Tag Archives: leadership

Combat Leadership: Sgt John Basilone

John Basilone, USMC, Medal of Honor, Navy Cros...
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Sergeant John Basilone
U.S. Marine Corps
Guadalcanal, 1942

In August, 1942, the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal, encountering stiff resistance from the Japanese defenders. Sgt John Basilone served as a machine gun platoon sergeant in support of Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.

On the night of 24 October, Sgt Basilone’s platoon occupied a key position in the battalion’s defensive perimeter on a jungle ridge. Just past 2130, the Japanese began a ferocious attack. In the dark rainy night, intense fighting followed, and soon the machine gun unit on Basilone’s right was overrun by screaming Japanese soldiers hurling grenades and firing rifles. At the same time, Basilone’s machine guns started running low on ammunition. Basilone knew that the enemy that had broken through on his right were between him and the ammunition dump, but he decided that if his gun teams were not resupplied, the positions would fall.

Sgt Basilone took off his heavy mud caked boots, stripped himself of all unnecessary gear, and sprinted down the trail. After returning with several belts of ammunition, he set out for the unmanned gun pits to his right, knowing that those heavy weapons were vital tools in the defense of the ridge.

When he got to the gun positions, he found the two unoccupied machine guns jammed, and ran back to get one of his own. He ordered a team to follow him. After Basilone’s gun crew reached their destination, he immediately put them into action. Basilone lay on the ground and began repairing one of the damaged weapons. Once the gun was repaired and loaded, he got behind the gun and began engaging targets. The fight raged on, and Japanese bodies began to pile up in front of the machine guns. At one point, Sgt Basilone had to direct his Marines to push back the piles of bodies to maintain clear fields of fire.

Several more times during the night, Sgt Basilone made trips back to the command area for desperately needed ammunition. Eight separate attacks were sent against the Marines that night, and Basilone’s platoon fired over 25,000 rounds. They were credited with killing an estimated 300 enemy soldiers, playing a major role in thwarting the Japanese attack. This successful defense reestablished the perimeter of the 1st Marine Division, protected the vital airfield, and led to the conquest of Guadalcanal, the first island taken from the Japanese. For his initiative,resourcefulness and leadership in defense of the ridge, Sgt Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor.


  • Tactically, Sgt Basilone understood his role in the defense of the ridge and the intent of the company and battalion commanders. His machine guns served a pivotal role in the company and battalion defense plan. He took numerous actions necessary to ensure his battalion’s success. This included making the decision to weaken one position in order to fortify an adjacent unit’s position to his right.
  • Sgt Basilone exhibited great leadership during the defense. He went to great lengths to provide his unit with whatever tools were necessary to maintain the defense of the ridge. His courage in braving enemy fire to deliver ammunition set an example for his Marines.


Lieutenant M.M. Obalde and Lieutenant A.M. Otero. “The Squad Leader Makes the Difference: Readings on Combat at the Squad Level. Volume I”

Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, 1998


Combat Leadership: Sgt Henry Hanneken

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Sergeant Henry Hanneken
U.S. Marine Corps
Haiti, 1919

Following serious rebel uprisings, the United States began a prolonged occupation of Haiti in 1915. Charlemagne Peralte was the leader of the rebel army, known as the “Cacos.”

The 2d Marine Brigade spent several months in unsuccessful attempts to topple Charlemagne’s group. Henry Hanneken, a sergeant in the brigade, devised a bold plan to separate Charlemagne from the bulk of his troops and ambush him. Sgt Hanneken sent one of his most reliable men to become a member of the Caco band. In a short period of time the infiltrator had earned the outlaws’ trust. Then Sgt Hanneken had his spy feed the Cacos the location of a Marine unit that was vulnerable to attack. Hanneken’s spy soon returned with information of a rebel plan to attack these Marines, as well as Charlemagne’s location during this attack.

On 31 October 1919, Sgt Hanneken led 22 local militiamen in an attack on Charlemagne. Disguised as rebels, Hanneken and his unit moved through several guard posts and boldly walked into the unsuspecting rebel camp. When he was within fifteen yards of Charlemagne, Sgt Hanneken drew his pistol, and shot and killed the rebel leader. In the fire-fight that followed, the small raiding party captured the rebel position and defended it from a series of counterattacks.

The Marines who were the target of the rebel attack had been warned by Sgt Hanneken of the impending strike and were well prepared for the rebel attack. The rebels were thoroughly defeated. The morning after the actions, Sgt Hanneken reported his exploits to his commanding officer. Hanneken’s actions had routed more than a thousand outlaws, killed their leader, and virtually shattered the entire bandit resistance movement in northern Haiti. For his actions, Sgt Hanneken was awarded the Medal of Honor.


