This is a week of giving thanks. The tradition memorializes a year of cooperation between the European immigrants and native people who lived in the Plymouth Massachusetts area in the early 1600s. Thanksgiving is frequently celebrated with family and only for events, people, or possessions we perceive as blessings. Leaders must also remember those adverse followers and events that challenged them to grow.
Some of you are wondering how we can be grateful for the bad things that happened. Adverse events and people cause us to grow as people and leaders. Earlier this month I posted an excerpt from a book one of my Soldiers is writing (http://bit.ly/33yL14Q). His book details many of the bad things happened during our deployment. He shares some of the struggles he had upon returning. He makes it clear that those adverse experiences made him stronger. He says that those struggles set a standard for what bad means.
Jocko Willink tells a story of a time one of his SEALs came to his office with some bad news, The SEAL told Jocko he knew what he was going say, “Good.” Jocks has the philosophy that every experience is good (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdTMDpizis8). You just have to figure out why the experience is good. His thinking aligns with the old saying on rainy days, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”
I am not, nor have I ever been a morning person. However after a lifetime of seeing the struggles of others, I know my life is pretty good. I may not have the material wealth of Warren Buffet but I have more than those living in other parts of the world where war, poverty, starvation, and violence thrive. As a result, even on those mornings when my head is foggy and I struggle to make my first coffee I great others with, “Good Morning!” because I know what bad mornings look, sound, and smell like and most mornings are good compared to those bad mornings I and others experienced.
Being grateful is important. Leaders need to speak their gratitude. Effective leaders publicly thank others for their efforts, contributions, ideas, and hard work. They thank employees, volunteers, board members, customers, clients, vendors, and other logisticians for their contributions to the success of the organization. They recognize the sacrifices made by family members so their loved ones can contribute to the organization’s success.
Like the celebration after the harvest of 1621 Plymouth, we should give thanks for our blessings. Gratitude is an important leadership quality. Be grateful for all your blessings, even the ones that you do not currently view as a blessing. Tough life lessons are those that are best remembered. Publicly thank those who contribute to success. Demonstrate gratitude year round not just the fourth Thursday of November. If you are a leader, you have much to be thankful for. Those who follow you could have chosen to follow someone else. Thank your followers so they know they chose well.
In 2004, I was assigned to be a Platoon Sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Headquarters Battery (Forward) 2nd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery Regiment (In Lieu of Military Police). We were a bunch of highly skilled cannon cockers, fire direction specialists, wrench turners, and clerks. Some of us had experience in law enforcement but none of us ever trained to be MPs or Infantrymen. It did not matter. The Army needed MPs, not artillery, to fight the insurgents in Iraq so we received 10 or 14 days of training and became MPs. The training was squad-centric, nothing for platoon or company leaders. As a result, none of the Platoon Leaders, Platoon Sergeants, the First Sergeant, nor the Company Commander received any training to be or lead MPs. With our little training, we boarded planes and headed to staging areas in Kuwait determined to do our jobs to the best of our humble abilities.
we arrived in the Middle East, our company was split and served in
three locations, Mosul, Tikrit, and Baqubah. The Baqubah mission was
to provide 24/7 force protection to the provincial police
headquarters building downtown and train Iraqi Police. Everyone knew
Mosul and Tirkrit were dangerous. None of us had ever heard of
Baqubah. It had to be relatively safe, right? I had the opportunity
to visit the newly renovated police training facility in Mosul. It
was nice, rivaling the academy police officers in New Hampshire
attend. Given the quality of the Mosul police academy, the perceived
safety of Baqubah, and the opportunity to complete a mission that
would help the locals develop security forces to protect themselves,
I volunteered my platoon to execute the Baqubah mission. When we
arrived at the Diyala Police Provincial Police Headquarters we all
realized that not only were we not in New Hampshire anymore Dorthy,
this place looked nothing like the facility in Mosul!
One of the Soldiers in my platoon, Aaron Marshall, is writing a book, Baqubah; Bones and Blood, about his experiences during that deployment. He provided me an advanced copy of his manuscript. He expects it to be ready for publication in 2020. Marshall reminds me of Medal of Honor recipient Maynard Smith who demonstrated exceptional bravery under fire, but always found trouble when the bullets were not flying. Marshall is a very brave person but always had a knack for finding trouble. Still, he was someone I wanted by my side when the shooting started.
have published a veteran based post each Memorial and Veterans Day
since starting my blog. After reading Aaron’s manuscript, I thought
he did an excellent job of describing many parts of the experiences
of combat veterans. I asked permission to publish an excerpt of his
book here for Veterans Day. He granted me that permission. What
follows is a brief excerpt as written by him with a few edits for
clarification. His writing is graphic and may be offensive to some
readers. I decided to publish this post using his graphic words
because war is both graphic and offensive. I will post when the book
read and reflect on the words and experiences of PFC Aaron Marshall.
call sign in Iraq was “Spoonman”. We were told to come up with
our own call signs, and I loved the song by Soundgarden so I went
with that. At that point I had never tried heroin and wouldn’t
until my second divorce about 7 years later. But that’s a story for
another time. An even darker tale of the human experience; loss,
redemption. Now that I think about it, it
was sort of a self-induced experience very similar to Iraq; to
War. I relived the terror of death on a daily basis with that drug,
was one of the lucky few who was able to kick it before it took me
I had too many experiences with death. Too many. I’ve felt the breeze created by a snipers bullet gently flow by my face. I’ve been hit with anti-tank rockets so close it made me think the world had ended. I’ve had septic shock, pancreatitis, renal failure, and felt the peaceful calm that comes over you when you die. I’ve overdosed too many times and woken up to people standing over me crying.
