[September 13, 2019] In the hottest part of the Summer of 1983, over 200 U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenants were on a 25-mile forced-march in the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Fort Benning, Georgia. At the 19th mile point, I’d never been so exhausted in my life, when our Battalion Commander drove up beside us in his jeep to say, “You damn babies might be trying but trying don’t mean a crap in my book.”
His unkind words had an immediate and very much intended effect. It energized us to finish the march. A small group of us ran the last 500 yards to the end-point. We were ecstatic; overjoyed that we had made the final and longest marches to complete our 19-week basic course. Those who did not finish did not graduate. We learned that mental attitude was just as important as physical strength and endurance to complete that major physical feat.
Later, as we moved from assignment to other assignments, our group of lieutenants learned that leaders make it happen and that failed attempts don’t matter one whit. Your intent to finish the job or a valiant but failed effort to complete the job means nothing. Leaders are in leadership positions to complete the mission and care for their followers. Half-measures don’t make it.
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was a man of great accomplishments. He was no nail-biter, quitter, or ne’er-do-well of a man. Like any leader worth his salt, Roosevelt got things done and he understood that it took more than trying and failing. In his famous quote below, he mocks the ‘cold and time souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’ But it’s in victory that leaders shine the most and are most valued.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Martin was the commander in a jeep that day. A highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, thrice seriously wounded in action, Silver Star medal winner, and devoted family man. Martin knew how to set clear standards, hold his men to that standard, and motivate them to achieve anything the Army needed. I was happy to finally graduate and move on to my first Mechanized Infantry Platoon. What he taught me stayed with me and I’ve always lived by the idea that trying “don’t mean a crap.”