Lately it seems I have run across a lot of social groups on FaceBook and other places dedicated to the purpose of letting the world know that one type of military specialty (usually combat arms type) is vastly superior to every other organization in the organized US war machine, save none. Well, this is just preposterous. No single branch or specialty can fight by itself. The entire machine must operate as a cohesive unit, regardless of branch or job, in order for US goals to be met and personnel and interests safeguarded. A lot of times you will hear or see someone say or write that they or someone else was "at the tip of the spear". Well, what does that mean? Let's use the spear as an analogy to represent our military forces and go from there....
The spear is the brainchild of some long lost cave dweller that probably noticed that the thinner the end of a long stick was, the easier it was to stab and pin his dinner to the ground. From there the idea just exploded across many cultures and continents, will all major pre-firearm societies utilizing some type of version of a stick with a point on them. The spear comes in various lengths and names (from a short version - javelin, to a long stand off weapon - the lance) but all fulfill one basic purpose. In an era before gunpowder, the spear gave you the ability to stand off against an opponent at short range. Sure, at longer range you could engage with a volley of arrows, but when the enemy had closed on your ranks arrows could indiscriminately hit your own people. The spear could be used to thrust out and stab at your enemy from behind a shield before they could slash at your with their sword, be used to dismount and enemy off of their horse and even thrown at them as most people seem to think they are intended to be used. The Romans used them effectively as throwing. weapons by the implementation of the pilum. The pilum was a heavy spear with a very thin, barbed and usually softer head and shank. Before rushing an opponent the legionaries would throw their pilums at their enemy, those not hit with them directly would have them stick in their shields hopefully. The barbed head would make them hard to remove, and soft metal would make then bend upon impact. It either made the opponents shield more difficult to use with the pilum stuck in it, or rendered the pilum useless to be thrown back. Here's a short clip from the movie "300" showing the (highly stylized and choreographed) use of the Greek spear in the movie...
Back to my analogy....
The tip of the spear.
The proverbial tip....this is where the blade is the thinnest but usually the sharpest. It begins the process of wounding with the spear so that the remainder of the weapon may follow through and do its job. In jabbing attacks aimed at taking out a specific target it can do damage all by itself by being inserted into the target and then quickly removed.
If you have ever spent your time in the military in a unit or group that makes up less than 1/10 of 1% of the total combat force, you are probably in the tip of the spear. If you have ever suddenly realized it was 3am in the morning and you have been training for 3 days straight without any serious attempt at rest...you probably are in the tip. If you have ever been assigned to a unit that you yourself didn't know the actual name of....you are probably in this group. Navy SEALS, Army SF, Delta Force, Air Force PJ, Marine Recon, Rangers... you get the idea.
The flank of the blade.
Alright, they flank (or sides) of the blade are devestating to an opponent. While the tip makes the initial cut the flanks cut for a much longer distance and can slash on their own as well, making very wide and brutal damage occur over a wide area. There is a part of the flanks that actually makes up a small percentage of the tip.
OK, enough ripping off Jeff Foxworthy for analogies. Combat Arms guys, here is you. Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Engineers, Cav, Air Cav, CAS...you get the idea. Keep in mind not every single entity may solely exist on one part of the spear at all times. Lets take my hard charging Ranger friends for example. I have already listed them in the tip of the spear as they can operate in small, very forward units performing surgical strikes or capturing airfields and the like. In a larger group they can operate as part of a lead or key force in a larger attack, hence the flanks.
The flanks are the combat meat-&-potatoes part of the fight. More people designated to shoot bag guys and blow their stuff up will be here than anywhere else. Be very proud to be a "flanker", your training will have been tough to get here and your pride hard earned.
The spine is that portion of the blade that runs down the middle and gives support and rigidity to the sharp flanks and tip. It gives weight to the attack and keeps the blade from flexing and deviating from it intended path.
Combat support folks...this be your area. You are close enough to the attack to see and feel its affects first hand and even may participate in it once in a while. But your main reason for getting your war on is to support those doing the fighting directly by medical, logistical, maintenance, transportation and other battlefield needs. Its often said that the battle is won on the front lines and the war on the supply lines. Don't be ashamed of that combat patch you wear for being on the FOB turning a wrench so that the guys taking that truck outside the wire had a reliable means of getting back inside later.
The shaft is the long, wooden staff that the blade is attached to. In not only provides the means for the blade to reach out and cut someone, it also provides valuable mass behind the attack to drive the blade home to kill its target and also provides stability for the blade while in flight if throne. In addition it can also be used as both a defensive measure to ward off an attack or stuck in the ground to help unseat a rider, but can also be used in its own right as a weapon by striking with its tip, abet with less effect than the blade.
REMF's of the world unite! This is where I was in the war. The folks providing combat service support (rear, and rear-rear area) from places mostly removed from direct combat. The "I got a combat patch for being in theater) type folks, yours truly included. Its not glamorous work, but its important. Nobody gets an "Combat Admin Badge" (well, got to check with the Air Force regs before being 100% sure on that) or a "Distinguished Depot Maintenance Medal"...but somebody has got to do the stuff you do or it doesn't get done. That bullet that killed Bin Laden started out its tour of duty in theater coming off some ship most likely docked at Doha in Kuwait, was trucked to Camp Arifjan, where logistic guys took it off a pallet, put in an another log pac that got loaded on a plane for Afghanistan and was flown by MAC pilots that don't get to stick missles under the wings of their C5's. Once in theater it was once again unload and shipped by yet more log guys until it finally ended up in that M4 in that SEALS hand and ultimately into that douchbag's brain. Did you guys that got to go home for 2 weeks on mid tour R&R enjoy it? Guess what, you can thank troops in the shaft for coordinating all of that "BS" involved in getting you in and out of theater with travel arrangements both to and from to ensure you got where you were supposed to. Hopefully you didn't have a buddy killed, but if you did, it was those of us in the shaft that were charged with quickly, accurately and respectfully notifying their family. Again, not glorious work, but stuff that needs to be done for the rest of the spear to work correctly.
So, if you served, where do you belong on the spear? Remember there is no right or wrong answer here. Every part of the spear is important. Each has its role to play and relies on the others to do theirs as well in order for the opponent to be defeated.
When somebody asks me what I did in the war I can now just tell them "I gave them the shaft!!"