Mushroom the Horse-Holder

The following missive was sent to my investment advisor at a time when I thought that I was not being well advised during a period of significant market volatility. It was written with a sense of humor – but with a serious undertone.

Dear Karen,

     When I was a young infantry company commander in the early 1980s, the newly assigned commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division let his staff know he needed an aide-de-camp; and he wanted a volunteer. Although I chose not to volunteer, my brigade commander nominated me to join volunteers from four other brigades in the interview process. Since I was already scheduled to be reassigned from his brigade, the commander likely saw my nomination as a means to avoid potentially loosing two officers in a matter of days. During the interview with the general we discussed my experiences, past assignments and the responsibilities of an aide. After all candidates had been thru interviewed, the general offered the job to me – ignoring that I had not volunteered.

    It should be understood that when he offered me the position he had been a brigadier-general for for nearly as long as I’d been in the Army. He was a tall, athletic, gregarious and well respected officer with a distinguished record as an Army aviator. And he was now the highest ranking officer on the installation. It was customarily held that the wishes of a commander, general or otherwise, should be construed as a directive. I was aware of that custom.

    A few months after I had assumed the aide’s duties, we were issued snazzy, Motorola mobile radios. I thought they were useless given their short line-of-sight range. Further, there were probably only a dozen in use on the installation further limiting their intended function. But they were the technological rage of the day and I was designated to carry one for our use. We called them bricks given their size, weight and useful range. Regardless, the general suggested, and not without a sense of humor, that my call-sign should be Horse-Holder. In retrospect, I am certain he liked the imagery…and knew the custom of senior officers issuing administrative call-signs to subordinates. I on the other hand appreciated neither the imagery nor the custom. Recall that I was aware of the custom of acceding to a commander’s wishes!

    But, I too had a sense of humor and told him that I preferred a different call-sign: Mushroom. My choice of call-sign also conveyed what I thought was the way some of his senior staff officers facilitated my role. Several of them held young helicopter pilots in obvious disdain…and I am sure they thought phooey of my qualifications for the aide’s job and further, resented the monthly flight pay that we aviators received for what they considered sitting on our butts. As well, the general’s well-regarded chief of staff managed to keep me in the dark about much of what was going on and fed me BS when I expected a better set of data…or something analogous to timely, useful information. So, Mushroom stuck and became self fulfilling; or so I kept thinking.

    That introduction was perhaps a bit long for the simple purpose of this missive. This evening the folks on my favorite news program were “fair and balanced” in suggesting how we young investors should respond to the market’s swift and sure retreat. But with all due respect to that news team, they don’t have a horse in my race to retirement. Since my horse is on Chuck Schwab’s track, I am wondering if there is an action (or reaction) he’d recommend or should I just hold my horse?