Before I introduce Master Sergeant Alan Ezelle, I must preface it with the following confession: the first time I met E.Z. he scared the absolute hell out of me. I mean, at the handshake I was ready to wet my pants, flee, or surrender.
One look into his eyes, and you’ll know what I mean. They telegraph that this man is the baddest, nastiest, life-takingest NCO in the land.
And they don’t lie. They just don’t reveal all about the man.
Sergeant Major Vince “Vinni” Jacques once said to me that “E.Z.’s been fed a steady diet of lizards and small Asian children.” I tried to quote that exactly in the Devil’s Sandbox, as I thought it was pretty hilarious, but apparently eating babies is okay, while eating Asian babies is racist. Who knew? Anyway, the Asian part got chopped in the end.
None of that changes the fact that I believe Vinni’s on to something there. Alan Ezelle is something more than human. I’m not sure what it is, but he is not your average mortal man.
E.Z. is a prior service enlisted man who served in the U.S. Army at the tail end of the Cold War. He did a stint straight out of high school in 1986, ended up in Germany for part of the time, then came home and separated from the service. He settled in Eugene, where he got a job as a bouncer in a local strip club. Several times, he faced down armed, drunken, horny rednecks with his fists, wits and a baseball bat. Somehow, he always came out on top.
Later, he found work at a company that rebuilds damaged railroad box cars. This was seriously hard labor, and E.Z. spent eight hours a day or more swinging a sledgehammer there. All in a day’s work. Truth be told, few men are up to such work day after day.
Alan Ezelle earned an ARCOM with V device for a four hour firefight in August, 2004. See the Devil’s Sandbox for details on that engagement. If this had happened during World War II, E.Z. would be wearing a Silver Star or DSC right now. His courage under fire, and his tactical, small-unit leadership in combat was second to none that day. His men were caught in a tactically disadvantage situation on Budweiser Bridge, taking fire from three directions and from both banks of the Tigris River. Meanwhile, an Iraqi SF unit was pinned down on the west bank by almost a hundred insurgents. Thrown into the mix was at least a platoon plus of Iraqi National Guardsmen, most of whom were half-trained and prone to lighting up the sky, the water and the sectors occupied by American troops.
E.Z. helped extract the surviving Iraqi SF guys, getting into a grenade-throwing fight with the insurgents in the process. He then covered their withdrawal back across Budweiser Bridge and got everyone out before he led his platoon off the bridge.
Through the course of the 04-05 deployment, E.Z. found himself in every possible type of firefight, ranging from lone gunmen spraying and praying, to complex ambushes complete with IED’s, RPG’s and lots of small arms fire. He led his Charlie Company platoon through it all without suffering a single man wounded in action.
The enemy was not so lucky.
Al Ezelle has that rarest aspect of personal charisma that elevates all those around him to perform incredible feats. His leadership is always unquestioned. The confidence his men have in him is total. What Ezelle orders gets done, like right now. Some of them are scared as hell of him, but everyone who has ever served with him says the same thing: the man knows how to motivate, knows how to extract the last ounce of effort from every man, and he always leads the way. Back when he was a platoon sergeant, I overheard his men on drill weekends talking quietly among themselves about some of the amazing things they’d seen E.Z. do. They spoke about him with a mix of holy terror and reverence. E.Z. is one of those guys that does stuff people remember. More than once I’ve heard a Soldier say, “I swear to God he did that. He’s not F###ing human, dude. He’s just not.”
Some of it is pretty damn funny too. One specialist related how E.Z. got dive-bombed by an angry crow outside the Alpha Co. armory in Eugene one day. The crow came back for more, swooping low over E.Z.’s head and squawking like crazy. E.Z. eyeballed the bird, then drew down on it. The wise bird got the message: the armory is Alan Ezelle’s territory. Mess with that and you’ll end up splattered, feathers drifting in the wind.
Now, E.Z. lives up to his larger-than-life persona every time he straps on his IBA. But at the same time, the knuckle dragger image he projects serves to hide two vital things about him. First, he is one of the smartest human beings I’ve ever met. He’s got a steel trap of a mind that allows him to make snap decisions in the heat of the moment. He knows when to use a carrot, when to use a stick. And he also lets everyone know that the stick he’s carrying is not an ordinary one. It is the biggest freaking one on the block and he won’t stop beating the crap out of you with it until you’re a limp, broken fraction of a man begging for momma. Only then will he ease up a bit on you.
He tempers that threat of overwhelming force with a very keen sense of human nature. When trying to make friends and win hearts and minds, he’s direct and honest and will do whatever he can to help a community out. He’s a savvy negotiator who understands that most humans have motivations and desires that can be used as the basis for establishing rapport. If he didn’t like kicking in doors so much, he would have been an outstanding diplomat, or interrogator.
I’ve never met anyone who has a better grasp of small unit tactics and doctrine than Alan Ezelle. In a fight, he’s proven many times he keeps a clear head and can visualize the entire battlespace in his head. This, combined with his ability to quickly assess a situation and make snap decisions, is what makes Alan Ezelle such an outstanding leader of men. His SA can’t be beat. He is never surprised in combat, or in the training I’ve been involved with since 2007.
One aspect of E.Z. that I don’t think I did justice to in the Devil’s Sandbox is his ability to educate and teach his young soldiers. Over the last year, as I’ve watched him in the field during drill weekends, I’ve seen him mentor his new guys along with patience and just the right among of ass-kicking when necessary. He would have made an excellent high school teacher, he’s got all the skills for that and more.
In August of 2008, I was embedded with Alpha Company during the brigade’s summer Field Training Exercise at Gowan Field. During a company level assault on a village, part of his platoon was pinned down on the far left flank of the assault. He was with another element across a street and about a hundred meters from the squad that got in trouble. Two men were declared wounded. Al saw what was going on and sprinted across that stretch of open ground, kicked open a door, shot the “insurgent” inside, then got his wounded out of the line of fire. One of the brigade’s officers at the time was watching that display of initiative and muttered, “That’s not his job anymore. He’s not a squad leader.” I couldn’t help but think, this is exactly what he did in Iraq, and he saved lives. TO&E–Whose job it is on a battlefield doesn’t matter. What counts is the effect. Leaders get the job done no matter what their role is on paper.
As of 2015, Al Ezelle now serves as the 41st Brigade’s operations NCO. While not kicking in doors anymore, his innate situational awareness and tactical acumen I’m sure makes him well suited for his new role. But at heart, he will always be door-kicking, Soldier’s Soldier, larger than life, eminently capable and filling everyone around him with confidence and courage. I’ve met many great leaders—NCO’s and officers here at home and in Afghanistan, who I would have, and did, follow anywhere to write about them. But of all the warriors I’ve met over these many years, Al Ezelle is the only one who I would want leading my kids’ into a fight should they decide to enlist one day.