From Parade.com :
What It Means To Be a Leader By Senator Jim Webb
Published: May 18, 2008
Adapted from “A Time to Fight” © Jim Webb (Broadway Books, 2008).
Read the full chapter.
On June 5, 1968, I had the honor of taking the oath of office as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. Thus my professional career began with a vow to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, at a time when the country was riven by external and internal conflict. Our instructors at the Marine Officers Basic School were handpicked from among the finest young officers in the Corps. Almost all had been in combat, and many bore visible scars. As the months at school went by, they repeatedly and unendingly challenged us with an age-old mantra: What do you do now, lieutenant?
Just before we graduated, a tough but insightful lieutenant colonel who had fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam gave us a speech, a warning that echoes in my memory almost every day. He recounted a story of a fight in Korea that went incredibly bad—where, for all his experience, he made an error in judgment.
“I had the enemy pinned down on a ridge,” he said. “I set up a base of fire and sent 13 Marines into the tree line in order to envelop the enemy. Thirteen Marines went into the tree line, and all 13 were killed. And, gentlemen, there is not a day that goes by when I don’t think of that.”
The colonel then spoke of the inalienable bottom line of combat leadership: While all Marines are equally in harm’s way, it is the leaders who must make the decisions about what to do, then live with the results.
What he may not have realized is that he also spelled out the responsibility that sits on the shoulders of all leaders.
In the long months I spent as a rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam’s infamous An Hoa Basin, the colonel’s admonition resonated again and again. We constantly operated in blown-out populated areas, moving from village to village and digging new perimeters every few days.
The An Hoa Basin was a bloody, morally conflicted mess. Enemy contact came in every imaginable form, from small cells of local Viet Cong to regiment-sized North Vietnamese Army units. And every day, we who led the squads, platoons and companies were required to make decisions that would have confounded the seminars on ethics and philosophy at universities where some of our peers now grappled intellectually with the war we had been sent to fight.
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