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“The new look had brought with it not only a new kind of weaponry but a new kind of warrior as well. Actually, the new breed was kind of a warrior diplomat; as bloodless ballistics seemed to be phasing out the role of fighters on the future battlegrounds, the emphasis increased on the diplomatic side of soldering”

“But then, suddenly, it was too late, even for a tourniquet: Chief of Staff Taylor disbanded all the Old Army regiments, with all their history and tradition to make way for the new look “battlegroups”. Each composed of 5 rifle companies. This battalionless five sided system designed for the nuclear battlefield was fittingly called the Pentomic Army, and was virtually the first such major reorganization of forces since Valley Forge. It had its own jazzy vocabulary-an outpost line was now a combat outpost line, the front line was now the forward edge of the battle area-but the new lingo was more public relations exercise than anything else: after all, a killing ground by any other name is still a killing ground. Within five years the Pentomic concept would prove completely unworkable and the Army would furtively reorganize once again, but the damage done in the mean time was-in a word-irreparable”

Excerpts from the book About Face by Colonel David Hackworth US Army

 

Ever since the first time I was exposed to Jocko Willink through his writings and his podcast he has continually mentioned the influence that the book “About Face” by Colonel David Hackworth had on him as a soldier and leader. Naturally I was curious about Colonel Hackworth so I picked up a copy of “About Face”. I was immediately drawn to his writings, and drew several correlations between his military experience and my own fire service journey. However, not until I began to read the chapter entitled “Black Shoes” did these correlations reach out and slap me directly in the face.

In this chapter Hackworth describes the changes and reorganization of the United States Army in peacetime post Korean War. Things such as a shift in mission and focus of leaders, and the emphasis on the “administrative” functions of the military instead of the basics of soldering and fighting the enemy. Its in these words (highlighted in the excerpts above) that began to ring heavy in my head as I read them. I underlined them, wrote notes in the margins, dog eared pages, took pictures and sent them to my friends and everything I could do to cement these words.

These words in my interpretation serve as a grave warning for any service (military, fire service or otherwise) of the dangers of straying away from the core mission even in “peace time”.

I feel that for a majority of the American fire service they interpret the current state of affairs as a “peace time”. Structure fires continue to drop as automatic alarms and EMS responses rise. You are more likely to not get in your turnout gear during a shift. The emphasis and preference on Administrative duties has skyrocketed leaving behind the seasoned fire ground officers of the past. The emphasis on obtaining the next rank or better yet utilizing the fire service for a spring board to other cushier better paying government jobs has multiplied as well, leaving the most passionate disenchanted and opting to just “ride out” the rest of their career instead of mentoring the next generation.

Like the peace time military realized too late in Vietnam to stray from your primary mission to not constantly prepare for the next enemy, to betray the traditions of your service only lead to tragedy. In this case the death of 58,318 dead US soldiers and hundreds of thousands wounded.

This lesson should remind us of several things in the fire service but most importantly THERE IS NO PEACE TIME FIRE SERVICE!

We wage war daily! Our main enemy may have changed but it is still a battle, and our original enemy still rears its ugly head. No one but firefighters can put out fires! However, we tend to ignore this original enemy and the best we have at combating it for other “things” that we deem more important, to be in the end surprised when we “lose” at a fire or major incident. Then we continually rerun the same cycle like a song on repeat. We betray the traditions of our founders, and our charge placed on us by the citizens we serve.

The study of history tells us that everything ebbs and flows. The “War Years” of the fire service will come back around and we are now faced with the choice. Will we be ready to face the enemy with highly trained, fireground officers and firefighters? Or will we take our new direction fire service against the enemy and epically fail?  

To be determined……….

 

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