Re: Military Terminology

M Bibby (
Wed, 16 Oct 1996 11:32:13 -0400


Thanks for your reply.

On Tue, 15 Oct 1996, John Baky wrote:

> Could you use the word in one of the contexts in which it appears?

*Debridement* is a sequence poem composed of several texts written in
different voices. It opens with an official citation for the Medal of
Honor given to "STAC JOHN HENRY LOUIS" (the text is written in all caps
to emulate the officialese of military discourse) for bravery in
the face of an ambush of his tank patrol in Dak To. But in other texts,
those written in normal type, Louis is referred to as STAC John Henry
Louis and sometimes just as STAC.

The poem is actually based on the real story of a black vet, and I think
he was listed as a Spec/4, from Detroit who was given a medal of honor
for similar circumstances, but was later shot for attempted robbery by a
white shopkeeper. In a New York Times account of this vet's story (I
can't recall the name right now), his friends from service recalled the
crazed violence this vet demonstrated under fire, noting how he finally
had to be held down and given morphine when rescued. In both the poem
and in the original story, the vet's tank patrol is ambushed by
Vietnamese and almost all US personnel were killed, tanks blown up, and
Louis/the real vet saved just a couple of US soldiers
and also single-handedly killed 25 Vietnamese, sometimes beating them to
death with his rifle butt.

There is no other information in the poem about Louis's rank, and very
little in the original NYT story.

There is
> a term STRACK or STRAC which was in wide use in the army at that time. It
> referred to an official condition of combat readiness applied to certain
> units identified by the Pentagon to be maintained at a very high degree of
> efficiency and quality - characterized by unblemished service records, high
> readiness of equipment, morale of the soldiery in the unit.
> This term then became adopted by the army in general to refer to any single
> soldier or small unit that was considered to be very "together," very
> military in the by-the-book sense, well-turned-out, efficient, etc. In
> short, it became slang for the best the military had to offer. It was a
> very wide-spread trope from about 1967 to about 1973. Today I believe it is
> virtually non-existent. The concept of STRAC units in NATO was a cold-war
> development that probably carried over into the mid to late vietnam era.

These possibilities are very interesting, since in both the poem and the
NYT story, the main character is *represented* in the military as the
best it has to offer--in both the original citation for the medal and in
the officialese of certain texts in the poem.

Michael Bibby