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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Past Reflects the Present

This is Steven Petrick posting.

I have told the story of the young lieutenant who brazenly challenged a sergeant to a tactical contest pitting the lieutenant's hopelessly outnumbered force against the sergeant's overwhelming force, and achieving a decisive victory.

I have also told the story of that young lieutenant, faced with a near mutiny when his sergeant refused to lead an attack, standing up and quietly saying to the assembled squad "let's go" and marching steadily towards the enemy and having the squad rise up and follow him.

There is, however, much between the lines of those two incidents.

One may have led to the other.

Everyone, when push comes to shove, would like to believe that they have "command presence." That combination of factors that makes men believe in them and follow them, sometimes despite themselves. It is not always something you have just because you have a "badge of authority" such as a second lieutenant's gold bar (in American Army rank). Often it is the impression the followers have of you based on all the things you have done since you appeared before them until that point you call on them to do something they do not want to do.

If you eliminate that earlier resounding victory, which the men in the squad personally witnessed. That vision of their own squad leader, given command of virtually the entire platoon, leading it into a devastating defeat against this lieutenant, would they have followed the lieutenant that morning in an attack on people their squad leader had assured them would "beat them up," i.e., physically assault them?

There are always going to be "unknown factors." The sergeant had inculcated fear in  his men, and the lieutenant called on them to rise above their fears and follow him.

Certainly the aftermath of that victory over the TOW section truly galvanized that squad, so much so that from that point it was the lieutenant that was trying to hold them back, to keep them from "advancing too far." One of the accomplishments of that squad would be the capture one of an opposing battalion's 4.2 inch mortars, complete with vehicle and crew.

If you go back to that singular battle of wills between the lieutenant and the sergeant, however. If that battle had gone wrong, would the lieutenant have ever been able to lead that squad, much less the rest of his platoon? Was it perhaps the combination of that previous victory over the sergeant, and the lieutenant's confidence and determination, the sheer assumption on his part (apparently in so far as the men were concerned) that they would follow him as opposed to staying with their sergeant, that won them over?

I can assure you, when the lieutenant turned from the squad after quietly saying "let's go" in the face of the sergeant's refusal to lead the attack, he in his own mind believed the men would not follow him, but that he would attack the enemy by himself.

I do not know who was more surprised. The lieutenant when the men rose and followed him, the sergeant when the men rose and followed him, or the men themselves.