[August 18, 2021] It is the unwritten creed of soldiers everywhere and across time that no man is ever left behind on the battlefield. At its heart, the idea is based on the most elementary human need; trust. If we trust our fellow man, for him to stand up with us and to have our backs, then we can stand against the most frightening of evils.
I’m unaware of any official U.S. Department of Defense policy or regulation or any rule of law, nor is there any specific tactic or strategy calling for no one left behind. Less obvious is the fact that such a “creed” has been the way troops anywhere, across cultures and time, conduct themselves. To do so is honorable. It is all about being part of a close-knit team. Only cowards run from it.
“Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy, and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.: – part of the U.S. Army Ranger creed1
In April of 2004, while I was with the 1st Cavalry Division’s engineers, an attack near the suburb of Abu Ghraib resulted in two soldiers and three KBR contractors being captured. The hunt was on. No stone was left unturned. Our forces were out for those missing in action. It mattered not to us that some of those missing were not soldiers. We put our lives on the line for them.
Trust and confidence in our fellow man is the basis of all human endeavors. Read any book on philosophy from the ancients, and “trust” will always be a significant theme. Why? Its importance is so crucial that without trust, we are nothing better than tribal savages. Some will argue that even savages have a similar creed. That is how we all survive.
In the movie Black Hawk Down (2001), based on the U.S. military’s 1993 raid in Mogadishu, most of those killed and wounded were part of the rescue team. They put themselves in the line of fire to fulfill the promise that they would never leave a fallen comrade behind. This scenario is played repeatedly in movies with a few variations, as in Saving Private Ryan (1998) or dramatized in the mini-television series No Man Left Behind.
Even if killed many years ago, the U.S. military continues to hunt for our country’s war dead. There is a very active program to recover remains from servicemen killed during any of our past wars. This action is conducted by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Their motto? “Fulfilling our Nation’s Promise.”2 That promise is that we will never leave you behind.
A few days ago, the United States abandoned its Afghanistan allies to the Taliban’s forces taking over the country. In an unofficial video, I saw people clinging to the underbelly of U.S. Air Force cargo planes taking off. The sight of this scene was horrific because it was “in our face” that we were leaving these people behind. Allowing this to happen is the epitome of cowardice.
As a commander of troops in combat, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if any of my soldiers went missing, that I was to do everything in my power to recover them and do so immediately. Failure was not an option. We would go anywhere and into any place and do everything possible (morally) to get them back. That is what we do for our fellow human beings. The alternative is unacceptable.