[September 21, 2020] I admit it, I love dogs. My life began with my trusty Cocker Spaniel “Rusty,” and we were inseparable. Dogs have a special connection with humans, a meta-story that tells of great companionships. But today, I’m talking about another story. This is about how leaders are chosen. I’m calling it the pick of the litter story.
It was 1984, or thereabouts when I was promoted to First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Our Infantry Brigade Commander had called all his junior officers (Captain and below in rank) into a vast auditorium to give us guidance on what he wanted to see from his men. I don’t know how many were there, but it must have been two hundred of us.
He began his talk about the importance of being a good officer, setting the right tone for our soldiers, standing up for what is right, hard work, sacrifice, etc. It was a good speech. He also said, “Those of you in this room are the pick of the litter.”
I thought back to the dogs in my life and initially misunderstood what he was getting at with this comment. Our commander wanted to tell us that the citizens of the U.S. had given us an opportunity that only a few have and that we were special because we were chosen for our assignments by others.
Yes, we were the pick of the litter. We must have been. Of the few hundred there, at least a dozen General Officers came from the group; nearly all had fought in the Gulf Wars with distinction, at least half had advanced college degrees, and – as far as I knew – we all served with honor.
Someone once said that ten percent of those that work for you produce 90 percent of the work. I believe it. Those in that auditorium that day had navigated a long and challenging path to get where we were. We had graduated from college, completed several military courses, had stayed out of trouble with the law, were physically and mentally fit, and we were a determined bunch. When we got our assignments, we carried out our duties completely.
A month later, the Brigade Commander chose 15 new Company Commanders. Usually, this goes to a Captain or senior First Lieutenant. I was fortunate to get one of these command slots with one month in grade. We were all honored by his chooses. Looking back to that time, I was unable to ferret out why I was chosen. Regardless, it set me on the right path, and I retired with 40 years of service.
Maybe I was, for that time, the pick of the litter. Never would I let something like that go to my head.1 In a word, I was humbled. As a Company Commander and as the only First Lieutenant in this distinguished group made me feel pretty good. But I never forgot that I was chosen by others and thus I had to keep my nose clean and do a good job.