Friday, December 28, 2007

hey LT...

I have begun in processing to Fort Hood and go to my unit tomorrow. I will have to divert from this path of conversation for a moment to tell you about some other things going on, and then, if all goes well, return to this point to bring it all full circle.

As anyone who’s read this recently knows, I lost two friends in Iraq right before I got to Fort Hood. When I got here, I had nowhere to live until a friend offered me a room until I find my own place. I have been there since, in an unfurnished apartment with no television, internet or food (we are both broke). This has given me far too much time to sit around thinking about “things”. I have finished reading Fiasco now and some other things that I have been meaning to read for a long time.

In reading Fiasco, I noticed something that many people may not. While the Civil War was “West Point’s War” (all but three battles were commanded on both sides by West Point graduates), in some ways, I believe, all wars are West Point’s. I say that not to be arrogant, but because I think simply due to the number of officers commissioned from West Point, any armed conflict will have an impact on the culture and collective memory of the institution it will not have elsewhere. (Yes, more officers by quite a few are commissioned through other sources, but those sources are either de-centralized, such as ROTC or short term, such as OCS, and, thus, do not create the same lasting bond that West Point does).

There are examples of West Point graduates throughout Fiasco from General Officer level, down through COL’s, LTC’s, Captains and Lieutenants. Some are good, some are bad, some are in that horrendous grey area in between where decision making is toughest. Some have gained notoriety, good and bad--the names LTC Sassaman and CPT Fishback should not be unfamiliar to anyone who has followed military issues of morality and ethics throughout the war. In re-reading the tragedy of LTC Sassaman’s situation, I was struck by how close to home it for a West Pointer. LTC Sassaman was a graduate, as was CPT Paliwoda, an officer whose grave I have visited and whose classmates have introduced us (I wrote about that experience before). LTC Sassaman’s BDE Commander, COL Rudesheim, has a son who was a classmate of mine.

While this particular story is not a high point in West Point graduates history, it is a good example of what I mean by calling wars “ours.” When something happens, such as this, the institution itself goes into a self-examination. What was it teaching us, what was it doing well and what was it doing wrong, that such things happen? Meanwhile, CPT Paliwoda’s classmates stop by his grave to remember a time when they were all wearing grey and drinking at the firstie club together.

After loosing my friends, particularly Adam, an Officer I had more respect for than almost an other Officer I knew, I went into a period of self-examination similar myself. How could someone such as Adam have died when he was everything the country had asked of him and everything I hoped to be? And here I return to the first point…

Am I ready to lead? I read about so many Lieutenants in Fiasco doing things that a year ago seemed so far away. Leading platoons, fighting in close quarters, analyzing intelligence that saved or killed their soldiers—all of which I could be called to do and which, more importantly, I will ask of my own soldiers in a short period of time. I began to wonder if I’d wasted my time at West Point. Teachers always told us to make the most of our time, to get the mentoring we needed to be the best officers we could be, or else we were selling the nation, and more importantly the soldiers we may someday lead, short. I listened, and a lot of it went right in one ear and out the other as I half-assedly did my homework to head down to the Firstie Club.

I think I am prepared, although no one is ever “fully” prepared as constantly seeking improvement is probably the only way one can maintain a level of confidence in himself, but I worry that I’m not as prepared as I could have been. That is where my second-guessing had kept me in a funk for the past week. It seems that if I was willing to take leadership within the army and be accountable for the training and preparation of soldiers, I should be as prepared as humanly possible, and yet, I can look back and see areas where I could have done better.

Nothing can change that now, however, and I have chosen to move on. Adam understood that, when he was a Cadet, when he was a Lieutenant and when he was a Captain. He always strove to be the best at whatever it was he was doing. That is something I learned from him and somehow managed not to take onto myself. Now that he’s gone, however, I can’t continue to be mediocre. Part of me feels a responsibility to him, and part of me feels a responsibility to everyone else who counts on the military, but I think the time has come for me to see how good I can be for once instead of settling simply for doing “good enough”. While “good enough” is sufficient to pass a test, it isn’t good enough for Soldiers, it isn’t good enough for West Point and it isn’t good enough for Adam. While I don’t know what my “best” yet is, I can only hope that continually striving for it will be enough for me to somehow repay the trust that has been placed in me.

I only wish I had realized this some years ago…


Blogger moville said...

Those are all important questions you are asking yourself. I think you should pick up Wesley Clark's book on leadership...I can't remember what it is called, but it something along the lines of the Academy motto, "Duty, Honor, Country." He addresses a lot of these issues in his own career...I think it would be interesting and topical reading for you. You can download an abridged version of it for Ipod on Itunes. Based on his reflections, I hope General Clark will be Secretary of State or Defense or National Security in the next administration.

4:38 PM  

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