By Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton
As Soldiers and Airmen of the Utah National Guard and members of the Profession of Arms, you are among an elite group; that small percentage of Americans who commit everything to the defense of our Republic and way of life. Being a professional necessitates preparation. In the military, we often focus on the physical aspects of being a warrior, but today, I’d like to discuss the need to prepare ourselves intellectually. It is imperative we study history, tactics, operations and strategy. There will be times throughout your career as military professionals when functioning well at all level will be required, sometimes simultaneously.
Several years ago, General James Mattis was asked about the importance of reading and military history for officers, many of whom found themselves too busy to read. In excerpts from the article entitled With Rifle and Bibliography he responded:
“The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men's experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others' experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.
Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn't give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”
Great warriors have always studied the enemy. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius spent countless hours studying ancient classical texts to understand the thought processes of those he might face on the battlefield. General George Patten’s intellectual curiosity ensured he read everything he could get regarding Field Marshal Erwin Rommel before he ever faced Panzers on the battlefield.
While attending an Officer Professional Development Session some years ago with then CENTCOM Commander, General George Casey, he recommended to everyone present in order to be effective leaders, they should take time each day to:
1.) Read something inspirational.
2.) Study and then ponder the things they had read.
3.) Apply those principals in their daily decision making where applicable.
I always come to better outcomes, before I make a decision, when I have pondered and studied over a problem. For leaders, the bottom line is this – any preparations you make to educate yourself “left of bang” is ultimately going to save lives.
Our challenges today are perhaps more complex than even five years ago. In today’s environment, technology is evolving at light speed, and it seems impossible to keep a lid on proprietary information. We face peers and even non-peers who possess the ability to contest our hegemony in virtually every domain to include air, land, space, and cyberspace. As leaders, we must prepare intellectually before performing physically in close combat. To that end, may I recommend some readings that have broadened and prepared me to lead more effectively. This list is certainly not all inclusive, but perhaps can serve as a starting point:
Once An Eagle - Anton Meyrer
Washington – The Indispensable Man – James Thomas Flexnor
This Kind Of War - T.R. Ferrenbach
D-Day - Steven Ambrose
Beyond Band Of Brothers - Richard Winters
The Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Hubris: The Tragedy Of War In The 20th Century - Sir Alistair Horne
Finally, our character is developed by study, preparation and experience. If we put no effort into the development of our minds and bodies, we will not be ready when that fateful moment comes. As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman stated:
“Do not expect the “Combat Fairy” to come and bonk you on the head, and make you capable of doing things in combat that you never trained for…It’s just NOT going to happen.”
President Lincoln taught us: “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
In the inevitable conflicts that lie ahead, we will require leaders who are not shadows, but who are the real thing. Prepare now!