Lessons from Fixing a Broken U.S. Army Company

By | March 13, 2023

[March 13, 2023]   My life was about to become more difficult and complex, or so I thought.  As a senior Captain, I had been given command of saving a broken U.S. Army company with the singular mission to “fix it.”  Unbeknown to me, my life would get much simpler in a good way and much less anxiety provoking.  As well, things were going to get more exciting and adventurous.

At the end of Desert Storm, one of our Engineer companies had a commander who was not up to the job.  His First Sergeant, several officers, and senior NCOs were not performing, so the decision was made to bring me in to clean things up.  I did not look forward to the assignment because I thought it might mean working terribly long hours, firing leaders from their positions, tangling with my higher headquarters’ staff (who were of higher rank), and breaking a few rules along the way.  These were risky.

Here is my basic methodology.  My first rule is say what you think.  I wanted to create an atmosphere of unity among the troops and a sense of moving toward the goal of regaining their combat effectiveness, where they could be proud of their hard work.  I would tell them the truth and encourage my Soldiers to also tell me the brutal truth without retribution.

I could have taken the position of storming into the company and dominating everything from the get-go, hammering out new draconian policies, firing everyone connected to the unit’s past failures, and making all the decisions, large and small.  I could have lied to them that their reputations relied upon my success in cleaning up the company, and I had a zero-tolerance attitude about perfect performance.  But these were human beings, which is certainly not a good long-term fix-it strategy.

What I was about to do was a bit terrifying to me.  I did tend to micromanage more than I should have, but I was going to change that for the better.  I knew that any mistakes I made would come back to haunt this unit in the future, and any Soldier’s reputation I destroyed would not be good for them or me and in a magnified way.  Indeed, I was terrified of failure and taking a tremendous strategic risk.

My second rule, be careful what you say.  Do not say something patently untrue, like they are a good unit.  That would be pandering, and Soldiers can quickly pick up on that shading of the truth.  This is a fast way to lose credibility.  These two rules were a great place to start, and I began it right away as the core of making change radically and positively.

My third rule, encourage my Soldiers to adopt more responsibility.  Don’t pass a problem by.  Fix it right there before you move on, I would say.  And I helped them develop a plan for the future to make them all better Soldiers, but it was their plan (with a bit of input from me); they would have to implement that plan when I was not around.  They needed buy-in.

My fourth rule, be positive.  I smiled often, told a few jokes, shook hands, showed them that I cared about them and their families and their jobs, and would pat them on the back for a good job.  They would never see me angry or frustrated.

We would eventually become the best company in the battalion.  And it was not that hard to do.  I found that my Soldiers were, in fact, brutally honest.  Then I would help fix the problem, and I sure did get an education on what could go wrong.  I enjoyed this assignment, and it was exciting every day and adventurous.  This is why I believe I stayed in the U.S. Army for four decades.

Telling the truth works.


Please read my books:

  1. “55 Rules for a Good Life,” on Amazon (link here).
  2. “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

23 thoughts on “Lessons from Fixing a Broken U.S. Army Company

  1. Rev. Michael Cain

    “Be careful what you say.” True enough but also you must tell the truth. Shooting your mouth off at the wrong time in front of the wrong people might not be such a good idea. Keep the faith, all.

  2. Ursala J. Simpson

    Very good article, Gen. Satterfield and thanks for giving us some insight into what blunt honesty can do for you. It can make things easier and put you, also, on the path to an adventure you will never forget. Oh, and others will appreciate you for it.

  3. Jerome Smith

    This is why I believe I stayed in the U.S. Army for four decades.
    Telling the truth works.

    1. Good Dog

      Gen. Satterfield is all over this. Tell the truth or at least don’t lie. Don’t say things you know to be false, even if you gain a temporary advantage, maybe just keep your mouth shut if it frightens you. Stay the course, work hard, take full responsibility for what you do and say. That is the way to a good life. Believe me and read Gen. Satterfield’s book:

  4. Idiot Savant

    ” My first rule is say what you think. I wanted to create an atmosphere of unity among the troops and a sense of moving toward the goal of regaining their combat effectiveness, where they could be proud of their hard work. I would tell them the truth and encourage my Soldiers to also tell me the brutal truth without retribution.” Best advice ever.

    1. Watson Bell

      If you can’t tell the truth, you will be found out and pegged as a liar, cheat, and charlatan. That will not work for you at all.

      1. Kenny Foster

        Right, and too many think they can warp reality and bend it to their advantage. The problem is that reality will, at some point, snap back and hit you unexpectedly in the arse. Then, what will you do? Cry? That is what we are NOT teaching our young anymore because we are afraid of “triggering” them and making them not like us. Tough sh$$. Get you act together and let others know when they are out of line. That is the way we both encourage freedom of speech but also ensure we all remain within the realm of reality.

  5. Ron C.

    I am particularly appreciate of the articles here that list “lessons learned.” It is easy to read and keep track of them. This article really hit home for me.

  6. Janna Faulkner

    Another great article from the mind of Gen. S. and from his experiences in the US Army. Now, my question is “How did he know that being honest and brutally telling the truth and encouraging his men to tell the truth would work?” Now that is something to think about. Maybe he just knew it from his previous military experience. I know they tell you to tell the truth always. And Gen. S. has written about this often and in fact this is a major theme of his. Tell the truth. Gen. Satterfield, you are a gem.

    1. Emma Archambeau

      Got that right sister, too bad he is already married. ❤❤❤❤❤

  7. docwatson

    Beautiful day, late Winter …yeah! Great lessons.., yeah! Well done, Gen. Satterfield.

  8. Pink Cloud

    We all have lessons we have learned, often the hard way, and lessons that actually WORKED. Sharing them does us all good. I can appreciate the fact that Gen. Satterfield’s main lesson is just telling the truth. It works and it works well. Everyone should take this lesson to heart.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Right Pink Cloud, if we don’t take it to heart, then we will have missed the main theme of Gen. S.’s on-going drumbeat to be honest, hardworking, a truthteller, a storyteller, adopt responsibility, and moving toward a noble and important goal. That is what we can do to be successful in our lives.

    2. Bryan Z. Lee

      Well commented on, Pink. Thanks. You can also read more details about how to “fix” things and live a good life or successful one in Gen. Satterfield’s newest book “55 Rules for a Good Life.” You can pick it up on Amazon. Or email Gen. Satterfield to get an autographed version. enjoy!!!!!!!


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