Sergeant Bilko Knew How to Handle Congress
by James Glaser
August 21, 2007
Growing up I can remember watching "The Phil Silvers Show" (1955-59) with my dad, who had been a WW II and Korean War veteran. He would laugh out loud, with tears in his eyes, and was convinced that the writers for the show had been in the service, too.
Phil Slivers, Sergeant Ernie Bilko on the show, week after week out-smarted the Top Brass, and any Congressional investigators who were checking up on his Army unit, which in the late fifties was a peace time Army.
During my stint in the Marines during the Vietnam War, I came to learn that America's Military was far ahead of any Congressman or Senator who happened to stop by to "talk" to the troops.
Today, returning Iraqi vets tell me things are the same, and many of the same ploys Sgt. Bilko used fifty years ago, are still used today.
It seems that every person running for U.S. President this year tries to out do the others by claiming trips to Iraq, where they found out the "facts" about what is going on over there. They all claim that when they spoke to the troops, they got the straight scoop about how things were going, but every veteran knows what a crock of bull that is.
First off, no Congressman ever gets to talk to all the troops. The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force all know who to hide, and who to let the Congressman talk to. Sgt Bilko would hide his malingerers out in the motor-pool, and if a Congressman did make it out there, those hidden troops would be under a truck draining the oil, all dirty, looking like they were working hard. Sgt Bilko would be right there to make sure nobody said anything that would get him in trouble.
Certainly in a combat zone a Congressman is never going to surprise a military unit with a visit. Most likely the unit commander knows about the visit before the Congressman leaves the States, and that notice goes down the chain of command so that every thing is "ship shape" for the visit.
I can remember as a Private "policing" the area around our unit's territory for a proposed Congressional visit. The place was so clean that we were picking up any stray cigarette buts. Every Sergeant knew who would make a "good" impression, and who should be sent away. In a combat zone, that means if you are the "wrong" type of Marine, you would be out on patrol when that Congressman stopped by for his talk with the troops.
The troops know what they can say and what they can't say to somebody from Washington. The troops know if they plan to make the military a career, they best follow the line given to them by those in command. That means, "Yes sir, the Iraqis" (or in my war the Vietnamese) love us, and we are here to help them." "No Sir, I think we have everything we need, and the support of the American people really helps us out."
The lines change, but the message stays the same. We are fighting this war or we are in the Service to protect America, and every thing is just hunky dory as far as we are concerned. Also in the combat zone the message that we are winning and if we are given just a little more time, Congress and the American people will see that.
No General wants to lose a war, and that thought follows right down the chain of command. If a trooper makes the unit and the Army look bad, every one up the chain of command is going to take it out on the one below him. In plumbing there is a rule of thumb that shit flows down hill, and that rule of thumb is the same in the military.
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