[August 31, 2020] By early 2005, my unit had been in combat in Iraq for nearly a full year.1 One day, with little notice, our commander told us to prepare for a Congressional Delegation visit. At first thought, we were incredulous. What could a group of Congressmen do for us? That was when we learned about the caring of VIPs and the importance of making things go well.
Like so many experienced leaders will tell you, there is often no middle ground; either you’ll look good or you’ll stink. Nothing has caused me more consternation than accompanying a senior commander and the worry that the receiving unit will screw things up. The value of a VIP visit should be easy to figure out, but like my combat unit in 2005, most don’t understand how much a VIP can help them. Thus, the need to ensure the visit goes well.
A genuinely worthy VIP would never visit without the ability to bring something to the table. VIPs provide value, but, like all humans, if they are treated poorly or clumsily, they may not give what they possess. Nearly every junior officer, capable as they are, rarely regard VIP visits more than a nuisance. I can understand that thinking; I was one of them.
Never underestimate a VIP visit; what they can do for you, or, conversely, what they can do to harm you. Here are a few notes from U.S. Army General Aubrey “Red” Newman on the care and feeding of VIPs:
- Standards vary significantly for the care of VIPs. To overdo, it is just as bad taste as poor hospitality.
- The best way to handle the VIP situation is with courtesy, military efficiency, and proper protocol. Put the right officer in charge.
- Visiting VIPs come to see the situation, and to help. Thus they are happy to receive well-considered requests for aid in their fields. They should be welcomed as friends at court with influence and power.
- Most VIPs are inspectors too. Thus, a VIP who meets sloppy house-keeping arrangements for himself, and whose visit is fouled up administratively, will think overall standards are lacking.
- Finally, though men in ranks don’t seem to realize this, visiting VIPs are the soldier’s friends.
The Congressmen visiting our unit asked what we thought was the greatest concern of the soldier on the battlefield. We told them that using peacetime rules to fight an enemy was unsound policy and counterproductive to conduct any war. For other reasons, the visit was marred by a lack of preparation and some good-old bad luck. We never heard from these Congressmen again, and nothing ever changed regarding the conduct of the war from the U.S. Congress.