This is a warm and fuzzy post. So, for all those individuals whose blood boils because of my words, take a break for a day.
I realize that many of my posts express great disdain for actions of certain commands, commanders, and purported military leaders, and I feel it necessary to balance my negative view with some of the unlimited positive views and memories I have of soldiers and military leadership.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post talking about an injustice done to a young Sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. In it, I talked about the command’s inability (or unwillingness) to understand his situation, and their insistence upon subjecting him to the meatgrinder of court-martial.
In response to that post, several individuals wrote me and/or posted comments expressing both support and disdain. Several of the messages came from current and former Noncommissioned Officers (various flavors of the Sergeant ranks, abbreviated NCO) expressing support for the young man in question and bile for the command that failed to do their job. Some were younger NCOs who juxtaposed this over their experiences and those of their close comrades. One was from a former First Sergeant (pay grade E-8), now a lawyer and Public Defender. He, particularly, felt strongly for the young Sergeant in my story, and he lamented the failure of the leadership that was charged to support the young man. Reading his words rekindled strong memories of those NCOs who’ve been close to me.
It threw this maxim into sharp relief: There is nothing more beautiful and inspiring than a Noncommissioned Officer doing their job well.
Three examples come to mind.
I think of the two young Sergeants who approached me after a particularly contentious court-martial. My client was punished severely after a long jury battle over charges that would turn the stomach of the average citizen. Needless to say, I felt horrible about the outcome despite the fact that I worked myself to near-exhaustion in preparation and execution. As I slowly stood from my chair at the defense table while my client was led-away by guards, the Sergeants approached me, looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and they thanked me. They thanked me despite the fact that the soldier I represented was convicted of horrible, horrible crimes. They thanked me despite the fact that I worked every angle in an attempt to thwart the actions of the prosecution. They thanked me despite the fact that I portrayed the command as culpable for my client’s PTSD and other combat-related stress. They didn’t care about the charges, or the conviction, or my tactics, or the sentence. Their concern was that the soldier under their charge received a fair shake.
When they thanked me, they said one sentence: “Thank you for caring for our soldier.” I nodded my head, gathered my things, and walked to my office. There, I closed the door, dropped into my chair, and broke down.
I think of the young Sergeant working in my building when I instructed at the Military Police School. He performed the duties of training NCO (a largely clerical charge where he essentially ensured that all the resource requirements in the school were fulfilled). He was constantly working, diligently doing his job in a quiet, professional manner. Some of his tasks were more desk-related, others were more physical–hauling boxes, moving desks, and the like.
One day, he moved from office to office soliciting funds for an Army-sponsored program called Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers. I needed change for a larger bill, and I noticed him awkwardly fumbling with the bills. At that point, after working with him for months, I saw why.
He was missing one of his hands.
I hadn’t noticed largely because he didn’t want anyone to notice the reason for his Purple Heart. He just wanted to be known as a good NCO.
Most of all, I think of Jack Munoz. Jack was my platoon sergeant. I arrived as Platoon Leader at Ft. Drum, and he inherited me as a young, ideological, but mostly clueless new Second Lieutenant. He accepted me as his boss despite having 16 more years of service and 12 years of age over me.
I was probably his toughest task, but he accepted the challenge eagerly. Like a new puzzle, each day he worked to adjust aspects of my leadership, tactical abilities, and personality. Over the next 18 months, he changed me. Sure, I wasn’t perfect, but I was markedly better than before.
Jack’s lessons were not of the short-term. Rather, they are ones that stay with me to this day. When I look at my peers who failed, I realize that they did not have a Jack. Instead, theirs was one who lacked the ability or willingness to realize their role in training the next generation of Army officers. Jack saw his duty as twofold. First, he was charged with caring for a 34-man Rifle Infantry Platoon. Second, and perhaps more important, he was to train me to be an effective, caring, and conscientious leader.
When you look at successful senior leaders with names such as Petraeus, Powell, Casey, and Mullen, they all have one thing in common. Each of them had their own Jack Munoz. That’s why they are where they are.
Every success I’ve experienced since 1996 is partly attributable to Jack’s influence on my life. Without him, I’d be a lesser man, leader, father, and lawyer.