We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Showing leadership in the Ukraine

No, I don’t have any insights to share on the geo-politics, but I was incredibly impressed when I read CDR Salamander’s post on Ukrainian Colonel Yuli Mamchor. The Colonel commands Ukraine’s 204th Tactical Aviation Brigade assigned to the Belbek air base.

During World War II, the Russians built the airbase at Belbek while fighting the Germans. The 62nd Fighter Aviation Regiment was based in Belbek and it’s pilots not only fought from there, but also went on to guard the Yalta Conference in 1945 (according to a good article in Time). While the brigade is stationed there, no more than a handful of it’s MiG-29 fighter jets and L-39 training jets are operational.

The Russians had surrounded Mamchor’s command at their barracks, insisting that they surrender their weapons. They set a deadline. That passed and they set another deadline, “surrender by 4:00 pm on Tuesday or the Russians would cut off the power and the gas lines to the base.” Mamchor called their bluff.

Colonel Mamchor saluting the Ukrainian flag

At their morning assembly, the Colonel told his men they would march to the base, unarmed and resume their duties. Knowing that some men had already deserted and that this might be a suicide mission, he called for volunteers. The response was apparently near unanimous, but he chose to leave about half of his command at the barracks and march the rest over to the base.

They took the Soviet-era flag of the 62nd Fighter Aviation Regiment. “Any soldier born in the Soviet Union would have heard the stories of its legendary pilots”, noted TIME. Then, they marched, unarmed on the base. The handful of guards appear to have been stunned at such a crowd. Two of them took aim at the column, but fired warning shots in the air while shouting for them to stop. COL Mamchor only halted his demi-brigade within a few yards of the guards – the guard detachment’s NCO or junior officer restrained his men and conferred with the Colonel.

Colonel Mamchor went in to negotiate with the Russian commander, while his men relaxed as they waited, someone pulling out a soccer ball for a little scrimmaging. The Russians set up machine guns and were joined by local pro-Russian militiamen, but no incident occurred. Mamchor was able to secure the right for 10 of his men to resume their posts guarding the base, armed with their Kalashnikovs. The Russians hadn’t left, but Mamchor secured a victory.

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Mattis on reading

There’s no mistaking the respect of the Marines for many of their Generals and high in the pantheon must be General James N. Mattis. Back in 2004, “a colleague wrote to him asking about the ‘importance of reading and military history for officers,’ many of whom found themselves ‘too busy to read.'” Mattis responded in an email that has since gone viral. Mattis continues the grand tradition of well-read Marine officers who also excel in combat, following the example of none other than Chesty Puller, who carried a copy of Douglas Southall Freeman’s “Lee’s Lieutenants” with him in the Pacific. In his email, he dispenses with those who think there is nothing to learn for the modern warrior from books:

For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.

Unfortunately, Mattis had been planning on retiring this year. Evidence of the regard in which he is held are two hilarious articles posted on the military satire site, The Duffel Blog: Chaos: General James Mattis Announced As Next Commandant Of Marine Corps and James Mattis Retires To Search For Ancient Artifact.
At the Iwo Jima Alumni Association‘s annual reunion, Mattis spoke and I asked him if he’d ever had the chance to visit Iwo Jima or other Pacific battlefields with veterans of WWII. While he had done so on Okinawa, he’s not been to Iwo Jima. Mattis’ retirement may enable him to make that trip during the 70th anniversary of the battle with the IJAA. It might be the last trip authorized by Japan, as it may be the last trip involving veterans of the battle.


How to fail at seizing a weapons cache, 1775 edition, Part I: The Battle of Lexington

On the night of 18 April 1775, the British occupying Boston set out to seize a weapon’s cache at Concord, Massachusetts. On my visit to Boston over the weekend, I was reminded of some of the ingredients of this disaster.

General Thomas Gage had been appointed military governor of Massachusetts in 1774, but his 3000 troops affected little outside of their garrison in Boston. As such, when he was ordered to seize the rebellious colonists weapons and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, his troops had to set out from Boston to do so.

In order to retain the element of surprise, no one was told in advance of the expedition. It has been speculated that General Gage’s wife, who reportedly sympathized with the colonists, let word slip that the operation was going to take place. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the mustering of 700 soldiers at 9pm and preparations for marching would certainly have alerted the citizenry. So, the element of surprise was lost immediately and Paul Revere and William Dawes departed by separate routes to warn Adams and Hancock.

The British had sent out mounted patrols in advance to intercept just such couriers. Unfortunately, since such a patrol was so unusual, it served to alarm the locals and prompt rebel leaders to start rallying the militia anyway.

When choosing the composition of the force to march rapidly to seize the weapons and the leaders, Gage chose to draw each regiment’s light infantry company for speed and their grenadier company to serve as the shock troops. On the surface, this sounds like it might be a good strategy. The light infantry companies were made of soldiers used to moving fast, often serving as skirmishers and tended to be among the better trained and motivated troops in a regiment. The grenadier companies were also an elite company within a regiment, being composed of the larger soldiers, who by designation would have carried grenades and been chosen for their physical prowess. Each of the companies deployed with a lieutenant normally assigned to that company, however, the captains assigned were not necessarily familiar with the troops. Similarly, Marine Major John Pitcairn, who would lead the vanguard of the expedition, had never commanded the light infantry companies as a unit. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Bernard would have had the same circumstances with the grenadiers he commanded. Thus, the company-grade leadership was not familiar with the men, nor did they know their officers.

