SIG Sauer Academy

The Baldwin Files – Leadership and Moral Courage

“The true test of courage is not found on the field of battle…but rather in mundane offices where difficult, ethical decisions of command are made each day, which challenge the very fiber of our principles.”–GEN Matthew B. Ridgway.

This quote accompanies a unit guidon that hangs today on a wall in my office here on the homestead. It is the single most prized memento of my service. It speaks, of course, to moral rather than physical courage. The Army, and the other Services, describe moral courage in a number of ways. For the purposes of this article, I am going to define it like this “Moral courage demands one accept some level of professional risk to stand up for what is right.” In other words, it does not necessarily involve the acceptance of potential risk to life or mission success but rather direct risk to one’s individual career. It is also true that situations requiring an overt display of that kind of courage can be morally complex, ambiguous, and perplexing. Therefore, I am going to try to provide some context and explore what moral courage looks like in real life. My expectation is the information will be of some small benefit to new leaders out there in the ranks.

I will start by repeating somethings I said in an earlier article. “…leaders must be willing to take risks. Most soldiers, myself included, like to think that we can always be as physically courageous as required in battle. Perhaps not ready, but willing and able to risk our lives if necessary. From my experiences and observations in various hostile places, I would say that is generally true enough. However, demonstrating moral courage is arguably much harder. In part, that is because the need for action does not present itself as unambiguously as it does in combat. It tends to sneak up on a leader over time. The Army constantly tells soldiers to do “the hard right over the easy wrong.” That is noble and righteous advice. However, it would be a mistake to think the institution actually cares. It does not.”

Furthermore, “The Army is a soulless, unfeeling and ungracious machine; a whore who has never loved you – and never will. You will not be rewarded for your [moral] courage or you honesty for accepting responsibility [and risk]. No exemplary service award is waiting for you; no building or street named in your honor; and you are not going to receive public recognition as the unit’s soldier, NCO, or officer, of the year. [In fact, you will probably be punished.] It should come as no surprise to any professional soldier that truly selfless service is always a bitch. None of that changes the fact that the right thing is always the right thing. In the end, all I can tell you is that principled leadership [to include moral courage] in training and war is never easy or painless – but I strongly recommend it anyway.”

Why begin with that truly discouraging admonishment? Simple, I want to fully dissuade any young leader out there that the Army will reward a display of moral courage in any positive way whatsoever. There have never been any medals presented for moral courage and the Army does not intend to start now. Do not delude yourself by thinking otherwise. Since that is true, it begs the question; if nothing good is likely to come of it, then why do it? Perhaps, for much the same reason a soldier throws himself on a grenade to save his buddies. It is not something that anyone is eager to do. It is a last resort to be considered in a range of bad courses of action only because it is the least bad. Consequently, in the absence of another better choice, an individual may have to sacrifice himself in order to shield his comrades from harm. Maybe, it is because a soldier has simply learned to value his teammates more than his own life. No greater love. Of course, in peacetime a soldier is not likely to face that stark a choice requiring physical courage, self-sacrifice, and clear risk to life as the grenade scenario. On the other hand, a dilemma requiring moral courage can occur in war or peace and with unpleasantly greater frequency. Therefore, just in the normal course of service, a good number of soldiers are likely to face an ethical dilemma of potentially damaging and even catastrophic risk to their careers.

Extrapolating from the grenade example above, I am suggesting that moral choices become clearer – albeit perhaps no less difficult – if an individual prioritizes teammates over career in a similar fashion. If you have not realized it already, the Army – as an institution – is incapable of human morality. Only soldiers themselves can make a moral judgement and live – or fail to live up to – a set of values. Leaders have an obligation to set the example in all things, perhaps especially moral courage, precisely because the consequences are invariably thankless. I have said this many times before; leadership is all the more vital when a situation is dire and the outcome uncertain. If a leader does not have at least the courage of his own convictions in all circumstances, he honestly has no convictions and is truly incapable of setting a good example or effectively leading anyone anywhere.

“Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men.”–GEN George S. Patton

Consider the most basic duty of leadership – decision making. A neophyte might mistakenly believe that bad leaders always make bad decisions and good leaders invariably make good decisions. Not even close. The fact is, every leader a soldier has ever met, or will ever meet, or has ever read of, or heard about, is an imperfect human with feet of clay. In the aggregate, a “bad” leader probably makes about as many good decisions as a “good” leader and vice versa. It turns out that the troops’ perception of why and how the leader made a given decision matters much more than the decision itself. If soldiers trust that their leader habitually makes decisions selflessly in the best interest of the unit and the mission they will be inclined to give that leader the benefit of the doubt. If, however, they have come to believe that the leader tends to make decisions based on his own self-interests or ego, the soldiers will have a consistently negative impression of his leadership – regardless of how sound any single decision might objectively appear.

Anonymous– “No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of his men.”

Like it or not, a leader will only be judged to be the kind of good or bad role model – professional, moral, or otherwise – that the majority of soldiers in the unit are convinced he has been by his actions. Keep in mind, leadership is ALWAYS a collaborative exercise. Think of a marching band. Each musician may be highly skilled and more than capable of playing his or her instrument solo without a leader. Yet, the leader has a distinct and important role in the band as well. A band – like any team – must be organized, synchronized, and guided by a leader in order to make harmonious collective melodies while simultaneously moving forward as a coherent unit toward an objective. The leader sets the program, tempo, and literally, the direction for the band. Nevertheless, by himself, the bandleader cannot produce a single musical note.

To be clear, effective leadership is not a popularity contest. A leader’s highest duty is to evoke “willing obedience” from his soldiers in order to accomplish the unit’s mission – not ingratiate himself with his peers, subordinates, or those senior to him. Moreover, in my experience, one is ill advised to trust a leader who acts substantially different when his boss is around than he acts when the boss is not there. That kind of behavior likely indicates a moral courage deficit. The reality is that – even if one could only make “perfect” decisions – no leader ever makes tough calls that can possibly meet with everyone’s approval. Consequently, even the best leaders have at least some subordinates who are not fans. Conversely, even the worst leaders likely have a few subordinates who think highly of them. As a case in point, I know with certainty that at least a few of the people I have led, served with, or worked for, do not think much of me as a leader. They are entitled to their opinions. Ultimately, grading good and bad leadership is a very personal and subjective evaluation that each individual makes independently.

I had originally intended to talk more about Mission Command, but I will save most of that discussion for another time. However, I am including one portion to highlight some key concepts like “mutual trust,” “prudent risk,” and “disciplined initiative” propagated in Army doctrine. “Mission command requires an environment of mutual trust and shared understanding among commanders, staffs, and subordinates. It requires a command climate in which commanders encourage subordinates to accept prudent risk and exercise disciplined initiative to seize opportunities and counter threats within the commander’s intent.(emphasis added) Using mission orders, commanders focus their orders on the purpose of an operation rather than on the details of how to perform assigned tasks. Doing this minimizes detailed control and allows subordinates the greatest possible freedom of action. Finally, when delegating authority to subordinates, commanders set conditions for success by allocating adequate resources to subordinates based on assigned tasks.” FM 3.0, Operations.

Sadly, although the doctrine of Mission Command is sound enough in my opinion, in practice the Army has shown no inclination to live up to the standards and ideals espoused therein. For leaders who are so inclined, there are three windows available to micromanage a mission: before, during and after. Some particularly energetic and meticulous leaders like to take advantage of all three opportunities. All are wrong, but the last is probably the most insidious. A senior leader destroys any semblance of “mutual trust” by pretending to delegate authority to a subordinate and subsequently second-guessing and nit picking every decision in the aftermath. That is actually an old leadership dodge or cheat. When I was a lieutenant, we used to call it “bring on the dancing elephants.” The boss carefully positions himself to take credit for “professionally developing” a subordinate if all goes well; but can distance himself from responsibility if the outcome is perceived as unsatisfactory. Obviously, no moral courage is manifest in the senior leader’s actions in either eventuality.

Another leadership cheat involves demanding that subordinate leaders surrender their individual agency and always blindly comply with the minutia of rules, policies and SOPs. Every leader should always be empowered to adapt to the exigent circumstances his or her unit encounters. No centrally produced guidance can possibly account for every conceivable contingency. Moral courage requires leaders in direct contact with the issue at hand to accept responsibility and make the hard and morally ambiguous decisions – especially those that may run contrary to pre-established directives. In the end, soldier and junior leader “disciplined initiative” and “prudent risk” acceptance – as described in Mission Command – only happens consistently in units that make those behaviors an integral and indispensable part of a unit’s daily standard operating methodology and ethos. And that does not happen unless senior leaders are unfailing in setting the right example every single day. Soldiers do not adopt and emulate the values that are simply spoken or written, but rather those that are constantly and convincingly demonstrated by leaders.

“Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”–Aristotle 

To be fair, effective and timely delegation of authority is one of the trickiest of all leadership skills to learn and practice successfully. Sometimes, subordinate leaders do not want – and are not eager to accept – the additional responsibility. Sometimes they are not ready – or at least think they are not ready. The best leaders delegate decision making down until they – and their subordinates – are uncomfortable. However, for the process to work as it should, good senior leaders always need to be prepared to backstop a subordinate leader’s decisions. Senior leaders must be committed to providing appropriate top cover while simultaneously being careful not to smother the initiative of those junior leaders. In short, where mutual trust exists, all leaders willingly and routinely share and shoulder a portion of the risk and the consequences of any decision – good or bad.

From what I have written above, one might assume that I am pessimistic and discouraged about where we are and where we are going. That is not the case. Sure, I have seen many leaders who have failed to live up to the ideal of undaunted moral courage. All humans are imperfect, and even the best can fall short in moments of weakness. However, I have also witnessed countless examples of values based leadership over the years and, yes, moral courage. As GEN Ridgway concluded, small, morally courageous victories occur on a daily basis – most often without fanfare. I have also personally known a good number of leaders, including flag officers, who have made those kinds of moral choices and ultimately suffered the consequences of those decisions. By that, I mean that they were denied promotion and / or forced out of the Army. Like I said, selfless service is always a bitch and virtue must be its own – and only – reward.

“A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all morality.”–John F. Kennedy

The strongest and the best people stay focused on the mission, not the obstacles in the way. Therefore, the last thing I want to talk about are BIRTs. A BIRT is a Bold, Innovative, Risk Taker. The Army has declared for decades that they want as many BIRTs in the ranks as possible. That claim is disingenuous at best. As with moral courage, the Army talks a good game, has solid supporting doctrine, but in practice falls well short of its own rhetoric. The BIRTs in service have always been there despite the Army’s best efforts to curtail BIRT initiative – not because of any affirmative Army policy. Therefore, it falls to individual leaders to do what the institution is failing to do well. Set the right rather than the easy professional example. Know that BIRTs are the best hope for the future. Do take up the responsibility to find, cultivate, nurture, teach, coach, and mentor the next generation of BIRTs. Be an unapologetic BIRT yourself. Indeed, for the good of the Service and the Nation, be all the BIRT you can be.

De Oppresso Liber!

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

24 Responses to “The Baldwin Files – Leadership and Moral Courage”

  1. JM Gavin says:

    I have a slightly different take in the subject, which was formed over my 27 year career (which ended last year).

    There are not two kinds of courage or integrity, moral and physical. There is only courage. The same leader that places his or her own career concerns over mission and subordinates in garrison will leave a fallen or wounded man behind in battle (and yes, I’ve seen wounded and fallen men left behind in battle).

    Unfortunately, the US Army has embraced the concept of different forms of courage. As a fellow “leader” told me a few years ago, when I challenged the clearly selfish decisions of one of our peers, who was serving as a CSM in a different element, “Come on, you know we have to play the game.” In that case, “the game” was standing by as a General Officer crushed mid-rank men who had done nothing wrong, all in the name of political expediency. When I told him that this wasn’t a game, he smirked, and told me that was exactly why my career had stalled, and that I had a rep among senior leaders as being “not a team player.”

    Far too many leaders fail to live by the ethos of “The Mission, The Men, and Me.” Instead, they follow the maxim “The Mission Is Me, and The Men are My Supporting Effort.”

    As LTC Baldwin often points out, the Army has an institutional issue with self-awareness. Too many people see Sam Damon when they look in the mirror, when the mirror image is Courtney Massengale.


    All of these leaders view also view themselves as a Sam Damon, when they are clearly a Courtney Massengale.

