After serving more than 14 years in a combination of the Air Force and the Army National Guard, I can say that I have run into my fair share of leaders that had very little in the way of leadership skills. Oh, they can call a group to attention and follow the format of drill and ceremony well enough, but when it came down to the nuts and bolts of leadership, somewhere between Officer Candidacy School and their arrival to my squadron or unit, I felt they must have barely scraped through any leadership course they might have attended. However, was I really any smarter than that new lieutenant at that point in my career? Only after I had gained experience and put in the time, did I really grasp the sense of leadership that I needed to exhibit as an NCO. Recently, I had a conversation with a veteran that was discussing how disgusted he was with one of his former commanders. Now, keeping in mind that I only received one side of the story, the scene placed the man who has since become somewhat of a national icon, facing a simulated firefight in a training exercise. As his men (no women in infantry at that time) pressed forward into the fight, he retreated to safety, losing effective communications with his platoon. Once the exercise was called to a halt and the After Action Report was underway, he was asked why he left the fight. His response was, "If the commander is taken out, the team will not succeed" (or something to that effect). Sadly, he did not trust his men enough to believe they could succeed, with or without him. Because of this, he was soon transferred to a less forward command where his fears would have less impact on the men and women in his command. There are truly bad leaders out there, and it becomes difficult for a soldier, sailor, airman or marine to find forgiveness for someone who may exhibit cowardice or simply not stand with his team.
After life in the military, we sometimes cross paths with those same people for which we lost all respect. If we still harbor ill feelings toward them, we may miss out on opportunities that could heal some of the wounds that haunt us today. Each day, I move forward with the realization that I may cross paths with someone from my past who remembers when I lacked the integrity that was required to maintain the respect of others. I had a knack for creating or embellishing stories, or flat out lying to make myself appear better than I was. It was only after moving away from the area for a few years that I discovered what a mess I had made of that period in my life. As I make contact with those who had known me during that time, I can't help but wonder if they have a forgiving spirit or if they will always view me as dishonest. I can only hope they approach me with an open mind and call me out for what I was. It's happened, and I've made amends to the extent that I can with some, while others had lost all respect for me.
We each have skeletons in our closet that we wish would be long forgotten by everyone. Those that we harbor ill feelings against have to deal with their own skeletons. Have they changed since you knew them last, or did they continue life always looking to promote themselves. Next time you bump into one of them, don't look and say, "That's not my Lieutenant." Instead, offer him a drink and spend a little time getting reacquainted. Let him know how he or she left a negative impression on your life and see what direction his life has taken him. This is one of many steps that can be taken to reduce anxiety and overcome anger that may be diminishing your emotional well-being. I look forward to meeting each of you as we endeavor to help each other. Leaving the military doesn't mean you no longer require a battle buddy. Continue to lean on your brothers and sisters in arms. They may be the only ones that understand the challenges you face each day.