A Story of Effective Leadership, Told from a Soldier’s Perspective.
In this guest post, TheQuoteWell features a writing by Noel DeJesus, an author and public speaker on the subject of Effective Leadership. Noel DeJesus is a Distinguished Honor Graduate and Profession of Arms Leadership Award recipient from the Army’s Advanced Leader Course. His real-life leadership experience draws upon years of service as a combat soldier in the U.S. Army, for which he has been awarded the esteemed Bronze Star. In the following guest post, Noel recounts a real life story that affirms what all great leaders know: being a leader is about taking appropriate action rather than catering to popular opinion.
“My second deployment to Iraq was by far the worst of my three tours of combat, but the experience ultimately taught me a powerful lesson about effective leadership.”
Our home for the year was an abandoned potato chip warehouse which had been seized by the Army and renamed Combat Out-Post 763, located in the heart of Eastern Baghdad. The four members of my team and I lived in this sweltering building with fifty other soldiers. We survived on two hot meals a day and one shower per week with no laundry facility, unless you counted our multi-purpose Gatorade bucket. There were three portable toilets that constantly overflowed from weeks of use with sporadic servicing, and the old blood stains that lined the walls of our makeshift gym kept us from escaping our harsh reality. As crazy as it sounds, leaving the wire for a convoy was something that most of us actually looked forward to; anything to get out of that building.
At this time I was a junior enlisted soldier, led by a brave Sergeant who was seemingly scared of nothing, and liked by everyone. He was exactly the type of leader that you wanted in this dangerous and vulnerable environment that we called home for a year. While our Sergeant was directly responsible for our safety and mission, his primary role for the first few months of the deployment was as a motivator. As you could imagine, living in these conditions had a steeply degrading effect on our morale and optimism. We were all going through our own problems, rocket attacks, family issues, financial burdens, hunger, discomfort… you name the struggle and we experienced it out there. And through it all our Sergeant was the one standing tall to pick us up.
“But that all changed one night.”
I remember it vividly. I was sleeping on my cot when a fellow soldier abruptly woke me up. The first thing I did was reach for my weapon thinking it was another attack on our compound, but when I looked at his face I knew immediately that this was different. “You need to see this,” he said as I quickly got up and followed him down the dark hallway towards our “office” area. He directed me to our workstation computer, on it an open Word document. “What is this?” I asked as I curiously started to read it. I couldn’t believe my eyes – it was a suicide note written by my Sergeant. “Where is he at?” I whispered in despair, hoping for a positive response of life. “He’s on his cot, he doesn’t know that I found this,” my fellow soldier said. And this is when I knew that the situation called for effective leadership.
My Sergeant was not only my fearless leader, he was like a big brother. Yet I knew that I couldn’t let that stop me from doing what was necessary. I marched directly into his living quarters and secured his weapon, (this is taboo in a combat environment. Touching another Soldier’s weapon was like stealing his girlfriend). My Sergeant awoke startled and confused. I sternly explained that I had read the letter he left on the computer. My body was tensed up expecting a physical altercation, but there was none. Slightly shocked, I escorted him directly to the Commander of our Combat Out-Post and demanded that he be removed from our compound and taken to a behavioral health facility for help.
Now, seeking behavioral health was seen as a weakness, and my Sergeant and fellow Soldiers expressed their displeasure with the actions I was taking. I was essentially removing our fearless leader from the fight, leaving us undermanned and under-experienced; but to me it was necessary. When I explained exactly what I found to the Commander, my Sergeant was scolded and swiftly removed from his position and the compound. At this time I wasn’t the most popular Soldier in the building, but I felt true to myself. In this showdown of integrity versus popularity, it was clear to me which I had to be true to. At that time my Sergeant was a threat to himself and everyone else, and I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.
To our surprise, a few weeks later we received word that our Sergeant would be returning to our team. I was a bit nervous fearing reprisal and awkwardness, but when he came back the first thing that he did was thank me. We are great friends to this day.
I learned so many things about myself throughout that tour of combat, like the fact that sometimes being a leader means not being liked. Prioritizing popularity and being liked can actually undermine effective leadership, and one must maintain personal and organizational integrity above personal interests.
Noel DeJesus is the author of “44 Days of Leadership“, available on Amazon.com. He is an active duty Soldier in the United States Army, and has served on three combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal among other awards, and is a Distinguished Honor Graduate and Profession of Arms Leadership Award recipient from the Army’s Advanced Leader Course. Noel’s website is www.morningmotivations.com
More quotes by Noel DeJesus and many other great leaders are featured in our book, “Leadership – Inspirational Quotes to Create A Wise Leader”. Available on Amazon in print and digital formats.