[February 5, 2022] We hear, on occasion, of heroic deeds of our military personnel; those who put their lives on the line for their buddies in a display of unbelievable courage. We need heroes like that, and for reasons of necessity, we do indeed love our heroes. But, there are also many more stories of ordinary troops who, along with their teammates, accomplish unimaginable feats.1 My message; know our troops.
I began my time in the U.S. Army as a Private, the lowest rank; I was a simple foot Soldier. Over the years, I would learn much from America’s best Sergeants in charge. I took away something important from that experience and what they taught me. I will never forget them, for they are the ones who do the heavy lifting and are exposed most to danger and death.
In the past, I joked to my friends that the best-trained Officer was one who had been a Private. It was no joke; to us, it was true.
At my first duty assignment, I would experience my first lesson in leadership. I made up my mind that I wanted to be a Sergeant right there. I also quickly learned that to do a job right, you had to have the right people and leaders to make it happen. I knew I could help because I understood what needed doing and the right motivation to do it.
Years later, when the Army promoted me to “buck” sergeant, I was happy; my goal in life was achieved. Still, my experience as a Private led me to swear that I would never give up on them or ever let them down. I could empathize with what they had to endure from their leaders.
Many leaders today, especially those in the most senior positions, have forgotten the foot Soldier, Marine, Airman, Sailor, or Coastie. Leaders of our troops are caught up in the affairs of their job, the daily emails, the meetings, the workshops, getting that corner office, going out to lunch with their boss, and even rubbing elbows with politicians.
Many years later, after college and commissioning as an Officer, the Army sent me to Iraq. I arrived as an experienced Lieutenant Colonel of senior military rank. I will never forget the promise I made to myself that I would help safeguard those foot Soldiers, the warfighters. That is precisely what I did.
My leadership philosophy demanded I get to know our troops.
There was nothing more humbling than to be in their presence. Regardless of rank, most will tell you the truth right away if you ask. It was the Sergeant that made things work. But, it was the Private that was doing the hardest work, and they were also the most brutally honest.
Frequent talks with our troops also reinforced my positive view of them. They had decided to place themselves in harm’s way in combat because their country called and to protect their battlebuddies. Our troops did this every day, and they did it for the bond of brotherhood.
We can only understand this camaraderie by being there with those troops, talking to them where they are, and being part of their day. What they did and how they acted is what courage looks like; there is no substitute.
It was refreshing to know the troops.
- Exerts from my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” (go to article here).
Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).