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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Leaders and Followers

This is Steven Petrick posting.

This is an observation of my own, based on my own life experiences, so take it for what it is worth.

I have found that the difference in a leader and a follower can pretty much be what the man thinks of a problem.

To put it in simple terms when confronted by a machine gun nest . . .

The private thinks to himself: I am going to knock out that machine gun.

The sergeant thinks to himself: We have to knock out that machine gun.

The lieutenant thinks to himself: Does this machine gun impede our mission? Can I bypass it, or must we knock it out? Can company or higher support us in taking out the machine gun, or are we on our own?

The private, however brave and motivated, only considers that the machine gun must be knocked out.

The sergeant also recognizes that the machine gun must be knocked out, but he considers how to employ the men he is responsible for to do the task.

The lieutenant has to keep the overall mission in mind. Can he afford to be delayed to try to get around the machine gun, or must he risk casualties to destroy the machine gun because he cannot afford the delay to get around it. Even trying to get around the gun could risk casualties that might be avoided if he took the time to destroy the gun with a methodical attack, but a methodical attack may delay him too long to reach his objective. Can he afford to detach a squad, or a fire team, to try to keep the gun suppressed while he takes the rest of the unit to the main objective?

In a war movie, told from the point of view of the private, the officer can be made to seem like an idiot for not helping the private to destroy the gun, but the officer has a lot more things to consider than just that gun, and if the gun is not in a position to keep him from accomplishing a task, he may decide to by pass it.

You see this scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan where the Captain, on finding a some dead American paratroopers, decides to attack the German machine gun, even though his men point out that they can by pass it. The attack costs him the life of his medic. Was he right to make the attack? In all honesty, no. He endangered his primary mission (whatever you think about saving Private Ryan) to attack an objective of no immediate importance and lost a valuable asset to his detachment (the medic) in doing so. Of course, it was also critical to the plot in that the German position just happened to have a map that showed the German plan to attack the town where Ryan was located. Tom Hanks did play that scene very well in that as you watch the film, consider his character's reaction almost immediately after he looked at the map. He knew then that if he went to the village he would not be leaving it without a battle. Because part of leadership is knowing when your original orders are no longer your primary concern. Hank's character already knew the town was going to be attacked, and when he saw how little was there, he recognized that the bridge had to be held if possible, and adding his team was the only choice. So when Ryan refused to leave, rather than grabbing him and making him go (to save the lives of his men even if it meant the rest of the GIs in the town would probably be killed), he agreed to stay and fight.

Abandoning his primary mission because the holding the bridge was more important is part of what being an officer is. Judgment and initiative. Had Hank's character been killed attacking the machine gun, the outcome would probably have been that the Sergeant would have simply taken Ryan and left the town. The sergeant character was portrayed as a good NCO (he took care of his men, and his officer, could handle a fight and move people in it, but did not really think of the larger picture outside of his orders.