Military Life is filled with incredible humor. 99.999% of military humor is inspired either directly or indirectly by junior military officers, specifically Ensigns and Lieutenants. The misadventures of these officers as they simultaneously learn to lead, learn the military, and learn what their jobs truly are serve as an amazing resource for timeless humor. They also serve as an amazing training ground for life lessons.
My military career began in the Republic of Korea (ROK) as a US Army 2nd Lieutenant in the very early 1990’s. I did my part as a young 2nd Lieutenant and provided my platoon a lifetime of mistakes, screw ups, and misadventures to fuel their stories for a lifetime. On one of my first field training exercises with my 4.2” Mortar Platoon, I asked several of my soldiers to take my camera and photograph their jobs from their perspective. The fact that I handed a hundred dollar camera with extra film to several smiling enlisted soldiers proved once and for all that I was a terribly, terribly naïve young officer. A week later, they handed me the camera back, a bill for some extra film (I was overcharged of course), and I received a great life lesson.
Help with the Worst Jobs. On the camera were all the jobs that the soldiers hated the most. Digging fighting positions, filling sand bags, handling mortar misfires, waiting in line for chow, not enough coffee, and serving chow in the field from Mermite containers. This was a great lesson for me because this told me that these were all the tasks that I should help the platoon perform. For the rest of my time, I sought out the worst jobs and made sure that I helped every squad with my share of the worst jobs.
Lead By Example – Always! Also on the film were pictures of me with my chinstrap unfastened, wearing a completely unauthorized Marine Corps sweater that was great in the Korean winter, and another with me about five feet from my rifle - an Infantry "No No." The US Army of the 1990’s lived by buttoned Kevlar helmets, snapped field gear, and your weapon within arm’s reach. Of course, my platoon had pictures of me not doing this, even if it was only once. Leadership by example if only leadership by example if you always do it and do it all the time. Leadership by example remains critical in each and every leadership position.
Ask For Help – Even If You Don’t Think You Need It. I thought three pictures on the roll of film were a mistake. It pictured a Korean farmhouse and field pictured three separate times as it became progressively dark. The real story of the pictures is that I was lost and did not want to tell the Platoon, especially the Platoon Sergeant. So, instead, I rolled by our next position three times and everyone in the platoon knew that we should stop. Correction, everyone but me knew that we should stop. In my opinion, it always benefits a leader to engage the entire team in helping make and perform a plan, even if you do not think you need the help. Great leaders ask their team, repeatedly and ahead of time, what their team’s opinions are to create an even better plan. Let’s just say I do this now.
For Heaven’s Sake – Get Some Sleep. One of the funniest things is watching a sleep deprived Lieutenant issue orders and fall asleep while they are doing it. Initially, I felt that I needed to be awake all the time in order to ensure that my platoon performed. My Sergeant’s felt this was a fine idea and they got sleep for about three days until a Private found me leaning against a track face first asleep, probably with my chin strap unbuttoned, I’m sure. Leaders need to realize that when they make a mistake, they affect the success of hundreds and not just themselves. I learned that nutrition, rest, and exercise made me a better leader and if I wanted to make good decisions for my team, I needed to take care of myself and trust others to help me operate the platoon.
Take One For The Team. On one of my final exercises, my Commander ordered that every soldier would be with sleeves down on their uniforms, Kevlar helmets on, and all equipment buckled. This was a great idea, except that it was August when Korea is over 100 degrees and humidity hangs like a sweltering invisible fog. Instead, when I was having a conversation with my Commander, my platoon came racing by dressed only in T-shirts and soft caps. Naturally, I was lit up for 30 minutes like the Times Square Christmas tree by my Commander. Returning to my platoon, they braced for my end of the yelling session that never came. Sometimes, all you can do is protect your team.
The final picture on the roll is two of my platoon soldiers giving me a “non-traditional” salute with their hands. I love this picture because it showed that I was a successful as a leader. I was trying to create a strong sense of initiative, a fighting spirit, a sense of personal pride and accomplishment in the platoon. The “disrespectful” picture shows that I accomplished more than I could have hoped. I along with my entire platoon leadership helped create soldiers that were confident and proud. The fact that these soldiers had the audacity and confidence to take that picture and give it back to me was all the proof that I needed.
I still love to look at that picture and remember my misadventures in Korea and how they formed me to be a better leader.
Share your humorous situations inspired by junior military officers & how they influenced your career!
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About the Author: Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 250 articles in over 150 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics. Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better. Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at Creighton University. Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @CombatToCorp and www.CombatToCorporate.com.
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