Thursday, March 31, 2005

des's story: Hero or Zero

The early morning breeze swept through the green surrounding, kicking up the sand from the clearing. It was all silence other than the birds and the occasional passing of heavy vehicles in the distance. The only sign of human inhabitants around was a platoon of men at the foot of a knoll. This platoon would not have your usual hero in a war movie like “Saving Pte Ryan” or “Black Hawk Down”, so we thought. On a normal day, most of us would be peddling our trade in the corporate world but for a few days we would reluctantly swap it for the green uniform.
On this very day, perhaps by destiny, we were the brothers-in-arms about to witness a cocktail of comical tragedies. But then again, ICTs are always filled with such funny episodes.
The mission to clear the enemy and secure the knoll was a routine one except for a few men who had just joined the unit and one of them was our Platoon Commander (aka PC). For the PC, this was his first ICT due to his overseas posting, which was no laughing matter as we were to find out.
“Charge!” the PC shrieked (stirring, I thought) as the assault began. Now, for your information, a standard assault would go something like this: the platoon sergeant and some men will be deployed to engage the enemy in fire before the rest charges up the hill in a line formation.
What followed was total chaos as firstly, the PC had totally forgotten about the deportment. The sergeant, unable to get the attention of the PC, started towards his position with his men, heavy arms in row. Like a Vietnam War veteran, the PC was the all-action man, shouting and flinging his arms wildly to get his men moving. Halfway up the knoll (now, it wasn’t a steep one by any standard, but the tall bushes and trees really killed us!), we were huffing and puffing but all a full car length behind the PC. It was revealed only later that he was awarded Gold for his last IPPT.
Desperate to catch up, we were like ants crawling up a molehill, seemingly without any directions. By some miracle, the PC was blind to the struggle of the men around him – not with a war, but with “Rambo” perhaps. By the time our hero reached the top, the trainer was already close to exploding. Our pathetic entry was then greeted by some of the most explicit of dialect vulgarities, mostly directed at the PC. Shame and anger took over as we stood in the wind panting, while a few seniors bent over to throw up whatever breakfast they had. Our fear then turned to reality, as we had to perform the assault again to the satisfaction of the trainer.

PS: Dedicated to the few good men of 465 SAR in celebration of brotherhood and ten years of NS.

What have I learnt
On leadership:

1) Awareness: Be alert of the environment under which the operation is carried out. Considering the terrain of the knoll, less haste is required to maintain the formation, which was essential.

2) Understanding and Showing Empathy: A leader has to know the team’s strength and weakness so as to anticipate any problems and make any necessary adjustments. In our case, fitness played an undeniable role in our downfall and the PC failed to see that. Our strength, which is our experiences, was left untapped.

3) Visualisation and Communication: It is valuable skills for any leader to visualise the operation as a whole and pass it on verbally to the others. This is also where the line blurs between a leader and a follower, as communication is a two-way street. All parties have to understand that they are on the same boat and none is more responsible than the others are in failure.

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