When I was a young Company Commander, we had this lieutenant who was even younger than I was. He had been to Airborne school. He had his jump wings and he thought he was special. He disparaged Battalion staff the few times he dealt with them. He talked big about what he would do as Platoon Leader. We were training up for a rotation to the National Training Center. That was a big deal for any Infantry unit, but especially for a National Guard Infantry unit. We would be the second Guard unit ever to rotate through the NTC. During our train-up, we had active duty soldiers watching us and training us. The pressure to succeed was strong. One weekend, the training consisted of lane training by platoon. The three platoons in my company would take their turn going through a lane set up in the Louisiana woods attacking and seizing an objective. There would be smoke, grenade simulators, etc. It would look and sound very real.
As the platoon advanced, the brash, young lieutenant froze. He just flat froze. Like all of us at one time or another, he was suddenly seized with paralyzing fear as he realized he was in total control. Unlike when we practiced drills, the NCO’s were not running things. He was. And, he was too scared to speak and direct his some 30 soldiers. I had to step in just to keep the platoon advancing. The young lieutenant never did recover. He left our unit soon after.
I thought of that young officer when I read that Donald Trump visited with Pres. Obama yesterday and he said little. Gone was the braggadocio. Gone were the loud promises of victory and success. It is not easy being in charge. It is not easy being handed the keys to a 30 man Infantry platoon with smoke and explosions all around you. Assuming the keys to the White House are not any easier.
In the Band of Brothers book, 1Lt. Dyke was given the keys to an Infantry company. Like my young lieutenant, 1Lt. Dyke froze in the midst of his first attack. The movie portrayed him as confused and spouting incoherent instructions. But, in reality, he just froze in the midst of a complicated attack. While he sat there, his men were getting shot badly. The enormity of controlling people’s lives, even if just in training is just too much when you are not prepared. My young liuetant was too young. He was still in college. He was an early commissioned officer under a program unique to the Guard. He had not even been to the Officer Basic course, yet. Too much was expected of him. 1Lt. Dyke was a commissioned officer and was older. But, he had previously served on Regimental staff, which is much further back from the front. He was in charge of just a handful of men. When he came to Easy Company, he often disappeared. In combat a soldier can just walk off in the woods and hide. Usually, your superiors will find you and bring you back, or replace you. But, when you are the superior, you can get away with disappearing.
He did not bond with his men. He never chatted with them. He had no stake in their successes or failure. So, in the midst of an attack, he suddenly found himself in charge of 150 strangers and did not have the desire to deal with it. He just froze. He was not ready. He was not invested in his men. My young lieutenant never got to know his own soldiers, either. To him, they were just pawns on a chess board.
Donald Trump will get the hang of his new job. He is invested in some of us, perhaps not all of us. But, it will take time. He needs training and education. 1Lt. Dyke served honorably through the rest of the war in staff roles. He was apparently deemed not suited for a front line unit, again. My young lieutenant, I never heard from him. But, I am sure with time and military education, he did much better later. As for Pres. Elect Trump, I am sure he will get the hang of this new car, soon.