Fitting in: One soldier loses hat to join unit
November 26, 2012
YAKIMA, Wash. - Michael Tollerton of Sarasota, Fla., knew they were after her. Her soldiers had a quota to fill and she was a new leader with 17th Fires Brigade. Like others before her, the second lieutenant planned to make a fight of it, make them work hard to bag her, but one day she slipped.
And they took her hat.
Tollerton wanted it back. She had thrown it at her driver as part of a joke, and though she knew the hunt was on, Tollerton did not immediately ask for it. By the time she did, her driver had passed it to others in on the plot. They taped it to the end of a rocket tube where it was exposed to flames of a rocket the crew fired, Nov. 9.
Then, they were willing to give it back.
Despite its tattered condition, Tollerton was excited to get her hat back at an informal ceremony during an exercise at Yakima Training Center.
"I think it's great because you know when that happens that the platoon accepts you," said Tollerton, a platoon leader with 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment. "It's actually an honor because it is such a big tradition in the field artillery world."
Tollerton had not always felt this connection with her soldiers. Artillery was not her first choice in careers as an officer. Before coming to the unit, Tollerton learned she would be the only woman in a leadership position.
"I was never in a leadership position with only all guys, so that was going to be the first challenge," Tollerton said.
Integrating into the "tightly knit" unit took time and a willingness to listen. Tollerton took advice from the sergeants and spent time with her new military family.
"Especially when you come to the field and you do all the things that they do and you get to spend even more time with them...it really builds character," Tollerton said.
The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Joe Hilbert of Chattanooga, Tenn., said he thinks of the hat stealing as an initiation - a way for soldiers to have a joke with their leaders and show their affection.
"In some ways, it's kind of a weird thank you," Hilbert said.
In the end, that is perhaps why soldiers like Staff Sgt. Patrick Malone of Lancaster, Calif., the HIMARS chief in charge of the launcher that shot Tollerton's hat, go after their leaders. This tradition is his way of greeting all of the Tollertons who have come to this unit.
"It tells them that they are no longer a newbie," Malone said.