A Lieutenant is Introduced to Leadership

By | July 27, 2020

[July 27, 2020]  My indoctrination to the U.S. Army as a Second Lieutenant began when I reported to my first Battalion Commander, a tight-lipped large man.  His stern expression gauged my military potential, and his scowl indicated an unfavorable prognosis.  I was about to be introduced to leadership in the real world.

Four of my classmates and I were finishing our lunch in the Mess Hall, in the Officers’ Eating Area, when a message came for our Platoon Leader.  The expression on his face made us a bit uneasy, and it was to affect our lives and careers forever.  A training exercise that was to begin at 0400 hours (4:00 am) the next morning had been designed and planned to determine our fitness as new Infantry Officers.

Until that moment, I believed my successful training at Fort Benning’s Infantry Officer Basic Course and seven years of enlisted service had provided me with sufficient knowledge to be an Army Officer.  The Battalion Commander had, of course, decided he was going to test our knowledge and character.

At 0400 hours sharp, all five of us were arranged in a large room just outside the cantonment area and adjacent to the unit’s motor pool.  Staff Officers of the battalion were present, seated around our commander, and we were told they would be the judges of our performance in the upcoming mechanized infantry exercise.  The first to speak was the Battalion Adjutant, a Captain, who announced that the “evaluation” was really just a formality and suggested we relax.

The Staff Operations Officer, an acid-tongued, especially obnoxious Major, demanded that we be evaluated to determine our “discipline, orderliness, and acuity.”    He wanted to ensure that the Army got men competent to command as officers, not fancy-pants schoolboys.  The five of us stood trembling in our boots, seemingly forgotten, as the Battalion Commander entered the conversation.

The Army had turned into a harsher place than I ever imagined it.  The staff agreed to judge us based on a day-long exercise with Alpha Company, acting as a test-bed of leadership.  We were each given a platoon of 30 men, orders to infiltrate an “enemy” Task Force and report what we learned via secure radio communications.  We were given one hour to be with our platoons, brief them on our plan, ensure our platoons had their basic stock of ammunition, food, and fuel.1

After the exercise was complete, we were all brought in for a decision.  Eventually, after we had spent more than two hours in a side room where we could not hear their deliberations but noticeably heard shouting and arguing, I was called into the room.  I was told that my assignment would be Food Service Officer, assistant to the Supply Officer, ammunition accountability officer, and to assist the Base gardener.

As I was collecting my wits, my Platoon Leader whispered in my ear, “Tell ‘em you joined the Infantry to be a soldier, not to understudy cooks and supply clerks, count bullets, or grow vegetables … You want a combat soldier’s assignment.”  I did just that.  And, the Battalion Commander blasted my logic and said that “What I want and what I get may not be the same thing.”

After a short pause, the Executive Officer pushed his chair back, walked around to face me, smiled, and said, “Welcome to our regiment and to the battalion.”  Others crowded around and shook my hand, welcoming me to the unit.  We had been introduced to real leadership and I would never forget the experience.

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  1. The task given us seemed impossible. We had no time to know the men, inspect or account for our soldiers, or to decide who were the most capable leaders.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

26 thoughts on “A Lieutenant is Introduced to Leadership

  1. Len Jakosky

    Another memorable article by Gen. Satterfield. Story telling is what sets this website from others that simply list leader characteristics. Well done.

    1. Drew Dill

      Yes, he shares with us his experiences — good and often the bad — to show us HOW he acted and WHAT he was thinking at the time. This is another important point in making this such a valuable website. It doesn’t substitute for further reading and experience but this is where you can get a daily snippet of leadership ideas.

  2. Tom Bushmaster

    I always enjoy your articles, Gen. Satterfield and this one is no exception. The fact that there is always a lesson, makes these blog posts that much more useful. Entertaining as well. It is good to see that even you had a hard time in the beginning. Keep up your great work on educating us. BTW, I love the forums, as they add to my understanding and they are entertaining as well.

    1. apache2

      Same here Tom. I too love these articles that are most personal for Gen. Satterfield. He is obviously humble enough to allow us into his life to learn lessons that he learned, often, the hard way.

  3. Willie Shrumburger

    “A Lieutenant gets Schooled on Real World Leadership”
    Perhaps a better title, what do you think?

    1. old warrior

      True enough, Willie. Real world leadership is in short supply these days, in particularly, at the senior levels. Even stupidity ensnares the most senior. Just look at Sec of Defense Mark Esper who recommended that the military change their base names (of those named after confederate generals). I say he is pretty good but now and again steps on his wiener. Mark, please get back in your box or someone like President Trump will kick your butt — again.
      https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/07/17/pentagon-consider-stripping-names-gender-pronouns-selection-boards.html

      1. Harry Donner

        Old Warrior, you just made my day. There is a lesson here, actually many lessons. 1. Even the most senior leaders can go stupid, 2. Always good to have someone looking over your shoulder to issue corrective guidance, and 3. Great to have commonsense in leadership (something I’m not so sure Esper has).

      2. Albert Ayer

        I nearly spit up my coffee thru my nose when I read your comment, old warrior. And, it’s not the first time, either. I should be more careful in the future. ?

  4. Darryl Sitterly

    Wow, you really worked for some tough guys being in the army infantry. Well said. Enjoyed your story and I could see myself there also shaking in my boots.

  5. Roger Yellowmule

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield. I got a big laugh out of your article. Well written and thanks for making my day.

    1. Scotty Bush

      Ha Ha…. yes me too.
      ? …. all thumbs up today.

    2. Nick Lighthouse

      Yes, I agree. This is the kind of leadership works I signed up for when I decided to get off the factor floor and into management. Did this years ago and never looked back.

  6. Greg Heyman

    I have heard that this course at Fort Benning is one of the best in the world for cranking out leaders. Overall, the majority of them continue on to do well in both the military and civilian life. Is it a self-selection process that insures this or something else?

  7. Tracey Brockman

    Loved your article, this morning, Gen. Satterfield. I’m always on the look out for new and interesting stories about leaders and how they fared in it. How we perform under stress will test our character and our skills. But most importantly, our CHARACTER for it determines how far we will go or not.

    1. Georgie M.

      Good point, Tracey. I agree with you and that is why our upbringing is so important and why a good Christian upbringing is considered one of the best.

    2. Eric Coda

      Character matters. Either you have it or you don’t. Skills can be developed, while character is something more deep seated.

      1. Billy Kenningston

        Yes, this is an on-going debate that will always be there. I suggest that we are actually BOTH. Whenever we do something, our temperament matters as well as our skill sets.

  8. Army Captain

    Excellent story and one that many of us as lieutenants (and similar titled junior leaders) have also experienced. I like to think back on those times as great fun but also highly stressful.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      Yes, interesting post today by Gen. Satterfield. I also think most of us have had similar experiences.

    2. Linux Man

      Army Captain, I agree. I also would like to humbly suggest that we get together and make more recommendations to Gen. Satterfield, either a new section about Q&As or something along those lines. What do you think? A Question and Answer tab on his website where we could ask his opinion on various topics. Hmmmm, I don’t know how he would do it but I think it might be worthwhile. Your thoughts?

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