Eating With the Privates

By | February 7, 2021

[February 7, 2021]  I spent my first year in the U.S. Army as a Private (E-1, in military jargon).  A private is the lowest rank, least experienced, most impressionable soldier.  They make up the largest population of soldiers, and we find lots of them on the battlefield.  My peers from the Officer corps put little faith in them.  Me?  I would always eat with the Privates.  They made me humble and appreciate being an American.

You have little responsibility as a Private, and yet, as expected, you get the dirtiest, least desirable jobs.  “Hey, Private, come here and clean out that grease trap.”  “We need a guinea pig to take off their gas mask to determine if the killer gas is still around; you’re the volunteer!”  I could go on, but I think our readers get the picture.  A Private has little value in the U.S. Army.  Or, do they?

As a senior Army Officer, I traveled extensively around the globe, visiting units and meeting with senior officers from other countries.  Those in charge of my schedule would place me with high-profile civilians and senior military personnel at every stop.  The idea was to establish relationships.  It worked.  However, I would always insist that my meals were with Army Privates (or Airmen Basic, Seaman Recruit, Marine Private) in the Mess Hall.

Peers of mine in the Army would ask why I would eat with the Privates or any “low-ranking soldier.”  The answer was easy.  Privates give you blunt, honest assessments of what they see.  You ask a question, and they give you the answer.  I gain tremendous insight into the real interworkings of their units.  There is no shading the truth, trying to make things look better than they are, misleading, or distortions.  I discovered they are amazingly straightforward; they have nothing to gain or lose by their answers.

There is a second reason I eat with the Privates; usually with six to eight at the table.  Those of lower rank have a biased view of senior Army leaders and the U.S. Army; I get the chance to set the record straight.  I believe they gain something from my visit.  They ask questions of interest to them.  These are far-ranging from generic Army questions like how to get promoted.  What I appreciate is when they tell me about why they joined the Army or their upbringing.

A third reason I eat with the Privates is to encourage them to adopt Army values (loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, and personal courage) and how to be successful as a soldier and a human being.  By following these values, telling the truth, working hard, adopting responsibility, and staying out of trouble, I tell them they will succeed.  How they look, where they are from, their religion, race, or gender does not determine their success.  Attitude matters.  How they act matters.

Those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who decide to place themselves in harm’s way in combat do so to protect their buddies.  They do it for the bond of brotherhood.  You can only understand this feeling by being there with them, talking with them on their terms, and being part of their day.  That is what leadership means; there is no substitute.

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.

23 thoughts on “Eating With the Privates

  1. Jeff Blackwater

    Great article, Gen. Satterfield. I get to learn something new every day from you blog and I just wanted to say that I do appreciate you effort to give us a little glimpse into the world of leadership.

  2. Trudy Markovich

    I’m new here to this leadership website. Great articles. Glad I found it.

  3. corralesdon

    Some great leadership lessons from Gen. Satterfield. Everyone, now, let’s pay attention here. Gen. S. is giving us some tips on leadership that we should be taking to heart. Thanks!!

    1. Frank Graham

      Yep, and that is why I am always coming back to this leadership website. 👍

      1. Andy Chan

        Ha ha, too good. I just love this leader-learning site. Pass it along to family and friends — to those you care about. 👍

  4. Rev. Michael Cain

    Thank you, Gen. Satterfield for another great article about your past. We all appreciate those stories and learn from each.

  5. Max Foster

    With all the Big Tech censorship and tacit support from the US President Biden and his supporters, the reasons Gen. Satterfield is giving for learning from the privates applies more than ever. When censorship (like in any tyranny) reigns, getting the ground truth is even more important than ever. On a similar line of thinking, Americans should be standing up to censorship but too many are busy playing games in their basement to worry that their god given rights are being taken away one at a time. Joe Biden is EVIL. More will realize it, perhaps too late.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      As usual, spot on comment, Max. Hey thanks. This whole idea of censorship of those you do not agree with, is truly tyrannical.

  6. Tom Bushmaster

    Gen. Satterfield was playing what we call the ‘long term game.’ He accumulates information from all sources. Junior folks in any organization are free to talk more than those who have more skin in the game. Talk to them. There is much to learn.

  7. Joe Omerrod

    I was listening to Doug Tennapel on YouTube earlier and got a few ideas from him. He is all about “freedom.” I put it in quotes because I was the word to stand out here. He has a channel called “Doug Tennapel in Exile.” I recommend it. His thinking is perfectly in line with what Gen. Satterfield has written here and in his blog daily. Go there. Here is a link:

    1. Linux Man

      Yeah, I just found him too. Go there. It takes a little time for him to grow on you. So, don’t be turned off early.

  8. Jerome Smith

    It was not that long ago that I was in the US Navy. I enjoyed my time there. I don’t know why I got out. Maybe it was that I didn’t like authority in the hands of young men just a year or so older than me and thus didn’t know really how to handle the power they were given. But, YES, I agree, you certainly can learn from the lower ranking sailors. They see the most base jobs that must be done and the attitude of those petty officers over them.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Good points, Jerome. I too was in the military and had a bit of difficulty getting adjusted. But, like Gen. Satterfield notes, there is a lot to learn from new soldiers. They are still too scared to lie.

      1. Dennis Mathes

        “Too scared to lie,” now that is so true. Maybe we all need a little extra motivation NOT to lie, cheat, or steal.

    2. rjsmithers

      Learn from where you can. We call it Walking Around, management. You gather info from just walking around and talking to people in your organization, on your community neighborhood, or just in your family. This info is invaluable for many reasons. Most of which gen. s. gaves us today. Thanks for another fantastic article.

  9. Stacey Borden

    Learning key values (check), stopping stereotypes (check), get blunt truthful answers (check). What could be better?

  10. Dufuss III

    Just cruising along, searching the internet this morning and came across your blog. Well done! Having also been a Private in the US Army, I can relate.

    1. JT Patterson

      Welcome aboard, Dufuss. Great to have you here at Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. We hope you stay, learn a bit, get some fun out of it, and on occasion, make a comment. Throw some ideas up on the wall for us to read and comment on. It gives us all a platform to have out ideas tested and improved. Congrats for finding this page.

    2. Kenny Foster

      Welcome Dufuss. I know will enjoy both the blog posts by Gen. Satterfield and the forums where we are friendly and use ideas to make ourselves better.

  11. Ronny Fisher

    Ha, good one, Gen. S. Thanks. A good read for my Sunday morning.


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