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When the going gets tough - turn tail...

J. D. Pendry

Remember this: the truly great leader overcomes all difficulties, and campaigns and battles are nothing but a long series of difficulties to be overcome. The lack of equipment, the lack of food, the lack of this or that are only excuses; the real leader displays his qualities in his triumph over adversity, however great it may be. - General George Marshall

I expect most of you are familiar with Colonel David Hackworth. I subscribe to his Defending America Newsletter, although I don't always subscribe to his views, and will continue unless he decides to hit the delete button on my highlighted e-mail address after reading this. We need a Hackworth to poke his finger in the eye of our defense establishment occasionally. Those eye jabs provide us with some good reality checks that come from many hard lessons and much experience fighting in our country's wars. Reality checks that we need.

Colonel Hackworth is one of our country's most decorated combat veterans. A true-to-life, harder-than-woodpecker-lips American warrior. Me, I spent a lifetime as a combat supporter and never had a single shot fired at me in anger. That leaves me ill equipped to enter a debate with Hack, as he refers to himself, on the subject of combat leadership - so I won't even try. I will however, challenge him on another aspect of leadership because it has nothing to do with facing down a mortal enemy in combat. Hack made quite a career pointing out examples of what he calls "wrong-headed" leadership. This time, though, I think his rounds fell in the wrong grid square.

In a recent Defending America column, Colonel Hackworth called Captain Justin P.D. Wilcox, West Point Class of 1995, a future Marshall or Eisenhower. The column appeared to be a letter composed by Captain Wilcox and sent to the Colonel. Captain Wilcox told of his dissatisfaction with the Army calling it "a declining institution, which needs urgent help from its top leadership." He said that he was resigning because he refused to live the "readiness lie portrayed by the nation's top leaders." He went on to cite examples of not being able to properly train his soldiers and he refused to be placed in a situation where he may have to lead inadequately trained men to their deaths. "I was not prepared to sacrifice good men, knowing that their deaths could have been avoided. I could not in good conscience continue to live the lie of our current readiness."

Somewhere in all of this, I failed to detect those Marshall or Ike-like traits to which Colonel Hackworth alluded. Everything I read sounded more like turn-tail and run and it surprised me that Hack would endorse such a self-involved, chicken little approach to leading.

It was interesting to me that Captain Wilcox decided to quote General Norman Swartzkoph in his letter. Maybe he forgets that Swartzkoph was one of the leaders who decided to stick around in an Army of the 70's that was much more broken and hollowed out than the one we have now and help fix it?

Captain Wilcox allow me to share a couple of thoughts with you. It requires a zero amount of courage or leadership to take your taxpayer paid for West Point education and walk away from a struggling Army into a burgeoning economy desperate for quality people. Zero, zip, nada, none - got it? Yes, the Army failed you Captain, but not in the context you framed. We failed because you turned out no better than the leaders you spoke ill of, "When will a general officer finally lay his stars on the table and stand up to the current administration for his soldiers?" You see Captain, you are the last level of officer-ship that can lay its hands on soldiers and really have an impact on their survivability. Generals do not lead, train, care for and motivate soldiers everyday. You, your lieutenants and sergeants do that. Generals who are prepared to lay their "stars on the table" begin by laying them on the table as Captains and Lieutenants and then having the fortitude to stick around and withstand whatever follows. In your case, you're yelling insults back over your shoulder while running like hell for a greener pasture. Frankly, I'm tired of hearing youngsters such as you, while citing your 15 minutes of military experience, throw your hands up and quit when life doesn't turn up warm and sunny for you each and every day. What's pitiful is the need you have to degrade other leaders and our Army just to bolster your own self-esteem and justify your decision to turn tail and run. You see Captain if you turn tail here, I expect you'd also turn tail in the face of something truly tough and ugly and soldiers could die because of it - so good riddance.

When the next batch of letters are written maybe they'll read like this. Dear Mom, we are very sorry to inform you about our failure to produce from the world's premier military academy a quality leader dedicated to giving your son or daughter a fighting chance to survive.

Read the Feedback
SGM Ron Briggs
COL Owen Powell

© 2000 J. D. Pendry