Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Small Unit Leadership

Don't start me talking
I could talk all night

My mind goes sleepwalking

While I'm putting the world to right

Called careers information

Have you got yourself an occupation?

--Oliver's Army
, Elvis Costello

The death of West Point military cadet Jacob D. Bower last Thursday while on a land navigation exercise (22 July 11) indicates a lack of leadership at the small unit level (West Point Cadet Dies During Training).

Why didn't they use buddy teams? Was the troop properly acclimated? Was there a heat index alert? Why not train at night to avoid heat casualties? Were water bags out? Was water at the training points? This was SOP in Ranger's day. Have we lost our military knowledge, which is nothing but common sense?

Was this a normal compass course or was it an orienteering endeavor? In a high heat situation, orienteering would be inherently hazardous and strict supervision would be standard.

Ranger recently read the book, "Small Unit Leadership -- A Commonsense Approach" by. Col. Dandridge M. Malone (ret'd)., and the recent death of cadet Bower pointed out what was missing from the text.
Though mission and winning the land battle were well-covered, getting the soldiers to that point was not addressed; leadership is about more than winning battles. It is also about knowing when to pull the plug and admitting that the mission cannot be achieved with the available assets.

Unfortunately, the military does not award Medals of Honor
for this type of leadership. What passes for military leadership can often be equated with mental aberrations as Soldiers are often tasked with performing irrational actions. Something like assaulting an interlocking bunker complex is not a sane act in any universe, yet it is seen as leadership in the Army.

Ranger realizes the exigencies of combat and the unit level requirements to fulfill organizational needs, but what is called bravery often does not lead to any national gain, and leaders are often pressed to choose the heroic-seeming action. If the West Point cadre allow such negligence in overseeing training, can it be any better in the "Real Army"?

Ranger's questions outstrip the purview of Col. Malone's book, but the needless death of an 18-year-old cadet demands they be asked.


  1. Accidents are bound to happen in a large force.
    It's difficult to really learn much from such an anecdote.

  2. SO,
    This incident was negligence more than it was an accident.
    Either way it was preventable.
    And yes accidents are bound to happen.

  3. jim -

    Not sure why your title is "Small Unit" Leadership. The Academy Superintendent is a three-star General, the Commandant of Cadets is a Brigadier and there are probably more bird colonels there than in an Army Corps.

    Any Sergeant or Corporal at Camps in Virginia, the Carolinas, Okinawa or wherever there are high temps and high humidity would have known to check WGBT or what used to be known as black-bulb temp prior to an event like this. Does the Army use that standard? Even if they do it was probably never an issue in the normally cooler temperatures of New York's Hudson River Valley.

    I guess I am assuming he died of heatstroke. Maybe it was something else, I should wait before condemning anyone. Will there be an autopsy? On the other hand the high temperatures and killer humidity that week cancelled out the lives of 23 others besides the Cadet.

    But you would think that someone for sure should have rescheduled that exercise because of the heat wave that week. Or perhaps it was scheduled and coordinated by senior cadets as part of hazing of freshmen with no staff involved??? Without more knowledge we are basically in the dark.

  4. I dunno, Ranger. Just seems like yet another instance of "Army Stupid" (TM). Gotta be macho, gotta be brave: all the way, all the way.....

    It just never changes, does it? The older I get, the more I wonder why people entrust their most precious assets, their children, to sergeants, captains, generals, all of whom are jockeying for position in the manly-man competition and who are accordingly all too likely to overlook certain things, like, you know, health and welfare.

  5. My first week of boot down USMCRD Hollywood (aka. San Diego) a boot drowned in the swimming pool.

    I remember that event because we were still getting our sh*t together, marching from one area to the other, and you could see a batch of brass surrounding a few suits around the swim hall...area close, a few suits, lots of officers, a crap load of NCO's...it was a big to-do.

    I still don't know what the result was of that, but it did have a circus draw which left me with the impression that events like that are not suppose to happen.ever.

  6. Mike,
    I simply tried to tie 2 different thoughts together. This may have thrown you since i an
    m a Ranger and we seldom do this type of thing.
    I'm assuming heat exhaustion type death, and yes istm that the cadets are probably a lot to blame for this, even after you factor the active leadership that should've been there to provide adult leadership.
    Yes we use the wet bulb , or we used to.
    Buddy teams.!?

  7. Publius,
    If there's a god he must be laughing.
    I'm presently reading a book about RUSSIA in AFGH and it's rather an eye opener.
    We are doing the same stupid things and it goes way beyond training follies.
    I've seen so many good men seriously hurt for life b/c of training injuries. Personally my worst long term pain comes from training injuries , but bottom line -I'M THRILLED TO BE ALIVE.
    And we are bottom line types.

  8. sheer,
    I know what happened b/c i read the report.
    To All
    Thanks for cmt'ing.
    I thought i was voted off the island.

  9. jim -

    Buddy teams? For sure. Were they applicable in this case? I don't know, maybe he outran his partner who finally caught up and found him collapsed, or maybe it was an individual competition. Do we know yet? My thought is that this event should have been cancelled due to weather.

    I myself believe that 'friendly fire' fatalities are more egregious. And many of those are caused by lack of realistic training. I differ from some of the comments as I think most commanders of training units hold back on critically needed training because of fear or wrecking their careers. Some comment that we have ended up with the 'Eye of Sauron' looking over everyone's shoulder during exercises and God help you if there is an accident.

    What would be the worst training blunder ever, i.e. highest number of fatalities? Some would say Ribbon Creek at Parris Island in 56 as that got nationwide publicity and it was not long after Truman and the Wall St boys tried to disband the Corps. But there were much, much worse. That incident and the following publicity of the Court Martial of drill instructor McKeon changed boot training forever and is said to have been the death of the Old Corps.


    PS - You don't get off the island that easily Jim. Not after you shanghaied me here.

  10. Mike,
    There was a incident in the 82nd where they did a demonstration jump despite high winds.
    I think the resultant book was -THE DAY IT RAINED PARATROOPERS.
    Live fire was common in the late 60's in Army In Div's. Very common.
    The managers killed the old corps, but this incident at WP was a leadership rather than managemnt snafu.

  11. Sheerah:

    Drownings at MCRD = No Biggie. The good thing for the Depots is that they drown one at a time, Ribbon creek notwithstanding. If I were to tell you how things went down at ye old pool, (not when you were there), you would not believe me, So I shan't regale you with stories. The DI's and Pool Instructors would almost be pissing themselves as they demonstrated and witnessed their attempts of teaching the worms the fundamentals of "Drownproofing," (name of event, Natch). Drownproofing during l'Ancien Régime meant "Let us prove to you motherfucking maggots how we can drown you." ....You had to be there. I was never so glad I could swim.

    Although no one died in our platoon, it was close. The DI's took special enjoyment in watching young buck Negroes (devoid of body fat, and more often than not, n'ere a soupçon of swimming ability), plunge rapidly to the bottom. They did not call them Negroes, by the way, for handier, local patois monikers were available.

    I'm sure mike and Al such fond remembrances of those frolicsome, amphibious days.

    PS - You would not believe how the DI's (to include Jewish DI's), treated Jews (recruits only) on the Island. Again, no stories ... It was unfucking believable. You must know, however, that Recruit Platoons were Shadenfreude Centers for all hands.

  12. jim: I was in Division back in the days of Death Drop '81, and the problems that resulted in the deaths were almost all because of unique conditions that probably should have been foreseen but weren't.

    First, back in the day we only had one DZSO, the controller on the ground who was responsible for ensuring that conditions were safe to jump. By Division ASOP he was located near the central impact point on the DZ, and at that point the winds were calm to less than 5 knots.

    But the leading edge of the DZ at Ft. Irwin is ringed by some hills that close to a narrow pass. At this end of the DZ the venturi of the pass whipped the winds up to 20-30 knots or so. The DZSO had no way of knowing this - we seldom went to FICA, being light and all - and so when the first guys out the door came down there they were dragged into the heavy drop, or the boulders near the base of the hills and several were killed or injured.

    The other factor was poor door control. A towed jumper occurred on one of the aircraft. The jumpmaster should have seen the static line dragging at the lower aft corner of the door - he didn't. He put either one guy out past the towed guy; one or both were knocked unconscious and one had a partial malfunction ("cigarette roll") or had the malfunction and was unable to deploy his reserve.

