Friday, June 20, 2014

Getting the Job Done, No Matter What it Takes

I've been working on a project about what makes an excellent leader and revisited a book written by Douglas Brinkley, The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc.

While some of the text is devoted to Reagan’s 40th D-Day Anniversary speech and his speech writer, Brinkley described the history of the Army Rangers and their role in taking out the big guns at Ponte Du Hoc during the D-Day invasion.

When I heard Brinkley recount the story of the Rangers scaling the cliffs and the terrifying loss of men, 70% I believe, I also remembered reading Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day, in which he said, when the few surviving Rangers took the gun emplacements they found them empty.

Ryan never found out the rest of the story: the Germans had only pulled the guns out of their emplacement and moved them back away from the shore in order to avoid the allied bombs and naval gun fire. They were simply waiting for the best time to bring them back into position and then open up on the landing fleet.

What stopped them from doing that?
During WWII Bill Mauldin's Willie and Joe told the GI's side of the story.
Captions: "Must be a tough objective. Th' old man says we're gonna have th' honor of liberatin' it."
"Able Fox Five to Able Fox. I got a target but ya gotta be patient."

Brinkley discovered that a couple sergeants survived the battle for the emplacements. When they discovered them empty, they still went on to complete their mission, which was to disrupt German communications and interfere with troop movements behind the gun emplacements.

They had only 11 men but moved out anyway. Soon they discovered heavy equipment tracks leading to an apple orchard. They followed them and found the “five camouflaged guns in ready firing position with ammunition piled nearby”. Somehow the gods of war were kind that day because the German crew and defenders were clustered away from the guns at such a distance that the two sergeants were able to disable them with the thermite grenades that they and the others were carrying.

For me this story underscores what our military does do right most of the time: empower all of our people with a “can do” spirit to complete whatever mission is assigned and train them to use their minds and ingenuity, stay alive, and get the job done no matter what it takes - no matter one’s rank.

One of us, the everyday Joes and Janes, will get the job done.

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