combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2005

Guard Mount

"Patriots are the easiest people to deceive, and the hardest to defeat."
leadership maxim

A faceless dog-robbing staff puke had decided to commandeer some warm bodies from the influx of field stand-downs so as to flesh-out his skeletonized provisional detail, and in his infinite wisdom, bequeathed by superior rank, he'd appointed me as its putative captain, a brass-plated dogsbody. Being thoroughly irritated with the inessential assignment, and knowing that the troops could better use their time to restore their field equipment and rest for the next operation, I was both brusque and impatient with the mandatory muster for guard-mount. The first man didn't know his rifle's serial number, the second man didn't know the password, and the third man didn't remember any of the general orders. The sergeant of the guard exchanged a look with me, which could've meant anything from "What did you expect?" to "Don't blame me!", and I continued with the inspection ... but without anymore stupid questions. When I slapped the rifle being held at inspection arms by one of my own troopers, and he retained a clutching hold on it, I recognized that I was projecting my attitude onto these men, and inciting their response. They didn't need to fight the enemy, fight the Army, fight their assignment, and fight their leader as well. Knowing that all of us would have to perform this guard duty, and that we'd have to function the following day as if we were refreshed, it was a disservice to alienate them. In a normal voice with a conversational tone, I told the frozen soldier to make eye contact with me, and then politely asked him about his readiness for guard duty. As I elicited his preparations and restored his self-confidence, standing toe to toe with four hands sharing the weapon, I could feel the tension depart the nearby men. When he finally released his rifle, I gave it a perfunctory examination and returned it to him. The next soldier practically threw his rifle at me in his eagerness to show just how much he'd been paying attention. As usual, the point of the incident probably got lost as it rebounded from one helmet to another. It didn't matter what I thought of their preparations, or any lack thereof, because their preparedness was for themselves. If they'd done everything right, and had no reservations, then there was nothing more that could be done for them. If some had cheated, and managed to skate through the double-check procedure, then they probably wouldn't try to make emends later. Some of them, both prepared and not, would not survive a future ultimate test, and all of us would have to live with that eventuality. The only thing we could do, regardless of enemy acts and formal rules, was extend our commitment to each other ... sharing the duty and facing the responsibility together. Joint commitment isn't about disestablishing hierarchial authority, but is the essential registration of roles. They needed to know that I was a fixed quantity and would enter the crucible with them; and I needed to know that they cared enough about themselves to work without direct supervision. As with any morality, inculcation is both self-rewarding and self-reinforcing ... a soldier's code of conduct is no exception. A mission that can only be accomplished by compelling performance and enforcing doctrine is probably doomed to failure ... although some ancient mercenary and slave armies functioned despite the alternatives. A unit with a cooperative attitude can sustain leadership and specialty losses without compromising their goal. With the proper attitude, not only is a soldier more efficient, but he's indomitable!

by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.

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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones