The Colonel Rides the Buffer.

Attack Buffer, M1A1-Mark II

This is a reprint of a previous article. Hope it brings you a few laughs after a very trying week.

The Colonel Rides the Buffer.

Back in 2004, having come back from the desert twenty pounds and one wife lighter, I bought a small little place over in Largo, Florida where I had found post deployment work in the private sector. It was a pretty decent little house. With no spouse and an all-of-the-sudden bit of extra time on my hands, I decided to fix up the place. The first thing that had to go, was that nasty, puke colored carpet. Tearing it out and having it replaced was going to be time consuming and fairly expensive. However, once again I was reminded that God takes care of fools and drunks, and as all my friends, acquaintances and Class-B Dependents know, I am well qualified in both categories.


When I ripped up the carpet, I was most pleasantly surprised to find underneath it, TERRAZZO! God indeed loves me! All I needed to do, was go rent me one of them floor buffer machines and lickity split, a beautiful new floor. I mean, how hard could it be? Private’s and Specialists (AKA “Spec-4’s” or “Speedy 4’s,” ) do this sort of thing all the time. Just look at this young feller, guiding the machine with one hand, while holding his soda with another. Easy peezy!

One-Handed Floor Buffer

So, I skedaddled over to the nearest equipment rental place and snatched me up a likely looking piece of hardware, got home, unloaded it and commenced floor restoration operations. Everything was fine while I was going straight forward. The second I tried to turn that once placid piece of machinery right or left, it morphed into a snarling beast that insisted on wreaking unspeakable violence on my person.

It threw me up, down & sideways and on more than one occasion, slammed me up against the wall. If I had thought to wear a cowboy hat, boots, jeans and one of those shiny, crew-served belt buckles, I could have qualified as a bull rider at the Iowa State Fair. Full disclosure however, there was absolutely no instance where I was actually able to stay on that raging monster for a full 8 seconds—but that ain’t important here. During one “ride,” I accidentally let go of the handle and the inertia swung that rascal completely around, striking me just above the knee, taking me out kinda like Mean Joe Green did to Broadway Joe Namath behind the line of scrimmage. Here’s a reddit video link showing what this might have looked like to a casual observer.


For more such entertainment, you can go on U-Tube, there’s an entire collection of what the Army’s E-4 Mafia calls, “Buffer Rodeos.” Here’s a Leadership Tidbit folks–Soldiers (Sailors, Marines & Airmen too) are always discovering new and innovative ways to get in trouble or to get hurt—Buffer Rodeos being one stand out example. Here’s one of the more talented competitors.

This epic battle continued for what seemed like hours as I struggled to complete what I had heretofore considered a simple task—( Right about now, I imagine the E-4 Mafia is laughing its collective rear end off). Anyhow, I had managed to (more or less) complete 3 out of the 5 rooms in my humble abode when the timely intervention of a phone call offered me a brief respite from the monumental beating I was undergoing.

I hit, “talk” and gasped out “Colonel” gasp, “Ford” gasp, “Speaking” gasp, “May I help You?” Gasp, Pant, Pant, Pant. “Sir! Are you OK?!” It’s my Command Sergeant Major, sounding very concerned. Finally catching my breath, I regaled my worried CSM with the story of my feeble attempts to bring this monster to heel.

I explained that everything had gone well until I tried to turn it left or right, whereupon it decided to beat me like the proverbial rented mule. My CSM then asked in a slightly different tone, “Sirrrr, by any chance were you trying to steer it by pushing left or right?” “Yep,” I replied. Again my loyal CSM, now in a really different tone, “SIR,” (I’ll discuss the difference between this “Sir,” and the first two in a moment) the way you steer a buffer” he continued, “is to raise the handle up and down—you don’t try to push it side to side. If you do, it will kill you.“ “Wait One, Sergeant Major,” I turn the beast back on and sure enough, not only I can pilot it with one hand like the guy in the picture above, I now (temporarily of course) have an ego only discernible by an electron microscope.


One of the most crucial roles of the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer Corps is to take care of Commissioned Officers. The Army wisely recognized that Commissioned Officers can tend to do some dumb stuff, especially the inexperienced ones. Google “Second Lieutenant Jokes,” sometime. So in a wise decision likely dating back to when Julius Ceasar was a private, your Army always assigns a Noncommissioned Officer to keep the Officer out of jail.

The more inexperienced the Officer, the wider the age/experience gap is between that Officer and the NCO assigned to ride herd on him. A Second Lieutenant straight out of his Basic Course, will get a Sergeant First Class who has been in the Army 10 years or more, while a crusty old Colonel will get a Command Sergeant Major his own age, who has served roughly the same amount of time as he, which brings me to my next point.

Senior NCO’s have their own language. They also have the unique and uncanny ability to communicate an entire sentence, even a whole paragraph simply by the way they enunciate the word, “Sir.”

For example, at beginning of the call, my loyal CSM’s “Sir!,” was calculated to convey respect and a very real concern for his boss’s well being.

However, his second “Sir,” asked, “Uh Oh. Just what the hell has my Colonel done now?’’

His final and by far most expressive “Sir,” effectively said, “You are so damned dumb, I’m ashamed to admit you are my Colonel. If the other Sergeants Major find out about this latest episode of yours, I won’t be able to show my face in the NCO club for 6 months.” Yep. That’s right. All of that—just by the way he pronounced “Sir.”


Three morals to this Sunday Story:

First, every Soldier in the Army, even especially a crusty old Colonel, has a Sergeant to make sure he’s dressed right and to keep him out of trouble—and that’s a good thing.

Second, there’s a reason for the existence of what’s known as, “the E-4 Mafia.” These 17-20 year old young folks, know things—things like operating a buffer without killing yourself, anyone else around you or causing massive collateral damage—and they do so with dash and elan. More importantly, they make up the part of the Army that actually does stuff, and are usually at what we like to call, “the Pointy End of the Spear.”

Third, like every other Soldier and also my brothers & sisters in the other branches of our Armed Forces, they have each written a check to the American People for “the amount up to and including my life.”

Today’s offering is dedicated to Sergeant Major Don McCrory, who represents all the NCO’s who labored mightily and were even occasionally successful, in keeping this particular Officer out of trouble. Finally, to my Dad, Master Sergeant Ray L. Ford, USAF, Retired, (BSM w/“V”) the NCO against whom I measure all the others.

Happy Sunday to all!

Mike Ford is a retired Infantry Officer who writes on Military, Foreign Affairs and occasionally dabbles in Political and Economic matters.

Follow him on Twitter: @MikeFor10394583

You can find his other Red State work here.


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