Leadership: Theater versus Reality

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Mon, Dec 19 - 8:00 am EDT | 1 year ago by
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Soldier saluting - Lines of Departure

Last week I promised to give some illustrations of the difference between genuine caring leadership and theater. Here are a couple of examples of the former.


I’ve discussed Captain Hamilton and his hate-hate relationship with Lieutenant Colonel Young, before, in Columns 15, 77, and 78. I don’t think I ever much discussed that Young – too weak and, frankly, unintelligent to control Hamilton directly – sometimes took his ire out on both Hamilton’s rifle company and the men of it. In one particular case he went after one of Hamilton’s squad leaders, whom we can call Staff Sergeant Michaels.

The background was that Michaels, who had come to Hamilton’s company from 1st Ranger Battalion, had requested permission to have a squad party after a fairly grueling couple of weeks in the field. Permission, at the time, was not necessary in order to have a party. It was, however, necessary to have a commander’s approval to have a party in the barracks, with alcohol, with troops under age 21 allowed to drink it.

Hamilton gave some guidance concerning quantity of alcohol allowed to be present, how much anyone could have, and a bit on conduct as regards the other squads in the barracks. “No fucking lighting their mattresses on fire, Michaels. Not even a small portion of it. Your squad party means you and your boys, period.” “Yessir. I understand, sir.” Then it was, “Now move out and draw fire,” even as he likely thought, I can hardly wait for the rest of the crew to start doing this sort of thing. But rather than tell them to, I want them to figure it out for themselves, from a good example.

It was a pretty good example, too, except that the roughhousing got to be a bit more strenuous than one troop was comfortable with. Said troop complained. Hamilton heard the complaint, decided there was merit in it, and called Ranger Michaels down for an ass-chewing sufficient to – no, I am not exaggerating – bring tears to his eyes.

That should have been it.

It wasn’t. Young got wind of it and dragged Michaels in for non-judicial punishment. Staff Sergeant Michaels was reduced from E-6 to E-5. It was absolute bullshit, and the only reason Young did it was because he couldn’t get at Hamilton, himself. Moreover, after about a year of being humiliated by the captain, and with his own, largely wasted, command tour coming to a close, Young had little time in which to try.

Following the Article 15 proceedings, Hamilton took the paperwork reducing Michaels to buck sergeant back to his office. He then promptly stuck it in his desk draw and told the first sergeant not to worry about it. Finally, he went digging into the Uniform Code of Military Justice for an out. And he found it. A commander had four months from imposition of sentence to suspend the punishment. That wasn’t going to happen with Young, of course, who was savoring this one wretched little victory over the captain who had both defied and, more than once, humiliated him. However, Young was being replaced by a Lieutenant Colonel Woodruff (again, not his real name), the then current brigade XO, in about five weeks, while, so said the UCMJ, the authority to suspend a bust ran with the command position, not the person imposing the punishment.

Michaels came out on the promotion list for Sergeant First Class, E-7, two days after being reduced.

The day of the change of command ceremony rolled around. Hamilton probably put a can of Kiwi into each of his boots, so important a day did he deem it. Indeed, Young saw him walking by the headquarters and even commented, “Looking good, Captain Hamilton.” Saluting, Hamilton replied, “Oh, big day for me¸ sir. Big fucking day.

And then, as soon as the parade was done, Hamilton marched to his office, got the paperwork that had been, perhaps not entirely legally, languishing in his desk, plus his personal copy of the UCMJ, tabbed to the pertinent section. Then he marched immediately to his new battalion commander.

Conversation allegedly went something like this:

“Sir, that asshole you’ve just replaced fucked one of my best men and I want you to unfuck him. Here’s the story…”

“And how long do you say I have to suspend it all?”

“It’s right here, sir,” Hamilton opened the UCMJ to the pertinent section and pointed. “You have four months from imposition, or about thirteen weeks from now.”

“And the paperwork hasn’t been processed, you say?”

“No, sir; it’s been sitting in my desk gathering dust.”

Seriously raised eyebrow. “Feel that strongly about it, huh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Okay, here’s the deal; I knew about this from being up at brigade. It’s political there, with the brigade sergeant major, and I suspect it may be racial, too. So I’m going to look very closely at Michaels for the next thirteen weeks. The last working day before I lose authority to suspend it, bring the paperwork back to me. If he impresses me by then, I’ll suspend the whole damned thing. If he doesn’t, he goes, in effect, from Sergeant First Class to buck. In the interim, keep sitting on the paperwork.”


“And you can’t tell Michaels a word of this, while any of us are in this division. And he keeps wearing buck sergeant insignia until I decide otherwise.”

“Sir. Fair enough.”

And so it came to pass, Michaels wore three stripes through the next three months, and, indeed, as he’d been ordered, had to go find Hamilton who was, by this time, commanding a different company, to find out what was going on. (Though no longer Michaels’ commander, Hamilton had gone back to Woodruff on the last possible day. Woody didn’t just suspend the bust; he tore up the paperwork and threw it in the trash.) Hamilton then reached into his desk, pulled out and tossed to Michaels some insignia for Sergeant First Class he’d picked up right after Woody dumped the Article 15, and said something to the effect of, “Now what Article 15 proceedings do you think happened, Sergeant?”

That wasn’t theater, on either of Michaels’ commanders’ parts.


In Hamilton’s next company command, he had a driver we can call “Mitchell.” Again, close enough. Mitch was married to a really sweet, pretty, and shapely blonde girl. She was pregnant with child number two. The previous kid had been delivered by Caesarean, so this one would have to be, too.

She’s a girl; appearance matters more than it would to a man (metrosexuals excluded). Scars are not marks of honor in her life as they would be with us. She wanted the doctor to go through the same line as before for the c-section, so she wouldn’t have noticeable, multiple scars.

The doctor, a shitheel of a colonel, just poo-poohed away her concerns. After all, why should he try extra hard; she was just some enlisted swine’s wife.

So Mitch asked the first sergeant who sent him to Hamilton who, because he did not engage in theater actually had a good reputation among the ranks (with some few exceptions). Hamilton said, “Let me consult with my wife and see what we can work out. I’ll get back with you.”

Hamilton and his wife decided that the colonel needed an ass-chewing. Indeed, the ass-chewing he deserved would be a court-martial offense if delivered by a captain. A captain’s wife, however…

She went to the building where the Ob-Gyn doctors had their offices. There she used looks, charm, and force of character to bullshit her way past the staff sergeant guarding the door. Past the door, she found the office of the shitheel and proceeded to chew him out viciously. One imagines that must have been all the more stinging coming from a beautiful woman. She extracted from the colonel a promise to go through the existing scar line for Mitchell’s wife’s c-section, “If at all possible.”

Upon leaving, a few minutes later, she called her husband to report in. He immediately called the shitheel colonel.

“I understand you’ve just spoken to my wife, sir?”

“That she-de…why, yes, captain, I have.”

“And you promised her to go through my soldier’s wife’s existing scar?””

“If at all, possible.”

“Yes, of course, ‘if at all possible.’ However, sir, I feel compelled to tell you that I am a commander while you are just a colonel. If you fail to keep your word, or fail to treat my soldier’s wife with as much helpful courtesy and respect as any colonel’s wife, which one of us, do you suppose, can get an appointment with the division commander first?”

The girl ended up with two kids but only one scar. Hamilton ended up with a happy and extremely loyal soldier who spread the word on his own.

That wasn’t theater, either. See the difference?


Photo by Getty Images

Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.

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