Blogs » Fortiter in re, Suaviter in Modo » Lessons Learned: A final post on OIF 06-08

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I am thinking that this will be the last installment of my personal OIF Blog but certainly not my last comment on Iraq. As with any good life or training experience a good review of the lessons learned is certainly in order. In the Army we call it an After Action Review. Yes, occasionally it’s a boring as it sounds but every once in a while you have an experience that teaches you a lesson or in this case lessons that are immeasurable. Not to bore you with my experience but I thought you might be curious about what a young officer / aviator would learn in his first trip into war. 
Where should I begin? When we left for Ft. Hood I considered myself very green as far as leadership, soldiering and aviating goes. Even after a year in combat I still feel green at aviating and soldiering but not so much at leadership though I will maintain that I am still green and still have much to learn in all aspects. The biggest lessons I learned in Iraq dealt with the people I served under and served for. Lessons I will never forget, lessons that were validated upon my return.
Fort Hood gave me the confidence to lead my soldiers under pressure as we trained on finding IEDs and defeating them. Fortunately, I never had to do that in Iraq. Actually it was completely absurd that I was even trained to do that. The Army would be wasting a lot of money sending a Medevac platoon leader out to do an Infantry soldiers job. There are better men for that job; stronger men. They call them grunts and they’re one of the greatest things in the Army.
I learned that the Army teaches you more of what NOT to do more than what TO do even before you go to war. I had previously thought that was a technique unique to Army schools.
I learned that no matter how angry about going to war you are, as an officer, leadership is still your job and if you let your personal issues get in the way, your soldiers will lose respect for you and you will be following yourself into battle chasing your tail. You are not here for yourself; you are here for your soldiers regardless of the rank you hold. That same officer showed me that favoritism is not only a detriment to the unit but again will make soldiers loose respect for you. Regardless what you think your job is or who your friends are you are still an officer and you must make decisions fairly and you must hold everyone to the same standard. As an officer I choose to be respected rather than liked fortunately for me I have found a balance between the two. That balance is still heavy on the respect side.
I learned that respect renders respect regardless of rank, color, creed, sex, or any other adjective you want to label yourself with. Soldiers will not respect you unless you respect them first. They may give you the proper military courtesy but it doesn’t mean they respect you. “We salute the rank, not the man.”-Maj. Richard Winters. I strive to salute the man.
True colors show in combat and there is no way of estimating how someone will perform under these conditions. I had two soldiers that were outstanding individuals in the garrison environment or in the cockpit. The moment we arrived at Fort Hood they were treated as second class citizens by the other soldiers of their rank and by the officer described above. This behavior set the tone for both of these officers. A person can only take so many instances of abuse before they begin a careful, possibly unconscious, campaign of backlash. In the military it has to be a “careful campaign” because anything else would get you in a mess of trouble. That’s exactly what they did. What they failed to realize is that their actions affected me more than the folks they were angry at. That’s what Platoon Leaders do. They serve as a filter for BS and a buffer for crap. I won’t get into any of the gruesome details because they aren’t important to the lesson but I will tell you that I was very heartbroken to see these individuals act in this manner and part of me understands but the other part of me cannot excuse the fact that they are mature individuals that needed to get over it for the good of the platoon. I still cherish their advice and I still respect them as individuals but I have no desire to go to war with them again under the same command. I do need to clarify one thing. The officer mentioned above was not my commander. If he had been, I would be writing you from Ft. Leavenworth.
I learned that NCO business is NCO business and having a platoon sergeant that knows what his job is and what his soldiers needs are is worth more than all the gold in the world. Having good NCOs is a blessing let them do their job and they will do it well. Stand over them while they do it and you will end up failing in the long run.
I learned that the enemy is always watching and waiting for the opportunity to exploit you even when you are sleeping in the semi-comfort of your hooch.
I learned that regardless of the fact that you are in combat on the front lines there will always be part of your organization that gets a combat award before you do even though they’re flying a desk under the protection of a Forward Operating Base. Those organizations begin at the Battalion level and continue up to Brigade but then fizzle out (I’m assuming that they fizzle out).
