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Pass On What You Have Learned
Many of the troopers and leaders who were part of the early deployments of the “Global War on Terrorism” have since departed the military. But I know many remain, though for a lot of them, I suspect their experiences consist of deployments involving security force assistance or limited patrols with limited goals as host-nation forces were pushed to take on more responsibility. Despite this, the troopers who are still in our military have valuable lessons that should be passed on to those with less experience.
With that in mind, I hope that these experienced troops and leaders take advantage of opportunities for assignments in training units and/ or leader development roles, specifically Active Component/ Reserve Component (AC/RC) positions and/ or duty at service academies, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), or Officer Candidate School (OCS). Within the pre-war Army, such assignments were often not well-regarded, viewed even as potential career-enders (though it was surprising and a bit amusing to see how these assignments were coveted during the war).
I was fortunate to serve as both an OCS cadre member and AC/RC observer-controller/ trainer (OC/T) just as the war began. Though lacking operational experience, I and many of my team members were able to effectively convey doctrinal lessons that, I hope, helped people fight and survive. Once we received NCOs that had recently returned from the initial combat deployments, we were able to develop more realistic training scenarios and impart actual operational lessons learned.
It was during my time in AC/RC that I ran into one of my former OCS candidates, now a 1LT and recently returned from Iraq. We came across each other in Savannah, greeted each other (I was pleased that he seemed happy to see me…so I guess I wasn’t a terrible OCS cadre member), and began talking about the “good ole’ days” at FT Benning. He then began talking about his deployment to Iraq as part of the invasion force. As he was describing an ambush he and his platoon were in, he told me that something I had said to him at OCS (some 4 years prior at this point) had suddenly come to his mind and he used that bit of advice to help keep himself alive. I don’t recall much else he said after this because I was so stunned that something I had said years ago came to his mind as he was literally dodging bullets on some Iraqi road, and that it proved helpful. Then we shook hands and went on our way.
If I was able to impart useful information to someone without having any combat experience, I wonder how much more I’d be able to share now with two deployments under my belt. Likewise, how effective would others still in uniform, with one or more combat deployments, be to those with no experience “downrange”? I felt pretty good about myself that day with my former OCS candidate. I got to help someone without realizing it. I urge others with their combat experiences to take advantage of opportunities to share their lessons learned and seek out assignments in training organizations. You often get immediate feedback from those you train, can further hone your own skills, and you might actually get to save the life of a fellow soldier without even knowing it.