My first duty assignment as a new US Army Infantry Officer was with the 82nd Airborne Division. I arrived at Fort Bragg just as the unit was returning from Operation Desert Storm. I was put in charge of an infantry rifle platoon. I had completed all the training expected of a new Infantry Lieutenant to include Ranger and Jumpmaster school, but I was scared and intimidated by this assignment. The main reason was that every member of the platoon had combat experience, but me. What could I offer these veterans?
I was clueless, so I called my dad. His first duty assignment after graduating from West Point was with the 82nd, and he had more combat experience than anyone I knew. He reassured me that I was fit for duty and would be fine. I pressed him wondering how could I lead these men who all possessed more experience and expertise than me. My father offered a piece of advice that I remember well.
“Bring a positive attitude to work everyday. Attitudes are contagious. You are the leader and you set the tone for the unit. Bad attitudes spread like cancer. A positive attitude will give your men a boost when they need it most. Train your men hard. Set high expectations. Praise them when they do well. Correct them when they fall short and never forget that praise is a force multiplier.”
This advice has served me well over the years. I remember once my platoon was selected to perform a demonstration jump at Fort Gordon for the General in charge of the Signal Corps, and other VIPs on the post to include my Battalion Commander. My platoon prepared hard for this day. We were ready to put on an awesome demonstration for the crowd. All was going well until we exited the aircraft. I was first out of the plane and could tell right away that we were going to miss the drop zone. I clearly remember shaking my fist at the plane and cursing the pilots as I prepared to execute a tree landing.
The landing was pretty rough. Once on the ground my platoon gathered at the edge of the woods for a quick huddle. We were all pretty bruised and battered from the jump. My platoon sergeant asked me for guidance about how to proceed. My father’s advice came to mind. I looked at the group and said the jump was rough and everyone in the audience would understand if we took our time moving to the assembly area in front of the bleachers. But, we are paratroopers. Americans expect more from us, and we will deliver. That said, I took off running. Every member followed my lead and eventually ran past me in route to the assembly area. The rest of the demonstration was flawless. Afterwards, my Battalion Commander, let me know that the demonstration was impressive, and how proud he was of our performance despite the challenging conditions.
Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.
– Second stanza of the Ranger Creed