By David Warnock
Best Defense same veterans' bureau
I was surprised to see General Sinclair's name splashed all over the headlines recently. Surprised, and then elated. I was in the 2nd HBCT 1 ID when Sinclair was passed the guidon and we were re-flagged as the 172nd SIB. We were all tremendously excited for Sinclair to be our new brigade commander. I came up in 1-18 IN, the unit he had commanded in OIF II. When I showed up to the unit as a cherry E-1 in late 2005, the man was a legend. According to my team and squad leaders who had served under him, he could walk through walls and levitate buildings. They would have followed him anywhere.
By the time he took over I was a sergeant and team leader myself, Col. Burton had not been particularly well liked by us and we were thrilled to have Sinclair in charge. However, the reality of his command time proved to be much different than expectations. The brigade was cut up and reconstructed as a combined arms battalion. My company, A 1-2 was attached to task force 3-66 AR and sent to Grafenwoehr while the rest of the brigade stayed in Schweinfurt. This was a divisive decision as Graf was still under construction when we moved in. There were not enough barracks and as new replacements showed up one man rooms quickly turned into two man rooms, or worse, NCO's were forced to room with new privates. Our company area was not yet finished so we worked a mile away in the training area in old billets. This was a logistical nightmare considering not many soldiers had cars. Then came the great eye-pro proclamation. Sometime in summer 2008 Col. Sinclair took the "train how you fight" mantra to extend the practical application to wearing soft caps and eye pro in garrison, everywhere.
Beyond all of those things, something was fishy in the leadership. The field grades had changed. In 1st ID we were gifted with, for the most part, exceptional officers. That was no longer the case. Our new round of commanders now made chicken shit their first priority. We put up with it, of course, by telling each other that this will all change when we get back to Iraq.
It didn't. Task Force 3-66 AR was detached and sent to Diyala province to assist 25th ID in clearing out the remaining al Qaeda in Iraq forces. The bull shit got so neck deep on the FOB that being out in sector was almost relaxing. On FOB Hammer, our battalion commander, Lt. Col. Rago, made a policy that we had to march everywhere we went and an NCO had to escort his soldiers everywhere. When we were staging for patrols we had to be in full kit or garrison uniform, no in-between. I was once yelled at by our S-3 for standing by my truck wearing a soft cap with IOTV. The officers became more concerned with our vehicles' wire mitigation system than with our soldiers' morale.
The effects were profound on my generation of NCO's. We had all been through Baghdad together, we knew our shit. We were young, fit, and competent. However, we had a low tolerance for chicken shit. And that was something the Blackhawk Brigade excelled in producing. Most of us loved being Sergeants -- but none of us re-enlisted. Almost my entire generation ETS'd after that deployment. Those who stayed in tended to be the shitbags who were promoted because they'd re-enlisted. We were broken, but not by the enemy or back-to-back deployments, or even by the stop-loss.
We were broken by the pathetic leadership of Sinclair and his underlings. I often wondered what the hell had happened to the earlier Sinclair versus the one we got. Whenever he would turn up, it was to deliver some monotonous speech about our place in history. I once had the dubious privilege of taking my men to a formation on our rare day off from the COP, QRF, and maintenance to hear Sinclair explain his "plankholder" club. A "plankholder" was someone who came over with the pilgrims and performed manual labor in return for their passage. I thought, in that 115 degree heat, "You mean an indentured servant, you fuckhead." He then bestowed this honor on all the CO's and 1sg's, and then biggest cheese dicks and lap dogs, not a proper leader among them. Also, one of the only two females in the task force was made a "plankholder" as well. Which, given recent developments, makes me wonder.
I hope you are able to find this letter useful -- Sinclair, Rago, these men were a massive reason for me getting out. The leadership took a serious turn during my enlistment, I wish I knew why.
David Warnock served two tours in Iraq as an infantryman in the US Army and was honorably discharged at the rank of sergeant in 2010. He is currently a senior studying sociology at The Ohio State University.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.