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


Naval Institute Annual Meeting
11 April 2012, 15:49
Filed under: Books, Navy | Tags: ,

Today, I spent the day in Crystal City, attending the 138th Annual Meeting of the US Naval Institute. I had joined the Institute a few years ago, after getting Gators of Neptune as a Christmas present. I’ve joined a few other organizations to help increase my knowledge, get exposure to veterans and, perhaps, an audience for this blog and future writings. I belong to the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division due to the Operation Dragoon and Colmar Pocket seminars that I help out with, and I belong to the Marine Corps Association & Foundation due to my interest in their history. I expect I will continue to add to this list as time passes.

The meeting was terrific. VADM Daley started the meeting by reading the Mission and Vision statements of the Institute aloud. This was music to my ears, as last year there was a tremendous alarm when the Board had decided to reword the mission to identify the Institute as an advocate for sea power (I read about it first on CDR Salamander’s blog.) The mission has returned to proper focus after much pressure from the membership:

To providing an independent forum for those who dare to read, think, speak and write in order to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues critical to national defense.

I think the experience of the past year has done a great deal to improve the Institute. The uprising of the membership may have served as a reminder of exactly what it is that the Institute is – a membership organization. The strength of the Institute is its members, as VADM Daley pointed out in his comments. He noted how the staff has been energized by the feedback from the membership and that communication is central to the completion of the Mission.

One of the key goals of this association of naval minds (officer AND enlisted) is to expand the active duty membership. It was noted that USNI is basically invisible to the junior officers and enlisted personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. That needs to change. With the recent update of the website (launched last Friday) and with plans to roll out an app with the next 2 to 2-1/2 months, they’re making strides to reach them. The Admiral also noted that members could sponsor undergraduate gift memberships ($20 for students, about 5000 students in NROTC, USNA and USCGA) to expand exposure to new officers. So, if anyone has about $100,000 and wants all those undergrads to become members, bring it on!

In the discussion about the prime value that the Institute provides, RADM “T.C.” Cropper cited “Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal”, which he uses every day to train his leaders how to fight. Of course, there was a little chuckle at this moment, because that particular book is not published by the Naval Institute Press, though it does exemplify the type of books the Press publishes and, as another member in attendance noted, the Institute “owns the bibliography” having published so many books on naval history in the past.

Admiral Daley noted that he expects a rich harvest of leadership lessons from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from junior officers who fought those wars and the Naval Institute Press stands ready to publish those works. A common theme of the day was that the Institute is a dynamic entity that is dependent upon an engaged membership. Having met a few of the younger authors at the Awards Dinner (CDR Matthew Harper, who wrote “Chinese Missiles and the Walmart Factor” and CDR In H. Ha, who wrote “Away All… Hovercraft!“), I know that they’re already engaging some bright young minds. I have great expectations going forward.

I would encourage everyone to go check out the Institute, read some articles, buy some books (eBooks even!) and consider joining. You’ll find a serious-minded dedicated community standing ready to share knowledge and welcome new ideas.

For another report on the meeting, check out the Steel Jawed Scribe’s blog.



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.



A Leader of Black Sheep

Greg Boyington was a belligerent alcoholic who despised paperwork, couldn’t stomach rules, rankled under close supervision, disregarded proper uniforming and protocol, exaggerated his feats in China and in other ways demonstrated that he would never survive, let alone thrive in the modern Marine Corps. Yet….

WWII photo of Major Greg Boyington“Pappy” Boyington was not only one of the great fighter pilots of WWII, but also a stunningly effective leader who took a group of “casuals” and replacements and molded them into perhaps the most deadly fighter squadron in the Pacific theatre.

As a Premium Book Member of the US Naval Institute, I receive three books published by the Institute each year. I joined the Institute after my sister-in-law gave me a copy of Gators of Neptune: Naval Amphibious Planning for the Normandy Invasion, which tells the story of the sailors and planners of the naval side of the D-Day invasion. Of course, I already had dog-eared Clay Blair’s Ridgway’s Paratroopers without realizing it was a Naval Institute product. So, when I pulled the book mailer from my mailbox at the end of my block a few days ago, I nearly began dancing in the street.

