The Artful Dodger…or, Walking Betwixt the Raindrops

The Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, has a character named The Artful Dodger.  The young boy is a clever pick-pocket and very elusive, avoiding being caught on more numerous occasions than can be attributed to just luck itself.  As such, he is the leader of a pack of young pick-pockets and miscreants in the story.  In common usage, an “Artful Dodger” is someone who is crafty and good at avoiding responsibility or the consequences of his or her actions.  Such is the lot in life for Mr. J9, my fearless leader *spoken with a sarcastic tone*.  This guy has been the bane of my existence since arriving at Fort Dix to plus up, or augment (for you civilians), the unit I am currently deployed with.  Early on, during mobilization training, I would attempt to get some team cohesion activity together as an opportunity to build some rapport and a working relationship with the new soldiers under my leadership.  As an outsider coming into a unit for the purpose of filling a vacant team sergeant slot, it is important that the soldiers you are going to be leading in a combat theater have a good understanding of how you operate as a team sergeant and what to expect from you as their first line supervisor.  J9 (Jakubowski, shortened to J9 due to the apparent difficulty in pronouncing his name…whatever) would politely decline participation in these team building events and spend that time either in his bunk or on the internet in the dayroom on the first floor where the wireless internet signal was accessible.

Once in theater, he quickly established himself as the go-to guy for the unit we were supporting.  I’m all about helping out when there is a shortage of resources and/or personnel, but the position that J9 volunteered to fill for the battalion we supported was that of the S9 shop, which is the Non-lethal Targeting slot.  The S9 at a battlion level is not a mandatory position for a battalion to fill, however, if the battalion commander so chooses to have an S9 shop, the position must be filled by one of his officers or qualified senior non-commissioned officers directly under his command. (In the military, that is known as “organic personnel”).  I told J9 that it was not our place to volunteer to fill that position, and he stated emphatically that he was going to do it regardless of what I thought or what the Army Regulations state about doing so.  As a Civil Affairs Tactical A-Team (CAT-A), it is our role to perform in direct support of kinetic operations on the battlefield, meeting Humanitarian Assistance and Consequence Management needs of the supported unit.  Feeling that I was usurping his authority and leadership, I was written up for insubordination on official counseling forms for merely stating that I felt that it was not our place to volunteer for such a slot, although I would do my job as required should J9 go through with putting us in that position.  Now, mind you, I did not disobey an order or even state that the decision was a poor one.  I merely stated that it was not how a CAT-A team operated on the battlefield and offered suggestions on how we could contribute better to the supported unit as a CAT-A team.

Okay, I give you that background to move forward in time to the present in our deployment.  We (meaning my team) are now tasked to another unit, supporting a battalion at the company level, providing Non-Lethal Targeting input, but as a CAT-A team, which is something that does fall under the normal scheme of operations for a CAT-A team.  Although we are still doing a little of the S9’s responsibility by putting together project packets and micro grant application packets, it is something that CAT-A teams can and will do from time to time.  I have no problems with this and, in fact, am enjoying the fact that the current unit we support utilizes us correctly.  More importantly, the commander of the supported unit listens to me when I disagree with a task that has been handed to my team, if it is something that we as a CAT-A team are not supposed to do or are not allowed to do.  For example, we cannot gather intelligence on the battlefield.  We CAN and, as often as possible, gather information and hand it off to the proper channels that go through that information for anything of intelligence value.  Let me pause for a moment to state that, yes, I know it sounds kind of hokey to say that we do not gather intelligence only information.  Considering that we are taught, as new recruits in Basic Training, that “every soldier a sensor”, meaning that every soldier is a sensor for intelligence gathering.  Believe me, I think that the information gather as CAT-A is, more often than not, intelligence no matter how you classify it.  However, I digress…

So, we are supporting a battalion at the company level as a four-man team.  Both of my team members are on a different Forward Operating Base (FOB) because they were needed in order to facilitate an influx of projects at my command office.  I’m fine with that, except that they were more or less shanghaied into the situation without so much as a heads-up from my command.  Even as a commander or a first sergeant, you always should give the courtesy of a heads-up to your subordinate leaders, regardless that the soldiers are all yours to utilize as you see fit or as the mission dictates.  But, the team members were kept at the command office upon returning from R&R and Liberty Pass, respectively.  That leaves me with J9, who is a naval flight officer in the rank of O3.  An O3 in the Navy is a lieutenant, but that corresponds as that of a captain in the Army.  The way that the Army rates its leadership is in the form of OERs (Officer Evaluation Reports) and NCOER (Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Reports) for the sergeants and above among the enlisted ranks.  What this means is that, quarterly, you as either an officer or non-commissioned officer (from here on out, referred to as an NCO) are counseled on your performance for that quarter and recommendations or guidance on what your rater would like to see you progress towards or refine in your upcoming rated time.  If you are performing well, the report should reflect as such and, likewise, if you are not, then there should be a plan laid out on how to correct those shortcomings and deficiencies so you don’t continue to make poor decisions or develop poor leadership traits.  At the end of the rated year, the officer and NCO receive their annual OER or NCOER, respectively.  If the rater is fair and impartial, then the report should accurately reflect on your performance that rated year.

