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


Henderson awarded Bronze Star with Valor
20 January 2011, 18:37
Filed under: Henderson, Leadership, Marines, Officers | Tags: ,

LTC Anthony Henderson USMCWhile it didn’t happen in World War II or Korea, I’d like to note that LTC Anthony Henderson (USMC) was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for his leadership of 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment in the fight for Fort Jugroom near Garmsir in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

The 19th century British fort “sits at a crossroads and along a river, letting those holding it dominate much of southern Helmand.” The Taliban had held off an attack by the Royal Marines in January of 2007. 15 months later, in April of 2008, the US Marines were on duty in Helmand, so 1/6 was tasked with clearing the fort. Henderson’s men fought a close quarters battle against 200-400 Taliban fighters, through tunnels, bunkers, minefields and buildings. As the Marines of 1/6 fought their way in, the Taliban attacked them from behind, making it a 360-degree battle. Chesty Puller might have said, “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.” As darkness fell, Henderson knew that the heat would continue and that he’d best pull his men back to a defensive position. When they headed in the next morning, Fort Jugroom was empty, the Taliban having stolen away in the night, in hopes of living to fight another day.

In the tradition of Chesty Puller and Jim Gavin, Henderson took a hands-on approach to leadership. “My desire was to be as far forward as I could be without interfering with the small unit leader’s ability to fight his fight against the enemy.”

Gravesite of COL Richard Henry Henderson at Arlington CemeteryLieutenant Colonel Henderson was in a staff position with the Joint Chiefs in DC this fall. “It’s humbling and fulfilling to lead Marines,” reflected Henderson. “I have a constant yearning to be back there and amongst them.”

I mention LTC Henderson here for two reasons. First, he exemplifies the hands-on take-charge leader that characterized the World War II airborne officers I’m studying. Second, he shares my wife’s last name. I know, it might be silly, but every Henderson out there and every Navarre, as well, will be heralded here for their accomplishments. As such, every time Devery Henderson scores a touchdown for the New Orleans Saints, I say to wife, “How ’bout your cousin Devery!” I think my father-in-law, LTC Richard Henderson, would be justifiably proud of his Marine “cousin”.


Cooks versus Chefs
19 January 2011, 19:17
Filed under: Leadership | Tags:

Mark Nakazono posted another good blog entry, and I don’t say that just because we each worked at a Burger King when we were younger. It’s a rumination on how to work and, perhaps, how to lead.

When I teach leadership to young men, we try to expose them to examples of good leadership, which is essentially providing them with “recipes”. We give them these tactics, these recipes, that they might use in leading, but what we really hope to do is to expose them to the various elements of leadership so that they can devise their own recipes. Every situation they encounter as leaders while bear some resemblance to the examples/recipes we provide, but will be different enough that they need to learn the skills of a chef, mixing the ingredients in ways that solve their unique problems.

Just as the only way to move from being a cook to being a chef is through practice and the confidence that comes with it, the only way for those young leaders to move from using those examples in a rote manner to actually being a leader is practice. One learns best how to lead by leading. We can provide all the “recipes for leadership” that we want, but we need more than anything to let them lead.

Take a minute and read Mark’s blog entry. You won’t regret it.



Weekend Wanderings Wildcard Weekend 2011
9 January 2011, 11:30
Filed under: 101st, Leadership, Weekend Wanderings | Tags: , ,

For those who aren’t adherents of American Rules Football, this is the first weekend of our playoffs, known as “Wildcard Weekend”, since the teams that made the playoffs as “wild cards” without wining their divisions, made it into the playoffs.



Weekend Wanderings New Years 2011
2 January 2011, 11:30
Filed under: Homefront, Leadership, Marines, Navy, Weekend Wanderings | Tags: , , ,

My lament about a lack of posts on Christmas at war was pre-mature. I just hadn’t wandered far enough to see them!



Losing Easy Company

As I watch Band of Brothers again and again, I am often surprised when, in Episode 1, Captain Sobel is reassigned from command of Easy Company to commanding training at Chilton Foliat and, despite the enmity that has been created for Sobel, I feel sorry for him.

I think David Schwimmer does a masterful job of portraying Herbert Sobel. From what I’ve heard from Paul Woodadge, who did some manual labor type work in costuming and sets, Schwimmer was excellent choice and properly prepared by the directors.

The first part of the preparation was the pre-filming training camp. While the main cast went through training together, building camaraderie, Schwimmer was not part of the training. Actors were instructed to only ever refer to each other by their character’s names (including Neal McDonough going into an emergency room insisting his name was Buck Compton when he suffered a minor injury). From reading about Frank John Hughes and Robin Laing’s experiences as actors, I know that actors playing replacements, like Laing who played Babe Heffron, arrived later in the training, so that they would not have the same tight connection as the other actors. So, Schwimmer showed up for the filming, having no emotional bond with the other actors, and with those actors knowing that their characters, in many cases, despised Sobel.