  • Sgt Hanneken displayed outstanding initiative and tactical proficiency in devising and acting upon a plan to defeat a large rebel force. This plan supported the brigade’s mission in Haiti. Sgt Hanneken accepted great risk, but displayed the courage and nerve to see his plan through. His bold action achieved decisive results.
  • With a small band of men, Sgt Hanneken was able to defeat a larger rebel force by adhering to tactical fundamentals. His 22-man Main Effort attacked the enemy Center of Gravity, the rebel leader. Without leadership, the rebel force quickly disintegrated.
  • Sgt Hanneken used the elements of surprise and deception to execute his attack. Surprise is one of the most important tactical fundamentals and was essential to this tactical undertaking.
  • Sgt Hanneken’s actions illustrate how tactical decisions at the squad level can impact the operational and strategic levels of war, and can ultimately affect U.S. policy. Sgt Hanneken’s attack greatly affected the balance of power in Haiti, lessening the turmoil in the country. It was a major step towards ending the rebellion on the island.


Lieutenant M.M. Obalde and Lieutenant A.M. Otero. “The Squad Leader Makes the Difference: Readings on Combat at the Squad Level. Volume I”

Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, 1998


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Combat Leadersip:Alvin York

Alvin C.
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Corporal Alvin York
U.S. Army France, 1918

The Meuse-Argonne offensive was the last important battle of the First World War. On the night of 25 September 1918, over one million American soldiers moved up to relieve the French forces on the front lines. The American advance that ensued swept easily through the first two lines of German trenches, and then progress slowed. Facing stiff resistance, the reserve division was called up.

Cpl Alvin York served as an infantryman in the 82nd Division. York’s company started across a valley at six in the morning. As they began to move, the company came under heavy fire. From behind a hill, enemy machine guns mowed down the first wave of advancing Americans. No one knew where the deadly fire was coming from, so York’s Platoon Sergeant decided to take the platoon on a mission to find it.

The platoon found a gap in the enemy lines and circled to the rear of where they thought the machine guns might be. The group of Americans stumbled across two German litter bearers, whom they followed back to the headquarters of the machine gun battalion. The Americans walked right into the German machine gun command post, opened fire, and the Germans immediately surrendered.

Upon hearing the firing behind them, the Germans that were dug in near the command post swung their weapons around and began firing at the Americans. Caught in the open, in a hail of automatic fire, the Americans instantly took casualties. Cpl York took aim at the nearest machine gun, about 25 yards away, and killed the man behind the gun. He continued to fire at each German who popped his head out of a foxhole. After watching his troops being massacred by this lone sharpshooter, the German Major in command yelled to York, “If you’ll stop shooting, I’ll make them surrender.”

Within minutes, the remaining American troops had captured ninety German prisoners, but they were behind enemy lines. Cpl York took charge, and quickly organized his platoon. He decided to move back towards friendly positions, straight through the German lines. York ordered the German prisoners to carry back the American wounded. Every time the group came upon a German position, York told the captured German Major to order the troops to surrender. The well-disciplined German soldiers never questioned the order, and by the time York’s small band reached friendly lines, they had acquired 132 German prisoners. In their wake, York’s platoon left thirty-five deserted German machine gun positions and a significant gap in the German defenses.

This gap which York had created was a vital element to the success of the division’s advance. This advance gave momentum to the American forces, and contributed to the success of the Meuse-Argonne offensive.


  • Cpl York was quick to exploit the opportunity which had been created. He realized that his actions would affect the outcome of the battalion’s advance and made decisions which supported his commander’s intent. His strong situational awareness guided him in taking action which had decisive results.
  • After taking charge of the platoon, Cpl York led his unit back to friendly lines. His plans changed as the situation developed, but his decisiveness, improvisation skills, and leadership abilities enabled him to lead his withered platoon back to friendly lines while capturing 132 prisoners.


Lieutenant M.M. Obalde and Lieutenant A.M. Otero. “The Squad Leader Makes the Difference: Readings on Combat at the Squad Level. Volume I”

Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, 1998


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A must read leadership book

I just finished what I believe to be one of the best books on leadership I have ever read. It’s titled “The Mission, The Men and Me”, by retired Delta commander Col. Pete Blaber (Ret). Part memoir, part opinion on the military establishment and part leadership development book, “The Mission, The Men and Me” is written in an easy to read, down-to-earth style that I finished in two days.

The title encapsulates Mr Blaber’s theory on leadership decision-making. He believes that all decisions need to be made with three things in mind. The Mission, The Men under your command and your own self-interest; in that order. If you are told by a superior to do something contrary to accomplishing your mission and dangerous for your subordinates, or you will face punishment/termination…well if you have the guts to be a leader you know what you have to do.