Gage also chose his most senior regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, to lead the expedition. Smith was regarded as cautious and methodical – a cool and courageous leader, but one with little imagination. Smith had not, of course, ever commanded the light infantry and grenadier companies as a separate unit, nor had the particular collection of company officers serving under him. It is entirely possible that in a garrison that included 13 regiments, he might not have even known all of his officers on the march. Perhaps not the best choice for a rapid expedition into a restive countryside.

I’ve been able to read the orders and reports of the British officers, which is critical to understanding what happened. The first thing that strikes me is the woeful inaccuracy in reporting the number of troops opposing the British forces, starting with a grand underestimation of their possible numbers and continuing with exaggeration of the number first encountered. For example, Major Pitcairn received reports from the vanguard of the light infantry companies advancing on Lexington that 500 militiamen were drawn up on the Green to oppose them. When Pitcairn arrived at the front of the column, he remembers some 200 militiamen filing off the Green when fighting erupted. There were approximately 80 men in the Lexington militia.

To return to the mustering of the troops in Boston, we head to Boston Common, where the troops headed when ordered at 9pm. By 10pm, the troops were assembled, but LTC Smith was late in arriving. While long-service professionals are well aware that any army is a “hurry-up-and-wait” operation, this could not have sat well with the men, who had likely been in formation early in the day, conducted their normal duties all day long and expected a normal night of garrison duties with a comfortable night’s sleep when surprised with these orders.

Unlike the extensive plans for loading and unloading that we know of for the amphibious operations in World War II, there was apparently no such plan for this operation. Similarly, they failed to obtain appropriate boats for the transport of the troops and they traveled on barges which were so tightly loaded that the men had to stand for the crossing. Not only that, but when arriving on the opposite shore, they had to debark in waist-deep water. Massachusetts in mid-April does not feature warm evenings or delightfully sunny days. So, troops who’d but awake since first light were cold, wet annoyed and still awake on the banks of the River Charles nearly 20 hours later at 2am.

An hour into the march, Smith dispatched Pitcairn with six of the light infantry companies to move more rapidly than the main column. An hour later, he sent back for reinforcements, realizing that his slow progress had cost him the element of surprise.

As they approached Lexington, Pitcairn was traveling at the rear of his advance party when he received the exaggerated report of 500 militiamen. He moved rapidly to the front to take charge of the situation.

When the British arrived on Lexington Green, Marine Lieutenant Jesse Adair was posted at the front of the column, likely due to Pitcairn’s familiarity with the Marine officer and trust in his judgement. Captain John Parker had his militia in formation off to the right side of the Green, so that they were not blocking the march of the regulars, but could make a show of force. Adair, seeing the militia drawn up off to his right, worried about the flanking position if the column were to continue forward on its march to Concord. The 80 militia men were in perfect position to rake the British column if they attempted simply to march past them to Concord. As such, Adair lead his troops forward, attempting to scare off the militia, his men reportedly shouted “Huzzah” to terrify the armed farmers, merchants and tradesmen.

Pitcairn arrived at the confusing situation, taking half of the companies off to the left along the road to Concord. Amongst great confusion and much shouting, a British officer demanded that the colonials disarm and disperse. The lack of familiarity and trust between officers and men played a role in the continuing confusion. These light infantry had just marched about fifteen miles from Boston, cold, wet and tired on the trail, annoyed at their officers and frustrated that the rabble in front of them did not simply disperse. On each side, officers had implored their men not to fire, but a gun fired and in the ensuing confusion, the angered light infantrymen opened fire on the slowly dispersing but not disarmed militia.

The horror that is battle took place in front of many civilians, including women and children who had gathered to watch the militia mustering. After all, the stand off, even if not involving violence, was sure to provide more excitement than anyone in Lexington had seen in most of their lives. A simple stalemate in which both sides had simply gone their own ways would assuredly have led to tales told in tavern and around town for decades. These civilians likely helped swell Pitcairn’s professional estimate of the number of militia, who may well have already begun to disperse by the time his attention was focused.

The resulting carnage was far worse than a tense stalemate and certainly has been told of for a few centuries now.

The officers struggled to get the men under control, calling for them to cease fire, but the damage had been done. A bayonet charge by the troops led to the death of Captain Parker’s cousin Jonas and six others were killed. Prince Estabrook, an African-American slave serving in the militia, was among those wounded, as was Johnathan Harrington, whose wound was fatal, raising the death toll to eight.

Colonel Smith rode forward to the sound of the guns, ordered a drummer to beat “Assembly” and restored order when the rest of the column arrived.

In Part II, we will meet a few officers, then examine the Battle at Concord in Part III, finishing with the retreat back to Boston in Part IV.



