The Best Squad
by Mike McFerrin
Well, Maier's claim to being in the best squad was actually true. But it was not because of anybody being nice guys or any single one of us being a Medal of Honor winning Marine or a Chesty Puller bush Marine. I can tell you, and Maier since I know he and the others in the squad were sort of in the dark about how it came about or even that they were the best or who thought they were.
It is sort of an interesting story how I wound up with the best squad in the company.
It started with that first ambush that I ever took out as a squad leader (referred to in the story OVERRUN). They had given me all those new guys to start with and it scared the shit out of me on that ambush. I immediately launched into bitch sessions with Blackman, Lt. Moore, and whoever the Captain was at the time when I got back in that next morning. It was half a defensive move because they were all over me for not having a body to show for all the ammo expended and half an offensive move because it was so unsafe for everybody to have that many boots in one place.
Well, even though I didn't think they had paid any attention to me, they had. Shortly after that, they redid the squads in all platoons with a lot of new guys to spread them out and made it a policy after that. Anyway, Lt. Moore and Sgt. Blackman called me up and said, "Well, McFerrin, you wanted a new squad with less boots and we are giving it to you."
I could tell by the tone and the shit eating grins on their faces that all was not as it seemed. They started naming off the guys to be in my squad and I can remember thinking as each name was said that maybe there was no catch since every name was that of a battle tested Marine who was or until that point at least appeared to be on the high side of average. I was flabbergasted.
After naming some 8 or 9 of these Marines, there was a very pregnant pause. The more pregnant it got, the more I knew something was coming that I did not want to hear. They prefaced the next name with, "Like it so far, McFerrin?" Then they followed this very quickly without allowing me to answer with, "You're not going to have any boots at all in your squad!" And they paused again. Once again, I began to feel elation then the pregnant pause stilted it.
"Instead, we are giving you Humphrey (not his real name)!" This was Humphrey from the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. He had been there a month or two longer than I and was the pariah of the Company. Some called him dumb. Some called him stupid. All called him slow and lazy. After having him in my squad, I call him smart like a fox.
NOBODY wanted to be his squad leader or fireteam leader or even in the same hole with him. If it was his turn to dig the foxhole, he would move literally at the slowest possible pace that he could all the way from getting his E-tool out to actually swinging it. I don't care who yelled or screamed at him or punched him or kicked him (I think I remember you attempting this a couple of times, Doug). He refused to move any faster. If you wanted HIM to participate in digging anything at any time, he made sure that everyone knew not to expect it in less than 30 days. This was not some of the days we were in the bush. This was EVERY day. Soon there was nobody who even cared wasting any energy to try to get him to help. He couldn't be verbally or physically beat into submission. And everybody simply stopped counting him as a contributing member of the squad.
In firefights, he completely disappeared into thin air. In all the time I was in the bush, I never saw Humphrey when there was a firefight though it was rumored one time that the bottom of a combat boot that could be seen down the trail behind us some 100 meters belonged to Humphrey. He would magically reappear after all had returned to normal. Nobody ever counted on him at all for ANYTHING. He was basically a non-person. And he made all 13 months in the bush without a scratch from the enemy though he had been pummeled many times by his holemates and squad leaders in the first few months that Marines attempted to get him to do something.
Once I decided not to fight that battle with him and just let him be invisible, things were fine. But the rest of the squad really began to click together. Not by my hand or my orders. In fact, it was the opposite. It was simply a coincidental blending of learned responses by each individual. Most of the squad did not realize how good they were or looked to others. I knew it the first time we came under fire but wasn't sure until the second or third time that it was anything but luck since I knew it wasn't me.
No matter where we were at (in a column anywhere or set in or on ambush or in the attack mode) the response from each man (except Humphrey who couldn't be seen anyway) in an actual contact situation was perfect and Blackman, Lt. Moore, and the Captain all saw it unbeknownst to the guys in the squad. I got many compliments in the meetings at platoon and company level regarding this but did not say much back or even to the men at first.
I remember saying something one time (to Lito as a matter of fact) and in earshot of one other who I can't remember. We had point squad and were moving along a very wooded ridgeline in the mountains. All hell broke loose but it was on the ridgeline to our right but not far away (maybe 1 - 200 meters). It took a few seconds to be sure that it wasn't directed right at us nor was it part of something that would be.
As we came to that realization and I felt a little safe, I looked behind me and got Lito's attention. He had that very worried look still on his face that we were about to take fire. When he looked at me, I said, "Look around you at the squad." He did but didn't understand what I was getting at. Neither did the other guy who heard me. I said, "Look at everybody in the squad's position right now. They were in that position in less than a second after the first AK opened up." They heard me but still did not understand what I was getting at. I just followed up with, "Everybody fell into the maximum perfect-for-the-terrain unit defense." They weren't impressed because they were still scared so I sort of dropped ever trying to tell them how good we were. No point. Might ruin it if they started looking at it too closely. Getting each of us home alive was far more important than them trying to get them to pat themselves on the back in the middle of that shit.
Every single man, without instruction or order from me, always kept his eyes moving and spotting defensive positions for himself at every step he took AND he knew by his place in the squad at any given moment what his area of defense was. It was reflexive at this point for everybody. And when an entire squad does this to this degree, it becomes far stronger than the sum of its parts.
Blackman, Lt. Moore, and the Captain all witnessed this incredible team response. More than once this squad received what appeared to be shit duty to them. But it was because they were so damn good. I think they finally began to figure it out when we were sent off by ourselves some click or two away from the company to defend a thin ridgeline by ourselves. I got to pick the M-60 team to go with us and I picked Lcpl Nava (it seems all the gunners were good but I liked Nava and he seemed just a hair better than the others). He told some of the squad members that the Lt. and Captain had rated us as the best in the Company and that's why we were out there. Up until that time I don't think they actually knew how good they were as a squad.
Anyway, that's the story. Doug, you REALLY were with the best squad but it was not by extraordinary effort on anybody's part. It was the totality of the common actions of every man that made it that way. There were good bush Marines everywhere. We were lucky enough to all be in one squad and the one in that squad that wasn't a good bush Marine was very good at not being "in the way" or a problem for anybody when the shit hit the fan.