NCO Lesson: Sam, You Made the Pants Too Short!

Lesson on Leadership

“Oh it is great to have a Giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a Giant”

        – Shakespeare (Measure for Measure)

Serving as a Drill Sergeant was one of the most rewarding opportunities that I experienced in my 28 year Army career. It is one of the few jobs that allow you to see your leadership and training efforts evolve over 6-8 weeks, taking a raw recruit at the beginning, and marching a Soldier off of the parade field at the end.

In 1975 I was a very young Drill Sergeant with behaviors that seemed to serve me well. Entering my third cycle I was introduced to Sergeant First Class Charlie Mack who was now my immediate supervisor. Charlie was 6 foot, 3 inches, 225 pounds, and extremely fit. His physical presence alone seemed to control any setting. I never heard Charlie raise his voice in anger or frustration and I noticed that he allowed trainees to carry on a conversation with him. I concluded that each leader did things in his own way and although I did not agree with Charlie’s methods, he was too big to argue with.

We had a trainee, last name Rameriz. In those days soldiers were required to “blouse” their trousers inside their boots. The method we taught was quite simple: grasp your lower trouser by the inside and outside seam; place the material smoothly inside your boot; pull back on the trouser to ensure it is secure; lace your boots, tie, and tuck the laces inside the top portion of your boots; adjust the blouse so that the lower trouser portion falls evenly between the second and third eyelet of the boot.

We were in day two of the very first week of training and every time I saw Ramirez his trousers were un-bloused. This resulted in him receiving a series of verbal lashings filled with expletives and threats, followed by the command to “drop and give me ten!” (Push-ups) Each time I would correct Ramirez, he attempting to engage me in conversation. I had no desire to hear any lame excuses and besides, I was inculcating the importance of attention to detail, proper wear of the Army uniform and discipline.

Sergeant Listen Up

Around 5:30 in the morning of day three or four, Charlie came into the mess hall (now called dining facility) and interrupted my cup of coffee. “Dare said he, I want you to go to the barracks, call Ramirez into the office and listen to him. Do not say anything to him, do not correct his appearance, and do not have him perform push-ups or anything else until you hear what he has to say”. “Yes, Sergeant”, I replied somewhat snippety as I departed accordingly.

“Ramirez” I shouted as I entered the barracks, “Report to the office!” Ramirez was there almost immediately at which time I asked with authority, “Do you have something to tell me?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant, I have been trying to tell you that these pants are too short. I have looked at the other guy’s pants and their pant legs are longer. They don’t have any trouble blousing their pants but no matter how hard I try my pant legs will not stay in my boot.”

Central Issue

Wham! The proverbial two by four hit me right between the eyes as a visual inspection validated Ramirez’s findings. “Go get all of your trousers and get back here ASAP”, I ordered. I took Ramirez to the supply room and had our Supply Sergeant complete turn in and reissue documents. I put Ramirez in my car and drove him to the central issue facility and 30 minutes later he was beaming from head to toe. Ramirez never said a word about my pre-reissue behavior. He constantly thanked me for resolving his dilemma.

Charlie Mack had taught me a lesson that I never forgot. From that day, whenever anyone asked to speak to me, I listened and do so today. Sometimes the message was not as important as Ramirez’ was but how would I know if I did not listen? This valuable skill is something all NCO’s can take with them as they lead.

If you would like to learn more about this style of leadership check out Dan Elder’s article on transformational leadership.

CSM Bob Dare, USA, Retired