As a naval officer, augmented to an Army unit, the OER has little to no effect on your career.  It can translate over to a naval FITREP, which is the equivalent of an Army OER, however, it usually does not, due to conflicts in the way that the Navy evaluates its officers as opposed to the Army’s way of evaluating officers. (See Military Regulation 1184 Appendix A).  That being said, J9 must know this for he has done very little actual work while being assigned to this Army unit.  He has made a great show of going to briefings that are of little or no consequence to what a CAT-A team needs to operate, with the exception of a couple of working group meetings and, the ever-present, non-lethal targeting meeting.  Of those three meetings weekly meetings, the first two were at the BRIGADE level, which is not where he should be sticking his nose in, much less dragging team issues and information gathered by the team.  That is for the battalion to present team level issues because we support the battalion, usually, and the companies of that battalion, however not as frequently at that lower level specifically.  By doing so, he brought a lot of unnecessary attention to the team, which often led to conflicting tasks being pushed to the team.  By that, I mean that the brigade would give us tasks to accomplish while, at the same time, the battalion would also assign us tasks.  At the very minimum, that effectively doubled or tripled our work load.  At the worst, it created very heavy tensions due to tasks that were directed by the brigade conflicting with the tasks and guidance given to us by the battalion we supported.  To add to that, J9 would not be assertive nor would he offer any checks or balances to the system.  He would merely state that we would do the best we could to accomplish those tasks.  It was then left to me to do the legwork and attempt to make both sides happy, while maintaining some semblance of neutrality towards either guidance.  The neutrality is very necessary, because there can often be directives that would cause me and my team to stray into territory that either was unlawful by regulation for a CAT-A team to venture in, or unethical by nature when handling funds and/or potential projects that would be a conflict of interest, especially if reviewed by Legal.  That is a good way (not good Yay! but good “you-are-going-to-end-up-in-a-federal-prison) to end a once-promising career in the military and something that I am not looking to do…ever.

In our current role, I am handling both my responsibilities and those of my team leader who is apparently trying to avoid coming to the office for the duration of our deployment here in Iraq.  Currently, he is going on 168+ hours without stepping foot in the office.  Now, he does come in for a few minutes each evening to check his Secure email, but I don’t count that, since it usually is no more than ten minutes or so.  I make sure that I have enough rest to tackle the amount of work that I have, because this guy doesn’t do anything, by working until no later than 0200 and going to bed, sleeping until 1100, and then getting up and going to work all over again.  Mind you, I also take the time to work out in the gym, conduct personal hygiene, eat a decent meal, and maintain some semblance of downtime, short as it may be before going to bed and “lather-rinse-repeat” all over again.

So, what does this have to do with the Artful Dodger?  The common usage of the term refers to someone who is crafty at escaping or avoiding their responsibilities.  How does that translate to “walking betwixt the raindrops”?  Well, I see it this way…there are inherently a lot of responsibilities that are undertaken as a leader at any level within the military.  Add the environment of a combat theater, having to operate separate from the command office of your unit, coordinate the moving pieces of your day to day operations, the amount of time you expect to do without at least one team member due to R&R leave or 4-day pass to Qatar which, both, involve a lot of travel between Iraq and Stateside or Qatar (depending on which you are embarking for), and the unforeseen events that always take you by surprise and often throw a monkeywrench into the works.  All of that combine to make the number of responsibilities seem like a rainstorm, and you have to try to walk in that rainstorm without it welling up and overwhelming you.  Well, I’m walking J9’s storm and mine, because he has discovered a way to walk in the rain without getting wet.  His poor performance this deployment will be forgotten when he goes back to the big blue Navy, and I have to figure out how best to dry off from having to walk under his responsibility cloud and mine, as well.  I think I have “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” on my mp3 player.  I’ll have to listen to it daily, and then punch Burt Bacharach in the dick every time I picture him twirling an umbrella while singing the damn song.  If I ever meet him, he’s going to walk away with a black eye, just on general principle.

And now, it’s time for bed so I can “get back up, and we can do it all over again”!  *quotations denote the line from one of songs by The Refreshments*.

~ by kyodan75 on March 9, 2010.

One Response to “The Artful Dodger…or, Walking Betwixt the Raindrops”

  1. Dan,
    You had me at “Betwixt”. I shall be thinking of this for a fortnight. How doest thou derive such usage of the King’s English?? haha. Very good my friend. Your pieces are very well composed. BTW, I didnt take your guys. I tried to rescue them both from the seemock but was only able to get J DUB. They were unfortunate victims of circumstance, kind of like us. All of us.

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