[May 4, 2020] One of the basic rules of combat is to always keep moving (never be in one place long), else the real enemy might find you and attack. Always keep moving is good advice but it has some drawbacks.
My mechanized Infantry platoon had failed to link up with at a predetermined time and location established by our commander. We were waiting for a late group of soldiers to arrive when the OPFOR unexpectedly attacked. The mission failed and I was given a “no go” on the platoon-level leader skill of coordinating a rendezvous. Herein was the problem we experienced.
If you stand still long enough in combat, you’re going to be found and attacked. This lesson meant the best advice is, indeed, keep moving. Now that I’m older, I can more appreciate that advice, but I can also see that it has a few drawbacks as well.
My biggest problem was that I took my commander at his word literally and didn’t have the flexibility to accomplish a simple rendezvous when the other soldiers were late. Keep moving or staying in one location too long should be seen as a principle to be modified if necessary. Lesson learned; we train as we fight. My platoon had its proficiency rating downgraded and we were on extra duty for the duration of the week.
Another drawback to the advice of always keep moving is that doing so is impossible, practically speaking. We were part of a mechanized unit; thus, any movement was relatively easy. Yet maintenance, refueling, rest, and refit must be done sometime else the Armored Personnel Carrier, our weapons, and personal gear will cease to function. Being a new Second Lieutenant meant I lacked the relevant experience to be flexible in understanding my commander’s mission intent.
If you want to see how good advice from a leader can turn bad, the study of the deadly event that took place 50 years ago today. On this date, at Kent State University, four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a Vietnam War protest. This event is an excellent study in the psychology of people under stress and their actions can become unpredictable. I wrote about this several years ago.1
I took full responsibility for my platoon’s failure because it was indeed my fault for our lack of flexibility. But I took responsibility for another reason; leaders take care of their troops and are inherently answerable for what happens, good or bad.