Optimism is a force multiplier

In reading the Washington Post this morning, I came across a story of a group of Naval Academy midshipmen who spent their spring break following in the footsteps of “Stonewall” Jackson. Dr. Joe Thomas, a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, teaches leadership at the Academy and led the group on the hike last month. Near dusk on Day 3 of the hike, having covered 55 miles already, Thomas reminded the midshipmen of one of the great truths of leadership, “Optimism is a force multiplier.”

In the Shenandoah Valley, just northwest of Swift Run Gap where they’d hiked that day, lay the battlefields of Cross Keys and Port Republic. In both battles, aggressive optimists defeated larger forces. Looking at General Jackson’s career, you can see many instances in which his aggressiveness, optimism and force of personality determined the outcome of the battle. Jackson was no giddy cheerleader brandishing slogans, but a supremely eccentric and socially awkward man who had an incredible talent and great confidence. Despite having been branded “Tom Fool” as a professor at VMI, at First Manassas, he earned his nickname for standing like a stone wall and allowing others to rally on the Virginians.

L’optimisme est un multiplicateur de force

En lisant Washington Post ce matin, j’ai trouvé une histoire d’un groupe de officiers aspirants d’Académie Navale qui ont dépensé leur coupure de ressort suivant dans les marchepieds de « Stonewall » Jackson. Dr. Joe Thomas, un lieutenant-colonel Marin retiré, enseigne les qualifications de leader à l’académie et a mené le groupe sur la hausse le mois dernier. Près du crépuscule le Jour 3 de la hausse, ayant déjà couvert 55 milles, Thomas a rappelé les midshipmans une des grandes vérités de la conduite, « Optimisme est un multiplicateur de force. »

Dans la vallée de Shenandoah, juste le nord-ouest de la Course Rapide Passage où elles avaient augmenté ce jour, étendent les champs de bataille des Clefs en Travers et de la Port République. Dans les deux batailles, les opportunistes agressifs ont défait des forces plus grand. Regardant la carrière du Général Jackson, vous pouvez voir beaucoup d’exemples dans lesquels son agressivité, optimisme et force de personnalité ont déterminé les résultats de la bataille. Jackson n’était aucun slogan brandissant de majorette étourdie, mais suprêmement un excentrique et un homme socialement maladroit qui ont eu un talent incroyable et une grande confiance. En dépit de l’marquage à chaud « imbécile de Tom » comme un professeur à École militaire de la Virginie, chez le premier Manassas, il a valu son surnom pour se tenir comme un mur en pierre et permettre à d’autres de se rassembler sur les Virginians.



Weekend Wanderings, Early October 2011

I was a Scoutmaster for 14 years and one of my Eagle Scouts had joined the Marines. He spent some time outside of Ramadi and is now medically retired from the Marine Corps. We’re celebrating his service this weekend (if only I could find a Marine NCO sword – they’re back-ordered everywhere!), but he’s some good links to share:



Weekend Wanderings, Late September 2011

The weather has started to turn cold and I’m still in the midst of trying to put the Operation Dragoon seminar sessions onto DVDs. The Colmar Pocket Seminar (8-11 December) will likely arrive before I finish. Of course, the good news is that Alex Apple should be on the team full bore by then, so progress should be more steady. Fortunately, I’ve still been finding more interesting things on the internet to share.



Muddy Boots Leadership
30 July 2011, 08:09
Filed under: Books, Leadership | Tags: , , , ,

I just finished Muddy Boots Leadership: Real Life Stories and Personal Examples of Good, Bad, and Unexpected Results, written by MAJ John Chapman (USA, retired) and heartily recommend it for leaders, both military and civilian. Chapman provides not only a great set of guidelines on various aspects of leadership, but also real life stories that illustrate the points – both positive and negative examples. Additionally, he includes quotes from commanders, philosophers, poets, scientists, business leaders and many others to emphasize his points.

The worse the weather, the more important for you to be there. Even in an office environment, there are times that no one wants to work and duties that no one wants to perform. If a leader never involves himself in these inconvenient and uncomfortable tasks, nor checks on them, it sends a message to those performing them about the unimportance of those tasks.

In writing about “Not Quitting”, Chapman quotes Albert Schweitzer, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” He then relates this real life story to illustrate how actions speak louder than words.

It was late Friday night. The platoon had been breaking down tank track and replacing track shoes for hours. The soldiers were beyond exhaustion. They were beyond intimidation. They quit working and sat down, waiting for the inevitable ass-chewing.

The platoon sergeant had worked just as hard and long as they had. He was every bit as tired, and many years older. He approached the sullen group and said… nothing.

He walked past them as if they were invisible. He slowly bent down, picked up the tools and began to break down track alone.

For several minutes the soldiers watched him sweat and grunt. Slowly, one by one, they each stood up and resumed work. Not a word was said, not then, not ever.

The book was a quick read for me and I think it useful for anyone in a leadership position or who hopes to have a leadership position. You may never have to inspect a listening post in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm, but the lessons Chapman learned as an officer can be applied anywhere.




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