Chapter 6 Lessons from the smaller things.
Updated: Nov 29, 2019
Great leaders don’t tell you what to do…... they show you how its done ~ Guru Eduardo
Leadership, that’s an onion that you can peel the layers back for years and never really get to the heart. Something I used to tell young leaders was that there is a lesson in every situation. It may have been my age that helped, or it may have been my upbringing but still, to this day I can tell you things I learned from bad leaders and even more I learned from good ones. I used this as a foundation as I went through the process of developing a young team and squad leaders.
I never wavered from the lead by example format that the military leans on but I was also molded that way. Over the pages of these posts, I will show numerous examples of superior leaders who not only put their needs behind ours but leaders know the importance of looking out for the men next to them. Over 12 years of service I tried my best to live like this, I may not have always succeeded but I still hold to the hope that I may have influenced a few young men during my time.
As recovery operations began to slow down the heavy amount of taskings did not. Once our operations at the Pentagon had temporarily come to an end, we still had the heavy tasks of providing security at numerous places around D.C. Along with the security mission, our unit was now focused on getting back to normal daily operations.
Because the unit mission focus had gone back to a somewhat normal routine it became a priority that all the companies within The Old Guard rotate through guard shifts on Fort Myer, for our company this meant guard on both posts.
Late September means the weather is starting to get colder at night, this translated to some cold evening on guard. With the Army’s attempt to take care of its soldiers most all the guard posts had gotten trailers for us to go into to get warm. One night while assigned to gate guard on Fort Myer I witnessed a pretty impressive display of great leadership. Gate guard meant we would check identification searching cars and dealing with a lot of grumpy people. Around 11 at night a vehicle pulled up to the gate, as per protocol we all quickly assumed our positions and the admittance process began. Our senior man walked up to the vehicle and asked for ID, you could tell as soon as the ID was handed over that this was someone of importance.
Because cars were searched on a random basis i.e.... every 5th car through the gate would be searched, and this car came up as the search number things got a little uncomfortable. Like any good soldier no matter who it was we were going to get our job done, our leader asked the man to pull his vehicle into the search lane we all took note that our leader made it clear to be VERY cautious. Once the vehicle stopped and the man stepped out, it came very clear why. Out of the car had stepped out one of the top generals in the Army. We all expected a ton of grief from this man, typically generals had been grumpy when we had to search them. In this case, he was not grumpy at all, he stepped to the side and as we searched his vehicle he was encouraging, supportive and gave a lot of praise and appreciation for our hard work.
At one point he even stopped the search and gave some pointers from his experience doing the job. As we wrapped up the search, he gathered us all around and gave us a little pep talk about how important the job we were doing was. He also asked about when our guard shift ended. When he was told we were done at midnight he firmly gave us orders that all of us were to report to his quarters immediately after our shift.
I am not sure that any of us were excited to really report to a general’s home in the middle of the night but when you are in the Army and a man with stars says to do something you do it. So around 15 minutes after midnight, 6 of us walked up and knocked on the door of one of the top men in the U.S. military. His door was answered by a young man who you could tell was not thrilled to be there, but he made all the attempts possible to be warm and welcoming. We were escorted through the house to the dining room, in there was a massive table absolutely covered with food. When I say covered, I mean about everything you could ever want to eat as a hungry young man was there, anything from seafood to freshly grilled steaks. We all took a seat and just looked in awe at the feast in front of us, we were all too nervous to serve up and since all of us were enlisted men in a very foreign environment we just sat there. In no less than a minute or two the general walked into the room, with a bright cheerful encouraging tone he told us to “Dig In” he went on to ask each of us our age, I happened to be the first he asked, when I told him I was 26 he asked “beer or liquor”. I was VERY hesitant to say anything when he explained that I was “officially” off duty and I was “going” to have a beer or liquor. Before I could really stammer out an answer he exclaimed “you look like a whiskey guy” he then went on to pour me three fingers of what might be the best whiskey I had ever had.
Over the next couple of hours, we sat with this man, listened to stories about the army, and all the places he had been. He asked a little about each of us and really seemed interested in who we were. Every time one of us would look at our watch he would make it clear that we were on “personal time” and not to worry.
As the clock got closer to 2, he informed us that he made a call and his driver would be taking us back to our barracks, he also informed us that he had called our chain of command and everything was all handled. He walked us to the front of his house where a van was waiting, as each of us stepped into the van he shook our hand, thanked us again, and encouraged us to keep up the good work.
We rolled back to our barracks and all made a rush to our rooms to get some sleep. The next morning our entire team was woken up 30 minutes prior to when we were supposed to be up for guard with the order to report to our 1st Sergeants office. As we all lined up outside the 1st Sergeants door you could sense the panic. But panic was not needed, 1st Sergeant went on to explain that he had spoken to the general and we had made a very good impression. He was also instructed that our entire company was to have a completely down day in which all soldiers were to be free to do as they wish.
It seemed that in talking to us the general felt that valuable resources were being wasted with having us pull so much guard. He had made calls and had most of the guard duties moved to another organization so that we could focus on more important missions.
I tell this story for 1 major reason, not many people ever get to see this side of leadership, and most leaders forget that a small moment like this can forever influence others.
With all the good so came the bad, in less than a day we were told we were back at the Pentagon to assist in evidence searching.
This time the job was not so physically demanding but still psychologically stressful. Our task entailed receiving a large pile of debris, before touching anything the cadaver dog would work its way around and anything he struck on would be sifted through and removed. We would then move the big pieces and sort them by, plane parts, paperwork, parts, and worse were personal effects.
Once the big pieces were removed, we would then take small rakes and continue the process by sifting through every ounce of dirt.
This was very tedious work and probably a task that is not really suited for an Infantry guy who breaks more things in a day than most will break in a lifetime. This very well could be why this task only lasted 3 or 4 shifts.
Our duties at the Pentagon had come to an end, we were now back on to our traditional tasks which translated into things slowing down and life going back to a routine. The problem was, some of us would never be able to find our way back into “normal” daily life.
In our next segment, we will talk about the struggle of post-Pentagon cleanup, how it emotionally took a toll and around every corner there was a reminder that pulled you back down. We will also overview the next couple of years of cool assignments and neat experiences. Lastly, we will talk about a young man, anger, and big decisions.
Nightmares are only a part of dealing with PTS, moving forward we are going to balance talking about the physical manifestations of PTS as well as the battle of finding ways to cope with TBI issues.