Two companies (approximately 150 new Armor and Cavalry second lieutenants) participated in a leadership seminar on October 9. We discussed the vision for the platoon the leader would like to have, the training objectives to reach that vision, and techniques for developing junior leaders (noncommissioned officers) in the platoon. There were four suggestions that would help achieve the vision. They were 1. Emphasize training with special attention given to mastering fundamentals (the individual and small unit tasks that must be mastered to be combat ready), 2. “Be There” with your unit particularly when the situation is the toughest (bad weather. enemy contact, demanding training),3. Set the example (everything else falls into place), and 4. Never be satisfied; you can always do better. We discussed the importance of completing Ranger School, the best life insurance for the battlefield that a person can have. (It’s the best for the leader who completes the course and the best for the Soldiers he leads.)
I was honored to make a presentation to Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, U.S. Representative, Georgia Third District, and 16 members of his Georgia and Washington, D.C. staff. The subject was Leadership with a focus on Team Building. The presentation and discussion were based on my personal experience in forming, training, and commanding the Eighth Army Ranger Company at the beginning of the Korean War. Congressman Westmoreland had ordered 20 copies of my book, “Words for Warriors: A Professional Soldier’s Notebook,” which I addressed and signed before the meeting. In introducing me the Congressman praised the book, which he had read previously.
“I am selecting volunteers for an extremely dangerous mission behind enemy lines!” The very dignified Lieutenant Colonel greeted me with those words when I reported. I responded, “Sir, I volunteer!” “Don’t you want to know what the mission is?” he asked incredulously. I said, “Yes, Sir! But I volunteer!” Those words would change my life forever.
When LTC John H. McGee (later brigadier general), told me that he had selected the lieutenants, I said, “Sir, I want to be a Ranger so badly that I volunteer to be a squad leader or a rifleman.”
When I returned the next day, he said, “You will be the Company Commander!”
I quickly said a silent prayer. “Dear God, please don’t let me get a bunch of good guys killed.” I didn’t know enough to be a Ranger Company Commander. I probably didn’t know enough to be a squad leader or rifleman.
There were only three Infantrymen in the 73 enlisted volunteers – good Soldiers but not Infantry. Three sergeants, 22 corporals, and 48 privates. No experienced Infantry leadership – including the three new lieutenants just out of Jump School and the Basic Course!
As Company Commander, I would not have the “luxury” of being trained by my platoon sergeant. My learning curve would have to be very rapid and steep. I listened to my Soldiers. I turned often to Field Manuals. I wished for some mentor as I faced the many challenges posed by developing a combat ready Ranger Company.
As I progressed in my career, I kept notes. I learned by listening to and observing others, from reading, and from experience.
After retirement, I was appointed the Honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment, a position I held 12 years. My focus was on training. I often visited the Rangers during training exercises throughout the continental United States, Alaska, Korea (twice), Afghanistan (twice) and Iraq.
During the AAR that always followed, I was asked for comments. I made some well-deserved complimentary remarks after which we discussed ways to improve. Much of what we talked about was not in field manuals and was not taught in service schools. As I listened to those who had “been there done that” (particularly the senior noncommissioned officers) I felt that I was getting more from their comments than they were from mine. After my visit, I sent a memo to the commander expanding on AAR comments.
I realized that a compilation of essays might prove helpful. The book could serve as a reference on lessons learned through experience – things not taught in our service schools. It would have been invaluable to me not just when I was that green Ranger Company Commander but also in every subsequent assignment.
“Words for Warriors” is a compilation of many of those essays. I hope that their dissemination can prove useful to young commanders in particular. If it does, then the years of effort will have been worthwhile.
Welcome to my new website and blog.
I am Col. Ralph Puckett (Ret.), author of Words for Warriors: A Professional Soldier’s Notebook (Wheatmark, 2007).
Feel free to look around on the site and contact me with any feedback or questions. I look forward to posting new entries related to the topics of education and leadership.
As I add new posts to this blog in the future, I would appreciate it if you came back to visit and left some comments.