On Veterans Day three years ago, I was eating a free steak at Applebee’s with my wife. As we were eating I overheard part of a conversation from the table next to us.
A veteran who had been seriously wounded in Vietnam was trying to explain to his family how and why he was still among the living. He was having trouble explaining how the system worked and that infantry men such as he could not do their job if it wasn’t for REMF’s (or Rear Echelon Mother F------, those farther away from the front lines).
I served two tours in Vietnam – ’66-’67 and ’70-’71 – and I am a retired military logistician. I understood what he was trying to say.
I interrupted him and asked if I could help him with what he was attempting to explain.
I explained that during the Vietnam War, it took approximately seven people in the rear echelons to support each infantryman in combat.
The family found this hard to believe until I explained how this could be. There are many types and levels of support and I didn’t try to explain all of them. I did, however, explain all of those that I could think of that affected their soldier.
Here they are in the best order that I think is relative to him:
▪ He had to have clothes, which were supplied by the quartermaster.
▪ He had to have a weapon, which was supplied by ordnance.
▪ For the weapon to work he had to have ammunition supplied by ordnance.
▪ He had to eat and drink. All food was supplied by the quartermaster.
▪ Transportation was required (truck, plane and ship), to have not only all these supplies, but him as well – in this case, dropped into harm’s way.
▪ Maintenance units ensured that his weapon, the trucks and planes could operate.
Bang, he’s been shot.
Now that he has been wounded he has to be taken care of:
▪ Initial medical care is provided by his unit medic or DOC.
▪ Communications are needed to get help to him.
▪ Then he has to be transported to safety and will receive additional medical care at a MASH (mobile army surgical center). This requires helicopters, trucks and manpower.
▪ Doctors and nurses have to apply their special skills to keep him alive.
▪ These medical personnel also require the medical supplies necessary to care for him.
▪ He may then have to be moved to the United States for long-term care by Air Force medical services.
▪ He may then require long-term rehabilitation in order to function again.
I said that was about it, that I may have missed a few things but this is roughly how the system worked.
At this point he jumped up and ran around the table and gave me a big hug and thanked me. He also told me that he had needed all of these support services. He told me that he had been in the hospital for a long time but that he wouldn’t be here except for the REMF’s.
Then all of his family jumped up and gave both him and me hugs and kisses.
I am writing this to remind all veterans that each of us had a job and that they were all inter-related. No one of us could survive or thrive without the other. Many REMFs feel that what they did was irrelevant but this one infantryman brings it all together simply by saying, “He needed all these services just to live.”
So I just ask that every one of us hold our heads high and remember that we all served with honor.
Retired Sergeant First Class Michael D. Sullivan lives in Charlotte.