Monday, July 26, 2010

The Royal Order of the Shim

Sometimes it is hard for a civilian to imagine the power an Army commander has compared to his civilian counterpart.  In my last post, I mentioned that as a tank commander, a sergeant in charge of three men and a very large vehicle, I could make my crew go out for gunnery practice after their friends went back to the barracks and on weekends.  If one of my soldiers screwed up--usually involving alcohol--I could put them on as much extra duty as I was willing to personally supervise.

And I was just a new sergeant.  The battalion commander, the man in charge of 54 tanks, 60-odd trucks and 600 men had even more latitude.  Our commander from 77 to 79 in Germany was Lt. Col. Richard Goldsmith.  He was a genial young (mid-30s) commander with a lovely wife, three kids, and an iron will when he was sure he was right.

Rich Goldsmith created a tradition that was carried on until the unit 1-70th Armor was disbanded in 1984:  The Royal Order of the Shim.  Soon after he took command, Goldsmith became convinced that the problem our tanks had with breaking tracks was caused by a mis-alignment of the front road wheels.  He believed that adding a steel shim to the inside of these wheels would cure the broken track problem.

Our motor officer, Mr. Scanlon, our exec officer, Major Roper, and many others thought this was a bad idea.  The manufacturer said the problem was the result of the rubber pads in the tracks for driving on roads.  Goldsmith was undeterred by experts.  Roper tried to dissuade him.  Goldsmith's response, "What part of 'Get it done' did you not understand?"

The shims were installed on two tanks with eight hours of work.  The tanks drove less than two miles before their tracks broke.

It took another eight hours to remove the shims.

These shims, by the way, were 12 inches round and 1/3 inch thick steel rings.  They were heavy.

Mr. Scanlon welded a three-foot length of tow chain to the shim, making a 30-pound necklace.  At the next officer's call, Goldsmith became the first recipient of the shim.  It was passed on at each officer's call for the next six years to the officer judged by the current wearer of the shim as having made the stupidest mistake since the last meeting.

By missing his plane and not showing up for the reunion dinner on Saturday night, Goldsmith became the final recipient of the shim, which was retired to his safekeeping on Sunday morning.

Some of us enlisted men had the motto:

"When we do good, no one remembers, when we do wrong they never forget" stenciled on helmets and other gear.

It looks like the officers had the same motto.

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