“What made you evacuate the building and choose to confront the trigger man yourselves?” - Guest Blogger LTG Ron Clark, US Army
It was the honor of my professional life to command 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment and to lead the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines of “Task Force Red Currahee,” the descendants of famed World War II Band of Brothers, during combat operations in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005-2006. I believe that Integrity is absolutely essential to the establishment of trust between leaders and those they lead – especially for those privileged to lead Soldiers in combat. This is a story about two young officers who exercised that sort of Integrity.
Our service during “the Battle of Ramadi” as it became known, was characterized as one of the most violent and deadly environments where US Service Members were forward deployed during the Global War on Terror. Consequently, on the night of 13 March 2006, one of our patrols in downtown Ramadi was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) that resulted in the death of one of our comrades, with several other Soldiers wounded.
After evacuating our fallen, a Soldier identified and traced the wire that initiated the IED to a peep hole in the wall of an adjacent building. Upon investigating the hole in the wall, he encountered the “trigger man” of the IED! The leaders on the ground, two young lieutenants, made the bold decision to lead their Soldiers into the building to capture the trigger man. They found the assailant’s hiding spot behind a false wall to conceal his location.
The Soldiers proceeded to tear down the wall, but were stopped by the lieutenants before they had an opportunity to secure the man. The young leaders assessed the situation and decided to evacuate their Soldiers from building and to contend with the trigger man themselves. As they expected, the man made desperate, yet unsuccessful attempts to stab or slash the lieutenants with a large knife. They reacted swiftly to disarm the man and take him into custody without the use of lethal force, despite having clear authority to do so.
I arrived upon the scene shortly after they secured the man, so I asked the lieutenants, “What made you evacuate the building and choose to confront the trigger man yourselves?” They responded that their Soldiers were emotionally charged after the death of their teammate at the hands of this man. They assessed the man would likely choose to fight or die by initiating a suicide vest or grenades.
The lieutenants believed that exposing themselves to the risk posed by the assailant, safeguarded their Soldiers from potential injury or death. Additionally, they asserted that the unnecessary use of lethal force would set the wrong example for their subordinates and not align with my intent that Task Force Red Currahee always serves with honor.
Their efforts to capture the trigger man resulted in him later providing valuable information on enemy locations, tactics and networks that facilitated our future mission success and saved lives in combat.
A clear understanding of the commander’s intent, reinforced by training and education that emphasized character-based decision making and mitigated ethical ambiguity, contributed to these young leaders demonstrating Integrity in the crucible of combat. They discerned the right action to take, despite great personal risk, thus living up to the value of Integrity.
I (Dave) want to thank another friend, hero, and West Point classmate for sharing a story that probably did not get news coverage. But there is no doubt that these lieutenants set the example for not just their soldiers, but for their commanding officer as well!
The two lieutenants exercising Integrity - doing what is good, right, and proper even at personal cost, provides us all with a vivid living and personal example. They did not let their circumstances or emotions control their decisions. They had a clear understanding of what they should do because they not only had an understanding of their Commander’s Intent, but they were also unwilling to devalue their own Integrity in a situation that others might have rationalized away their Integrity.
LTG Ron Clark is currently the Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense. He most recently commanded US Army Central and the Third Army. He is a graduate of West Point and a Ranger. Ron has served multiple combat deployments commanding soldiers and leading from the front as Rangers always do. To learn more: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ron-clark-14177b24/
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