February 16, 2007
What The Army Can Do For You
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
One more military blog and then I'll let it go for a while.
A friend of mine used to work for the ad agency that handled the Army's recruiting advertising, and we used to argue about it, my point being that the ads missed the main benefits of joining the service. There are three:
One: Military training is the best in the world. Whatever they teach you, you are going to know in your bones.
Two: If you have any aptitude for leadership, you'll find yourself with more real responsibility in your early 20s than you would have in your mid-30s as a civilian.
But the most important is, you will get to meet a born leader or two. I'm talking about the kind of officers or noncoms whose troops will follow them to the death - literally. This is a very, very rare type of human being, and one that you don't find in civilian life. The outstanding example in U.S. military history is Robert E. Lee.
If you are curious about what such leaders are like, I can refer you to three sources. The first is a short novel, Mr. Roberts, written by Thomas Heggen in the late 1940s. Second is a long novel, Once an Eagle, written by Anton Myrer, and published in 1968. It so successfully depicts the career of an ideal leader that it is used as a text by the Army.
But the most vivid is the HBO movie, Band of Brothers, and in particular the performance of a young British (!) actor named Damian Lewis (left), who portrays Major Dick Winters (right, in photo). Lewis is absolutely uncanny in capturing the personality of an officer who was not only a hero (he won the DSC at Normandy) but literally worshipped by his men.
The service has its share of officers and noncoms who are time-servers, incompetents, and are unworthy of their rank. But it also has men like Dick Winters, and if you have the luck to serve with one, it can illuminate the rest of your life. I had the great good luck to know two such officers: LTC (later COL) Charles Brauer, and COL (later MG) Howard Lauderback.
Thank you, sirs.