Mr Blaber’s (an ironic name for a man writing about Delta I must admit) theory on operations and leadership is very similar to the way I look at things which I admit made me like his book right off of the bat. As did the fact that he was in Bosnia around the same time I was with SFOR (as a measly MP Sergeant, not SF), which I found “cool”.

Eschewing complicated planning, systems and operations, Col. Blaber subscribes to using simple concepts and rules of thumb such as:

  • The Mission, The Men, and Me
  • Don’t get treed by a Chihuahua
  • When In doubt, develop the situation
  • Imagine the unimaginable; humor your imagination
  • What is your recommendation?
  • Always listen to the guy on the ground

I will not explain all of the rules of thumb here, go get the book, but Blaber spends quite a bit of time on the last one. Always listen to the guy on the ground. In the book, Col. Blaber explains how our modern, high-tech military has resulted in a large number of leaders, military and elected alike, who believe that all the information and “situational awareness” they need can be had via satellite, drones, sensors and video screens and base their unbending, inflexible, unwavering decisions on them.

The problem with this approach is that images, signals, intelligence reports and tech data are meaningless without context. A taxi driver or shepherd can tell you exactly where your enemies sleep, eat, travel, and get their supplies. Soldiers forward deployed can get up-to-date intelligence and “eyes on the target”. They can discover things only a human can discover and they can adapt to the situation far better than a drone in orbit can. Leaders need to speak to people “on the ground”, both civilian and military, before ANY decisions are made. They don’t need to follow all their advice but they have to hear it. Instead what we have are leaders who are so “risk adverse” that they refuse to put “boots on the ground” to get live information, yet perversely seem willing to send soldiers to their deaths rather than abandon or change a pre-determined plan. We have Generals who make battlefield decisions from offices in Washington instead of from the field and seem to be uninterested in listening to what is going on “right now” from men in the field, as long as “the plan” is adhered to. These leaders are so locked into “the planning process” that they lose sight of how to adapt to changing situations.  Some of Col. Blaber’s stories of senior military officers refusing to believe what is right before their eyes will leave you scratching your head.

One of the other interesting things Col. Blaber points out about our military that I never thought of before, is our over-dependence and (in his opinion) misapplication of helicopters in ALL of our military planning. Choppers are large, loud, slow-moving billboards that can be heard a long way off and announce to everybody that we are coming. In Blaber’s opinion choppers make it all but impossible to achieve surprise on an enemy occupied target. Helicopters also demand a large “footprint” in terms of logistics, maintenance and manpower and they require weather that allows them to operate. Sometimes bad weather is our friend and sometimes driving and then walking into an area is the best way to catch our enemies with their pants down…in a snowstorm…when they are snuggling around a fire.

Lastly, Col. Blaber shares what I think is one of the most important leadership principles, that of asking your subordinates “what is your recommendation?” Instead of being the “know-it-all” whose job is to make all decisions, he believes that the leader should be relying on his subordinates experience, training, and “on the scene” information rather than micromanaging. Col. Blaber believes that leadership is about “managing” capable people and allowing them to do their jobs. The leader needs to co-ordinate and be sure that everybody is operating in concert, what he calls “having a shared reality”. Sometimes the leader has to override his subordinates suggestion but he always needs to seriously consider it. Pure gold IMO.

I’m not entirely drinking Blaber’s kool-aide, he is after all one of those “Type-A” SF types who can come off with a hint of “if they had only listened to me we could have won by now”. A great critique of the book can be found here. However, on the whole, this is a great book that anybody in a leadership position should read, study and apply. 5 stars.


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know what you have to work with

While reading the Hagakure I noticed this passage:

Lord Katsushige always used to say that there are four kinds of retainers. They are the “quick, then lagging,” the “lagging, then quick,” the “continually quick,” and the ”continually lagging.” The “continually quick” are men who when given orders will undertake their execution quickly and settle the matter well. Fukuchi Kichizaemon and the like resemble this type. The “lagging, then quick” are men who, though lacking in understanding when given orders, prepare quickly and bring the matter to a conclusion. I suppose that Nakano Kazuma and men similar are like this. The “quick, then lagging” are men who when given orders seem to be going to settle things but in their preparation take time and procrastinate. There are many people like this. Other than these, one could say that the rest are ”continually lagging.”

After a few years of being a supervisor I can see the truth in this.


follow me if you want to live

Another GREAT post over at Straight Forward in a crooked world. This one is called Dark arts for Good Guys: Flight Plan. In it the author discusses how to “beat feet” if you are ever caught away from home when the shit hits the fan. Right away he addresses what is perhaps the the most important issue when it come to getting people to do ANYTHING…leadership:

The other thing you are going to have to do is lead. You may think its a given, but its one of the single biggest components missing in a crisis. When the shit has hit the fan there is no room for democracy. One person must lead and direct and the others must follow.

