Excerpts from a letter written on 9 Aug 2003 – This is the second part. Red text denotes current thoughts & notes.
High Profile Recovery Mission
This last Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003, I was put in charge of a recovery mission to grab a 2 ½ Ton Truck for our Alpha Company. It was involved in an incident with an improvised explosive device (IED) about two weeks prior to our recovery. The soldiers involved left the vehicle to take a wounded soldier for medical attention. When they returned later, the vehicle had been burnt to a crisp, a complete loss.
It was located in a bad area of town, just outside of the built-up area of Baghdad. The location was about 1000m from the Tigris River, and the vegetation was quite high surrounding the road where it was located. It looked more like a jungle than a desert. We took 13 vehicles out to recover it, including three Military Police vehicles (each commanded by a Captain) to assist with security. The Group Commander, a Colonel, and his Command Sergeant Major also went. The location was 20 miles away from BIAP, but with traffic it took us one-hour travel time each way.
After checking for booby traps, we lifted the vehicle onto a lowboy trailer with a crane truck. The recovery operation took 30 minutes. We closed the narrow road while we accomplished the operation. The operation was a complete success without any serious incident or enemy contact. Thank God for that. Despite the success of that recovery, I do not want to see another area similar to that one the remainder of the time I am here.
Looking back, this mission is a classic military case study on the fallacy of micro-management. Based on the excessive command attention I got, you would think it was the mission meant to end Operation Iraqi Freedom. Maybe it was in some "war hero's mind"! At the time, I was a Platoon Leader (First Lieutenant) in the United States Army. The nation was entrusting me to fulfill the responsibility of that role. I appreciated having the Military Police there to help with security and firepower, and the three Captains knew their role was support. They did not try to take over my mission. But, did I really need a Colonel and his Sergeant Major to successfully complete this mission? Why did they feel the need to force themselves onto the scene and control every minor detail? Would I have done everything in the exact manner as them?
If they wanted to lead this mission, then why did they need me to tag along? When leadership does not allow their subordinates to step up and take charge, then the subordinates will learn not to step up and take charge. Novel concept!
Leaders, if you do not allow your subordinates to fail, how will they ever learn to succeed? ...Besides, it's a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer's job to make sure his Lieutenant doesn't fail!
Click for Part III
3 weeks ago