Sunday, June 08, 2003


Marine first sergeant learned some lessons in the Iraq war


After a military campaign, good armies list the "lessons learned." In our e-mail age, such lists get distributed widely.

One was drawn up recently by the first sergeant of a Marine heavy weapons company in Iraq. A retired lieutenant colonel in St. Louis shared his e-mail copy with me.

Many of the lessons are technical. But others illustrate the difference between managers (who do things right) and leaders (who do the right thing). Among the first sergeant's lessons, as edited to translate acronyms, abbreviations and jargon:

"Ask questions. Marines will not tell you they are sick until they go down hard. They are a proud bunch."

"Let friendly units know when fire is outgoing. This especially applies to mortars. Marines get really jumpy when mortars start going off."

"No matter what you hear on the radio, sergeants run the fight. Sit back and listen to them. You might just learn something."

"Get your Marines' mail to them, even if it means shooting your way to them. If they get mail, they will do anything for you."

"Use the satellite phone. Forget the cost. Grab a few young Marines when you can and let them call home. After a Marine talks to his wife after a firefight, he could lead the entire battalion."

"Pistols suck. Shotguns are great at close ranges."

"Never baby your Marines. When you think you need a staff sergeant to do the job, grab a sergeant or a corporal, and he will do it better and faster."

"Get the chaplain to your position, even if you have to fight your way to him."

"Talk to any units in the area. Ask questions. You will learn much from them. Talk to the Army. They do good things also."

"Have the e-mail addresses of all of your Marines' wives. Get to any headquarters and send a blanket e-mail to all of them."

"A can of dip, a pack of smokes and a handshake go a long way. A cup of coffee helps."

"Buy a shortwave radio and get the news. If you get the baseball scores out to the Marines, you are a hero."

"It's OK to let the Marines take their shirts off if it's hot. If it's really hot, they can go around without blousing their boots. (Don't worry, Sergeant Major - they won't do it in the rear.)"

"If nothing is going on, make the junior Marines sleep while you watch the radios for a few hours."

"Watch your Marines' eyes. They tell you everything."

"No one has too much rank to dig."

"I can't begin to say what an honor it was to serve beside these young Marines. They did everything asked of them and asked for more. True professionals. No stupid mistakes. Someone was looking out for us on this one."

"Lucky to have the honor"

Army paratroopers are as proud as Marines, and Afghanistan is as rough as Iraq. That's evident in an e-mail that William and Betsy Zieseniss of Wildwood got last month from their son Andrew.

He graduated from West Point in 1995 and now is a captain in command of an airborne infantry company in Afghanistan.

An excerpt from his message:

"I have the distinct honor of leading 138 fine young men. They amaze me, and I am humbled to serve in their presence and call myself their commander.

"I have witnessed amazing acts of bravery. I have seen 19-year-old privates crawl through a cave hundreds of meters with only a flashlight and pistol. I've seen my men scale hundreds of feet up sheer cliffs without any safety gear.

"I've walked with my company 16 miles with virtually no water through the most treacherous country to get to a Taliban stronghold. I watched as some of my men vomited from dehydration but refused to stop or get med-evaced.

"I've watched as they have gone into compound after compound, not knowing what lurks around the next corner.

"I've seen young soldiers drop to a knee and give candy to an Afghan child.

"They have exceeded my every expectation. My company is exactly what every company commander would ever hope to have. I am very lucky to have the honor to serve with such a fine group of young Americans."
Reporter Harry Levins:
Phone: 314-340-8144