5 Lessons Learned from my First Combat

By | June 25, 2021

[June 25, 2021]  Flipping through an old notebook that I carried with me in the war with Iraq, I came across several lessons I learned from combat, mostly learned the hard way.  Readers of my blog know that I am a big fan of being prepared.  That is not the main lesson to take away from combat.

Those in any war see it from a different perspective.  The common foot soldier in an Infantry Squad sees the enemy up close and personal.  He may be kicking in doors or dropping mortars down an 81mm tube.  I saw it from the Division level as part of an Engineer staff.  Kicking in doors was not on my plate but getting Infantrymen a place to sleep safely, a place to eat, and maintain their equipment was my concern.

Here are 5 lessons from my first combat.

  1. International cooperation is necessary but difficult. Established allies are best; the relationships are already present, and those in the British, Australian, New Zealand, or Canadian militaries are familiar with us and how we operate.  Coalition forces are good; we have similar goals and can work with a common mission.  General officer commands must employ these forces with care and carefully use their unique capabilities.
  2. Bureaucracy is a disrupting influence. Home-country laws, rules, and regulations, as well as military red tape, can get in the way of conducting the primary mission of destroying the enemy or his will to fight.  These rules can affect the way we fight and support the fight.  Leaders must be familiar with these and be ready for legal, authorized workarounds to barriers that prevent carrying the fight to the enemy.
  3. Get the support of one’s citizens support and work overtime to keep it. This effort has an impact down to the lowest private cooking chicken in the mess hall.  When the population loses hope, rogue politicians will take advantage and whip up reasons not to win the war.  If you get into a war, finish it by winning.  A ceasefire or stalemate is just as unacceptable as a loss.
  4. Conventional forces cannot be overlooked. We learned quickly in this war that we had a well-trained, formidable combat force.  But much of our ability to support that force was weak.  Our engineers were overtasked, lacking the labor, expertise, resources, and clear priority of work they require to support the mission entirely.
  5. Good diplomacy helps the average soldier. When diplomats deliver a clear national message that the U.S. will not back down and are in the war to win it, it takes us closer to the goal of finishing the job and getting out.  Fewer people die, less destruction to local infrastructure happens, and there is less chance of our citizens tiring of the conflict.

I learned a great deal about Arabic cultures, such as the differences in various Muslim sects.  At one point, my state representative voted to withdraw funding from the war.  I was able to call him on a satellite phone and give him hell.  Later I worked to have him defeated in his next election after returning home.  This showed me how quickly things could go wrong.  War is unpredictable.  Set the stage for success early.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “5 Lessons Learned from my First Combat

  1. Brown Night

    Gen. Satterfield, thank you for sharing your wartime adventures and leadership lessons. I’m ready for more anytime. Please consider more in the near future. Also, we miss your great guest writers like Safari Red and Army Vet. Ask them for more. We would all appreciate hearing from them again.

  2. Janna Faulkner

    Good list. Perhaps a more tactical level (I think that is what you call it) of lessons learned. More junior leaders would be interested. I agree with others that your lessons learned are great; just keep them to a lower level. I know, Gen. Satterfield, you are working at a higher level and this website is a senior leader website, but please help us less-senior folks out as well. 😊

    1. benrhodesatDOS

      Hi Janna, while I agree with you and others in part, I also disagree. This site is also for more senior leaders and we need to learn how to put these more senior level lessons into context of junior leadership. Just my thoughts of the day.

  3. KenFBrown

    Well, I am happy Gen. S. is starting to give us lessons from his own experience. Thanks for doing so. This is the type of input that I read and enjoy.

  4. Tracey Brockman

    “Good diplomacy helps the average soldier.” I wonder exactly how that happens. Maybe a better explanation here. I would think that doing so sets the battlefield stage that works for our military and against the enemy and supports our citizens at home and encourages them to support our troops. Too many US citizens are now anti-American thanks to the efforts of a few politicians who are traitors. We once hung traitors. Today, they are looked up to.

      1. Colleen Ramirez

        We missed you, RED !!!!!
        When will be your next article?
        Please publish soon !!!!

  5. Jake from Illinois

    Personally, I am more taken by your #2 on paperwork getting in the way. Even in war, there is some paperwork that must be done to keep lessons alive and to ensure that there is not corruption in the system (theft, etc.). Well done!

  6. Kenny Foster

    Keep up providing us with these “lessons learned.” I find them extremely valuable. Perhaps, someday if you can, write one of your electronic books that summarizes all these lessons. Right now, these lessons learned are scattered within your website and nothing is bringing them together. Help us there.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      I agree, Kenny and much appreciate you bringing this up. Consolidating these ideas would be very very helpful to not-so-smart folk like me.

  7. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    I enjoyed today’s article once again. Gen. Satterfield knows how to strike home with his blog posts and I find this site far more valuable that other so-called leadership websites that only post on occassion.

  8. Army Captain

    Thank you, Gen. Satterfield. Like Greg’s note below, I would also appreciate more fundamental leadership issues, less so at the military strategic level. These are much more fun to read and easier, certainly, to apply.

      1. Rev. Michael Cain

        Point well taken. I’m sure that Gen. Satterfield reads these comments in the forum he created and will take them into account when he writes future articles. Let’s continue to give him our feedback. As you know, he says that thoughtful criticism is valuable.

  9. Greg Heyman

    Some good lessons. I was, however, looking forward to more tactical level lessons learned. Maybe you could, some day, tell us about those. Those lessons that involved your leadership and how you accomplished some of your missions with the troops you had on hand.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Yep, well said Greg. I too would like to see Gen. Satterfield put all of these together. He could also keep them updated if he uses the electronic format.


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