In the late 1970s, I watched a lot of television. As a young man enamored of the military and wanting to be a tough guy, I adored Robert Conrad’s tough-but-caring portrayal of Pappy Boyington. While the television show bore almost no resemblance to reality, I enjoyed it immensely. As such, my joy was uncontained when John F. Wukovits’ Black Sheep: The Life of Pappy Boyington arrived.

While Boyington never fit in while in the Flying Tigers, once he had his own command in the Black Sheep Squadron (VMF-214 at the time, now VMA-214), Boyington became almost a different man. His leadership style had a lot of elements that I tried to emulate. I don’t know which of those came out in watching the TV show, but Wukovits details them in a chapter entitled, “We Had Pride; We Had Class; and We Were Winners”, quoting from one of Boyington’s men. Some highlights of his style:

  • Lead by example: “Boyington refused to send anyone on a mission that he would not go on as a squadron leader, and he made a point to be the first to volunteer for especially dangerous missions…. He believed that his example coaxed the rest to follow after him.”
  • Have few rules, but enforce those: “In his opinion, rules stifled imagination and initiative and allowed men like Colonel Smoak to throw their weight around. The only rules that mattered to Boyington pertained to the air, and those were to be implicitly followed. Otherwise, he commanded with a loose rein.”
  • Don’t try to do it all yourself: “Despite his abhorrence for anything official, Boyington realized that paperwork had to be filed and the nuts and bolts of a squadron had to be tended, so he delegated those duties to men who could capably execute them…. By utilizing his strengths and allowing others to compensate for his weaknesses, the undisciplined Boyington achieved tremendous results as a commander.”
  • Take responsibity for your people: “At some point during the squadron’s first days, someone warned Boyington that the inexperienced Lieutenant McClurg would either soon be dead or would accidentally kill another Black Sheep. Undeterred by the challenge, Boyington said what any top-notch educator would say: ‘If the boy can’t fly well enough, it’s up to me to teach him.'” McClurg finished the war as an ace, with 7 victories.

There’s plenty more there and I urge you to read it. Like so many airborne leaders, Boyington was unconventional. Heck, he and many of them were worse than unconventional – they were iconoclastic trouble-makers who would earn time in the brig when in garrison. Nonetheless, when it came time for a fight, we needed Pappy Boyington, Bourbon Bob Sink, and a host of others.



Burn your boats
23 January 2011, 15:50
Filed under: Leadership | Tags: , , , ,

One of the reasons I enjoy American football is that you get to see men react to stress and difficult situations. Sometimes, you get to see true leadership and that’s why I write about it today.

Rex Ryan is loud and foul-mouthed. He’s grossly overweight and rarely exhibits grace or class. So, he’s not at all the kind of leader that I’ve striven to be. Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about him if he wasn’t a brilliant and capable leader. He excels at an emotional form of leadership that absolutely brings out the best in his team. Sally Jenkins wrote a brilliant article today on Ryan. In mid-December, having lost two games in a row, Ryan’s Jets were in trouble.

At the hotel on the night before the game Ryan delivered a fierce, choked exhortation in which he described the desperate expedition of conquistador Hernan Cortes, who sailed off to conquer Mexico in 1519. Cortes was so determined not to retreat, Ryan said, that he ordered his men to set fire to their ships. “They burned their boats!” Ryan shouted.

The following day, when the Jets and Steelers were tied at 10 at halftime, they took up the chant. “Burn the boats,” the Jets said. “Burn the boats.” Final score: Jets, 22-17.

They knew it was juvenile. They knew it was worthy of a high school locker room. Burn the boats? Fine. “We still got to get back to the airport, though,” Ellis notes, wryly. Yet they ate it up anyway, and have been using it ever since.

“Burn your boats,” Ellis says. “Definitely. It means go out there and leave nothing behind. I’m not going to say this is war, but basically, just go out there and don’t intend on coming back. Just leave it all on the field.”

There are many ways to lead and many manifestations of the effectiveness other than just wins and losses. Seeing Ryan’s men dropping their guard and giving into the emotion is stirring. It’s example of leadership that anyone can learn from – the passion Ryan exhibits and its infectiousness is hard to pass up.



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.




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