    • Terry Baldwin says:


      I agree with your first point and so does the Army. In the Army Values it is officially referred to as simply, “Personal Courage.” They go on to define it this way:

      “Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral). Personal courage has long been associated with our Army. With physical courage, it is a matter of enduring physical duress and at times risking personal safety. Facing moral fear or adversity may be a long, slow process of continuing forward on the right path, especially if taking those actions is not popular with others. You can build your personal courage by daily standing up for and acting upon the things that you know are honorable.”

      I also agree that the two components, physical and moral courage, are intertwined and in some cases inseparable. However, while physical courage almost always requires a strong element of moral courage, the opposite is not always true. Many instances requiring soldiers or leaders to display moral courage do not involve any physical risk whatsoever.

      I addressed and emphasized the distinction between the two (physical and moral) to highlight the way the institution responds differently to them. Physical courage is almost always rewarded – no questions asked. However, while moral courage is lauded in the doctrine just like physical courage, in practice it is almost always penalized rather than rewarded. Just ask Billy Mitchell or Jack Singlaub.

      It is a glaring hypocrisy and, as you say, it shows an appalling lack of self-awareness by the Army as an institution.

      I also wanted to make clear that no human is perfect. It is unrealistic to expect leaders – or subordinates for that matter – to behave flawlessly in all circumstances. Perfection may be an aspirational goal for Olympic Athletes, but is not a reasonable standard to demand of soldiers. Indeed, if perfect were the only acceptable standard, none of us could ever possibly measure up.


      • Kirk says:

        One of the things I think we need to recognize in discussing this question of courage, moral and physical both, is that it’s a highly subjective and situational thing. You may find yourself in a situation where you think, in the moment, that there isn’t a question about anything you’re doing–And, then, later on…? In retrospect, you realize that you were in a situation where you were offered a clear moral choice, and perhaps didn’t make the right one. Sometimes this stuff isn’t instantly apparent.

        As well, it’s highly conditional; you may make the right moral choice in one situation, but in another one, fail to do so.

        It is important to recognize that we are all merely human, and prone to all the failings attendant to that condition. What is important is to recognize mistakes honestly, to strive to overcome moments of weakness, and to be tolerant of others, when they too prove to be humanly fallible. We must also recognize that it’s a long, hard path to virtue, and while we may stumble along it sometimes, we are still moving towards that goal of virtue.

        Which isn’t to say that we or others should not be held accountable, when in error.

        Not every man has what it takes to keep going on that path of forthright honor, especially once they’ve stumbled off of it. What we need to do is to encourage and honor those that get back up, and who keep trying to exhibit courage in all of its facets–If only to set an example for others who may stumble along the way, following us.

        No mere human is perfect. It does us well to remember that, and to keep an eye on our left and right flanks for those who may need reminders, and to keep an eye on our own conduct, that we may be open to correction ourselves.

  2. Stefan S. says:

    A quote from JFK on morality? History has shown he wasn’t all that moral.

    • AbnMedOps says:

      Re-read that “feet of clay” part. We all have our moments, and complexities.

      • Kirk says:

        The cynic in me wants to point out that those immortal words we ascribe to JFK were quite probably ghost-written…

        • Terry Baldwin says:


          That is often true of any quotation, and perhaps is true in this case. Still, the quote reinforces the sentiment that I wanted to convey and, therefore, I judge it “good enough” for my purposes.


          • Kirk says:

            Oh, I agree. I was addressing Stefan’s line of thought about sourcing and hypocrisy.

            It’s sad, but a lot of our best and most apropos maxims and truisms come from people who absolutely did not embody what they were saying, which many take as discrediting the validity and value of those words. I’m not sure that I agree; you find wisdom even among idiots, charlatans, and hypocrites. Their ability to apply what they say and think bears no relation at all to the validity of those words and thoughts.

            • Roy Woodall says:

              Haven’t we all been guilty of “do as I say not as I do”.

              • Kirk says:

                I know I have… It’s easy to say, not so easy to actually do.

                But, one thing I have noticed: When you start questioning the value of something you or someone else says because you’re unable to meet the aspirations expressed, you’re generally well on your way to abandoning the effort necessary to meet them.

                Which is kinda what I should have pointed out, rather than noting that JFK probably didn’t write that quote himself.

    • Kit Badger says:

      All I see around here are trees. Wonder where the forest is…?

  3. Kirk says:

    I think that we’re about overdue for another round of the self-renewal that the US has been able to pull off periodically, and that self-renewal needs to spread out across society, not just the military.

    My opinion, reached after a 25-year career as an enlisted soldier and then leader, is that the entire structure of the institution needs to be drastically re-thought, and then have equally drastic reforms made to it, from top to bottom.

    The entire paradigm of the enlisted/commissioned dichotomy needs to be re-thought, in light of the changes in US society that have taken place in the last few generations. And, to be quite honest, I’m not sure that the caste-like distinctions we made between the two classes were ever really appropriate to a democratic republic. It’s incredibly ironic to me that we wound up with a structure that is, in practice, more rigid and class-distinction based than the British wound up with. But, we did… The historical things that led to that happening are not quite clear, but we managed to ossify into a system where the officers were more of an aristocratic autocracy than some of the European systems evolved into.

    Not to mention, the inflexibility of our legacy hierarchical civilian support system, where the schoolhouses have so much impact on things.

    Case in point: Few years ago, the Army Research Laboratories did this little study on creating the ideal aide memoire for combat leaders, the Combat Leader’s Guide, or CLG. Everybody who ever got their hands on a version of that thing absolutely loved it, and wanted one. Damn things were ideal tools for the junior and mid-grade leader.

    Yet, look around: Where the hell are they? What happened? Well, I’ll tell you: The various agencies and schools all looked at it, said “Cool… Who’s paying for it…?”, and when nobody wanted to take ownership of it, the whole thing died on the vine, ‘cos everybody didn’t want to give up any resources, or take the responsibility for managing it. So, a really good tool for junior leaders died on the vine due to entrenched interests and disinterest in doing anything outside the established “lanes”.

    The Marines have the Marine Troop Leader’s Guide, and there’s not a lot of conflict within the different proponencies of the Corps about who’s going to catch the hot potato–They just see the need and the benefit, and do it. The Army is caught up in “Oh, that’s not our problem… See, there’s stuff in there that’s Engineer Branch, not Infantry, so… Not. Our. Problem.”.

    That’s the kind of crap that absolutely needs to die, and die quickly. The different “branch unions” are anathema to adaptability and agility, because anything like route clearance that covers more than one specific area becomes a hot potato that nobody wants responsibility for.

    The Germans had a thing that they called the strategy of “gaps and surfaces” or as the German goes “Flaechen und Luekentaktik”. This is something that doesn’t only apply to the battlefield, but to organization and bureaucracy. If you think of your organization as a battlefield, with different agencies as separate units, you need to be very careful that you don’t draw too much distinction between roles and missions, because a smart enemy (or, more likely, Murphy himself…) is going to approach attacking your institution along the gaps between agency responsibilities and oversight responsibility.

    What we need is a more flexible and agile means of organizing ourselves, one where someone sees a problem, identifies it, and then deals with it at the lowest level possible. Today, you have a situation where the problems are seen clearly by a lot of people, but the hierarchy and organization get in the way of responding realistically to the problem. If you go back and look at something I’m more than familiar with, the counter-IED fight, you can see where people were warning about the issues as far back as the late 1970s, with no effective action being taken by anyone, because of the organizational stovepipes we have inherent to the way we do business.

    I’m not advocating for some hippy-dippy flat organization, but we damn sure need to do something to break all these iron stovepipes and rice bowls, or someone is going to use “Flaechen und Luekentaktik” against us at an organizational level–And, we’re going to be helpless in foreseeing it or dealing with it in any effective and timely manner.

    • Kirk says:

      [sigh] There should have been a set of quote marks around the word “everybody” mid-way through the sixth paragraph… No idea what happened, there.

  4. Kirk says:

    For LTC Baldwin:

    Recently discovered someone who you might already have run into, a Brit by the name of Charles Handy. I was recently in a discussion where we were discussing some of these same issues, and another participant told me that I’d either independently re-invented some of what I was saying, or I was failing to attribute things to Charles Handy that I’d read somewhere else. Since I don’t remember ever having run into him, or read his work… Well, I was intrigued. And, it turns out that a lot of the things we’ve discussed here have already been addressed, described, and some solutions proposed. I’ve yet to do more than a surface read of his oeuvre, but it looks interesting…

    • Terry Baldwin says:


      The name does not ring a bell for me either. Thanks for bringing him to my attention. I will look him up. I certainly have never claimed to have been the first or only person to recognize these issues. Obviously, a great many of these challenges have been debated throughout recorded history. Human nature just doesn’t change much over time.


      • Kirk says:

        I’ve got a bit of a reading list going on this stuff, along with some intriguing organizational things that are “outside the (military) box”, if you’re interested. I suspect there are a lot of things we’re parallel on, but we may be able to fill some holes in each other’s bibliographies…

        Overall, I’m not a fan of our current organizational structure. I am certain we could be doing better, along multiple axes…

        • Terry Baldwin says:


          I have been considering an article or two on the employment of machine guns at the platoon and company level. Something of a short tutorial for a PL or PSG on TTP to get the most out of what they have. You and I have both talked about things of that nature in the past. Perhaps we can collaborate on something like that for starters? If you are interested, SSD can pass my email address to you and we can discuss.


  5. Dave says:

    Been paying attention to all the GOMORs coming out lately, have we?

  6. AbnMedOps says:

    Kirk, I totally agree on the hip-pocket “Field Guide” concept. In fact, almost all SOP’s should be boiled down into a few laminated cards. SOP’s in the US Army are almost always grossly bloated regurgitations of a pile of FM’s which attempt to cover-ass by covering every bit of printed doctrine – USELESS! You read the damn FM’s BEFORE the war – what is needed in the field, under the stress of combat, no sleep, fatigue and brain-freeze are simple, bullet-point checklists, to jog the brain and ensure steps are covered. SOPs should be as simple as a stack of laminated Dust-Off Call or TLP cards, NOT freakin’ encyclopedias.

    In a previous MACOM-level IG assignment, I suggested that essentially ALL of our various bureaucratic processes should be documented with simple visual flow-charts. Who-does-what, what-piece-of-paper-goes-to-who, etc. Just basic info distilled from Regulations and Implementing Guidance (always more current than Regs), and (crucially) from the brains and Roldexs of the actual staff worker-bees (often DA civilians).

    These would have been (mostly) one-pagers, and in my estimation would have reduced our level of administrative/operational error, and consequent IG complaints, by, perhaps, 50%. The idea was verbally greeted with enthusiasm by most G-staff sections, and even one G.O., but…died on the vine.

    And The Army Goes Rolling Along.

    • Kirk says:

      The CLG was one of those things that just left me shaking my head… Army Research Laboratories got tasked with the issue from someone out in LightfighterLand, and they took the ball and ran with it. Voluminous studies were done, and they worked out what combination of font, font size, color, handbook size, and all the rest of that stuff was most effective and then actually field tested the ever-loving out of it.

      End of the day? Everybody thought it was great–But, since it took things from all proponencies, nobody wanted ownership. There’s also the little problem of keeping such a cross-proponent product up to date, which was another hellacious task nobody wanted. Eventually, the idea died on the vine, and the guys at ARL very nicely dumped a set of all the versions of the CLG, and their final research paper, with conclusions, on me. I used it all for a couple of years, and then when I went to retire, the best thing I could think to do with it was pass it all on to the nice people at Rite-in-the-Rain, who produce those neato-keano tactical notebooks in waterproof paper. Nobody else was interested, and I thought I should do something with the stuff I had that might get further out there. If you have one of their notebooks, some of that CLG stuff is in there.

      Now, looking back on it…? I think that what ARL should have done with that stuff was to produce a set of guidelines for units as to what an effective SOP should look like, in terms of format and so forth, and what sort of stuff should be included as content in such a thing–Basically, they should have built a unit TACSOP shell that people could take and produce for themselves, customized to their unit needs.

      That might have gained traction, and we’d have some unity of SOP across the Army. As it was, it turned into kind of a waste–I don’t think anyone is making use of all that research that was done, because you damn sure don’t see much in the way of people copying it. All that small print, which is virtually unreadable to someone who’s been up for 72 hours…?

      What is frustrating about things like the CLG effort is just how much effort, time, and money got sunk into that whole deal, and what have we got to show for it? ARL basically produced a really good cookbook for making unit TACSOP material, and nobody knows about it… And, why? Because of the iron-clad stovepipes we have built into our organizational structure.

      To my mind, the fact that there was ever even an issue about who was going to take ownership of something that absolutely everyone looked at and said “Yeah, this is great, where can I get one for myself…?”, well… That tells me we have a dysfunctional organizational structure in our Army. Which I find deeply disturbing–It’s kind of like going along with an everyday conversation with one of your aging parents, and suddenly realizing that they’re demonstrating some signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and are not as sharp as you remember them being. We can do a lot better with these things, and should.

      One issue I think we’re missing the boat with is the whole smartphone issue. Troops are going to have ’em, no matter what, so instead of trying to crack down on the whole issue and say “No, you absolutely may not take that tool on deployment…”, maybe what we ought to be doing is leveraging the damn things to actually use as ancillary tools for training and leadership. Samsung has Knox, which I think is NSA-certified for OPSEC, so why not simply put out guidelines about what can be used, and then use Knox to deploy a package of Army-specific apps and data that would serve the same uses as the CLG, the SMART Book from basic training, CTT Manual, and SQT Manuals? Build in some functionality that can monitor what the troops are doing on the damn things, and let that document your training.

      There should also be some tools for collaborative leadership, to where the commanders can put out missions and then let the junior leaders and troops develop their initiative by selecting and then conducting portions of those missions. Not necessarily in combat, but in garrison–Basic admin and housekeeping crap, like what tasks are part of a post clean-up tasking. Get the troops used to operating in a more entrepreneurial environment, along with the leadership.

      One of the things we have to recognize is that the Army is inevitably going to reflect the civilian population it recruits from and defends; we’re moving towards a less hierarchical and far more flexible situation in the civilian world, and I think the Army is going to have to adapt to that mentality–Or, we’re simply not going to keep troops, and they’re going to be difficult to manage when we try to pound their square asses into our rounded-off Army holes. Which is not to say that the whole idea of hierarchy needs to be abandoned, wholesale–Just that we’re going to have to adapt our institutional culture to match the available human material.

      For those of you who are reading this and thinking “That communist bastard is crazy…”, well… Remember how the Marines got the 13-man Rifle Squad and the three fire-team structure from Major General Merritt “Red Mike” Edson and the Marine Raiders after he basically copied and stole that cellular structure from the Chinese Communists he spent time observing as Operations Officer with the 4th Marines in Shanghai during the late 1930s. I ain’t proud; like Edson, I’ll steal a good idea from anywhere, and if it works, it works.

  7. Will Rodriguez says:

    “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.”

    Raising his other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something — something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?” – COL John Boyd

    As usual you hit the nail on the head TLB. While I did not finish my career at the grade I would have liked I don’t regret any of the key decisions I made along the way and I’m proud of that accomplishment.

    Sadly, too many leaders can live with the regret to achieve the former.

    Unlike you it seems, I do fear for our Army. As a young Lieutenant I was allowed to make mistakes and grow. Even had that luxury a little as a Captain. The luxury though was working for some leaders that believed in what we used to call “Commadner’s Intent” (renamed and expanded as “Mission Command”). Really believing it requires moral courage to accept responsibility for subordinates’ mistakes. I hope I’m wrong but I’m not confident it’s present to the same degree.

    A case in point is our previous discussion on the soldier’s load and accepting risk. Maybe that’s what helped inspire this excellent article and very sage advice to aspiring leaders.


    • Terry Baldwin says:


      Yes, the comments about managing individual combat loads did convince me to push this one to the front of the line. As I peeled back the onion, it seemed essential to talk about moral courage – writ large – first. As always, these subjects are too broad and complex to do more than perhaps spark interest in the reader to independently dig into the subject deeper – at least I hope it does.

      To be certain, not every difficult decision represents a moral dilemma. Sometimes a hard decision is just hard not morally ambiguous. I see load management as usually falling into that category. In the next installment I’ll delve more into what makes load management so challenging.

      I do have a great deal of confidence in the future. With a little encouragement and guidance, I am certain that the younger people today can be as good or better than we were. Good leaders have always had to fight to positively shape the future. The game has always been rigged in the house’s favor. Maybe it is tougher than it used to be to make that happen; but that just means that more tenacity and ingenuity is required.


      • Will Rodriguez says:

        Agree, load management falls in the hard decision category.

        I also have confidence in the young guys. It’s the bosses at BDE and higher that make load management decisions who make me pause.

        Thanks for taking the time to write everything you do.