An Early Lesson in Leadership
Article by Tom Rozman
Perhaps one of the most profound early leadership training experiences is that of receiving rifle training on a live range from an experienced leader—one that the recipient of the training respects. The lessons delivered properly will make an indelible imprint on the recipient. If that recipient later pursues a leadership career, the experience very likely will be foundational to that leader’s later conduct. The following vignette relates such an experience.
It was Saturday and the major had brought his twelve and eleven year old sons to the armory in one of the neighborhoods in Southside Boston. A battalion of the 101st Infantry Regiment, a unit of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, based out of the armory was conducting the first half of its two day monthly multiple unit training assembly (MUTA), a grouping of four unit training assemblies of four hours each, the paid training periods for the unit. In effect this was two active duty days for the guardsmen once a month.
The training for the Guardsmen typically occurred for these assemblies at their assigned armory though sometimes a local training area would be used often at a nearby active Army installation. A two week active period of training using the larger maneuver areas and weapons ranges at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod provided a more comprehensive active duty training experience during the summer period. The guard units also had a small cadre of full time National Guard personnel to handle ongoing unit administration and planning and some number of additional unit training assemblies in the budget for select part-time personnel to augment the permanent staff.
The major, the active army advisor to the battalion’s National Guard commander and staff provided by 1st Army at Ft. Devens, had coordinated with the full time technician that managed the armory to access the armory’s indoor pistol and rifle range when the training assembly was not in session later in the day. He had also coordinated for a .22 caliber training rifle available in the armory’s inventory. He had brought his own .22 caliber long rifle ammunition for use with the rifle.
The major’s sons had been involved in the Boy Scout Program for the last four years and had some familiarity with weapons from training at previous scout camps. But the major was a seasoned infantryman who had seen extended combat and had been an infantry soldier for over eighteen years. He had seen the worst and the best of weapons handling in training and in combat. He understood the importance of instilling a respect for the weapon and how to use it at the earliest time possible given a person’s maturity and capacity to absorb the standards of safe weapons’ handling and employment.
The armory was a newly constructed building with state of the art facilities. Administrative offices occupied the two stories of the armory’s front which adjoined a huge drill hall in the center of the building. Adjoining the drill hall on the sides of the armory were supply rooms, classrooms and other supporting logistics areas. One of the facilities in the lower level was a well designed and appointed rifle/pistol indoor range for live fire weapons training.
As the newest armory in Massachusetts, the building presented a modern efficient military appearance. The major had taken his sons to the armory on previous weekday evenings when battalion staff were performing the constant administration and planning necessary for unit operations beyond unit training during the monthly MUTA. Typically, some of the staff were performing these tasks and functions on a schedule throughout the week the unit augmenting its part time staff with a full time cadre of “technicians” who were full time state employees and military members of the unit.
The major and his sons had commuted into Boston from their quarters at a naval ammunition depot housing area on the south shore of Boston in Hingham, about a 30-40 minute commute. The major’s sons were looking forward in anticipation to the opportunity to use an army .22 caliber (long rile) training rifle, a weapon designed and made to replicate the heft configuration of the then M1 Garand semi-automatic service rifle. But they knew that the experience would be deliberate and controlled—they had early learned the major’s approach to weapons; handling and respect of the weapon. In the major’s world, weapons were not toys. He had already instilled in his sons respect for weapons.
At the point in the day that the major’s schedule permitted around the weekend’s unit training and administrative functions, he and his sons made their way to the armory’s indoor range where they met the armory’s technician who opened the range and provided the training rifle for use. On the volunteer side the technician was a scoutmaster and had approval for use of the facility for scout related purposes with the State headquarters—both of the major’s sons were active boy scouts and two other boy scouts were present for the range activity. All four boys were completing work on their rifle marksmanship Boy Scout merit badge.
The major then proceeded to take his sons and the other boys through basic rifle marksmanship training—range safety rules, weapons handling and safety, ammunition handling, loading and weapons function, firing positions, aiming, and firing, target analysis and its application to aiming and firing techniques for subsequent shot groups. Much of what the major was covering was review for his sons and the other boys, but he went through each step of training deliberately and carefully.
The major’s sons and the other boys did well with their shot groups responding well to the training. All the boys had an interest in the weapons handling and firing that was realized by being on the range and exercising the weapons. The boy’s father’s approach to the training was firm and to standard and open to questions as the training proceeded. The training objectives were to experience the exercise of the weapon safely and become familiar with aspects of marksmanship—time available was too short to go beyond these objectives.
After almost two hours, the range experience came to an end. But the lessons imparted would last a lifetime. A career of handling and employing weapons with respect had begun. The “trainer” of many years experience had passed on fundamental lessons he had internalized long before in the basic employment of a weapon. He had provided a form of leadership that would impact hundreds of others over the coming decades, imparting lessons he had learned from earlier leaders almost two decades before.
Many of us have had this or similar experiences in our younger years with older leaders of long standing. We do not always grasp how powerful a leadership exercise such experiences are, being as apparently basic as they may be. And yet, they are perhaps our most impactful experiences, long affecting experiences with veteran leaders that shape our approaches to leadership.
The referenced experiences are often the earliest and most significant shapers of as mentioned our own leadership approaches and especially out leadership styles. In this light, where we are able to support and enhance such opportunities for youth through cadet programs, scouting programs and other similar activities, we are wise to do so. We are making immeasurable contributions to the forming and shaping of our leaders of tomorrow.