I will leave the fighter pilot aspect for another day and another blog, but suffice it to say that he did all of the bright, courageous and professional fighter pilots a disservice with his high school antics, while providing the civilian readers with an inaccurate portrayal of the fighter pilot culture.
Similarly, his being a commissioned officer in the United States Armed Forces is again a subject for another day. Just let it be known that all commissioned officers are held to a higher standard of personal behavior, character, and integrity than anyone else in the military.
What I would like to discuss, however, is Capt. Honors being in a senior leadership position. Sun Tzu, 2500 years ago in his classic treatise “On War,” said in regard to leaders, “The masterful leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to proper methods and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success. Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC)
Contrary to what Sun Tzu said, Capt. Honors was quoted as saying in his 21st Century video treatise:
"Over the years, I've gotten several complaints about inappropriate material during these videos - never to me personally, but gutlessly through other channels." "This evening, all of you bleeding hearts - and you, fag SWO boy - why don't you just go ahead and hug yourselves for the next 20 minutes or so, because there is a really good chance you're going to be offended tonight."
Of course, at face value, those comments from a senior officer are objectionable on so many levels, but just let me concentrate on just one level…combat leadership. Military leadership is all about leadership in combat, not peacetime. Every action that is taken, prepares the leaders and the troops for the possibility of relentless and unforgiving combat. It is not about keeping the troops on the U.S.S. Enterprise from “becoming bored.” If they are bored, that really is a leadership problem. Showing videos of the Battle of Midway, Pearl Harbor, or Kamikaze attacks would be more appropriate than amateurish locker room flicks.
On December 5th, 2010, I attended a memorial service for my roommate from DaNang, Vietnam who passed away recently. I wrote a poem about him titled “Remembering Bullet” and posted it on OS, and also read it at the service. Bullet was shot down in the jungles of Laos in 1970, after ejecting from an F-4 fighter at 450 knots airspeed. An unarmed Army medevac helicopter heard the MAYDAY radio call on the emergency frequency while returning to his base, and he voluntarily and unhesitantly turned around and headed toward the combat area. Under heavy fire from 40,000 North Vietnamese regulars, they hovered at a standstill over Bullet’s location, picked him up out of the jungle, escaped with several rounds through their chopper, and returned Bullet safely to a medical station. It should be noted that the U.S. Army was prohibited from flying in Laos at that time, and the pilots had to fudge the location to show it in South Vietnam. They disregarded the border to pick up a downed fellow airman. That is what real leadership is all about. It is not about degrading your fellow warriors to feed your ego, or to use your position of authority to denigrate those below you, or those that are different than you. Leadership is about accomplishing the mission and taking care of your troops; all of them.
In the end, the Army chopper pilots received Air Medals (we put them in for a Distinguished Flying Cross) for conspicuous gallantry, instead of being court-martialed for violating an Army directive. Common sense prevailed. In short, every action the military takes should be in preparation for combat, not peacetime. Now, you can disagree with the whole military concept in general, but as long as we have a military, that is the way it is. Lives depend on it.
Many times, senior leaders think leadership is a popularity contest. I believe that is what Capt. Honors thought. Some leaders can pull it off, and be both popular and a good leader. But most have to choose. Capt. Honors chose popularity…the wrong choice for him, and he was relieved of his command. You cannot be buddies with the people you have to send into combat and possibly die. A combat leader's job is to accomplish the mission, and keep as many troops as possible alive and ready, willing, and able to fight another day. That is the reality of war. If you are worried about being popular, it just does not work. You may have to write their mother a letter describing the circumstances of her son or daughter's death, and why what they did was important. Again, that is the reality of war.
One final thought, it was not so much the adolescent content of the videos that was so repulsive (although it certainly was), but the manner in which Capt. Honors presented it. It was as if he wanted to get “in our face” with it, and shamelessly offered no apologies. That tells me many things. One thing it tells me is that the culture of that ship probably followed his lead. In other words, "if the XO approves, and even supports it, it must be OK for me to to do it." That is disturbing in and of itself. As you can see from recent press reports, all of the Navy Captains and Admirals are running for the exits now, while claiming it is “shocking, not appropriate for today’s Navy, that they have lost confidence in his ability to lead effectively," and blah, blah, blah. I can just tell you from my personal experience that officers above him, if they did not give tacit approval, at least looked the other way in the false belief that his actions were “improving morale.” Think about it. This happened over three years ago, and it is a total secret and an isolated incident that nobody knew about? Wink, wink...nod, nod.
While Capt. Honors himself will be a 2-3 day news story, I predict you have not heard the last from this little episode. The Navy is desperate (as is the Air Force) to justify their relevance in today’s technological warfare world, and they do not want “these little incidents” to interfere with their "substantive" arguments. So, you will see and hear more “this is shocking” from them. Generals and Admirals will make statements, laws will be passed, commissions will be formed, investigations will be conducted, and regulations will be written. Trust me, the military hierarchy cannot get Capt. Honors out of the Navy fast enough; you will see.
I will leave you with a citation for Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, who recently was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in Afghanistan. As you read it, think about what we ask these young men and women to do, and ask yourself if you would prefer to have a “popular buddie” or a “leader” as your commanding officer in combat.
Note: Following Sergeant Giunta's Medal of Honor citation, I posted the edited comments of an interview with a Marine Sergeant Major who discussed the positives and negatives of officer combat leaders. It is interesting reading.
“Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, on October 25, 2007. While conducting a patrol as team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, Specialist Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta's body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta's unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon's ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy. Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself.”
The year is 1968, and 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Len Koontz's platoon is under heavy enemy fire near the Khe Sanh Combat Base half-a-world away in Vietnam. With his patrol pinned down, Koontz single-handedly maneuvers up a mountain to hold off the enemy, destroy their bunkers and successfully evacuate fellow Marine casualties to safety.
"I was determined to retrieve my buddies," said Koontz. His actions earn him the Navy Cross for "upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."
Interview with Marine Sergeant Major regarding combat leaders: