This time of year, as we celebrate the Fourth of July, our thoughts often turn to our men and women in uniform. For many years I have watched as our veterans aged, with few of the younger generation joining their ranks. But recently, there have been those who have bravely taken the fight for our freedom to the lands of those who would like nothing better than to kill innocent Americans. These men and women in uniform stand in our behalf and keep those who would do us harm from bringing their evil purposes to our shores.
As I listened to a young veteran from Iraq, my feelings were especially poignant, with my own son’s leaving this last week for basic training at the Air Force Academy. Sid, the young veteran, works with the scouts in our community. He shared a story with them, a story of two Sergeants.
The first sergeant, who commanded their company, was a small man with a big attitude. He looked decent and did not appear coarse, the kind of person someone would immediately think was friendly and kind. But he was neither. He enjoyed nothing more than to assert his authority by finding something wrong with those under his command so he could have reason to discipline. If he couldn’t find an infraction, he created more rules. At the same time, he felt he was above all rules and never followed any he established.
The second sergeant, second in command of the company, was a big man with many tattoos. He had a coarseness to him that made a person feel less than comfortable in his presence when first meeting him. But he never expected of anyone what he wasn’t willing to do himself, and he disciplined only when absolutely necessary.
When it was time for a hike, the first sergeant rode in a jeep, yelling at the men, demanding they move faster, do more, work harder. He would curse at them, threaten them, and individually humiliate them.
The second sergeant was there, among the men, marching with them, always encouraging them, and ready to carry the pack or rifle of an injured fellow soldier.
When it came time to eat, the first sergeant ate first, demanding the best food for himself, as well as many other things the other men were not allowed to have.
The second sergeant didn’t eat until all of his men had food. What they ate, he ate, even if it was almost impossible to choke it down. If food was limited, he shared equally with everyone and went hungry if others did.
If one of the men was injured or sick, the first sergeant was there to call them names, while the second sergeant was there to assist them in their sickness or injury.
Eventually the training was finished and they were shipped out to Iraq. The day they landed, the first sergeant called a meeting. He told the men how important family was. Then, telling them that he had decided his family needed him, he told the men he was going home.
After he left, the men sat in stunned silence. One voiced the thoughts of the others. “What about our families? They need us too.”
The second sergeant then addressed them. “Men, we have a job to do, and we don’t need him in order to do it.”
And indeed they did not. Under the second sergeant’s leadership, the soldiers excelled and became a cohesive unit. No one went on a patrol without the second sergeant right there with them. He was always at the front and took the greatest danger upon himself. And, just as important, no one came home until they all did – and they all did.
“You remember this, always and forever,” Sid told the young scouts. “You can never truly lead from anywhere but from the front.”
(Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit his website at http://ww.darishoward.com)