[August 4, 2020] Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese general and philosopher, once said, “If words of command are not clear and distinct if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame.” Some people say that a leader should only give his “intent” and allow those who follow the latitude to make proper decisions. That, however, doesn’t always work out so well. Case in point is when Delta Airlines workers decided to charge U.S. Army troops, returning from war, extra for their military baggage.
Cartoonist Michael P. Ramirez drew a forceful picture that mocks the policies of Delta Airlines. The airline charged troops extra for their luggage when returning from a combat tour. This came to light after members of the U.S. Army Detachment 62 returned in June 2011 from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan and were forced to pay $200 apiece out of their own pockets for additional baggage fees.1
Two months earlier, to this incident, I received my redeployment orders to return to the United States from Iraq. On April 11th, I was given my departure outbrief from the senior theater Engineer in Iraq, a Brigadier General. He posed five questions for me. His ideas involved how to be a better Army Engineer, and to do that, one needed to understand the senior commander better. Interestingly, this applies to not just Delta Airlines but to all organizations.
- What is our mission?
- Who are our customers?
- What does the customer value?
- What are our results?
- What is our plan?
“Customer” for us is the senior commander. What this General was telling me, was the importance of having clear and distinct orders. Otherwise, you will fail as a senior officer in the Army or any endeavor.
I arrived in the States at the end of April, paid my extra baggage fee on Delta Airlines, thought nothing of it, and the Army reimbursed me in full. But only after their policies went public did the leadership of Delta make changes. They had failed in their most basic task to make their policies clear. To the credit of Delta Airlines, they immediately changed their policy and would not, forthwith, charge extra baggage fees to troops traveling under military orders. Good move, Delta Airlines.