Don’t be like Lieutenant Hang Fire

[June 8, 2021]  Decades ago, my first job after promotion to Sergeant in the U.S. Army was to be a mortar crew chief.  It didn’t take long for our crew to become proficient at our jobs, but one day something unexpected happened.  When my loader put a round into the tube, it didn’t come out.  When this happens, the round is stuck in the barrel of the mortar; we call it a hang fire.  Hang fires are dangerous.

In the ‘modern’ army, these soldiers are called Indirect Fire Crewmen; okay, but you get the idea.  Our Platoon Leader, a new Second Lieutenant, was an Infantry Officer but not educated in the ways of motormen and their guns.  Our M29, medium 81 mm gun mortar crew didn’t like the lieutenant.

He always appeared to wait until something happened before he would act.  One night while firing on distant targets at Fort Polk, Louisiana, our lieutenant failed to notify range control that we were attempting a problematic shoot with flares.  Flares illuminate the target.  We had a fast crosswind on this night, meaning we had to shoot our flares outside the range safety fan.  That way, the flares would arrive over the target about the time the high-explosive rounds landed.  This required special permission.  It also required considerable skill, which we had.

We got into a lot of trouble with this lieutenant.  I had personally asked him politely to make the radio call to Range Control.  His excuse was that he was waiting for me to give him the ‘go ahead.”  That night we started calling him Lieutenant Hang Fire.  From that night until the end of his time as our Platoon Leader, Lieutenant Hang Fire would be a dud (another mortar term).

Of course, we could not call him Hang Fire to his face, which would be disrespecting an Officer (a UCMJ offense).  We knew better.  We would never let him do anything important alone without one of us physically with him.  That way, I could ensure the job was done and done right.  Being an officer is not easy because of the responsibilities involved.  He failed to do his job, but since it affected us, we made sure his job was completed.

Since this problem with our mortar occurred during a training exercise, there was no real emergency.  We learned, however, the hard way that it takes more than just a good mortar gun crew to put rounds down range on target.  It also takes good communications, planning, verification that soldiers are adequately trained, and keeping the right people informed.

This event would help me later in life as an Infantry Officer.  Good officers work closely with their NCOs and, if they are smart, take the information their NCOs give men to heart.  Lieutenant Hang Fire did not follow this simple lesson.  Don’t wait for others to act.  Don’t be like Lieutenant Hang Fire.

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.

19 thoughts on “Don’t be like Lieutenant Hang Fire

  1. Bryan Z. Lee

    Compelling article on how ‘not to be like a leader.’ These are the stories that make reading this leadership blog worthwhile. 😊

  2. Jonnie the Bart

    Great advice, especially for new leaders. “Don’t be like Lieutenant Hang Fire.” I won’t be forgetting this story.

  3. Tom Bushmaster

    It was not that long ago that I had a boos in my job as a stocker in a big supermarket in the deep south. In Mississippi at the time, the store called “Piggly Wiggly” – yup, that’s right – was trying out a new program with store managers. My new store manager really didn’t have the experience. I believe it was because she was a woman and the store wanted more women in management positions, they put here there without the credentials necessary for success. Of course, she struggled greatly, we suffered for it. A real mismatch in qualifications vs. needed skills. One of her biggest problems was not being forward thinking enough and then waiting for us to come to her with problems rather than her taking on problems quickly.

    1. Tony Cappalo

      I hope that you got out of that situation quickly. Nothing like working for a terrible leader.

      1. rjsmithers

        We can also learn from bad leadership as well. If nothing else, we learn what not to do. THis is a common theme in Gen. Satterfield’s blog.

  4. Dale Paul Fox

    I soooo remember so much of the army slang from my short time in the army that your article brings them back. Thank you for stirring up old memories.

  5. Audrey

    Funny. You must have been a real crack-up as a Sergeant, Gen. Satterfield.

    1. H. M. Longstreet

      I’m sure was. But he was also a ball buster as well.

  6. Randy Goodman

    Gen. Satterfield, excellent article on a little known phenomena. There are so-called leaders who don’t want to really put in the effort to ‘see’ the future (a vision) and then communicate what they see and then resource it. They fail. Then they are quick to put the blame on others. Such ‘leaders’ are not authentic leaders at all.

  7. Willie Shrumburger

    Lots of humor at many levels in this apparently serious article. I hope others catch what I have read and laugh to themselves a bit. Your Lieutenant Hang Fire must have been one of the many clueless officers we’ve all experienced, regardless of profession. Some of them eventually figure out what it is like to be a leader, while some don’t and get removed from their jobs. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for another on-target article.

    1. Eric Coda

      Of course, Gen. S. is once again onto something special here and that is, IMO, that leaders must be PROACTIVE. Otherwise, why have them at all.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        And that is the complaint we have of those people who think they “deserve” a leadership position simply because they are there and have the time in at a job. They are nearly always great failures (but not in their own minds). When they fail, they blame it on others.

      2. Jake from Illinois

        Lots of great comments so far on this article. The point, I think, is that leaders must not sit back & wait for something to happen but must act to guide folks to mission completion.

  8. Army Captain

    I’m sure you had great fun, as well as frustration with LT Hang Fire.

    1. Frank Graham

      He He, for those who have never been in the US military – or any military for that matter – cannot truly understand what you have written here Army Captain. Thank you for your service and your humorous daily posts.

      1. JT Patterson

        Well said. ….. btw, Army Capt, keep up your work in the US army. We need real men like you doing the hard work. Ignore the stupid leaders when you can.

    2. Randi Jamison

      Thank you for your service Army Captain. We do appreicate you esp. when you comment on the military aspects of these articles; to confirm, support, and add to our understanding. Keep on making comments here in Gen. Satterfield’s forums.


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