Why I Wrote “Words for Warriors: A Professional Soldier’s Notebook”

“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.

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September 2012
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