As I sat in chilly Manas at 0130 waiting to go to bag drop at 0415, I found myself not wanting to sleep, but to read. In a flurry of last minute purchases, I downloaded a few books onto my Kindle for the trip. I’ve always had a place in my heart for military leadership-type books, because I truly believe (through countless lectures) that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. I, however, subscribe to a different thought in the same vein. That is, leaders learn from their mistakes, great leaders learn from the mistakes of others. My philosophy has been to make those mistakes and learn constantly, but if you can learn from others and avoid some, you’ll set yourself apart from the pack.
I started with The Warrior Ethos, and being a short book, finished it in an hour or so. It has been a while since I have highlighted that much in a book (digitally, of course). It got me thinking about the prototypical question that we, as soldiers, receive all too often: Why do we do it?
The Spartans would argue that we do it for love. Love of one another. The Spartans had a phrase: What is the opposite of fear?
I remember my former squadron commander asking me that question while on patrol in Iraq, because he felt (and I agree) that everyone should read Gates of Fire (by Steven Pressfield as well). What this means, is that you overcome fear by love of your brothers.
That is why the punishment for losing your spear or helmet in Spartan culture was a whipping, but loss of your shield was punishable by death. Your shield protects the man to your left; the rest is for personal protection. This is why when you read interviews with Medal of Honor winners, or talk to them in person, their answer is universal: Why did you do it?
For my comrades.
Or, as Pressfield more eloquently put it: “Courage is inseparable from love and leads to what may arguably be the noblest of all warrior virtues: selflessness.”
But why do I have a platoon with men ranging from 19-42 years old? What causes a kid in our society to up and decide he wants to, willingly, enlist in a time of war?
The Warrior Archetype.
Pressfield wrote, “Archetypes are larger-than-life, mythic scale personifications of the stages we pass through as we mature.” He goes on to say, “Something inside us makes us want to jump out of airplanes and blow stuff up. Something makes us seek out mentors—tough old sergeants to put us through hell, to push us past our limits, to find out what we’re capable of. And we seek out comrades in arms. Brothers who will get our backs and we’ll get theirs, lifelong friends who are just as crazy as we are.”
Each of my guys has a different internal drive to serve; my platoon sergeant has a family history with 1-4 CAV dating back to the Civil War; guys were looking to get their lives on track…or back on track; others did it to support their families during the economic collapse. Regardless of what the motivation to join, they are here, and they are brothers in arms.
The Army has a Warrior Ethos that my soldiers have in spades: “I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit, I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
Read the Remainder at The Strategy Bridge