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Friday, February 27, 2015

Frank Lefevers, Jr.

Another of the quirky and zany characters I came
across during my career in leadership positions

We all know them: the quirky and zany characters that pass through our lives on their way to future endeavors that we hope do not involve us. The time they spend with us can be interesting, offbeat, cockamamie, goofy, insane, a little touched and sometimes just plain silly; but more often than not: downright funny.

I thought I would take a break from the quirky and zany characters to tell you about another guy that I had the chance to serve with in the early 1970s. He was nothing like the other guys I have been detailing lately.

Have you ever wished you had just one more hand to help you get the job done?

I hadn’t ever thought about the need, but early in my career I was fortunate enough for one to come along at just the right time. Things probably couldn’t have worked out better if I had planned it myself.

I was a young and struggling 1st Lieutenant in the Army in Alaska when this wonderful event took place. The conditions, rather than my abilities were the reasons for my struggle. I was in charge of the Supply Platoon in the 172nd Support Battalion of the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Separate & Light) assigned to Fort Richardson, Alaska. I mentioned it was a wonderful event largely because I still wonder why I was so lucky to have been the beneficiary. Trying to remember back to that time, a long time ago now is tough so I’m gonna just wing it. I believe I got lucky in the late summer of 1971; it could have been later than that, but it doesn’t really matter for what I’m trying to get across.

At the time of my arrival, I had been assigned the position of Asst-Section Leader of the Class II & VII Section within the Supply Platoon. There was a Transportation 2LT holding the position at the time—there being no open slots for a TC officer but several currently for a Quartermaster Officer. Why I was not assigned one of the other slots instead of being stacked up behind a TC officer never occurred to me upon arrival. However, this situation didn’t last long. Having arrived in country on 03 Nov 1970, just a couple of weeks later on the 17th of November the Supply Platoon was detached from our parent company (B Company—Maintenance and Supply) and attached to the 54th Transportation Company to form a provisional Supply and Transportation company in support of the brigade’s operations. This, by-the-way was the first of several provisional (or test) units I would be assigned to during my military career.

The Supply Platoon was authorized a total of 70 personnel, four of which were officers (3 commissioned and 1 warrant), with the remaining 66 enlisted. As I mentioned there were two of us in the II & VII section and the sole remaining officer was our platoon leader, a 1LT—he will remain nameless for reasons you will understand later. On the 21st of November I became the Section Leader as the TC lieutenant was transferred to our new unit to take over a platoon leader position made possible by the movement of the senior TC lieutenant into the Executive Officer position (a slot that didn’t really exist). This left only the platoon leader and myself as the only officers of the 42 personnel in the authorized 70 personnel supply platoon. I was not to see the warrant officer (ammunition supply) until some three years later shortly before leaving the command.

Of course you understand that the main reason we were so short of personnel was that the field exercise taking place in Viet Nam was still being conducted in South East Asia.

By the second week in January, the platoon leader had disappeared. I say disappeared as I don’t know what happened to him and never heard of his subsequent disposition. The cause of his departure became apparent almost immediately. The command was in the middle of a visit by the Army Audit Agency—a very scary occurrence if you have never experienced one. Come to find out, the platoon leader had been privy to the misappropriation of petroleum stocks and was in cahoots with several enlisted personnel also in the platoon—they disappeared about the same time also. The audit agency had uncovered this not very long after arriving. This was a bad situation to say the least and I began to wonder what I had got myself into. Some of these guys were going to jail and not just any jail; it was gonna be a federal jail.

In any event, the battalion assigned a 1LT from the Brigade Supply office as the platoon leader—I guess their thinking was that it would be better to have someone with some Alaskan time under their belt than a greenhorn just up from the Lower 48 without one winter of experience. I didn’t have anything to say about the matter; just a new 2LT and no real close associations whatsoever at the time.

Our new platoon leader, having been assigned to a staff element the entire time he had been in the command, had zero troop experience and this began to grind on all concerned. The fact that he didn’t want to be there either was very apparent—my take was that he was actually scared of the accountability issue. I say this because when battalion had to place a new Accountable Officer on orders, they chose me instead of him. I asked for edification at the time but never received a good answer—at least to me anyway.

Well, here I was: in charge of a section with half the staff to operate it, accountable for all the supplies flowing into and out of the brigade (excluding repair parts) and not in command of three quarters of the personnel or the supplies//transactions. Plus that, I was a very junior Quartermaster officer in a unit ripe with Transportation officers (a commander, an XO and four platoon leaders)—outnumbered very much so, and a platoon leader that was getting on everybody’s nerves.

By summer our semi-assigned platoon leader had managed to get himself transferred to the major command and was again back in a staff position. I learned of this during a walk-around in the back yard of the unit motor pool with my new Company Commander—the original commander having been rotated out of country at the end of his three years.

This situation left me as the only Quartermaster officer in the company. There was one other in the battalion but he was not to remain much longer than a year as he when he was released from the service also at the end of his three years in the overseas command.

There were two other Quartermaster officers in Brigade Supply but both were recent branch transfers from the Infantry and had no idea whatsoever about accountability, supply and support operations or how to accomplish the related functions. The entire command was not in great shape at all.

