Most of what we address in policies and procedures are common sense. What little that is not is government “sense”. I bet you wondered why I included hand grenades and a corvette. Let me tell you a tale from my youth.
I served in the 82nd Airborne division as an infantry soldier during the cold war. One of the primary responsibilities of the 82nd (along with the 101st and the 24th) was the ability to send a battalion size force anywhere in the world within two hours. Since the 82nd was burdened with parachutes and not helicopters (101st was not airborne when I served) or armored vehicles (24th), the primary burden fell on the 82nd.
The division was divided into 9 units of readiness status called “DRF” for Defense Readiness Force”. The highest status was DRF 1 which meant that the battalion needed to be able to assemble within two hours. For us, it meant no leave and we had to be within a half hour of the base at any time, ready to gear up and deploy.
Of course, Deployments happened for real and deployments happened for training, and God Bless the US Army, someone was always trying to figure out a way to improve the deployment process.
One of the slowdowns was issuing out ammo to the DRF 1 force. For example, as a grenadier, I carried seven 30 round magazines of 5.56 for my M203, about twenty 40mm grenades for the launcher, a belt of 7.62 for one of the platoon’s M60 machine guns, a couple of hand grenades, and other odds and ends in addition to food, water and my regular gear. I also carried half of a M47 anti-tank missile.
Multiple this load by 800 other guys with similar loads then add odds and ends such as mortar rounds, .50 caliber rounds, TOW rounds, etc.… and it adds up to several tons for us to carry and deploy. In addition, the force must deploy with adequate reserves, at least two or three times the amount we carried. two or three times that amount in reserve.
Half of a Brilliant Idea
This bottleneck led to half of a brilliant idea by someone in the chain of command. Why not pre-issue the ammo to the DRF 1 force? The immediate challenge this presented was how to secure the tons of deadly material. There really was not a warehouse within a DRF 1 unit for this purpose.
Well, all the units were across the street from a small area of woods fondly referred to as “Area J”. The battalions utilized Area J for quick training, physical training, and harassing new members of the division. “Smith, would you go and ask Top for the keys to Area J?”.
The idea some unknown person came up with was to issue the ammo and take the ammo out to Area J. Security? Put three strands of concertina wire around it and let put a squad to guard it. This is what they did the next time my battalion went on DRF 1.
I do not remember being told that we were going to have guard duty on top of everything else associated with DRF 1 status, but my squad came up on rotation and we got in a deuce and a half and deployed into area J and the ammo dump.
We were a tight squad and worked well together, my squad leader was busy with something else when we arrived and asked me to talk to the sergeant of the squad we were reliving.
Looking at the large number of crates around us, I asked the sergeant for the inventory form. He replied, “What inventory form?”
“What Inventory Form?”
Apparently, no one else shared my shock and I am sure the rest of the squad got tired of my complaining about this for the rest of the night. Yes, they agreed with me that it was a stupid idea, but bureaucracies, and the Army was often a bureaucracy with weapons, was full of stupid ideas.
We finished our guard duty, turned the ammo over to the next squad, and went back to the barracks. We heard nothing more about inventory for several months.
The Art of the Deal
The story we heard later was that a guy from one of the other companies in our battalion attempted to buy a car from a local dealership and failed to close the deal. He later decided to express his anger by returning to the dealership at night and chucking a hand grenade into it. The only injury, as we heard about was to a corvette.
What our young soldier did not realize, is the spoon of a hand grenade contains identifying numbers that allowed law enforcement to track the hand grenade back to one of the boxes issued to our battalion during the DRF 1 readiness period.
The Army immediately locked our battalion down, bringing in all the guys who lived off post and putting them on the floors of our barracks. All the cars were searched, including mine, and no one was going anywhere until the hand grenades were located or at least accounted for.
It took several days for the culprits to confess (sometimes peer pressure is a wonderful thing), and the story was that they stole at least one CRATE of hand grenades.
I assume they were courtmartialed, or if the Army wanted to keep it quiet – an Article 15. I was just happy to return to a normal life.
Maybe it was asking too much for infantry grunts to think about inventory, although in my young mind it was the word “accountability”. I often wondered how the ammo got checked back in without an inventory, or just who the hell signed for it.
Accountability is a critical concept is government and business and this is one of the stories that led to my development of Single Point of Responsibility (SPR) as an essential management tool.
Government personnel and contractors should always think in terms of accountability and responsibility in their actions. It does not matter if it is hand grenades, dollars, or even human beings you are responsible for. Developing systems of accountability is simply common sense.