Once upon a time at Fort Ord…


I was floored when a Ranger E-7 (Sergeant First Class), during a course I was instructing on setting up antenna arrays in treetops so that they couldn’t be seen, took me aside to ask a question.

“Sir”, he says, “me and Specialist Beard got a little bit of a bet going, you mind helping us out?”

Imagining the bet had something to do with the material I was teaching I readily agreed – Competition, I was taught at North Georgia College can be a powerful motivator to improve one’s skills, and when you’re in command of a team of Rangers whose job it is to insert behind the lines and report on enemy troop strength, movement, equipment, and supply without being seen, improving your soldier’s skills is crucial.

“Well Sergeant First Class”, I responded, “Since you think it’s an important enough bet to interrupt the curriculum of optimum height, least obstruction, and concealment of our primary communications with higher, by all means let me assist.”

Looking embarrassed, the Sergeant First Class said “S*** Sir, we all know how to do this, we done it on live exercises in Honduras and Nicaragua a hundred times.  No disrespect, Sir, you a tree climbing m*********** as any white officer I ever seen, and you must of done practiced assembling and testing that array a hundred nights at home when you should have been with your wife & baby…you better at that s*** than Ortiz, and he’s the commo specialist.  Sir, the bet we made was on how you’d answer a question, if you still don’t mind.”

Truthfully, I did mind a bit – This had nothing to do with the day’s training, and just as sure as Christ made little green apples this task would be one graded GO / NO-GO when selecting Rangers for the LRSD…But I was new to this command, and the Sergeant First Class would effectively be First Sergeant of one of the teams, so I needed to establish both a good relationship and confidence in my own skills and abilities with him lest he let out the word that the new LRSD Patrol Base Commander was a cool breeze.  So I responded with a half-frown “OK, you have five minutes.”

The half-frown seemed to cheer the Sergeant First Class’s trepidation a bit, realizing that I meant business, he quickly asked “Sir, you went to a ring-knocker college, taught at the LRSLC (Long Range Surveillance Leader’s Course) for four months after Ranger School, and come to us right after IOAC (Infantry Officer’s Advanced Course), so Beard and I was wondering: If someone was to ask you what the difference between a manager and a leader was, what would you say?  We trying to figure out if ring-knockers really get a better military education than a ROTC commissioned officer, and we been making this bet with our last two CO’s (Commanding Officers).  Pardon, Sir, this ain’t no test, it just a bet between me and Beard.”

I was glad he’d added that last sentence, because it gave me the opportunity to remind him he was in no f***** position to be testing me, while at the same time formulating an answer to his question – Which is not a question included in the instruction of any army school I’m aware of.  Knowing I didn’t have much time, I simply said what first came to mind: “A manager, Sergeant First Class, tries to do things right.  A leader, on the other hand, does the right things, the right way.  You have 90 seconds to get the men back in a circle around that tree I’m using to demonstrate.”

The question, and my answer, bothered me for the rest of the day, and most of the night.  Where the h*** had the two Sergeant First Class come up with it, what did they consider a satisfactory answer to it, and had I just screwed the pooch as their incoming CO?

Well, the answer came at the next morning’s PT formation, where the Sergeant First Class called the Detachment to attention and told them that he and SP4 Beard vouched 110% for their new CO, and any coc******* who had a problem with me, himself, or Beard had an open invitation to meet him at the NCO club that evening.  Relieved, I realized I had passed some sort of test, but I didn’t know whether to bust out laughing or take a swing at the Sergeant First Class when, after PT, he took me aside and said “Sir, be honest we ain’t never asked no other CO that question – Classmate of yours from that ring-knocker college told Beard we should ask you and see what you said.”

There was only one other NGC alumni from a year ahead of my class year at the 7th ID (Light), so I knew who it was right away.  Had we not both not been inducted into the same secret society at school, I’d have sought him out and had his ass – We were both Captains at the time, although he had an earlier date of rank.

The incident, though, stayed in my head so long that I had the civilian Director of the Arts & Crafts Center create a beautiful wooden sign reading: The difference between a manager and a leader is that a manager tries to do things right.  A leader, on the other hand, does the right things, the right way.

It’s been on every one of my office walls, right next to my other sign:

1. Safety of the men under your command
2. Physical Security
4. Terrorist Situation, possible Threats to your organization.
5. COOP = Cont of Operations
6. Risk Management
7. No announced visits. Check actual readiness vs. ability to get ready.
8. Have a current list of ‘Go To People / Contractors.’ Who would you call in response to
each of your Risk Management scenarios.
9. Know Chain of Command
10. Know Organization Chart
11. Know Your Personnel, Details on Direct Reports
12. Know Organization Policies, Standards and Procedures
13. Ensure Fulfillment of all your Position Description Requirements

All that came to mind as I was packing up my home office this morning and came across those signs.  There  really is a huge difference between management and leadership, either in the civilian or military worlds.



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