So, You’re a Sergeant, Huh? (Now What?)

Written By Sir Kirk fitz David, with Foreward by Sir Halvgrim. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 7 Jan-Mar 2003 Issue

Over the years I have been honored with various command roles within the Army of Calontir and have watched numerous others fill these rolls too. In general most folks seem excited about the prospect but then as the time for War roles closer these feelings of excitement often turn into ‘cold feet.’

Even though they may have been filling the roles in an “unofficial” capacity for years, when they get an “official” role some folks often start to wonder exactly what it is they are suppose to do and/or doubt their abilities to do the task at hand. These feeling are natural in my opinion. As humans most of us are competitive and are driven to succeed (ie want to do a good job and not mess up in front of our peers). 

Alot of folks have these questions build up inside them (and some even start to doubt their own ability) and for some reason feel if they ask, they will look bad and or stupid for asking questions. This is of course not the case. As they say “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” If this is the case with you, don’t give it a second thought, just ask any of the more experienced folks among the Calon Host and they will more then likely be glad to talk with you about it.

Last year several of the up and coming folks in the Army came forward and asked these questions on the War Council list. The following is a summary that Sir Kirk put together of that thread.

General Demeanor

  • Be calm.

  • Be confident–if not in the plan or the situation, then at least in your ability to scrounge fun wherever it is to be had.

  • Do not lose your temper, either at the enemy or your friends. (My personal rule is that swearing is reserved for moments of extreme provocation. Otherwise, you run out of emphasis when you need it most.)

  • Be open to suggestion from below as well as above.

  • Do not tolerate safety hazards–even if they are people.

Pre-War

  • Find out who is in the unit.

  • Attend war maneuvers. Make sure you know the skill level of people around you.

  • Try to ensure everybody some basic training–how to use a scutum, how to fight behind a line with a pole/greatsword, how to charge with a shield, how to stop a charge, how to walk in a line, what kind of pace to expect. You don’t have to teach them, there should be classes/groups they can go to learn.

  • Talk about traffic control, about the ‘Melee Truths (like “leg em and leave em”, 45’ing, high-low, communicating, gang killing big guns)’, etc. The more that people know in advance of war maneuvers and the war, the smoother things will be.

Pre-Battle

  • Make sure everyone has a falcon tabard and has their name on their helmet.

  • Find out the plan – as specifically as you can. Ask your commanders for information, and tell them what you are doing.

  • Make sure the unit know the job the army and your particular sub-command is expected to do in the day’s battles. Tell them everything you know before the battles, and remind them before each individual battle.

  • Get people placed right in your section of line. This includes making sure shields are properly supported by the right artillery, that you have the proper weapons mix for the intended job, and that each person knows what he is supposed to do and who he is supposed to support. Place experienced people with the newbies.

  • Coordinate with the other subcommands. Plan how you handle junctures between you – who covers what, and what happens if you get separated.

  • Let the unit commander know if you’re seriously short of something–no shields or spears, for example. He may not be able to help you, but he still needs to know so that he doesn’t ask the unit to do the wrong thing (full charge with no shields, skirmish with no spears).

  • Make sure your sub-command is aware of any special tactics that might be employed: Doors, pulse charges, spears in and out, etc. Make sure they understand what that means and how they need to react to make it happen /help it succeed.

  • Keep them together when moving. Keep folks from wandering off during waits or holds.

  • Make sure everyone is in place _before_ we have to be. Waiting till the very last moment to get into formation is dangerous. 🙂

  • Coordinate with your commanders. Stay up to date on the plan, tell them how you expect to fulfill the job they hand you.

Pre-Contact

  • Communicate orders to get your people moving. Echo commands. Listen for problems. Call people back if they’ve gone too far. Let your people know what’s going on and what to expect next. Talk, talk, talk; listen, listen, listen.

  • Keep your unit in its optimal formation for whatever we are doing. If they are becoming an amorphous mob while moving – adjust as you go. Make sure everyone has room to fight, and that any reserve is well positioned – traffic control.

In The Fight

  • Traffic control–bring up replacements, pull people out of line, keep enough room for fighting.

  • As a Sergeant you have a duel responsibility – On the one hand you must stay alive to command – but on the other you can’t stand behind and watch your guys die. These are hard to balance. Sometimes you need to be in the thick of things leading your troops. Some commands just don’t get followed well unless someone else is doing it first/too – and that someone just might have to be you.

  • Know when to sell yourself – and make the price high.

  • Change the formation if necessary. If we can’t charge anymore because there are too many dead, put the poles and spears out front to skirmish. Don’t leave shieldmen facing spears by themselves.

  • Keep your eyes open – watch the foe; watch your commanders; watch the unit and subcommnds next to you; watch your troops. Grow more eyes – you’ll need them.

After the Fight

  • Get people re-aligned during reforms. Play sheep dog. If fighters fall behind nudge them into place – if fighters get too far ahead call them back to the safety of the flock. When we break up make sure people reform – call your troops to you and make sure your moving towards the actual reform locations. Once you’re there – make sure folks are pointed the right way and ready to move. If necessary do this “on the move”.

  • Again, coordinate with your commander and your fellow sub-commanders. Find out what’s next and tell the troops.

  • The hardest part of being a Sergeant is knowing when to do something that no one discussed. Battle plans are only that – plans. Once the fighting comes there may be nothing resembling the plan left. Hopefully then your commanders will issue new orders on the fly – but if not you may have to just react. Or there may not be time for communication. There may be a hole you need to exploit – now, or a gap you need to fill – now. There is no good guidance for when to do this – its so situational. Experience will help.

Post-Battle

  • Make sure everybody’s got their stuff. If somebody left injured, try to make sure none of their gear gets left behind.

  • Make sure everybody gets water, and rests if there is time. Discourage the young bloods from wasting too much energy doing pickups between battles (a few is fun, more than that just tires them out.)

Post-War

  • Think about how things went, and how they could have been done better.

  • Ensure the people in your local group have the basics in melee training.

  • Tell good war stories.

Now, this all seems like a lot, But most of it is common sense answers to the questions of how you would like to be treated, what you would like to know, and what’s the best thing to do next.

As if this weren't enough, Rhianwen added.....

  • Be ready to assume command of your unit if the Captain falls. If you're a Captain, be ready to assume command of the army if the General falls. This includes being aware of the battle enough to know what the army as a whole (not just your unit) is doing, and knowing who of the command staff is left alive.
  • A leaderless army is usually a doomed army. (Of course, it can be argued that if the losses were bad enough that several of the command staff have fallen, it's probably doomed anyway.) But even an unwise command is almost always better than no command, and people like to die feeling like they're doing *something*. It's more satisfying, somehow. . . . 🙂

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