I learned that a good soldier will turn down an award if it’s incorrect or at least get it corrected. Other soldiers will notice when you’re awards are incorrect but not always let you know when they are. A good commander will correct the award. I am writing at least one of those as we speak.
I learned that family and friends are extremely important during a deployment and there is no substitute. I would like to mention a few very important family and friends that were very good to me during my time away. Matt and Janice, you’re care packages were invaluable. Angia, you and you’re father helped keep me going as well. Stephanie, we may not be speaking at the moment but there is no way I would have had as much fun on this deployment without knowing you. Kevin and Kristi, thank you so much for your support not only through the deployment but from the moment I met you both. Jenn, I know we don’t speak as much anymore but knowing you has made me a better person and your support during my deployment was invaluable as well. Letters from mom and Kim and chatting with the bro were moments I could not do without. Lessons from the veterans I know like Mike, my uncle Steve and others helped prepare me for what to expect and how to handle the worst if it happened. Now, I know there were many others and I have done my best to thank you since my returned but if I have missed you please do not hesitate to call me on it, I will certainly make amends without hesitation.
I should also take a moment to thank the soldiers I served. They are by far the best in the world and I would take them back to War against any enemy, anytime, anywhere.
I have learned that divorce is hard, but divorce when you are deployed is deadly. The distractions of a divorce can render a soldier ineffective or cause him to lose focus just enough for the enemy to exploit this lack to the extent of that soldier losing his/her life. I don’t hold the enemy responsible for a soldier’s death in this matter as they are only doing their job. Several of my soldiers received a notification from their so called loved one while on deployment. If you are reading this and you contemplated leaving your soldier I want to tell you to hang in there, it’s not forever and they will be home soon. They maybe a little different when they return but at least give them the opportunity to get to know you again you owe your marriage that much. If you’re reading this and you left your soldier for an unjustified reason (be patient I will hit the other side of the coin in the next paragraph) then you are no longer human to me and I will treat you as such.
Not all soldiers are perfect and the reverse of the situations above does take place. If you’re a married soldier who thinks it is okay to be unfaithful while deployed then you may remove your rank for you are no soldier in my Army. There is no excuse.
I learned that the rumor mill can destroy a soldier. They say that perception is 90% of reality. I had a soldier who was accused of sleeping around so I confronted her about it. It turns out that she was best friends with the other soldiers family and frequently visited him and his wife and children back in the states but because it looked like they were spending too much time together they were labeled and were forbidden to be anywhere near each other. It’s is my leadership philosophy to give the soldier the benefit of the doubt so I did. In doing that, she began to excel under my leadership and the strict tutelage of my high speed Platoon Sergeant. I do not tolerate rumor mill crap. UPDATE: That same soldier was made the DUSTOFF Associations Medic of the year.
Those are the big lessons. Every day was a new challenge and a new lesson and this blog is not big enough for me to get everything in. I guess you’ll just have to join up for yourself and find out what kind of great lessons await.
Upon my return I noticed a few things about me that had changed. I have a more compassion than when I left. My will to help people grows stronger by the moment. I don’t like crowds of people I don’t know. Driving was horrifying and took a bit to get used to. I am much more aware of packages or trash on the side of the road. Loud, sharp noises make me jump more than they use to. I have less tolerance for protesters and will now gladly confront them. I have less tolerance for politicians who have not served and think they are qualified to send me off to die when they have no clue what’s going on. My desire to run for congress or the presidency is almost insatiable. When you say “support the troops but not the war” you don’t fully support the troops and I don’t need half hearted support I need full support or this crap is going to drag out much longer than we want it to.
I could go on but I feel this blog is slowly taking a political turn down the toilet so I’ll end it here. I’m different and I know that. I’m better for having these experiences and I love sharing them with people who will never have the opportunities I did during this deployment. I would certainly encourage anyone to join the US Military but make sure you will be doing a job that you love otherwise it’s going to be pure hell. Here ends my OIF Blog series. I hope I shed some light and truth on the things that were going on during my tenure there. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have regarding Iraq or the military. I am always willing to engage in some good conversation. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more entertaining blogs.