[June 25, 2017] It was the winter of 1974 when our Military Police platoon lined up for a “police call” for trash that might be around in the company area. Our unit’s mission was to guard nuclear warheads but today we were picking up trash. The order was then given for all sergeants to step to the rear.
Our NCOs were to supervise us low-ranking Privates on how to keep the area clean. When all our leaders had stepped back there were only two of us remaining. “Gee,” my companion said, “I don’t need a dozen sergeants to take charge of me picking up trash off the ground.” I couldn’t have agreed more and this was my first lesson in leadership.
What I learned that day was advice given in an old Army saying, “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.” It meant you can’t always get things done efficiently or correctly if you don’t have enough people to actually do the work. This was not to be my first experience with this problem. Later in Iraq we saw this as we were designing the Coalition’s main base layout in Baghdad; everyone had something to say.
The other lesson I learned was that sometimes leaders must step in and actually do the work they have others do. Our sergeants were told to pitch-in and pickup the trash too. It worked; the task was done in only a few minutes and with little sweat. More hands made for an easier effort. Someone was smart that day … good for him.
Later during my time as a new Second Lieutenant in what is known as the “heavy Infantry,” we cleaned our armored vehicles by first climbing underneath to determine the amount of dirt and rocks that are stuck in the corners of the track system. The best platoon leaders did this themselves; dirty work, yes, but it gave us credibility with the troops.
Our soldiers knew the junior officers would not command folks to do anything they weren’t willing to do themselves. I never forgot that day back in 1974 and frequently tell the story to illustrate the point that lessons are gained in the most unusual situations. No surprise this is why we should also treat our people with the respect they deserve.
As a young boy I played Cowboys and Indians (a game probably not allowed in today’s political correct culture). My friends all wanted to be the Indian Chief so we all ran around with extra feathers stuck in our headband shouting instructions for all the other warriors. But there weren’t any warriors, we were all Chiefs. Only much later did I learn the significance of my childhood experiences.
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