Feature photo:2nd Infantry Division – 2nd Brigade – Distinctive Unit Insignia
The Company Commander who would not Administer Non-Judicial Punishment
Article by Tom Rozman
The company supply truck was loaded and ready for its run on MSR 1 (Main Supply Route 1). The truck was loading outside the company supply room located at Camp Hovey near the South Korean Town of Toko-Ri. It was making a run to the 2nd Infantry Division’s engineer battalion site north along the MSR by way of the division headquarters and 1st Brigade’s cantonment at Camp Casey.
Camp Casey sprawled along the west side of the MSR adjacent to the city of Dongducheon on the east side of the route. The M35 2 ½ ton truck would travel the two lane macadam topped road that ran to and through Camp Casey then turn north onto the MSR, a generally graded, crowned and paved and usually shouldered two lane highway running north to south—north to the Demilitarized Zone and by two and a half to three hours drive south to the country’s capital Seoul.
Because there were interests in the local Korean economy of the time that valued many items of U. S. Army supply, and there was a significant black market operating for these goods, a very aggressive and extensive network had developed to obtain certain categories of the most desired items—usually through systems of pilfering and theft. Some of the strategies used were involved and not infrequently highly ingenious and “athletic.” The “field” perpetrators of this siphoning of U.S. Army supply materiel were referred to locally as “slicky boys.”
Because the theft activity was so pervasive and aggressive, based on too much experience, the 2nd Infantry Division had a written policy and regulation that no open bed military truck whether carrying cargo in the truck bed or not would be dispatched without a “guard” armed with an axe handle in the bed of the truck. This was a standing division general order as well.
The purpose of the truck bed guard axe handle was to prevent any slicky boy from gaining purchase and entry to the truck bed by striking the slicky boys fingers as soon as they might appear on the top frame bar of the truck’s tail gate. A driver or vehicle commander who dispatched without the guard with axe handle in the bed of the truck was to be promptly dealt with administratively and punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice by being offered non-judicial punishment short of court martial under Article 15 of the code.
The commander of headquarters company at the time was a senior Army 1st lieutenant. The lieutenant, an infantry officer, had over ten years of enlisted service and had achieved the non-commissioned officer rank of sergeant first class before entering the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The lieutenant was a highly competent company grade officer. Though a soldier that respected his superiors and fully supported his chain of command, he was an officer who would speak truth in any situation. He would do the right thing, even the harder right. The character and quality of leadership of the company commander was about to be tested.
The supply sergeant had finished the loading. The supply run to be made was a mission of some importance and timeliness was part of the package. The unit was experiencing some shortages of personnel at the time. A soldier to serve as guard in the truck bed was not available.
The main road through Camp Hovey looking toward Toko Ri—the driver would drive in the opposite direction.
The sergeant on completing the loading ordered the driver to deploy. The driver stated that he would not deploy without the guard as required by policy. The sergeant stated that the mission must be completed on time and there wasn’t enough time to wait for a soldier to become available to serve as the guard.
The driver again refused. At this point, the sergeant stated that if the driver did not deploy as ordered he would be brought up on charges for insubordination. At this point the driver did as ordered and mounted the cab of the truck and proceeded to the MSR.
After driving through Camp Casey, the driver came to the main gate and the traffic light on the MSR. The light was red. He put his right signal light on. When the traffic light turned green the driver turned right on to the MSR heading north. In the manner of this model truck the shifting operation to adjust the gears while increasing the truck’s speed was not always a smooth process. The driver was still a relatively new driver and the truck, after moving onto the MSR and gaining momentum and speed in the lower gear, suddenly lost speed as the driver shifted to the higher gear, than as suddenly, lurched forward.
2nd Brigade Headquarters Company area is to the right. The truck driver would drive this road in the direction shown. The road turns right at the Quonset Huts in the distance exiting Camp after about a half mile extending an approximately two miles to the road through Camp Casey to MSR 1.
Unknown to the driver, a small taxi cab had immediately started trailing his vehicle as it pulled onto the MSR. Noting that the back of the truck was unoccupied and the truck had cargo, a passenger in the cab crawled out of the front seat and maneuvered himself onto the front fender of the cab. Gaging the speed of the truck the cab pulled up as close as possible to the rear of the truck. The man on the hood of the cab gaged the moment right and leapt for the tailgate of the truck. As he did, so the truck driver engaged the clutch to shift gear upward. The vehicle briefly lost speed then leapt forward.
