Quiet Professionalism in Action

By Brian Reed, MTI Contributor

Ray was hands down the best Soldier in the Battalion.
He lived it every day.  Not flashy, not emotional…simply steady…and really, really good.  As the senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the unit, he was the standard by which everyone in the 700+ manned formation measured themselves.  He was physically fit; emotionally calm; exceptionally self-disciplined; and an expert Infantryman, forged by his years of experience in the Army’s top tier formations.  He made everyone around him better.  Ray established the unit’s award for physical fitness – an assessment that recognized physical excellence for the greatest number of pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups in timed sets; the fastest 3-mile run time in body armor; and the fastest 12-mile ruck under a 40-pound load.  The first time the Battalion conducted this assessment, Ray was the top performer in all events – nothing flashy, no beating of his chest.  He simply did it.  He laid down the gauntlet by his performance, and in turn everyone tried to match this.  Ray treated everyone with respect, whether you were being punished or rewarded and irrespective of rank and time in grade.  He never raised his voice, he never yelled.  He brought his A-game every day regardless of what he was doing.  Not a man of many words, he walked softly and carried a big stick…the stick being his actions.  Ray did his job with dignity – quiet, consistent, professional…every day.

Specialist (SPC) P got busted all the way down to Private.
He deserved it.  Drugs are zero tolerance in any disciplined unit, and they were also in clear violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  Fortunately, he had a chain of command that believed in him and did not separate him from the Army.  He got mixed up with the wrong people, and they gave him a second chance.  His response was simple – no excuses; full accountability; be the best Soldier in the unit.  He made better decisions; competed for all Soldier of the Month boards; earned his Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB); and became a consistent 300+ APFT guy.  Today, he is a senior leader in the Army getting ready to retire after a long and distinguished career.  Similar story with Cadet M.  Separated from the Academy for a violation, she went out into the Army as part of a mentorship program to serve for 2-years before reapplying.  SPC M served those 2 years as a Combat Engineer with distinction and honor in the Army’s premier Airborne Division, to include a combat deployment.  Unfortunately, for completely nonsensical reasons, she was not re-admitted to the Academy.  After a few hours of feeling sorry for herself, SPC M committed to being the best Soldier she could be – no wallowing in self-pity…she set out to prove everyone wrong.  Today, she is a Jumpmaster qualified senior NCO in another premier unit.  Both these Soldiers embraced the suck.  Life is not fair.  They didn’t whine or bemoan their situation, nor let it define them.  They were resilient!  They literally Soldiered-on.

Saddam Hussein was captured on 13 December 2003.
JH was the commander of the Army formation that led the operation – a formation that included all elements of Army combat power…infantry, armor, artillery, aviation, scouts, engineers, logistics, military intelligence…and more.  He worked closely with the special operations task force to build an intelligence picture and execute an operation that was textbook.  He often would say that “the war is not won on the FOB [Forward Operating Base]”.  If there was a gunfight in the Brigade’s Area of Operations, he was there.  No one patrolled more than his command patrol.  It was the only way JH was going to have a full appreciation of the enemy, the terrain, and the environment in which his Soldiers were fighting.  He was aggressive in combat, and he drove the unit hard.  He expected much of them, but he expected more of himself.  He exacted excellence from the Soldiers and leaders in the unit through his personal leadership, personal commitment to excellence, and the standards that he demanded.  He listened to their input, he cared about their feedback, and he was transparent in how he communicated.  It was his personal combat intuition, sense of the enemy and the terrain, and his ability to bring together a combined arms team – a diverse and talented team – that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein.  It was always mission first.  JH accepted, understood, and embraced this.  It was about what was best for the unit and accomplishing the mission.

Due to the turnover of personnel following an extended deployment to Iraq, there were not enough NCOs to be squad leaders and team leaders in the Battalion.
During a squad live fire, someone commented that it was tactically “jacked up”…or words to that effect.  The PFC in charge of the squad…yes, a Private First Class…was a take charge, make it happen, lead by example, rockstar.  Unfortunately, he was young, and he didn’t have the tactical expertise to successfully execute the training event.  That said, PFC W was put in charge of the squad by his company commander and first sergeant because he was a leader.  The technical and tactical proficiency would come, but leadership is what that squad, platoon, and company needed…and PFC W provided it.  He made adjustments…the little things that made the difference in the discipline, the morale, and ultimately the performance of the squad: Pre-Combat Checks/Inspections; tough Physical Training; counseling; marksmanship training; and continued repetition of basic squad battle drills.  PFC W stepped-up and took charge, regardless of his experience.  He’s now a Ranger-qualified senior NCO still serving in the Army.  He pushed away the rationalization and focused on the hard truth with a clear-eyed purpose.  He identified the right action – leadership – and did it.

