Instant Sergeant

U.S. Army Sergeant stripes atop Republic of Vietnam flagDear Mom and Dad

Yesterday I sent you a copy of my five orders. I had just received them, now your little baby is a sergeant in the U.S. Army. I was sure glad to make it. Since I’ve been here I’ve received an Air Medal for making so many combat assaults, a Combat Infantry Badge, and a case of the nerves, but that’s all in the game.

Excerpt from a letter home dated: 25 April 1968

Former ‘Slick-sleeve’, He’s Now ‘Instant Sergeant’

By SP4 Herb Denton, article was featured in Cavalair (newspaper about the 1st Air Cavalry Division), Vol. 2, No. 57 and printed on December 27, 1967

When Charlie Cox Jr., arrived at the 1st Air Cavalry Division in February of 1967 he was a “slick-sleeve” — a private. Less than eight months later he was a sergeant leading an eleven-man squad around the Central Highlands some 250 miles north of Saigon.

The “instant sergeant” is probably one of the best-functioning miracles to come out of the Vietnam conflict. Most of them are in their very early twenties and have proven more than adequate for the job. Cox’s superiors say that he is an excellent squad leader.

A crusty old 1st Cavalry sergeant major has said, “As far as eye ball-to-eye ball control is concerned, the squad leader probably commands more men than any other man in the division. He has eleven men that he must be able to account for during a firefight and at all other times.”

Tough Job

Cox agrees, and adds that the job includes a lot more. For one thing, when a new trooper first arrives from the States, the squad leader must quickly break  him in to Vietnam.

“After you have been in Vietnam for awhile you develop a ‘second sense’ and just know when things are not right and the bullets are likely to start flying.

“You walk into a village and no one is outside working, the kids are not playing, everything is quiet. You know something is wrong, that more than likely Viet Cong are there. I try to tell the new men these things,” Cox says.

‘New Soldier’

“The new soldier becomes matured and confident after his first battle, says Cox. “Usually he doesn’t even know what’s happening the first time, because it happens so fast. After that, though, he knows what to expect and can shift pretty well for himself. Then he isn’t so scared.”

Since he has been a squad leader, Cox has led his squad around the beaches of South China Sea, up and down the Nui Mieu Mountains, the Cay Giep Mountains and into “VC Valley.”

13-Day Course

He attended a 13-day combat leadership course before he got his three stripes and took over as squad leader. The course is conducted by seasoned 1sr Air Cav non-commissioned officers and includes exercises in map reading, spotting booby traps and mines and leading squad-sized groups on patrols.

A year ago, he says, he could never have imagined doing all of this. At that time he was “back in the world,” working as an insulation machine operator.

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