Monday, October 31, 2011

Do What's Right...

Believe it or not, my First Sergeant (1SGT) and I didn't get along very well. He had his idea on how to run the platoon, and I had mine. Sometimes they didn't match up. Now, normally I would bow to the voice of wisdom and experience, but sometimes my conscience wouldn't let me do it. Other times, I did things his way.

An example: early after taking over the platoon in Iraq, I was leading a patrol with my 4 tanks. During the return leg of the patrol, I saw a tank off in the field, with it's treads off and a mechanics vehicle on site to help with repair. However, I didn't see his battle-buddy. I ordered our platoon to set-up a perimeter around the disabled tank (not from enemy fire, but from a busted road wheel that let the tread slip off). I knew that if I was broken down, or if I was the mechanic, I would appreciate some extra support so nothing got hairy.

My 1SGT argued that we should return to base, we'd already been out for more than 6 hours, and the guys were tired and hungry. We had a very long conversation over the radio about it (not the best way to handle it, since whole platoon could hear the frequency). Long story short, I got fed up with the fight and told him to take his wingman and return to base if he felt so inclined. He did, and my wingman and myself stayed an extra hour to overwatch the tank that was repaired. We all went back to the base together. By the time I tracked down my First Sergeant, he was asleep, and I decided that I needed to cool-off before having the conversation.

Unfortunately, the conversation didn't happen. I was young and unsure of myself. Instead of believing in myself, I started to have doubts brought about largely by the other NCOs in the company constantly asking me why I risked my men and stayed behind for a tank that wasn't in our company. I realize now that they were trying to keep me from reporting the argument higher by producing doubts. The platoon split between us, and it stayed that way for a couple of hellish weeks. We took patrols separately, and only talked if the mission required it.

About 3 weeks later, my 1SGT returned to the states because his wife needed surgery. He was gone almost 12 weeks. During that time, my wingman took over the platoon (he was the senior sergeant in the platoon) and we started to patch the rift between the two wings. By the time my 1SGT got back, the platoon understood my thought process and followed my directions.

My 1SGT pretty much removed himself from the platoon upon his return. If he could find an excuse to stay behind, or manage from the rear he did. I think he realized the shift in dynamics, and knew for once that the young butter bar (2nd Lieutenant, for you non-military people) actually wasn't a complete dumbass, and he couldn't treat me like I was (unlike the person I replaced, another blog entry on that one... someday).

Unfortunately, instead of trying to work together, he stood apart. He still looked after the platoon, but we didn't butt heads, because he new it wouldn't work. My SSG (my wingman) and I took over the missions for the platoon, and eventually everyone went home safe.

So what is the lesson in this? I think it is two-fold. First, I did what I thought was right, and gave orders to that end. My men didn't always agree with me, but in the long run, I earned their respect and they followed me. They knew I wasn't sacrificing them for some recognition or reputation, but instead doing what I felt was necessary to ensure we all got home safe.Your team is smart (no matter what profession). If you treat them right, and do what's right, they will follow you through hell (mine did). If you don't, if you use them for your own advancement, they will know and in some cases work against you.

The funny thing about this first lesson, is that my 1SGT at one time told me his biggest problem with me was that I was doing things because other people were, not because I thought it was the right thing to do. In that case he was referring to my taking shifts on guardpoint (something none of the other 1SGTs or LTs were doing...). He thought I was doing it because he was. In truth, I was doing it because I saw him do it and thought it was a good way to let my guys get some more sleep. He didn't see it that way, and I think this result is from the second lesson.

The second lesson is don't avoid the awkward conversations. If I had addressed the issue the next morning, rather than letting it sit and letting doubt fester, my 1SGT and I may have worked things out, and the platoon wouldn't have split. Also, the 1SGT may have lent more of his experience to the platoon on the tougher missions, rather than staying behind. He was sorely missed at times.

How about you? Ever had a moment where you should have spoken up, or stepped forward, and didn't from doubt? Had a moment where you did the right thing without looking for reward, and had your leadership valued because of it?

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