The Sergeant

A colonel in the United States Army told me the other day something like

this: The most valuable officer, the one who has the greatest

responsibility, is the sergeant. The true sergeant is born, not made--he

is the priceless gift of the gods. He is so highly prized that when

found he is never promoted, nor is he allowed to resign. If he is

dissatisfied with his pay, Captain, Lieutenant and Colonel chip in--they

fford to lose him. He is a rara avis--the apple of their eye.

His first requirement is that he must be able to lick any man in the

company. A drunken private may damn a captain upside down and wrong-side

out, and the captain is not allowed to reply. He can neither strike with

his fist, nor engage in a cussing match, but your able sergeant is an

adept in both of these polite accomplishments. Even if a private strike

an officer, the officer is not allowed to strike back. Perhaps the man

who abuses him could easily beat him in a rough-and-tumble fight, and

then it is quite a sufficient reason to keep one's clothes clean. We

say the revolver equalizes all men, but it doesn't. It is disagreeable

to shoot a man. It scatters brains and blood all over the sidewalk,

attracts a crowd, requires a deal of explanation afterward, and may cost

an officer his stripes. No good officer ever hears anything said about

him by a private.

The sergeant hears everything, and his reply to backslack is a

straight-arm jab in the jaw. The sergeant is responsible only to his

captain, and no good captain will ever know anything about what a

sergeant does, and he will not believe it when told. If a fight occurs

between two privates, the sergeant jumps in, bumps their heads together

and licks them both. If a man feigns sick, or is drunk, the sergeant

chucks him under the pump. The regulations do not call for any such

treatment, but the sergeant does not know anything about the

regulations--he gets the thing done. The sergeant may be twenty years

old or sixty--age does not count. The sergeant is a father to his

men--he regards them all as children--bad boys--and his business is to

make them brave, honorable and dutiful soldiers.

The sergeant is always the first man up in the morning, the last man to

go to bed at night. He knows where his men are every minute of the day

or night. If they are actually sick, he is both nurse and physician, and

dictates gently to the surgeon what should be done. He is also the

undertaker, and the digging of ditches and laying out of latrines all

fall to his lot. Unlike the higher officers, he does not have to dress

"smart," and he is very apt to discard his uniform and go clothed like a

civilian teamster, excepting on special occasions when necessity demands

braid and buttons.

He knows everything, and nothing. No wild escapade of a higher officer

passes by him, yet he never tells.

Now one might suppose that he is an absolute tyrant, but a good sergeant

is a beneficent tyrant at the right time. To break the spirit of his men

will not do--it would unfit them for service--so what he seeks to do is

merely to bend their minds so as to match his own. Gradually they grow

to both love and fear him. In time of actual fight he transforms cowards

into heroes. He holds his men up to the scratch. In battle there are

often certain officers marked for death--they are to be shot by their

own men. It is a time of getting even--and in the hurly-burly and

excitement there are no witnesses. The sergeant is ever on the lookout

for such mutinies, and his revolver often sends to the dust the head

revolutionary before the dastardly plot can be carried out. In war-time

all executions are not judicial.

In actual truth, the sergeant is the only real, sure-enough fighting man

in the army. He is as rare as birds' teeth, and every officer anxiously

scans his recruits in search of good sergeant timber.

In business life, the man with the sergeant instincts is even more

valuable than in the army. The business sergeant is the man not in

evidence--who asks for no compliments or bouquets--who knows where

things are--who has no outside ambitions, and no desire save to do his

work. If he is too smart he will lay plots and plans for his own

promotion, and thereby he is pretty sure to defeat himself.

As an individual the average soldier is a sneak, a shirk, a failure, a

coward. He is only valuable as he is licked into shape. It is pretty

much the same in business. It seems hard to say it, but the average

employe in factory, shop or store, puts the face of the clock to shame

looking at it; he is thinking of his pay envelope and his intent is to

keep the boss located and to do as little work as possible. In many

cases the tyranny of the employer is to blame for the condition, but

more often it is the native outcrop of suspicion that prompts the seller

to give no more than he can help.

And here the sergeant comes in, and with watchful eye and tireless

nerves, holds the recreants to their tasks. If he is too severe, he will

fix in the shirks more firmly the shirk microbe; but if he is of better

fibre, he may supply a little more will to those who lack it, and

gradually create an atmosphere of right intent, so that the only

disgrace will consist in their wearing the face off the regulator and

keeping one ear cocked to catch the coming footsteps of the boss.

There is not the slightest danger that there will ever be an overplus of

sergeants. Let the sergeant keep out of strikes, plots, feuds, hold his

temper and show what's what, and he can name his own salary and keep his

place for ninety-nine years without having a contract.