The Boss Man

Military service members are generally addressed by their rank and name. During my 20 years of active duty I was often addressed as Mr. Alexander, rather than Sergeant Alexander. But the most unusual address I heard was applied to a lieutenant colonel at Dow AFB. His troops called him “Boss Man.” One day in early December 1963 I learned why.

The colonel was a Squadron Commander who declared that the morale of his airmen was his top priority. The airmen believed him, because each month he conducted an “Irritant Council,” a private session during which anyone under his command could personally deliver their complaint directly to him. I was assigned to the public affairs office; not directly under his command, but one day he walked briskly into my office and asked me to take a ride with him. 

Another passenger, wearing the single stripe of Airman Third Class, sat in the staff car. The colonel told him to repeat his complaint, verbatim. The airman said: “Some dip-shit in this command wants me to report to my new assignment in England the day before Christmas. Now, since we ain’t at war, we both know there ain’t a whole lot for me to do that can’t wait until a couple of days after Christmas.” I still didn’t understand why I needed to hear this story, and even less understanding why we were heading to command headquarters, the see the Division Commanding General.

The general had been alerted that the colonel wanted a few minutes to present a morale issue. I didn’t have a morale issue that day, so I adroitly positioned myself out of sight of the general as the other two visitors entered the commander’s office. But, just before the session started I heard the general’s secretary say, “And how are you today Sergeant Alexander?” Before I could answer I also heard the general say, “Alex, come on in here and have a seat.” That was enough for me to clearly reply “Yes sir,” and for me to consider myself a party to the forthcoming proceedings, no matter what was about to unfold.

The colonel told the airman to repeat his complaint, using the exact words. The airman prepared to come to attention, but the general told him to remain at ease and declared: “If the colonel thinks your complaint is important; it’s also important to me.” I was almost as anxious as the airman, who began: “Sir, some dip-shit in this command wants me to report to my new assignment in England on Christmas Eve.” And then he added something new: “Sir, I’ll do anything the Boss m – (he checking himself, and looked at the colonel … and continued) ” … uh, sorry sir, … I’ll do anything the colonel wants me to do, but I’m just a supply clerk; I ain’t Santa Claus, so there ain’t nothing I need to deliver before midnight.” It was the kind of remark, delivered with the precise timing and rationale that evoked humor. The general laughed so loudly as to momentarily confuse the airman. After the airman was excused to wait in another office, the general said to the colonel: “We’re his commanders. I guess that makes us the dip-shits…. and he ain’t Santa Claus.” And then the officers and I tried to mute our laughter. 

The commander directly dialed the phone and told the officer in charge of personnel assignments to follow a VOCO – Verbal Order of the Commanding Officer: “Prepare a 30 day leave order for the airman, to begin on December 15, and orders for him to report to his new assignment no earlier than January 21.”

As the colonel and I exited the office the general asked me: “Alex, how did you get involved in this?” I answered that the colonel simply asked me to take a ride with him, and that I, like every NCO on the base, knew the colonel’s reputation and would do what the colonel asked, without hesitation, and I added, “That’s why we affectionately call him the ‘Boss Man’.”

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