By this time my platoon was down to 33 total personnel (1 officer—me and 32 enlisted). At this point, I might mention that we had 37 vehicles to maintain plus a hoard of various support equipment. Our supply//support mission included (1) ration (food), (2) general equipment, (3) bulk petroleum and packaged oils and lubricants, (4) construction and barrier material, (5) ammunition, and (6) major end items (trucks, trailers, tanks, etc). There was no lack of support requirements to fulfill—they just never let up. We were always on the go.

I was once compared once to a lighthouse: in a continuous rotation from one problem, situation or support mission to the next. It was at this point when the best possible thing that could have happen did happen. With the Southeast Asia exercise slowing down and the stateside schools still pumping out graduates, the transportation platoons received more replacements than they had authority to hold on to. My platoon sergeant showed up one morning with four replacements for the five personnel we had just seen rotate outta the command—all of the new guys were school trained truck drivers—one of which was actually a truck driver in civilian life. All were draftees—some of the very last.

The platoon sergeant recommended that three of the four go to the petroleum section and we make the fourth the platoon headquarters driver—an authorized position that had not been filled during the entirety of my tenure. I went along with his recommendation. That’s how PFC Frank Lefevers, Jr. became my driver. Yah, it took a long time to get here but you have to understand the situation to understand the impact of Frank.

Previously I mentioned that we had 37 vehicles and 33 personnel—that’s where our numbers still remained when Frank and the others joined the platoon. I might add here that when the unit was attached to the 54th Transportation Company, only five of the 37 vehicles were able to move from our B Company motor pool to the 54th motor pool under their own power. One of the no-goes was my jeep—the very same one that Frank was now assigned to drive. We had constant problems keeping it going—I later learned that my jeep was the oldest transportation asset in the entire brigade.

Within the first week that he was there, Frank had remedied the no-go jeep. He assisted the other drivers with getting the remaining vehicles up-to-snuff. Before you knew it they were all going, and Frank was just a PFC—not enough time in to be promoted to SP4 yet.

Frank took on a conglomeration of little tasks relieving me of some of the run-here and do-that stuff that had previously taken a lot of my time. I did these tasks because I didn’t have the personnel or assets to turn loose to get them done otherwise. I would also mention here, that there was still a large “trust divide” existing between myself and the remainder of the petroleum section members that were hold overs for the two previous platoon leaders.

The Platoon Sargent, SFC Butler, and I spent a lot of our time together mentoring Frank on our mission and the common sense of doing what was right under particular circumstances. This logic was not hard to get across as Frank had a great understanding of each others needs and a very high degree of mutual integrity—I was lucky. Frank could look at things and know right away if they were right or wrong. Now don’t get me wrong, Frank had not the authority to act in my stead; only the good knowledge to report back to me the circumstances he observed—after all, we were in the Army. Many times Frank would return from a run with an observation I had ask him to conduct. He would deliver me back a detailed report of the problems he noted. I could quickly insert myself and correct what needed to be—many times this took place.

Frank was so popular and trusted by the platoon members that grudges never had a chance to develop—the guys never looked on it as spying. I believe that Frank also became the conduit from disgruntled platoon members to me because the others could see the integrity he had and they were sure he wouldn’t misrepresent a situation. I tried to insure that I inadvertently took care of the problem in the normal course of our daily activities. I figured this out early but never let on—it being to all of our advantage to do so.

As soon as it was possible I made sure Frank was promoted to Specialist 4th Class.

I recall one situation in February of 1974 during a deployment from FT Rich to Fort Greely, way up in the interior, a convoy distance of some 355 miles, which routinely required an overnight at a halfway stop over point. But in this situation, we were a week ahead of the main body moving up the road and constituted a convoy of our own two vehicles and four tractors and trailers from our sister transportation platoon. I also might mention that by this time I had developed a fairly high distrust and dislike of truck drivers in general—that is, with the exception of one (until this very day those feeling still hold pretty true, but softened just a bit).

Due to some unfortunate happenstances during our travel we ended up traveling an additional 259 miles (a total of 594 miles overall) and taking 36 hours to complete our journey. The only driver to remain behind the wheel the entire time was Frank Lefevers, Jr.—the only one. The others drivers slept and lazed about while Frank, our new platoon sergeant, SFC Grant, and I maneuvered up and back, over and over again, ferrying disabled vehicles attempting to finish our travel with the same number of vehicles we had started with. Frank never once asked for relief—by the way, there wouldn’t have been any to give and he understood this. Upon arrival at Ft Greely, we still had to set up our bivouac area and report back to battalion that we had arrived—this taking another four hours or so. (See my story “Up and Back and Up Again” for complete details—when the book is published). I would challenge anybody to match Frank’s durability and stamina during this undertaking.

After a year or so, Frank’s reputation became know throughout the battalion and I had my share of challengers for his services. From the Battalion Commander to my own Company Commander—they all wanted him to be their driver. They recognized his value. I managed to convince every one of them that I needed him more than they did and Frank echoed that same notion—he liked where he was and pretty much treasured it. Drivers for battalion and company commanders spend a great deal of time sitting and waiting on the next move by their rider—does boredom come quickly to mind? Frank held this same position, my driver and close confidant for three years, until such time as I left the platoon after having been promoted to captain and just short of his departure from the Army.

I wouldn’t have traded Frank Lefevers, Jr. for any other individual I served with during the entire twelve years of my military career—not one. By far the best extra Right Hand I ever had and anybody could ask for.

I realize this has been longer than usual, but sometimes it’s required.

I very much welcome your thoughts and observations.

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