The man who had just made the leap from the cab to grab the top of the truck’s tailgate suddenly saw the tailgate come instantly closer before he could adjust then in a split second leap away beyond reach. It happened so fast that he was unable to react to the change and dropped onto the road way into the path of the cab he’d just left. Though the cab had braked, it had just as quickly accelerated and the man’s dropping into the roadway happened to quickly for his colleague to react in time to avoid running over his mate. The cab did run over the man who had leapt from the fender. The man sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead on the spot by first responders.
Korean and U. S. Military Police immediately began an investigation. As the days passed, an outcry from the community relative to the death developed. A view that somehow the Army driver had deliberately operated his vehicle in such way as to create the situation that led to the death developed.
On the Army side a parallel investigation began as did one internally by the company commander. In the case of the latter, the commander was able to interview all associated unit personnel early in the process. He ascertained from more than one source that the driver had acted properly in every aspect of the unfortunate chain of events that led to the demise of the South Korean National.
Though the driver was operating his vehicle without the guard in the back of the truck, he, as attested to by several witnesses had refused to deploy without the guard and did so only after being ordered to do so facing a charge of insubordination.
As the local media focused on the story and the public outcry developed, the commend investigation was expedited and received some noteworthy command attention. The command investigation and the increasing public pressure made the unit commander’s situation increasingly difficult. His investigation clearly indicated that the private did not warrant sanction. Others however did. Yet the signs were becoming ever more apparent that action was expected against the private.
As the company commander feared, the command communicated guidance that non-judicial punishment be taken against the private driving the truck. The company commander could not in good conscience take such action and respectfully refused, recommending what he considered a more appropriate action.
The command rejected the company commander’s recommendation and reiterated the previous guidance. The company commander at this point knew he would likely be relieved if he again refused to act on the guidance. He recognized that continued refusal to visit non-judicial punishment on the private would likely not only result in his relief from command but seriously and negatively affect his further Army career. He was a family man and destroying his service career was something that would have real consequence for his family.
At this point the lieutenant consulted with several officers for whom he had much respect and in whom he put much trust and confidence. These officers were supportive of the lieutenant’s forming position within the understanding that the lieutenant by doing what he considered the right thing might well suffer personal career consequences. After considering his situation in depth—the lieutenant in good conscience determined he could not follow through on the guidance he had been given. He informed the command that he would not issue the administrative punishment action.
To the credit of the command and the exceptional level of respect the lieutenant as a principled seasoned veteran enjoyed among his superior officers and colleagues, the guidance was rescinded. The command pursued another course of action that did include administrative action regarding other soldiers involved relative to the failure to post the guard in rear of the truck.
In all of my years of service, this officer is one for whom I retain the greatest respect. He had deployed to Viet Nam several times and he was a thorough going professional. He knew his business and executed it with calm and poise. Even in the most difficult of situations he kept his head. And he had peerless integrity. As he demonstrated in this case—as a leader he was prepared to accept the worst personally to do what he had determined was the right thing to do.
Seven years later as a newly promoted majors we would be together again. We were part of the cadre officer’s and non-commissioned officers being assembled by the 1st Reserve Officer Corps Region Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina to stand up the some 6,000 personnel of the 1st Region Advanced Camp of some eight weeks. We were in the first wave of cadre taking the required diagnostic physical training test. We were on the field being used for the test. The temperature was already in the high 90s and the humidity matched the temperature.
It came time for the 2 mile run. I’d finished the run in the first heat. My comrade delayed—being an older man he had concerns about the heat. But he steeled himself to the challenge and crossed the start line in the second run heat. The temperature and humidity were by that time of the late morning already debilitating.
I watched with concern as he made the laps—he was dripping with sweat. The high heat and humidity were taking their toll. But he would not quit—he completed the run and passed the event. But he more than passed the event, he demonstrated his character as he had those many years before. He was a soldier and he was a leader—the best.
Tom Rozman graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, the University of Massachusetts Graduate Business School, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He served in the U.S. Army for 27 years with a last assignment as the director of the Collective Training Directorate, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
Tom then continued his career as a member of the Virginia Departments of Conservation and Recreation and Labor and Industry, retiring as a director in the latter. He served for three years on the Department of the Army Armored Family of Vehicles Task Force.
He exercised instructor privileges at the University of Massachusetts, Western New England College, and Westfield State College for over three years as an assistant professor.
He has published 45 articles in U.S. and foreign military journals and more than 30 manuals, papers, policy documents, and reviews. He has been a valued contributor to e-Veritas since the summer of 2016.