The Thinker: Rich Galen


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Line of Duty, Yes

Rich Galen

Wednesday July 22, 2020

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  • There are about 376,000 enlisted personnel in the U.S. Army who are assigned to one of seven armies in the U.S. military. Each is made of (among other units) two elements known as Corps. Each Corps has about 45,000 enlisted personnel.


    The numbers may not be strictly correct, but they are close enough.


  • At the top of the enlisted pyramid in each of those 14 Corps is a soldier with the rank of Command Sergeant Major.

  • This is a brief story of one of them: CSM Roger Putnam.

  • Of the 376,000 enlisted men and women CSM Putnam rose to be among the highest 20, or so.

  • Whether at General Motors, the Government, or the military, the pyramid gets pretty narrow at the top.

  • Putnam started his military career in the Air Force in 1949. Served until 1952. Fought in Korea. Did about a decade as a cop in Detroit then joined the Army in time for Vietnam.

  • Among his awards are: The Silver Star for gallantry in action, Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and Air Medal.

  • The Silver Star is the third highest military award behind the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. Roger Putnam is the only person I know who received one.

  • On April 6, 1967 SSG Putnam was manning a machine gun in the rear seat of a light observation aircraft. This type of plane was described by a reporter as "a cute little tailwagger of an airplane" just to give you a sense of its size.

  • He and his pilot spotted a Viet Cong company preparing to ambush a South Vietnamese unit.
    Unable to obtain fire support of any type, his aircraft moved in, receiving intense automatic and small arms fire. After five strafing runs, the Viet Cong began to break and run. Keeping the Viet Cong under attack for approximately an hour, he foiled three attempts to man an automatic weapon and prevented the unit from regrouping.

  • The entire Silver Star citation is available on the Secret Decoder Ring page.

  • Putnam is credited with being the first to crawl into the backseat of those light planes with an M-60 machine gun. The planes were considered too light. SSG Putnam was too hardheaded to believe it.

  • All this to say that throughout his life, Roger Putnam was a leader. And throughout his life, people loved him. Not just his family and not just people who were culturally his equal.

  • I'm talking about the people he met in his day-to-day life.

  • At his favorite Starbucks in Ocala, Florida when the staff learned he was bedridden, they created a menu board promoting "The Roger" (a Grande Cappuccino with whole milk, cinnamon powder, and whipped cream).

  • That comes from his being genuinely interested in what, in this case, the staff of Starbucks, had to say. He wasn't a TV star or a political personality. He was an old guy who came in for his favorite drink every day and stayed to chat with the staff or anyone else who happened in.

  • Roger Putnam also had photos with people like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. No one who met CSM Putnam didn't get pulled into his orbit.

  • I knew CSM Putnam through his son, Bill. We met in Iraq when Bill was a civilian but was a reserve officer holding the rank of Captain. Bill is, today, an active duty officer who was recently informed he is eligible to be promoted to full Colonel.

  • Like father

  • I got to meet Roger Putnam several times. Once, in San Antonio, we spent the better part of the day at a restaurant on the Riverwalk. I can still picture him: Eyebrows slightly raised, leaning in, as if my words were the most important he was going to hear not just that day, but that year.

  • In the military, casualty reports often contain a notation as to whether the incident was in the line of duty. The cold military format is: Line of duty, yes (or no).

  • Command Sergeant Major Roger Putnam died earlier this week. He was 88.

  • Line of duty, yes.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links how the U.S. Army is organized (pretty interesting), and to the full citation for CSM Putnam's Silver Star.

    The Mullfoto today the menu board at CSM Putnam's favorite Starbucks.

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