Schwimmer was the only well-known actor in the cast, which had to add to the feelings on both sides – Schwimmer knowing he was a skilled and accomplished actor amongst journeymen and unknowns, the others having the feeling of men yearning for the chances Schwimmer has had.

Paul tells me that Schwimmer was nick-named “Bubble Wrap” by the crew. You see, those paratrooper uniforms have all those pockets, normally filled with ammunition, grenades, rations or whatever a paratrooper might need. Apparently, Schwimmer’s agent suggested to him that it would be a ‘bad thing’ to actually put ammunition, grenades, rations or whatever paratroopers actually carried in those pockets. So, the story goes that he suggested to Schwimmer that he simply fill those pockets with bubble wrap, so it looked like he was carrying something. Again, this couldn’t have endeared him to the rest of the actors, even if it was only a rumor. They’d be sweating up a hill, carrying a rifle and full pack, while there would be eminent actor David Schwimmer wearing his natty 506th leather jacket, with bubble wrap in his pockets, looking calm and comfortable.

Now, admittedly, some of this is based on what I think I remember being told, but it all sounds brilliant for preparing the entire cast for how Sobel should be viewed. I don’t know how much of this Schwimmer would have been party to, and how much would have just been deft handling by the directors, but I think it translates very well to the screen.

So, why do I end up feeling sorry for Sobel in Episode 2? Chris Hook relates it well. “He tried as hard as he could  to make it as an Airborne officer, but try as he might, he just could not do it. He should be respected for his effort.” He produced a fantastically well-prepared company, that did exemplary things in combat. I think Dale Booth was the one who pointed out to me, most likely every company commander was intensely disliked during training. Their job wasn’t to earn the love of their men, but to prepare them for the fight of their lives.

Serving as a Company Commander is the highlight of a career for Army and Marine officers. It is the highest command at which a commander still has a very direct connection to his men. XbradTC found an article in the New York Times that talks about the weight of command and he blogged about it. I don’t think there’s anything in the civilian world that parallels it – the responsibility for men and equipment, the closeness to those men and the youth of the company commander. Executive responsibility is unique. Working at nearly the same level, but not being the executive – not being the company commander – is not at all the same.

Now, I often relate my experience as a Scoutmaster to some military experiences, but it’s only because that’s as close as I’ve come to the military. That is, not close at all. However, I have seen and felt the difference between being the Scoutmaster and holding any of the other jobs in a Boy Scout Troop. There’s nothing in Scouting that is like the responsibility of being Scoutmaster. It is an autonomous position, where you have the solid connection to individual Scouts and, meagre as the comparison is, it is also the highest you can rise and still have that connection. When I think of how much seeing my Scouts succeed meant to me, I can only begin to understand what emotional peaks and valleys a company commander undergoes.

So, how does this relate to my emotional connection, via David Schwimmer, to Herbert Sobel? Well, in Episode 1, Colonel Sink has Sobel sitting in his office, bourbon glass in hand (in a chair that looks a little too big for Schwimmer/Sobel, which was another good choice by the director), and speaks to him in a fatherly voice, it now strikes me. I “lost” my Troop when I chose to retire from being Scoutmaster and it was a hard thing to do. Dale Dye, as Colonel Sink, uses that voice my mother would use when I wasn’t going to get what I wanted, but I would get “something even better”, which wasn’t better, but we needed to pretend it was.

Sink says to him, “Herbert, Division has established a parachute training school at Chilton Foliat. The idea is for non-infantry types who’re vital to the coming invasion, such as doctors and chaplains to take jump training there. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone more qualified to command such a school than you are.”

Sobel is stunned. “Sir?” he asks.

“I’m reassigning you to Chilton Foliat.”

And David Schwimmer, as Herbert Sobel, looks on, in utter confusion and despair, and, after a long pause says, “I’m losing Easy Company?” He didn’t have me at hello, but he had me there.



Front-line lessons
6 December 2010, 18:55
Filed under: Leadership, Officers, Veterans | Tags: , , , ,

At the Colmar Pocket seminar, GEN Fred Kroesen spoke about his experience as junior officer during World War II. He spoke at length about the fighting, relating that he started as the weapons platoon commander, but as each other platoon commander was wounded (oddly, each was wounded while standing next to Kroesen), his role expanded. He almost got to give back command of the 3rd platoon, but as he was bringing up that Lieutenant (who’d recovered from his wounds), that Lieutenant got wounded again. After a short R&R trip to Paris, he returned to take command of the company, as the only other officer left standing had been promoted to battalion XO.

He related two major lessons: trust your junior officers and war is a collective effort.

