[November 12, 2019] Lost but overlooking the inner German border wall, my platoon of Military Policemen was trying to reconnoiter a new laager site. Our mission had been to find an alternate location to put troops in case of a Soviet invasion from East Germany. Our Platoon Leader had good common sense, but in this case, he had failed his tasking. Next time, sir, let’s stick to the plan. Staff Sergeant “Red” Williams politely told our new Lieutenant that all was not lost.
It was 1975, and we were to receive stateside troops for one of the largest peacetime exercises ever undertaken. REFORGER (from REturn of FORces to GERmany) was to practice our wartime duties. The Cold War was a serious business for NATO. And, we were expected to learn our trade and ensure that troops from outside Germany could get to where they told and do so without incident.
The term, good initiative, bad judgment comes out when a military service member does something for a good reason, but things turn out awful. A great example would be when your Platoon Leader says he knows a shortcut through the woods, and then he gets the platoon lost. I saw this happen many times, and so have everyone else. I chalk this up to learning the hard way.
One good thing that I like about the U.S. military is that leaders are generally tolerant of mistakes. Leaders know that learning on the job is part of dealing with people, even if trained and experienced. It’s difficult for new leaders to understand initiative and judgment and how they interplay. To succeed at it in peacetime means that leaders will be likely to do well in combat.
Our Lieutenant judged the proposed laager location incorrectly. You should never locate it within sight of the enemy (the inner border wall). He had shown good initiative by finding a heavily wooded area but got too close to the border. We all got a big chuckle out of the LT’s mistake and would remind him later.
Taking the initiative wins battles. It puts us ahead of our enemy or competition’s decision cycle. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest is often erroneously quoted as saying his wartime strategy was to “git thar fustest with the moistest.”1 The quote is, however, a novel and succinct condensation of the military principles of mass and maneuver.
Our Platoon Leader did exercise good initiative; he got there quickly with all his men. As leaders, we should remember that to succeed also means to exercise good judgment.