The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


October 17, 2007

Name: Toby Nunn
Posting date: 10/17/07
Stationed in
: Kuwait / Iraq
Hometown: Oakland, CA via Terrace B.C. CANADA
Milblog url:

I try not to get on my high horse too often, but there are times when I just can't help myself. The reason the United States Army has been so successful is LEADERSHIP. Our enemies have known for several centuries that we train, mentor and empower leaders at all levels, so that if a leader falters there is another ready to take his place instantly. I try to place the mantle of leadership on my subordinates as much as possible. My father taught me to swim by letting go in the deep end, and I try to do the same -- let them swim on their own, but stay close enough so that if they start to sink I can bring them back up to the surface.

This technique does bite you in the ass sometimes. One can place too much in their cup and they get intoxicated by it. The reason this is an issue with me right now is simple. Leaders are expected to make hard decisions, and I came to terms with this as a very young buck sergeant. It was drilled into my head by my leaders, through Army schooling and real world experience. Before I could become a leader not only did I have to exhibit the potential but also the skills. Those around me were also promoted on this standard and not one of "he's a good guy."

Since coming into the Guard I have witnessed more Failures in Leadership than leadership failures. There has been a culture of promoting friends and buddies rather than looking at the best man for the job. Within the Army there are checks and balances. You can have great leaders but they are only there for a short period of time then move to their next duty station. That's the bad news. The good news is you can have a terrible leader, but again, they are only there a short period of time till they move on. Of course as in all bureaucracies, if you mess up you move up in some cases, but bottom line you move. In the Guard people stay their entire careers in the same unit with the same people, and when new guys come along the "originals" are threatened. Leaders start making decisions based on politics instead of sound logic and tactical necessity. I believe a lot of the decisions are driven out of fear of the establishment.

The Army holds seven values as its benchmark for all that enter. Soldiers of all levels must hold themselves to these; Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. If you look at the first letter of each you will see it spells LDRSHIP, coincidence? I think not.

There are those that have become too comfortable with the "Old Guard" and not come to terms with the reality that we are all soldiers. That's why the Army came out with the motto "An Army of One" that encompasses everyone, Active, Guard and Reserves alike; because we are all deeply involved in the current War on Terror. This is not a pretend unit that gets together for barbeques and plays guns anymore. Those days are long gone. One cannot be afraid to make a decision that might hurt someone's feeling as opposed to getting a person hurt. Egos are meant to be bruised; better them then the wonderful young men that serve selflessly. Politics are an important part of our society and we must embrace that, but success on the battlefield does not come from decisions made in capital buildings or offices. It's made by young men on the ground that lead from the front and inspire their subordinates to serve. Great Leaders are also great followers, and disagreement is not disloyalty.

In several camps I have visited, upon entry there are little signs that, like a Hallmark card, say it better than I can: We need LEADERSHIP not LIKERSHIP!


"Since coming into the Guard I have witnessed more Failures in Leadership than leadership failures. There has been a culture of promoting friends and buddies rather than looking at the best man for the job."

AMEN! But, this isn't a new problem. When I left active duty in 1969 I joined an Army Reserve unit. There were E-5's, 6's and 7's who got their promotions strictly on "time in grade". They simply did not know what they should have been expected to know.

Admiral Zumwalt had this motto on his office wall;

"Jesus Christ. The same yesterday, today, and tomorrow."


Hmmm, it sounds like you have something (or things) specific in mind but are not at liberty to discuss in more detail. It must be immensely frustrating to have to deal with such poor leadership.

Sorry but I have to comment on this one. For starters please don't go grouping all Guard units together. While there are still units out there that could qualify as "old Guard" not all of us are that way. There are leaders out there in all echelons that since Desert Storm have been doing what they can to eliminate the "good old boys" issues and for the most part of succeeded.

In addition to internal changes, the promotional requirement for the Guard are not the same as the Active Duty. Sadly enough even if someone knows their job they may be passed over for promotion by those who are considered more qualified by the standards. I have seen soldiers with over 10 years experience in their MOS be passed over for promotion in favour of troops with less than six years in service simply because the younger troop had college experience.

Yes there is bureaucracy in the Guard, but I have seen in on the Active Duty side as well. I'm sorry your experience with the Guard hasn't been a good one, but don't base your view on all of us from interactions with a few. Some of the best units out there are Guard.

Worst case scenario, look into the option of returning to Active Duty.

Wow, you have really nailed it! My dad was Old Guard for 40 years and it was as you stated. But I think now with the War on Terror, the Guard is getting its game together. Remember, they had not worked day in/day out with fellow warriors like regular army does, so cut them some slack there. My husband/myself are retired army and we miss the leadership aspect dearly. In civilian life, it seems like either no one wants to be a leader or if there happens to be a leader in an organization, that person doesn't want to train up future leaders to take their place.

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