[October 11, 2019] He came from “the other side of the tracks.” Staff Sergeant John Crèche was young, brash, and flippant. Born to a poor family on a ranch in southern Texas, John had a refreshing ability to see beyond the platitudes, the red tape, and the prima donnas that infect all large organizations. And, he never hesitated to speak his mind. John was a maverick, and I kept him near me at all times.
Why would I put up with rude behavior from him was simple; I wanted clarity in my dealings with other leaders. I was a full-bird Colonel commanding a brigade that required my full attention. Like any leader, it is impossible to keep tabs on everything that happens, and that is where John came in. He was the kind of person you didn’t want to walk through your door. If he did, it meant trouble; something was wrong and needed fixing.
I was given some good advice as a young Engineer Captain when I was asked to command a broken company of soldiers, just returning from Desert Storm. A stodgy old First Sergeant came to me with some ideas about how to correct the myriad of problems we had. His comment to me was that he knew a young soldier – a “maverick” as he called him – that I might want to interview. This soldier was a true maverick. I was one of the few officers who could tolerate him. Thinking back on my company command, I know that he contributed greatly to our successes.
Later in my career, I came across another maverick. As a side note, most soldiers like this are encouraged to leave the military. But, Staff Sergeant Crèche was a rare breed of soldier. True enough, he didn’t like obeying orders. In reality, he didn’t like obeying orders from military officers he considered “dimwits.” It took me a long time to earn his respect and trust. But it was an effort that would bring my unit accolades as we improved the brigade’s combat readiness.
John Crèche was a man who could stand toe-to-toe with me and tell me how things were screwed up. It didn’t matter to him that my rank was far above his or that I had combat experience, and he did not. To him, a man was a man, and he was going to tell me what was going on that was wrong. I learned my lesson as an Engineer Captain that if you keep mavericks at your side – earning their respect and trust – you will not regret it.
History is full of mavericks; Horatio Nelson, William Slim, George Patton, and – yes – George Washington.1 The course of history has been changed by military mavericks that were in the right place at the right time. In the current age of Pentagon generals and admirals who command from afar, we forget that wars are won or lost by the commander with the best vision of the battlefield and knowledge of his men and his enemy. That is why I always advise keeping mavericks at your side.
1. Military Mavericks: Extraordinary Men of Battle: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2566624-military-mavericks