect, he had to first eat his green beans. He had to excel under a hardass, no nonsense, highly respected leader like COL Jim Raney. If Boss could not make it under COL Raney, he wouldn’t be the one picked to lead a team such as ours in the next big fight that America found itself in. After receiving this little bit of directed and focused leadership, The Trail Boss, with his shoulders slumped and tail tucked firmly between his legs, a former legend now reduced to a mere Captain who had just been word whupped by his Colonel, slunk out of the office.
Mike: My Sergeant Major and I discussed how we thought this would turn out. He was much more sanguine than I, having a lot more confidence in my leadership abilities than I did. We were both hoping that we had bet on the right Captain.
Mike and Sergeant Major (Today, 20 years later): The rest of the story covers the next sixteen years. Captain Howard M. aka “The Trail Boss,” is still on active duty and now a Lieutenant Colonel.
How do them green beans taste now!
“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”
— Robert E. Lee, at Fredericksburg
The above quote, like this series of real life vignettes, is not meant by any means to glorify or make light of war. Our team was lucky. Although we had some pretty frightening moments and saw some horrific things, we never had to experience the sheer terror faced by our young troops jumping off of landing craft and into a hail of German machine-gun fire at Normandy Beach.
We did, however, accomplish all that was asked of us and in that effort, formed some great memories and strong bonds. Those memories and bonds made my association with these fine Americans, one of the most satisfying things I have ever been a part of. We became a, “Band of Brothers.”
Michael A. Ford
Colonel of Infantry
Truth Social: @AFNN_USA