My battalion executive officer began calling me Blackguard-Six up in Alaska when I was the Support Platoon Leader. I was confused until he directed me to Ambrose Bierce’s definition for ‘Cynic’ in the Devil’s Dictionary:
CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.
That is definitely the view of the world in an infantry battalion’s support platoon. Furthermore, the support platoon is historically where one goes to celebrate individuality. Many in the platoon end up there because they do not fit elsewhere in the battalion. While every infantryman wants to get into the Scout Platoon, often the Support Platoon is where you find a home because you may not fit in with the rest of the infantry world.
The noun ‘blackguard’ has a number of unflattering definitions throughout the Internet. Often it is a person who behaves in a dishonorable or contemptible way. Synonyms include scoundrel – villain – rogue – miscreant – rascal – knave. The perception of dishonorable living within the support platoon is popular but highly inaccurate. When you are asked to do the impossible every day of your military life, outsiders assume you must eventually choose a less than ethical route. This is because they cannot imagine that level of constant personal innovation and hard work on the part of the soldiers and non-commissioned officers. The men in the support platoon must accomplish incredible feats every day, often due to the failure to plan on the part of others.
I was fortunate that my platoon sergeant was a former non-commissioned officer in both the 82nd Airborne and the French Foreign Legion. On the door to our command post, I painted the platoon’s motto that I borrowed from an old Foreign Legion poster:
We The Willing
Led By The Unknowing
Are Doing The Impossible
For The Ungrateful
We Have Done so Much
For So Long
With So Little
We are Now Qualified
To Do Anything
Likewise, in Chinese mythology, there are two ghost guards of impermanence that escort people to the afterlife. The Black Guard of Impermanence is in charge of the diabolical spirits and the spiritual meaning of his name is “范無救,” which means having sinned till there is no hope of salvation. If there is a support platoon in the afterlife, it welcomes and celebrates the individual misfits, rascals, and scoundrels the rest of the afterlife rejects.
Most of my learning and development happened as a rifle platoon leader. I credit the soldiers, and especially the non-commissioned officers, of 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment: “Semper Primus”, Always First.
However, as an officer, there is always that one job that tested you like no other. That one role of which you are especially proud. That pride comes from doing a job that was never easy and the reward was the job itself. For me that job was as a Support Platoon Leader. Through some incredibly memorable times, I was either blessed or lucky that I had such an amazing group of soldiers and NCOs to demonstrate both the versatility and the ingenuity to overcome staggering obstacles. The official call-sign was Raptor-Six, but among my friends it will always be Blackguard-Six.