17160 Stephen Kalyta: Ordinary to Extraordinary

“It is our job as leaders to understand what motivates the people under our Command.”

Ordinary to Extraordinary

Article by 17160 Stephen Kalyta

US General (ret’d) David Petraeus describes the DNA of the ideal soldier as a patriot who has “a quiet but intense need to serve.” Petraeus should not be taken out of context, and it is not my intent to do so in this article. However, I am less interested in one’s motivation to serve. I am fascinated by those, while in service of their country, who do extraordinary things. Why you entered the Forces could be fleeting. How you serve and lead could be extraordinary. In referring back to Petraeus, it is true the response to 9/11 saw an uptick in recruitment, but as the NY Times reported, this uptick paled in comparison to WWII. It seems that the economic collapse drove up recruiting in 2008, rather than a compelling act of terrorism in 2001.

I think there are many factors that contribute to the decision to serve, on both sides of the Border. I believe they are as diverse as the faces that pass through our recruiting Centres. It is our job as leaders to understand what motivates the people under our Command. In addition, the organic nature of life means you will need to adjust your perceptions and leadership style based on the circumstances and needs of the members you lead. Adaptability is central to the motivational theory and situational leadership which every effective leader must master in order to manage highly effective teams.

What interests me beyond Petraeus’ portrayal of the modern soldier archetype is how the extraordinary soldier emerges from the Din of the ordinary. The hallmark of extraordinary achievement goes beyond dutiful service and lands squarely in the field of heroes. If you study the back story of the Medal of Honor recipients in Korea, WWII, and Afghanistan, there is a common, perhaps misplaced humility by those who acted in extraordinary ways under immense personal peril. Just take a few minutes out of your day and google Romesha at Camp Keating (Afghanistan), Antalok (WWII) or “Hershey” Miyamura (Korea). Their stories cannot be given justice in this short article. Cadets may find inspiration, as I did, in understanding what makes an extraordinary soldier.

Broad humility is a mainstay of the Canadian corp of soldiers and officers, but I submit this does us as a society a huge disservice. Perhaps we are too quiet, as Petraeus said, in our resolve to serve, and a mere whisperer when it comes to our extraordinary achievements or the achievements of the soldiers we lead. By not sharing our experiences, as Miyamura later reflected, is to cheat a generation of the realization that Democracy must be paid for by the extraordinary so that the rest of society can be free to live ordinary lives. Remember to know your soldiers well, promote their welfare, and when warranted, be vigilant in conveying their achievements. Canadians deserve to know their heroes.