I’m still here. I’m still trudging forward, marching
on. To what I haven’t the slightest idea. I have no idea why I’m
still here. Dumb luck maybe? A purpose I don’t yet know? I would go
with dumb luck over fate. Regardless, I give thanks to the people
around me. If I gave thanks to a supposed god, I would be squandering
an opportunity to make an actual difference in the world. That was
one of the original ideas behind me joining the military
in the first place. After September 11th 2001, most young men my age
were jolted by a sense of
to do something, anything.
But still only a few signed up to voluntarily fight in a War that we
all knew was coming. We
all wanted it. There was that part of the collective unconscious of
the country that needed war; vengeance,
The same type of situation occurred in Iraq in 2004 when a Sergeant
From the 3rd ID and a Lieutenant
ended up both losing one of their arms during an RPG attack on a
patrol. We all felt completely helpless immediately after.
within ourselves for the answer to the question why? Why did it
happen? Why did the RPG enter the front of the Humvee like it did?
Why that road? Why them? Why not me? And every single man and woman
at the Police Station wanted vengeance,
We knew we would get it but we just didn’t know when. It was part
of all our collective unconscious at the station. We
would get it. At least that’s how I felt about it.
one of our QRF (Quick
Reaction Force) missions
shortly after the SGT
severely wounded, we would get our revenge. We needed to kill one of
the enemy, a hundred if we could, to make us all feel like we were
doing something good for our wounded family. My team got called out
to pick up a soldier that had been wounded by an IED (Improvised
Explosive Device, commonly called a roadside bomb) just
down the road from us on what was called “RPG Alley”. When we
went to pick him up, it was a dangerous feeling, a feeling like
something bad was going to happen. I’d get that feeling from time
to time, and I learned to trust it. Over time that feeling was
correct more often than not, and at the very least that feeling would
heighten your senses so you’d be even more ready for an ambush.
never knew when and if another IED was going to be set off after the
first one. But we had to get the wounded out. The soldier was in good
spirits. Pretty bloodied but happy to be getting the hell out of
there and onto a base with medical care.
to F.O.B. Warhorse we were ambushed by some AK-47 fire that pinged
off the vehicle in front of me then skipped just over our vehicle. I
got out of the kill zone by ducking down into the vehicle. When the
gunfire stopped hitting our vehicle my SGT
yelled, “shoot!” I popped up, unlatched the turret, swung it
counterclockwise, locked the turret back in, and looked down the
barrel of my M249 SAW. I didn’t even have to aim. I was looking
directly at a man slightly crouched beside a wall, exactly where the
gunfire was coming from, holding a weapon. I didn’t even think
about it. I let loose as many rounds as I could and I’ll never
forget how he instantly slumped to the ground when my first bullet
hit, and stayed motionless (Marshall
said that the gunner in the next Humvee behind him also engaged the
insurgent. Karl rarely received credit for his role in that fight.
Marshall remembers hearing the gun firing).
I ducked back into the Humvee and said the SGT,
“Holy shit I got him!”, and
we called in the confirmed kill.
I got back to the Police
you could see the look of everyone had changed from a somber mood to
a look of vindication. None of us ever had a conversation about these
feelings. In fact, at least with those I associated with, we didn’t
really talk about feelings at all, ever.
way I perceived, it was that we got our revenge for what happened to
I think that helped us move past the incredible horror of being
It helped me move past it and not dwell on the event so much. Of
course there was nothing we could have done. But you still feel like,
and always feel like, there is something you could have done to
still hard to piece everything together; the
entire year. Where to start; how
to finish telling it. It doesn’t help that I had multiple head
traumas while I was there and
multiple head traumas when I returned home. But I’m determined to
tell my story, our
story of the 2/197th FA unit that went to Baqubahh, Iraq in 2004 as
hastily trained MP’s. The Army owned us and
we would all do our part to make sure every last one of us got home.
We would do our best, and
that’s exactly what we did, our
best. I wasn’t trained to be a machine gunner in the turret of a
by the end of the tour, I guarantee I was one of the best. That’s
not cockiness in the sense that I thought I was better than anyone
else, but a sense of confidence in my abilities. A turret gunner
needs that confidence to do his or her job. Without it, fear can
creep in and take over, rendering you useless. No, I wasn’t better
than any other gunner in the war,
I was simply one of the best. I hope that now makes sense.
To paraphrase one of my favorite schools of Philosophy, the Stoics, and more specifically, Epictetus; there are things in our control like our opinions, desires, and inclinations. There are also things which are not in our control like our body, possessions, honor, and reputation. So why worry about the things that are not in our control? Well, that turret and anyone around it that wanted to do us harm was in my control for that year. I made it my mission to be the baddest motherfucker I could possibly be. It was out of my character. But like an actor that gets stuck in role after making a movie, I became a machine gunner. I became the turret. It was my home. That 2 inch wide strap for a seat was my bed, my home, my church, my religion, and baptism by fire is not an understatement. Some jobs you ask for in the Army, but for the most part you just do what you are told as an enlisted man. And I was told to get in the turret. I did my job and I did it well.
Marshall’s book is now available. You may purchase it at Barnes and Noble in paperback. Hard cover is not available for retail at this time.