The Essence Of Leadership – Lessons from my life and recent American history
Back in 2003 as a combat battalion commander in Iraq, I made a decision that changed the course of my life. I took an action to protect the men under my command by firing my service 9 mm Beretta pistol over the head of an Iraqi policeman who we heard had been supporting insurgent forces with information leading to ambushes against our unit.
Left-wing progressives have stupidly called me a “war criminal,” and they unfortunately misinterpreted my departure from the military. Just so those chuckleheads know, I did not resign. I retired with full honors, benefits, rank and title. The problem for some critics of the war on terror is that they fail to understand we are not playing hopscotch but are engaged in battle with a non-state, non-uniformed enemy.
I understood that and will always stand by my action in 2003. Here was my response when asked if I would take the same action: “If it is about the lives and safety of my men, I would go through hell with a gasoline can.”
My Dad and older brother both served in combat, the former in World War II and the latter in Vietnam. They were enlisted servicemen, and I was the first commissioned officer in the family. (Now my nephew is the second.) Right before I headed off to Fort Sill, Okla., my Dad and brother taught me that as an officer and a commander, my first responsibility would be the well-being of my men.
The lesson they conveyed to me is that if my troops knew I would train them hard but never use them for my personal advancement, I would be a successful leader. We would always accomplish our mission.
Tough questions about Extortion 17
This week America has been confronted with tough questions about leadership.
The first queries came on Thursday at the National Press Club. I attended a press conference moderated by Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch. The subject was the horrific special operations mission of Aug. 6, 2011, call sign Extortion 17.
America suffered its single greatest loss of special operators – 22 Navy SEALS of the famous SEAL Team VI, five crewmembers of a U.S. Army CH-47 and three U.S. Air Force tactical controllers. Parents of four of the fallen warriors were at the press conference, which was live-streamed on www.trentovision.tv.
The event called attention to the importance of leadership because appalling, systemic failures in leadership resulted in this tragedy:
Why was the quick reaction force called into action that day?
Why were they transported in a CH-47D instead of the typical Special Operations MH-47 aircraft? Why was a CH-47D sent into the hot landing zone of a three-hour firefight?
Why were there no pre-assault fires or accompanying attack helicopter support for Extortion 17?
How did the Taliban know these special operators were going into that river valley hotbed in Wardak province?
Why were seven Afghan commandos switched out at the last minute for this mission and the manifest never changed?
And most egregious, who made the decision to let a Muslim cleric give a prayer at the ramp ceremony for these fallen American warriors – a disrespectful scene made clear when one sees the video with translation?
Thanks to media bias, we do not hear much about Afghanistan, especially the fact that 79 percent of the deaths and nearly 15,000 casualties in Afghanistan have occurred during President Obama’s tenure as the commander-in-chief.
Benghazi is a big deal
Congressional hearings about the terror attack at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, further highlighted the results of lousy leadership. Again thanks to media bias, Americans might believe Benghazi is nothing worth discussing – old news that happened a long time ago. But imagine if the attack had happened during a Republican presidential administration.
The hearings forced the Obama administration to answer – or to dodge – questions about the tragedy:
Why was U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens traveling into eastern Libya, a place where the black al Qaeda flags fly prominently, in or around the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks?
Who gave the stand-down order to U.S. forces ready to help after the attack on the embassy began?
Who altered the talking points memo that initially called the incident a terrorist attack by Ansar al-Sharia, who is affiliated with Al Qaeda?
Losing an ambassador cannot become the new normal, and abandoning former Navy SEALS engaged in mortal combat is reprehensible.
Are some Americans so concerned with protecting a likable president and shielding a presidential candidate they believe is entitled that they would sacrifice Americans? Do they seriously believe that is leadership?
Service versus speechmaking
Those who want to attack me for the action I took in Iraq, I just laugh at you. I took the action so I would never have to face tearful parents like those who lost their sons in Extortion 17. I took the action so the families of those killed in Benghazi – Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Ty Woods and Glenn Dougherty – would not have to wonder why it happened.
Leaders serve those for whom they are given the privilege to lead. They do so selflessly, with no regard for their own personal advancement or comfort.
If we are to secure the blessings of liberty for the next generation, we had best figure out what a leader is. He or she is not a charlatan, not a usurper and certainly not merely a smiling, delightful speechmaker.
Steadfast and Loyal,
Allen B. West