[February 13, 2020] The roof was cratered by a JDAM 500-pound bomb1 and it had crushed the support columns of a three-story Iraqi ministry building. Back in early 2004, my Army Engineers were studying the building as a possible site for an Infantry Brigade Headquarters. Sitting inside at the time was a young sergeant from the 1st Armored Division who had refused to leave when told to do so. He said (and I found it surprising at the time) that the ‘rules don’t apply to me.’
As time went by during my first Iraq War deployment, I found this attitude increasingly common among soldiers. It was as if the war had allowed rules to be disregarded at a whim and permitted a host of potentially deadly behaviors. Occupying a structurally unsound building is dangerous and stupid. If the structure collapsed, as it surely would at some point, his body might never be found.
Military leaders are busy people. During wartime, they don’t have the same level of daily hands-on effort due to the complexity and confusion of the battlefield. Undesirable behaviors can manifest themselves in such an environment. That is why officers are taught the dangers of such situations and how they can prevent or overcome them when encountered.
Soldiers are an innovative lot and are quick to take advantage of any given situation. That is one of the desirable features of the modern U.S. Infantryman in combat. Every time I seemed to have predicted who or what would use the facilities our Engineers built or repaired, I would be surprised at their inventive use. This attitude is why we got input first before doing any work on the ground. We made it central to the planning process.
Two years later, on my second combat deployment to Iraq, we ran into another similar problem. U.S. President Bush had agreed upon a new plan, a “surge” of troops to stem the tide of irregular warfare that had put us on the defensive. I was given a simple problem, but like so many, it had its surprises. Four Iraqi terrorists had escaped one of our internment camps. My job was to make sure that never happened again; an order directly from President Obama.
Before my HUMMV engine cooled off, I was on my way to the camp to develop a tentative plan of action. I meet with the U.S. Military Police battalion commander on the problem. His first words to me were, ‘Rules don’t apply to me.’ I had to blink before I responded and told him that my mission was to fix his camp to ensure no more escapes, and there would be no excuses. If that meant hogtying him, then so be it.
Over my career, I’ve heard this spoken many times. Others act as if the rules don’t apply to them. I could list many current politicians who fall into this category but the list would be redundant. Leaders learn quickly how to overcome this attitude (or maybe it’s a philosophy) and never take it as a final answer.
- I learned how to identify bombing effectiveness through experience in Iraq and discovered that this building had been hit with a guided air-to-surface 500-pound BLU-111/MK 82. https://www.military.com/equipment/joint-direct-attack-munition-jdam