MB was a Special Forces (SF) officer, a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC).
Given his extensive special operations background and numerous combat deployments, the natural fit for him was leading a SF Battalion or Group.  Instead, he found himself in charge of a provisional battalion in a conventional Infantry Brigade Combat Team (BCT).  This Special Troops Battalion had a signal company, an anti-tank company, a military intelligence company, and the headquarters company.  MB stood this battalion up from scratch.  He put together his own staff.  He resourced barracks space and funding from essentially what was left-over.  Leveraging his experiences in building diverse teams; finding creative and innovative solutions to problems; and creating a warrior culture, this battalion became the best in the BCT and MB was the best commander.  The consummate team player, his Battalion took on the hard tasks for the BCT, thereby gaining experience, fostering cohesion, and building a culture of excellence.  His combatives program became the standard across the Brigade.  Not once did he complain about the hand he was dealt.  MB put in the hard work with a happy heart – he kept grinding, kept learning, kept improving.  Improvement was steady, until it was the best.

JJ was the commander of the Army’s Tier 1 Special Mission Unit.
Arguably, it doesn’t get any better than this in one’s professional career.  And he was commanding the unit during the height of combat operations…truly awesome.  To reach this level, an officer needs to be an experienced operator, an exceptional leader, and an all-around great Soldier.  JJ was all of this, but his truly greatest attribute was his incredible gratitude for the life and career he was living.  Years earlier, he had suffered a tremendous and devastating personal loss, one that has brought many a man to their knees.  The Army closed ranks on him…took care of him and his family and found ways for JJ to continue to serve.  Amid this, JJ never lost his faith – his faith in himself and in his God.  He didn’t want people to feel sorry for him.  Instead, he always commented on how blessed he was, both personally and professionally.  Although he never intended for this to happen, he became a tremendous beacon of hope and an inspiration for others.  Gratitude.  JJ lived in the present.  He truly appreciated how fortunate he was and how amazing a life he was living with the people in his life.

In his distinguished Army career, WO led formations through the Brigade-level.
He spent more years in the Regiment than many spent in the Army.  The combat stripes on the right sleeve of his uniform extended almost to his elbow.  Now, at the end of his career, he found himself not in the Regiment and not in an Infantry formation, but instead leading the military training division at the Army’s leadership institution for educating and training soon-to-be officers.  While it was an important job…a good job…he was literally at the schoolhouse.  He approached his role and the responsibilities associated with it like he did for any other job that he held in the Army – with a seriousness and professionalism defined by the high stakes of life and death that each of these young leaders would assume when they graduated and commissioned.  WO held himself to the same standard as he did in every other assignment.  He was in incredible physical condition; he led by example; he continued to learn and develop as a Soldier and a leader.  His personal PT sessions were of an intensity that made others ask him “why”.  He personally invested in the cadets and his officers and NCOs with his time and energy, running first-class professional development sessions that rivaled anything in operational units.  In reality, he didn’t need to do any of this to be successful in his current job.  But that is not who he was.  WO earned it every day.  Selection is on-going and continuous.  The creed and mottos you live by are not for select jobs, assignments, or positions.  They are for all the time, every time.

The enemy gets a vote.
It is an evolving, thinking enemy.  Technology changes.  Combat is complex and multi-faceted, shaped by a multitude of factors – some seen, and some not.  DC knew that to fight and win in the space of the constantly changing, volatile, uncertain, and ambiguous environment of the current battlefield, he and his formation needed to grow, learn, and adapt.  He didn’t settle.  The status quo was not good enough.  DC’s innovative thinking and collaborative and iterative decision-making process leveraged the talent of his unit.  He never met a dry-erase board that he didn’t like.  It’s how he thought, and it was collaborative with his staff and senior leaders, informed by his time in the battlespace.  Disagreement was allowed and encouraged.  Often, the best way to solve the problem belonged to someone else.  It was not about “who” was right…but “what” was right.  Professional development sessions were not of the old-school, “death by PowerPoint” variety.  Instead, he leveraged provocative speakers, cutting edge books and publications, and terrain walks to historical battlefields.  He challenged his own assumptions and those of his team.  He read books across the entire spectrum of topics – philosophy, history, management, etc.  DC was a continuous, professional learner.  He was not driven by competitiveness and ambition, but by the sincere wish to improve and a strong respect for the profession.

Brian Reed is a U.S. Army Veteran with 34+ years of active service as an Infantryman.

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