I recently had the pleasure of getting hand selected as the subject matter expert on sniper rifles and equipment to present during a brigade level tasked / division oversight static display. At first I didn’t realize the depth of what I was being assigned to do, though quickly I learned the extent of what I had stepped into. I arrived to the motor pool to set up my display all pretty and shiney like, and figured that like most static displays this would be another “lets talk about the weapons” to family members, old vets, or tourists. I was wrong.
Immediately, the brigade level operations sergeant major was very… displeased with the level of presentation he saw before him, and began asserting his will upon the battalion level ops sergeant major to ensure that the display soldiers were top quality. Strange for a simple static display, but whatever, no big deal; sergeants major are prone to overreacting. So after watching a bit of an ass chewing for the guys on other displays I figured it was time to up the ante a little and kit up full ghillie. Not an issue since it was chilly out anyways. We refined the positions of the weapons and then waited for the bus of attendees to arrive.
It eventually pulled in and I sent my soldier to ground guide it to its parking spot while the rest of us made our final checks. I took one last swig of my energy drink for an extra helping of motivation and looked up as my audience disembarked their transport. It was neither family, nor old crusty vets, nor drab tourists, but rather a group of well-dressed, business casual, probably shouldn’t have wore that to a motor pool clad, middle-aged professionals. Needless to say, not the audience I was expecting, but semper gumby. And roll with it we did.
Straight out of the gate I had a gentleman with a sports coat pinned with a ranger tab lead a group of his peers over and with a charismatic grin he introduced himself. Officer material through and through this guy, but genuinely interested in what I had to say about the weapons and my ghillie suit. Turns out this particular fella had been a LRRS guy back in the day and did some long distance shooting competitions on the side still. He actually was knowledgeable enough to fill in the blanks on a few things I told his peers, though, I will give him credit for not doing it in the condescending / arrogant sort of way you see some of these types act. Great guy, great group of people and very eager to learn all about the weapons we used. The guy even emailed me an article he had written about the Long Range Operators Challenge, which he had competed in – ironically enough, he competed against the old sniper section leader from my battalion, who apparently got belligerent drunk while at the competition and embarrassed himself and the unit. Glad the connection wasn’t made at the time, that would have been a bit embarrassing in the moment.
The group moved on in a round-robin manner and my next group contained a diverse group and after my spiel on my equipment I struck up a conversation with one of the older gentlemen of the group. Come to find out, this group was called Gen Next and they are a consortium of local business leaders who were there to get a run down on how their businesses interact with the glaringly large corporation right next door, the Army (if you don’t think this is a corporation by now, you haven’t monitored the change in the military in the 21st century). It turns out, that the Department of Defense was looking for the backing of these local businesses to help with lobbying and political change. Never would have thunk that this was how my day was going to turn out. Either way, once the guy mentioned that, I flipped the switch to make the sale.
I asked him, “What businesses do you know where the workers don’t have toilet paper in the bathrooms and are told to bring their own in because we can’t afford to cover it?”
His response, like most other people’s that are used to working with large, professional businesses, was, “None”.
“Exactly!” I said with a point. “When you hear all of this talk about the DOD budget and how it needs to be slimmed down, that doesn’t change the high dollar items being bought. They’re still going to get that. What it hurts is these guys our here presenting. We can’t crap comfortably while we’re at work because our budget is tied up in so much other stuff.”
It really caught his interest when I said that one. He was intrigued at hearing this perspective towards the things that no one ever brings up because at heart, it truly is an embarrassing subject that we can’t even afford toilet paper. I continued on driving the point home, though. “This stryker right here next to us… its ramp goes down, and you can walk straight into it. The truck I’m in charge of, its ramp is broken, and doesn’t go down. Its been like that for over a year now. We simply can’t afford the parts to fix it. These are first generation vehicles. When they issued out strykers, these were the first ones the Army got. Parts to keep them running are more valuable and more costly.”
You’d have thought this man had just heard the gospel for the first time! I sold him hard on how badly our budget limitations hurt us, and then as they had all been playing with the rifles and doing their own cool little photo ops with them, “I let him know that we are still short an issued rifle at this unit. The M2010 issue still hasn’t caught up to this brigade. I, as a sniper am limited on my lethality because the Army can’t afford to produce enough of the rifles we need for all the units to have them. Of course, you put that in front of them in terms of, “hey you could be playing with a much cooler toy right now” and that really got them thinking about how those budget cuts really hurt the guys in the trenches.
What I didn’t notice while I was giving this whole intriguing presentation of budgetary limitations was how close my battalion ops sergeant major had snuck up to me. Quiet guy when he wants to be. The group rotated again and I had a lull in traffic to my area when I felt a pat on my back as sergeant major came into my peripheral. “You know,” he started, “You keep that up and you’ll make a fine sergeant major one day.”
I chuckled at the thought of it, accepted the compliment, and told him thank you. Unfortunately, his praise aside, I won’t be in long enough to come anywhere close to that rank.
Eventually, the group loaded back up on to the bus and headed for a lovely meal at the chow hall – not really, it was terrible, like always. So they got to experience that lovely quality of life for soldiers as well. I’m sure that sold my point home more so than anything.
So that’s great, I talked to some business leaders, and told them about how broke we are, what’s the point?
You have to sell yourself. Its not just me, out there trying to drum up support for issues with our budget so we can get some toilet paper to shit on the job. It flows in to everything that we, particularly snipers, do. Most people don’t grasp what our actual job entails. We have to break it down for them: capabilities, deficiencies, limitations and such. That company commander may have snipers that he can employ, but does he REALLY know how to employ them, or does he think they’re just going to go do what he saw some do in a movie once? Likely, the latter. You have to sell him on what you can do. You have to prove that you can do it. You have to be willing to speak up when it is something outside of the realm of what your job entails. You have to sell why you matter, or you will see snipers fade away into non-existence. You have got to get out there and build the community, for it is small already and can’t afford inward bickering. We have to support the group, even when it doesn’t seem like its going to benefit us directly. There are times when you have to help the group, to help yourself and this is that time.