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Would you stake your life, right now, on the condition of your equipment?
NEWS | July 28, 2021

Special Interview: MSG Half-Mast

MSG Half-Mast
MSG Half-Mast McCanick

This month, as part of our commemoration of PS Magazine’s 70th Anniversary, we asked MSG Half-Mast to take a breather from his interview schedule and become the interviewee. After all, it’s not every day you celebrate over seven decades in uniform.

MSG Half-Mast McCanick first made his appearance as the Army’s maintenance and supply “answer man” in Army Motors, May 1943, making him at least 78 years old (but this means he started as a newborn babe). He was a master sergeant from the get-go, which means he’s more likely well north of 100. All of which is to say, he’s a seasoned Soldier and the only one that we know of whose name tape bears his first, rather than his last name.

Typically, we post information about our interviewee’s military or civilian career, the schools they’ve attended, assignments they’ve had, etc., but no such information exists for MSG Half-Mast. Let’s just say, he’s a graduate of the school of hard knocks and he’s been doing the same job for 78 years. Other than Mickey Mouse, not a lot of us can make that claim.

Here’s how he was introduced in Army Motors:

What Half-Mast doesn’t know you could put in a gnat’s ear and, by the same token, what a gnat doesn’t know you could put in Half-Mast’s ear. Half-Mast is the answer man, he’ll answer all those questions – technical, procurement, procedure – that have you up a tree.

PS Editor: MSG, you have a storied career helping Soldiers keep their vehicles and equipment combat ready. What’s been your proudest moment at work, and why?
MSG Half-Mast: It’s gonna sound corny, but my proudest moment at work is every time I receive and then answer a “Dear Half-Mast” inquiry from our readers. After 78 years of writing and typing those answers, I’m dealing with a bit of arthritis in my hands, but it’s been well worth it. The vehicles and equipment Soldiers use and maintain are complicated and the technical manuals (TMs) sometimes lack complete information. The upshot is that Soldiers—actually not just Soldiers but also other service personnel who also read PS—encounter challenges that…how was it put?…have them up a tree. And I’m here to help them back down and get problems solved. There’s a cascading effect: I help a Soldier keep their assigned vehicle or piece of equipment “up” or ready, which in turn improves their unit’s operational readiness rate, which means units are able to fight and win when called upon, all in support of combatant commanders or national security missions and efforts. It’s sort of heady when you think about it.

You know, it’s not just questions I receive, but also a lot of ideas for ways to do things better. I have to send these ideas to the appropriate life-cycle management command, program executive office or commodity owner to ensure they approve of the idea, but I’m never prouder than when they come back and say, essentially, “that reader’s idea is brilliant and we want to adopt it Army-wide.”

Yeah, all that typing means some of my salary goes to buy an ongoing supply of Aspercreme®, but, hey, the trade-off is so worth it.

PS Editor: How do you feel about the changes that have taken place with the magazine? Related to this, how do Warfighters—especially very new Warfighters—know you’re still at the “answer desk” ready to answer their questions?
 MSG Half-Mast: Change is a given. It’s how we adapt to change that makes the difference between success and failure. I could say I was disheartened when the printed version of the magazine stopped and then the cartoons (for the most part) went away. Instead, I choose to focus on the benefits of being fully online. We’re able to get content out to Warfighters much faster and on a continuous basis. The search function on the website is much more robust and other features enable us to categorize and sort information in ways that help enhance access to specific information each user needs. Also, we’re able to include new content that wasn’t possible before—such as the leader interviews I typically conduct, the “I Own This” recognition program and the all-new “Shout-Outs,” that recognize readers who write to me with questions or ideas that lead to positive readiness improvements across the Army and beyond.

Concerning the second half of the question, I’m not going anywhere. Honestly, whether new Warfighters know about me and where to find me is ultimately a leadership issue. Even when PS   Magazine was printed and distributed worldwide—making it far more visible—we still had to rely on leaders telling their subordinates about the purpose and value of PS Magazine. Today, we have to rely on Warfighters coming to us. But as often as young Warfighters are on their smart devices, they just need to “favorite” us in their browsers and read us periodically or as their first stop whenever they encounter a PMCS or supply issue they’re uncertain about. If they can’t find the answer they need on the website or in the archive, that’s when they write me. And they can rest assured I’m still here, as always, to help.
PS Editor: Why should Soldiers read PS Magazine when they already have (or should have) TMs for all their equipment?
MSG Half-Mast: You know, I get asked that a lot. Here’s what I said way back in 1964 and it remains valid today: PS is designed to help you keep your gear ready. Don’t get the idea it replaces anything. “PS” (meaning post script) is a plus. It ties official doctrine to current problems and gives it to you short ‘n specific. The TM is still the WORD!!

While it doesn’t ever replace TMs, PS does help correct them when they’re wrong, such as when digits in an NSN are inverted or NSNs are missing altogether, instructions are vague or confusing or diagrams incorrectly labeled. While there’s a specific procedure and form—DA Form 2028—to complete whenever you find an error in a TM, it can take quite a while for TMs to be officially updated. PS helps fill the gap between these official updates.

PS Editor: How can units use PS Magazine to improve their combat readiness?
MSG Half-Mast: As I said before, there’s a straight line between each Warfighter’s PMCS and a unit’s combat readiness. For many years, when PS Magazine was still printed monthly, units had to keep up to two years of back issues in their motor pools and supply rooms. It was an inspector general (IG)-inspectable item. Today, AR 700-138, Army Logistics Readiness and Sustainability (Apr 2018), simply states that, “Review of PS Magazine will be a regular part of unit readiness initiatives.” The onus is on unit leaders, especially maintenance leaders, to employ PS Magazine as a routine part of their sustainment efforts.

PS Editor: What words of wisdom would you give to an operator or mechanic just starting their military careers when it comes to caring for their assigned vehicle and equipment?
MSG Half-Mast: Follow your TM. Follow your TM. Follow your TM, which means read your TM.

Use PS to supplement your maintenance and supply knowledge with the most current information and whenever the TM seems “off,” confusing, or incorrect.

Treat your vehicle and equipment as if it’s truly yours. Take ownership of it and treat it with pride.

Throughout PS Magazine’s history, we’ve used two “tag” lines to help Soldiers/Warfighters understand how important their role is to achieving readiness:
We have the world’s best equipment. Take care of it.
Would you stake your life—right now—on the condition of your equipment?
More often than not, it’s not simply your life on the line; it’s that of your fellow Soldiers or Warfighters and accomplishment of your mission.

PS Editor: I’m sure you’ve heard this next question before: Why haven’t you been promoted or retired in all these years?
MSG Half-Mast: I don’t need to be promoted. A master sergeant is the highest rank achievable for a non-supervisory, technical NCO. Like I said, I’m glued to my desk receiving and responding to reader inquiries. It’s been my purpose and sole focus for 78 years, and I love it.

And why retire when I love what I’m doing? The nice thing about being a cartoon is—as long as there’s interest—I can live forever. So it won’t be me determining when to retire; it’ll be all of you. And my sincere hope is that you’ll want me around for yet another 78 years, at least. Besides, if you look at renderings of me over the years, I’ve actually become younger. Maybe in another 80 years, I’ll be a baby-faced sage, sort of like baby Yoda. Only future readers will know for sure.

MSG Half-Mast Through the Years
MSG Half-Mast through the years
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