Honoring the Tail for Every One Soldier in Battle, There Are Roughly Six Military Personnel Working on Training, Weapons and Food for a Lot Less Glory Behind the Scenes
Griffin, Jake, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Jake Griffin Daily Herald Staff Writer
John Dawley never could have imagined how a summer spent bagging groceries in his youth would affect his military career.
"When I was doing the intake interview for officer candidate school, I told them I wanted to be a tanker, but I'm 6 feet 5 inches tall and they said I was a little big," the retired Army colonel from Naperville said. "Then he asked me what I did for a summer job and when I told him I bagged groceries, he said, 'That's good, that's logistics, that's what we need.' I went off to Vietnam as a parachute rigger."
He became one of the six.
Six is the generally accepted number of non-combat military personnel it takes to support a single front-line warrior. Essentially, that means for every American in combat, there are six people behind or beside him or her to ensure he or she has the right training, weapons, food, medical attention and other equipment.
The six often work in the shadows, but their efforts are crucial to any military effort. And on this Veterans Day, as with all others, they will stand tall alongside the men and women they supported on the front lines.
"One of the concepts is called tooth to tail," said retired Navy Reserve Rear Adm. Frank Allston. "Imagine a dragon that has a short head and a few teeth, but it has that long tail. If you don't have the tail, you don't have the teeth you need to fight."
Allston, who now lives in Naperville, literally wrote the book on military support services. He authored the history of the Navy Supply Corps, "Ready For Sea," but only after he retired from a command position in the Navy Reserve in 1985.
"Whenever the Navy had a problem that didn't fit into one of their pigeonholes, they gave it to the supply corps because we could get it done," Allston said. "It's the business arm of the Navy. It's responsible for logistics, finance and contracting, even postal service."
Allston joined the Navy during the Korean War. He had a writing background, so the Navy quickly found a niche for him.
"The supply corps ordered me to duty in Washington, D.C., to be in charge of their technical publications," he said.
It was not a lack of wanting the adventure that often accompanies life in the military, but rather an eye test that pushed Allston toward support services.
"During officer training they discovered I was color ignorant, meaning I couldn't distinguish between shades of blue and gray, and therefore was believed to not be able to distinguish a gray ship in a blue sea," Allston said. "Contrary to that conclusion, I've been to sea many times and stood on the bridge of many a ship and spotted many a gray ship upon the blue ocean."
While he trained extensively in combat scenarios, he said he never went in harm's way.
"But I'm also proud to say that no North Korean ever landed in Washington, D.C., while I was on duty," Allston said with a smile.
The random question during an occupational assessment or the administration of some outmoded test led many veterans to a military job they never imagined.
But in most cases, jobs in the military for enlisted men and women often are decided by tests and training.
"I went into the Navy in 1965 and showed up on the same footing as everybody else," said Mike Warner, a retired Navy hospital corpsman now living in Naperville. "As you go along, you start getting slotted into certain specialties."
Warner was ecstatic to learn he was to be assigned to hospital corps school in the midst of the Vietnam War. He had visions of learning a trade at the naval hospital in Bethesda, Md.
Instead, he found himself in field medical training for five weeks and then shipped to Vietnam, where he tended to Marine units on the front lines.
"The Navy, in their most uncanny way, had found a perfect job for us," Warner said. …