General Matthew B. Ridgway on why he declined to talk to soldiers from stages or platforms:
"I always disliked standing above people. I’m no better than they are. In rank, yes; in experience, yes; but not as a man…When reviewing troops I would never permit them to raise a reviewing stand. I always stood there on the field, six to eight feet from the right flank of the unit going by. Then I could look into the eyes of the men going by. Looking into their eyes tells you something — and it tells them something, too."
This from a division commander who jumped with his troops into occupied Normandy in the early morning of June 6, 1944, and led them in battle for 30 straight days.
Paratroopers enjoy a special fraternity within the Armed Forces that extends to foreign paratroop units, due to the social leveling effect of airborne operations. Lieutenant Colonel Philip Sounia, commander of our cavalry scout squadron in 2013, put it this way: “When you are in line at manifest, no one cares what rank you are: You are a paratrooper. The jumpmaster in charge might be a sergeant, a major, or a colonel. It doesn’t matter. He’s a jumpmaster and that’s who you are listening to. You look to your right and left to see who the junior guy is, and that’s who you are going to take care of. To me, that’s beautiful.”
Privates still stand at parade rest for specialists, but it’s true, the fact that the “feet-ass-head” landing is shared across ranks is a frequent reminder that even a general puts his pants on one leg at a time.
One day, I was returning a number of tools I’d borrowed from a company across the FOB, when one of the busiest officers in the brigade, Major Michael Labrecque, happened to see me with my cumbersome load. Labrecque was the brigade staff’s top logistics advisor to the colonel. Ultimately, getting the 2,500 paratroopers mobilized, deployed, fed, watered, fueled, equipped, and eventually returned to the US was his responsibility. I didn’t ask for his help and even tried to brush him off, but Labrecque, a ranger-tabbed, red-headed former infantry officer who bears a striking resemblance to the actor who plays Dick Winters in the Band of Brothersseries, wouldn’t have it. It wasn’t a big deal to him; it was just part of the “Rule of LGOPs,” little group of paratroopers. He saw one paratrooper doing a job requiring two, so the major pitched in and helped me walk the tools a quarter mile. After our deployment, Labrecque would go on to become the brigade executive officer, and even then, he led by example, eschewing the privilege of rank and always working for the greater good of the force.
There’s a special place in hell for contemptible leaders who get their troops maimed or killed in battle, or in training, or just waste their soldiers’ time. Plenty of those folks are airborne qualified. At the same time, it’s difficult to lead from the rear when you are the number one jumper in the door.
Agree or disagree?
Note about the Author: Michael J. MacLeod is a former US Army paratrooper who served with the 82nd Airborne Division from 2008-2013 as a combat correspondent. He is one of the most published military journalists of the last decade and has won dozens of journalism awards including the Army’s 2012 Military Journalist of the Year. For his work during deployment, MacLeod was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, an award normally reserved for soldiers of much higher rank.