When I was a Scoutmaster, I relied on those two lessons.

Tell the junior leaders what needs to get done and get out of their way. If you’ve trained them properly, they’ll get it right. I knew that if the boys who held the leadership positions didn’t make the decisions, they would never learn to be leaders themselves, and, quite frankly, they’d get bored and quit. As the General says, the man (or boy) on the ground is going to have the best handle on what’s happening there and how to handle it. If you step and tell him how-to-do-it instead of just what-to-do, he’s going to expect you to always tell him how-to-do-it. Then, when you’re not around, which is certain to happen, he’s likely to do nothing or do the wrong thing. You have to give him the training, provide some direction and observe. Of course, good followup – perhaps with after-action reviews – can provide further insight, using each action as a training opportunity.

The General relates that war is a collective effort and it surely is. Highly motivated soldiers (or Boy Scouts) working together accomplish far more than a handful of heros acting individually. Team effort is actually a force-multiplier. Those leaders who can get everyone on the same page, working together, accomplish far more than any other leader. When I worked in a warehouse after I got out of college, the plant manager was able to get everyone very motivated for about four months. We all felt part of the team and we truly produced. Somehow, he let us lose that feeling and the productivity simply disappeared. He’d gotten it right, but lost sight of his methods, failing to treat us like members of a team and… everyone realized how they were being treated and responded accordingly. I see it all the time at competitive events in Scouting those that work together win, regardless of how talented individuals in other groups might be.

At the seminar, I met a couple of active duty Generals. I don’t think you can find two more motivated, sincere leaders of men than Major General Randall Marchi (28th ID) and Major General Eldon Regua (75th ID). I had an opportunity to talk with each of them for a few minutes and they each expressed how honored they were to meet and show their respect for the veterans of World War II. Those veterans are truly a treasure and I urge everyone to take full opportunity to meet them and to listen and learn. They are a treasured resource that is disappearing far too fast.



Leadership

The other day, I was watching the “Day of Days” episode of Band of Brothers. I was struck yet again how good a job they do of demonstrating leadership.

In my years as a Scoutmaster, I was always looking for ways to make the lessons I’d learned on leadership strike home with the Scouts. Despite the fact that I am a voracious reader, I have never been able to read through any book on leadership other than the ones published by the Boy Scouts. Those spend a lot of time on the organizational roles and not so much time on how to lead. So, though I put copies of those books into Scouts’ hands when they take their Junior Leadership Training classes, I know they won’t learn a lot about how to lead from them. When I teach the classes, the Scouts have trouble absorbing best practices in leadership when it’s theoretical as well as when “role-playing” a leadership situation.

So, when Band of Brothers came out and I watched Lieutenant Dike fail in the attack on Foy, I knew there were some lessons there about leadership. So, I began using that as a visual tool for them to see good and bad leadership techniques. Watching Winters prepare Dike you see a variety of techniques from Winters to try to ensure Dike’s success, from expressing confidence to ensuring he understands and including physical reinforcement as he pats him on the back. Dike flops in a colossal manner and we see Winters torn about what to do. The Scouts are certain to experience nearly every angle of that sequence of events during their career in Scouting (except for the part about getting shot at!) Spiers demonstrates marvelous calm leadership and demonstrates personal commitment to the task. Watching all of that and discussing it turned on far more lightbulbs than I’d ever seen without that video sequence as tool.

I always encourage the Scouts at the end of that video session to start paying attention to the leaders in the war movies they watch. Which of them are effective? What techniques do they use? Will those work for them? Boys may watch war movies twenty times, memorizing lines and being able to tell you who did what at every step of the way, but without this higher focus on leadership, it’s just entertainment to them.

So, the other day, watching Lieutenant Winters and Private Hall, moments after they’ve landed, Band of Brothers instantly demonstrates why Winters really is a leader. They aren’t simply going to tell us the men respected and followed him. They are going to demonstrate Why they do. Hall is very jittery in this scene, worried that he’s lost his radio and that his Lieutenant is going to yell at him. Winters assures him that he’s a rifleman first (guess the Marines have the right idea!), but Hall remains unsettled by the fact that they’re lost. Winters then uses a time-tested military leadership technique – if someone is busy thinking themselves into worry, give them something to do! He also does it in a decidedly friendly way. He asks Hall to watch out for landmarks and, as he goes through the list of potential landmarks, he even injects humor, asking him to look for familiar trees. Right there, he’s won Hall over and when he sticks around for Brecourt Manor, it makes complete sense to us.

I drew the name for this blog from that scene. While in Normandy, our tour guide, Dale Booth told us that the confusion about John D. Hall or John D. Halls misses out on the fact that the soldier was actually a Sargeant, not a private, so my blog changes Winters’ line from “We’re not lost, Private. We’re in Normandy.”




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