[October 10, 2019] In late 1944, my uncle “DJ” was a cook with the 2nd Infantry Division in Belgium when the Germans attacked. The Battle of the Bulge would go down in history as one of the most famous and strategically important battles of WWII. In his recollections, my uncle was ordered to “grab a rifle and be ready to repel the German panzer.” He was then told to dig a foxhole and bag it. When necessary, in war and peace, everyone fills sandbags.
At the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Fort Benning, Georgia, I learned a lot. As a shiny new Second Lieutenant I could expect to lead my men into battle but that I was also expected to dig my own foxhole and clean my own rifle. Those jobs were not to be given out to others; they were my responsibility. Being a good leader means pitching in and doing those dirty, dangerous jobs everyone else does.
Any officer who is present with his men and shares the danger and stresses will develop a great rapport. You will earn their respect, appreciation, and trust. When they have a problem, they will come to you. When they speak to you, it will be honestly and openly.
This means, literally for us in the Army and metaphorically, that everyone fills sandbags. Everyone shares in the duties required to complete the mission successfully. Everyone is part of it. We know everyone’s names, their weakness and desires, their kid’s names, what they like to eat, and their fears and loves. Any leader who “fills sandbags” with their troops will find that the social bond is as strong, as it is enduring.
“That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. go by, from this day to the end of time, without our being remembered: we few, we happy few, we band of brothers—for whoever sheds his blood with me today shall be my brother. However humble his birth, this day shall grant him nobility.’ – Shakespeare
Over the past week, I’ve been re-watching the HBO 2001 TV mini-series Band of Brothers. The origin of the term Band of Brothers is from the Shakespeare play Henry V (Act 3, Scene 3). The meaning is clear for those who study and practice leadership. It means that there exists an unbreakable bond between those who share in the everyday lives of those who are good people.
In the lives of real leaders, everyone does, indeed, fill sandbags.