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Am I Any Less of a Leader?
J. D. Pendry
I never went to war. I've often wondered if that makes me any less of a leader than one who has. It's certainly in our culture for us to believe that. It's a question I've really begun to ponder lately. While learning about the Civil War battles and the extreme conditions leaders faced, I wondered what kind of leadership it took to meet the mission under such circumstances.
In my time in the Army there hasn't been a conflict that caused the whole force to be committed. Viet Nam was the biggest, but in 1972 the Army decided they needed me in Korea. Guess they didn't need any more clerks in The Nam, as many veterans of the time called it. You see, the Army decided to send me to clerk school. I never asked for it. That's just how things turned out. I remember only being grateful it wasn't cook school and a little disappointed it wasn't something a little more gung-ho and warrior like. They stuck a list up on the bulletin board with our future MOS's beside our names at the end of basic training. I asked one of the Drill Sergeants what a 71B was. He sneered a little and said. "It's a ##!*! clerk Pendry. You're going to be a ##!!*## clerk, always in the rear with the gear."
I was a volunteer for the Army when volunteering wasn't a very popular thing to do. Folks were still burning their draft cards, spitting on soldiers who met their obligation, and running off to Canada - stopping off long enough to do things like burn a flag.
I only had one option when I joined the Army. I could go to basic training wherever I wanted. There were probably other options, but the recruiter didn't need to use one up on me. I picked California. It sounded exciting to a kid who had been two places in his life - West Virginia's Coal Camps and the near ghettos of the North side of Chicago.
In my basic training company there was only a handful of regular Army soldiers. Most of them may as well have been drafted. They were there at the discretion of some judge who told them their option was doing time in his system or doing time in the Army's. The rest were draftees, National Guard and Reservists.
In Korea, I learned quickly that a lot of senior soldiers worked very hard to stay in easy jobs or profile out of field duty. I didn't realize it for what it was at the time. Hip-pocket profiles were pulled out for every conceivable ailment, all of course intended to help the bearer stay in the rear with the gear.
I'd make my 0400 courier and mail runs from our field site at Jackson Main just outside of Uijongbu back to Camp Red Cloud. As I'd pull my jeep through the gate I'd always see the slackers coming back in from their night out in the vil. While I was making mail runs in my stripped down jeep and nearly freezing my cundingi off they'd be taking hot showers and making their way to breakfast in the mess hall. I couldn't eat there though, I'd have to wait till I got back to the field site. I asked my First Sergeant why so many senior NCOs didn't have to come to the field with the rest of us. In his best Puerto Rican accent he told me that he was a senior NCO, he was there, and that's all I needed to concern my SP4 self with. It was a little more colorful the way he said it though. I started making up my mind then about who was a leader and who wasn't. The First Sergeant was.
I've known many noncommissioned officers. Some have been to war and some have not. Some have faced danger head on and survived deadly situations. I watched a senior NCO, I thought I knew well, cry like a baby when he had to deploy to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm. I lost some respect for him as did the soldiers he used to lead as a First Sergeant. He went and came back. Is he a better leader for going? I certainly don't know what he could have found in Saudi Arabia that would have corrected his character flaw. Courage and commitment appeared to be missing from his toolbox. I don't believe he kept them in his A or B bags ready for deployments either.
In another case, a command sergeant major pulled out (hip-pocket) medical profiles to stay back from deploying with her unit. Another command sergeant major went her place. The trip would not have made her a better leader either.
I don't think anyone is any more or less of a leader because of his or her experience or lack of it in a combat zone. It would be accurate to say that a leader who has been successful in a hostile environment is proven, but I'm still convinced they were already good leaders. A person who has the necessary values, work ethic and traits of a leader brings them to the combat zone, or wherever, with them. They don't find them when they get there. Those things, values, work ethic and caring for others are instilled and developed throughout their lives.
A leader is a leader. It doesn't matter what their specialty is. When the time comes they will be there and soldiers will be able to count on them. No, I've never been to war, but you'll never see me run from that obligation. When I get there what will I do? Well, who knows? I expect I'll do what I've always done. Look after soldiers and the mission.
Many so called leaders believe you must be ordained with a combat tour before you are real leader. Unfortunately I've known too many real leaders who met this criteria and just didn't measure up. Don't fall victim to this way of thinking. Do the best job you can do and build yourself a solid foundation. When the time comes, you'll lead.
Copyright© 1997, J.D. Pendry All Rights Reserved