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.