CCW classes teach about using shooting tactics and techniques, clearing holsters, and repeating the worn and increasingly untrue statement that most shootings happen at night with less than five shots fired inside seven yards. Very few are teaching students how to lead their people and/or families out of harms way.

Hang with me on this, because the immensity of leading a group, regardless of who they are in your life (co-workers or family), out of an extended hostile environment is far more important than the weapons cache you have in your room.

I’ve been taking to reading this guys stuff more and more lately. In my blogging I tend to focus on “rules of thumb” and “information nuggets” with a philosophical or opinion piece here and there. This guy has a talent for explaining the “nuts and bolts” of this sort of stuff. Give it a read.


carry off-duty


I just read a great post over at Front Sight, Press about the reality of active shooter situations and what has stopped them in the past. The author says that what stops them is Instant Response:

Rapid Deployment training is great training. It should be mandatory for all officers and should be refreshed at least annually. But, Rapid Deployment must be considered a follow-on technique to supplement the Instant Response of on-scene personnel or first arriving officers. Any other technique will delay contact with the killer and allow them more time to snuff out innocent lives. Even at the World Trade Center, a large percentage of those rescued and evacuated before the collapse where directed by civilians who stepped up and filled a vacuum of leadership. The 9/11 report dubbed these heroes “First – First Responders.”

…I recommend one iron clad rule all sworn officers should obey. Carry a weapon off-duty. For those of you who feel your only off-duty obligation is to be a trained observer: I disagree. And, more importantly, the reality of this spiraling increase of mass murderers also proves otherwise. Remember examples such as the security guard in Colorado and the construction workers at the World Trade Center, who were last seen headed up the stairs to direct the evacuation of one more floor. Step up and remember your oath to protect and serve.

I agree. Dont be a Sheep. When the wolf shows up its do or die.


leadership and training for the fight


Paul Howe is a veteran Army Delta operator who was a member of the Delta squadron that was deployed to Somalia as part of Task Force Ranger in August 1993 where he participated in the Battle of Mogadishu. According to the “resume” on his website, MSG Howe has 20 Years experience in the U.S. Army with 10 years in special operations as an assault team leader, sniper and senior instructor. He’s conducted more than 40 successful combat raid missions and has participated in multiple high-risk protection missions for U.S. dignitaries. He also has three years of law enforcement experience. Anybody who has read “Blackhawk Down” knows who MSG Howe was and what he did. When a man like MSG Howe has something to say, I believe that we in “in the business” should pay attention.

And MSG Howe does have something to say. He has authored a book titled “Leadership and Training for the Fight”, a compact tome rich with tactical, leadership and combat skills information. Right at the beginning, MSG Howe says: “I have come to the conclusion that our society will not come to an end because of natural disaster or through a superior enemy, but rather through a lack of leadership and initiative on our part.” This passage nicely frames the axis of advance of his book which deals with combat and leadership issues at individual, team and organizational levels. It also covers leadership selection, mindset, planning and education. I highly reccommend this book for anybody who may have to lead (or be lead) “to the sound of the guns”.

The book is available from his Web site , www.combatshootingandtactics.com, which also has articles from MSG Howe that are worth reading.


leadership defined

Combat boots used in Polish Army up to the 90'...
Combat boots used in Polish Army up to the 90’ties of the 20th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Army FM 6-22 (which used to be FM 22-100 in my day) defines a leader as:

…anyone who by virtue of assumed role or assigned responsibility inspires and influences people to accomplish organizational goals. Army leaders motivate people both inside and outside the chain of command to pursue actions, focus thinking, and shape decisions for the greater good of the organization.

The Army bases its leadership principles on what is called the BE, KNOW, DO model.

BE: Character describes a person’s inner strength, the BE of BE, KNOW, DO. Your character helps you know what is right; more than that, it links that knowledge to action. Character gives you the courage to do what is right regardless of the circum­stances or the consequences.

KNOW: A leader must have a certain level of knowledge to be competent. That knowledge is spread across four skill domains. You must develop interpersonal skills, knowledge of your people and how to work with them. You must have conceptual skills, the ability to understand and apply the doctrine and other ideas required to do your job. You must learn technical skills, how to use your equip­ment. Finally, warrior leaders must master tactical skills, the ability to make the right decisions concerning employment of units in combat. Tactical skills include mastery of the art of tactics appropriate to the leader’s level of responsibility and unit type.

DO: The DO of Army leadership doctrine, are the actions a leader takes. Leader actions include-

  • Influencing: making decisions, com­municating those decisions, and motivating people.
  • Operating: the things you do to accomplish your organization’s immediate mission.
  • Improving: the things you do to increase the organization’s capability to accomplish current or future missions.
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