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Musings of a truculent platoon leader

August 1, 2018

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Musings of a truculent platoon leader

August 1, 2018

It's been a long few months.  The Rucksack of Leadership is nearing completion.  I am getting ready to start a new job.  And I am still relocating my family.  So today, instead of making a point with my post, I am going to pose a question.


When I was a brand new lieutenant, fresh at the 101st Airborne Division, I thought I was pretty hot stuff.  I had just graduated Ranger School.  I was Airborne qualified.  But I learned quickly I had a long way to go.  On an all-officer training session, I was treated rudely by other lieutenants.  Most of the battalion's lieutenants had Ranger tabs and Airborne wings so mine were not impressive; in fact, they were expected.  The poor guys that showed up without them really had it tough.  


Later on, during combat operations in Iraq, I had gained confidence as a platoon leader and was once again sitting pretty high.  I was now the lieutenant that abused newer lieutenants.  I told one that I would "kick his @ss" in front of both his and my platoon because he kept whining to me over the radio when I needed his support.  I introduced myself to another new lieutenant by demanding his name and telling him to not screw up anything in my sector.  And I used to berate a fellow lieutenant (aptly nicknamed "Tactical") for his lapses of judgment when on missions. 


Late in our deployment, I was sitting in the chow hall with some peers when an older officer approached.  He told me that I had a reputation for a temper and that newer lieutenants were being warned about me.  I started to protest and acknowledge that maybe I went too far but he interrupted me.  "No," he told me, "it's a good thing."    


Was it a good thing?  I know two things from experience.  An explosive temper is not a good thing when dealing with subordinates.  Peers?  I think the jury is out on that one.  What did my temper accomplish?  It told my peers that I did not like their actions.  It told others to be wary of me.  But I don't think it accomplished any leadership.  It did not make the lieutenants in question want to work with me.  It did not set a good example for them.  


But then I think to myself, we were not in lead mode all of the time.  A lot of Army training was in "weeding out" mode.  People fell into two very distinct categories, people you could trust to do their job in combat and people you couldn't.  And the people that couldn't tended to be outnumbered and ostracized.  Especially people in leadership positions.  I had a buddy that told me the sad story of a lieutenant in his battalion that screwed up early in the war.  He spent the remainder of the deployment with one duty.  He was responsible for escorting the port-a-john truck around the base to clean out toilets.  My buddy told me that the lieutenant couldn't even look other men in the eye.  


Do I regret how I behaved?  Maybe I should.  Maybe I could have done it better better.  Maybe I should have considered the junior lieutenants more my responsibility.  Or maybe we were right; as a combat leader you made it or failed to make it on your own.  Combat was cutthroat.  We were always hard on each other, hard on our troops, and hard on ourselves.  


I still don't know.

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