    So...bad day for Division, but nothing I'd call either negligence or bad training. Just one of those fucked up things that happen in training (or combat - read about the massive fuckups in teh WW2 airborne ops - guys shot down by their own flak, guys dropped over rivers, in swamps, over enemy-held villages. That's why we get that big-money jump pay...)

  13. fasteddie -

    You know I could swim like a fish when I was a kid. But I was a skinny runt myself at the time with not much body fat, so that damn treading water in a heavily chlorinated pool while stripping off boots and dungaree trousers made me sink like a rock. So I was too busy during drownproofing to notice anybody's misery but my own. It was good training though. I wonder if they had the same level of training in 56 prior to Ribbon Creek? - or in 44 prior to Slapton Sands?

  14. Chief,
    I was not criticizing Div, but simply pointing out that casualties do happen, but a little thinking can minimize these events.
    I couldn't even criticize the JM that you discuss b/c our exits are always pushed. So to speak.
    There was another event that i was thinking about. I think Rubin Tucker was involved. In the late 50's.

  15. jim - I don't recall even any minor press on that late 50s parachute plunge you mention. So Army PR covered it up pretty good. Or more probably I was paying more attention to Cindy Ann, our High School sweater girl, than I was to the news at the time as my hormones were just coming out of concealment back then. But the 94 mishmash where an F-16 killed 16 paratroopers on the tarmac at Pope Air Force Base and burned or injured another 80(+) didn't get much press either. The Army and Air Force PR guys are light years in advance of the Marines in shaping the press message, despite the phony argument to the contrary.

    FDChief - Being a lowly 'leg' I probably do not qualify to kibbitz on your death drop 81 - but what the heck, why not. It seems to me that you are right on when you say the: "the deaths were almost all because of unique conditions that probably should have been foreseen but weren't." The DZSO or someone there should have been aware of the desert winds at the head of that pass just as much as Sgt McKeon should have been aware of a rare tidal surge when he marched a recruit platoon into Ribbon Creek.

    fasteddie - I went salmon fishing last August with a retired jarhead who had been on the drill field at Parris Island back in the fifties. He claimed the wrong guy got court-martialed. Yes, he said, McKeon was on the spot and directly responsible, but the senior drill instructor of that platoon was a falling-down drunk and was probably just as blameworthy but he skated.

  16. To all,
    I went to my 1950's 11th Abn friend and he said it was EXERCISE EAGLE WING, Apr 23/1958.
    5 killed and 37 injured.
    ISTM the injuries are always forgotten except in old men's memories.

  17. to all,
    I believe that the 1958 debacle led to the quick release harness since most of the damage done on this jump was from dragged jumpers after PLF.
    All of this stuff is old memory bank stuff.

  18. I understand ole' Westhisface was dragged 300ft. upon landing. That's the least that could happen to this fine fellow, who was the newly minted Kommandant of the One Oh One, on that lovely day.

  19. jim: I got to talk to an 82nd guy from the Fifties and he remembered that pretty much everyone in Division at the time disliked the C-119 "Flying Boxcar"; the thing was slow, underpowered, and hard to get good exits from; apparently there were stories from Korea about 119's drifting low out of formation and chewing up guys who had exited from the A/C ahead of them in the serial. He couldn't pinpoint any actual event, but said that everyone he knew was glad to see the C-130 arrive...

    He also remembered the old T-7 'chute as a real hazard; it often opened hard enough to shake any loose equipment off you and gave you a hell of a knock. And, as you note, it didn't have Capewells, so if you got caught in any sort of wind on the DZ it'd drag the hell out of you.

    Made me glad I wasn't jumping back in those days...I know I bought him a drink of the strength of it.

  20. chief,
    My 1st 5 jumps were from a 119. Now they're all in museums. What's that say about me.
    In those jumps we had to put jumpers off the a/c to be able to take off. In addition as the man in the door i had to get my upper body out of the a/c to see the light on the tail boom. We were tapped out but we still watched the light.
    The door was considerably shorter than my height plus helmet.
    The exits were ok.

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