While some of Lt. Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s fellow instructors at West Point were glad to be out of harm’s way, Schwarzkopf sought the chance to lead and pleaded for a second tour of duty in Vietnam.
And when his opportunity to command a battalion arrived in 1969, he embraced it to the fullest.
His men in the field were the first to notice. After serving under a leader who never left base, their new commander was different: he led by example. Schwarzkopf immediately demanded a helicopter to see his commanders in the field.
The inattention of his predecessor was evident. What Schwarzkopf found was a ragtag bunch who often didn’t carry loaded weapons, didn’t wear helmets, didn’t establish defensive positions and were needlessly putting themselves in danger.
“Things are going to start changing around here, Captain, right now,” he recalled telling one company commander in this autobiography, “It Doesn’t Take A Hero.”
Back on base, with his troops waiting in line in the rain outside the mess hall, Schwarzkopf learned that officers were served in a special section and didn’t have to wait. He ended that practice on the spot, taking his place at the end of the line.
While generals and politicians had failed the troops in Vietnam, Schwarzkopf dedicated himself to inspiring his forces with his passionate brand of leadership and, over the next two decades, creating the world’s best fighting force.
And in commanding his half-million-strong force to an overwhelming victory in 1991 Gulf War at the end of his career, Schwarzkopf closed the book on the days when the heroism of America’s soldiers was questioned.
In the Vietnam War, when a mine killed or maimed a soldier, Schwarzkopf would fly to the site.
On one occasion in 1970, Schwarzkopf realized his company was in the middle of a minefield, and he stayed behind with them after the helicopter evacuated an injured soldier.
Another mine went off 20 yards from Schwarzkopf. He worried that the screams of the soldier, whose leg was grotesquely twisted, would cause the others to panic and run.
“I realized I had to get over to him and help him,” Schwarzkopf wrote. “I started through the minefield, one slow step at a time. … My knees were shaking so hard that each time I took a step, I had to grab my leg and steady it with both hands before I could take another.”
Schwarzkopf finally reached the man and lay down on him to keep him from thrashing. Even though his own chest was punctured with shrapnel, Schwarzkopf waited until everyone was safe before letting himself be taken to the hospital.
Making The Best Of It
Serving under an alcoholic commander in 1958 was a far cry from what Schwarzkopf had dreamed the Army would be like, and he considered bailing out.
But his new superior convinced him to endure: “There are two ways to approach it. No. 1 is to get out; No. 2 is to stick around and someday, when you have more rank, fix the problems. But don’t forget, if you get out, the bad guys win.”
In 1978, Brig. Gen. Schwarzkopf was assigned to an assistant staff job at Pacific Command in Hawaii. Here, the West Pointer would serve under a two-star admiral who’d graduated from Annapolis.
Schwarzkopf’s Army predecessor, on the verge of a forced retirement, warned him the post would “ruin your career.” For months, Schwarzkopf was treated with disdain and relegated to pushing paper.
But Schwarzkopf showed he was a team player and assumed responsibilities his superior let fall by the wayside. Eventually, he handled planning and base negotiations with Korea, Taiwan and Japan. While the admiral focused on grand strategy, Schwarzkopf, without being asked, took over operational and policy planning for potential conflicts.
When Schwarzkopf moved on, he was able to tell his replacement that his job “had been fulfilling, that I’d gained great experience working with the other armed forces, and that serving in the Pacific would not be the end of his Army career.”
Take the time in 1983 when he was given command of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division at Frot Stewart, Ga., and he was promoted to major general. The night he received the assignment, Schwarzkopf lay in bed and “conjured up my role models – Lathan, Boatner, Warner, Cavazos, Livsey, Vuono” and came up with a list of goals for his command.
“I was eager to introduce everything I’d learned – Vuono-style management reviews, Cavazos-style maintenance programs,” Schwarzkopf wrote.
Schwarzkopf believed in lifting people up. In 1984, one of his division’s battalions was crushed in a mock battle in the Mojave Desert against an opposing force trained in Soviet tactics.
“If Schwarzkopf had relieved me on the spot, he would have had a perfect justification,” the battalion commander recalled in the Schwarzkopf biography “In the Eye of the Storm,” by Roger Cohen and Claudio Gatti.
Instead, after a tough critique, Schwarzkopf took the commander aside and put his arm around him.
“I have every confidence that you will bring it together,” he said. “But you must be positive with the young officers who feel they let you down and let themselves down.”
After earning a fourth star and being elevated to commander in chief of Central Command in late 1988, he was supposed to direct war exercises to react to a Soviet incursion into Iran. Thinking such a scenario outdated, Schwarzkopf refused to base the annual war games on the Iran plan in the process of being junked.
Instead, the July 1990 exercises involved a response to Iraq seizing crucial Saudi oil fields. When Iraq invaded Kuwait weeks later, Schwarzkopf was ready with a plan to defend Saudi Arabia.
Schwarzkopf put his faith in good planning – and in his people.
Having drawn up an ambitious ground attack that called for an unprecedented logistical effort, Schwarzkopf knew his commanders would deliver. The key was moving the XVIII Airborne Corps’ 117,000 personnel and 28,000 vehicles more than 5000 miles in a few weeks to set up a surprise flanking attack.
To maintain the element of surprise, they couldn’t move before the air war began and knocked out Iraq’s communications.
“Never before in the history of warfare has an army moved so much so far so fast,” Cohen and Gatti wrote.
Schwarzkopf’s instructions, as one commander recalled: “OK, boys, this is what I wanna do; now you think about this and come back and tell me how I’m gonna do it.”
As the air war began, Schwarzkopf delivered the ultimate tribute to his troops: “My confidence in you is total.”
Additional Note: Schwarzkopf died on 27 December 2012 in Tampa, Florida.
SOURCE: “MILITARY AND POLITICAL LEADERS & SUCCESS” (From IBD’s popular Leaders & Success section), with and introduction from William J. O’Neil, founder of INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005, pages 227-230.
Jakarta, 25 May 2014