Military Leadership: A Stunning Display of Honor
I was privileged this month to be invited to the change of command for the US Army’s 95th Division at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. Promptly at 10am on a Saturday morning the event started with pomp and high tradition. The colors were passed from one commanding officer to the next. Beautiful. Inspiring. But what moved me most was what I witnessed the day before.
It all started a couple of months ago. My step-father, Jack, told me that his great-nephew, Ray, was an Army General. Ray was being promoted from Commander of the US Army’s 95th Division (about 3,000 soldiers) to a higher position at the Corps level. With this promotion, the command of the division had to be passed according to military tradition to another commanding officer.
Meeting General Royalty
Honored to be invited, we drove north for 3 hours to Fort Sill the day prior to the ceremony. Honestly, I was a bit nervous. I expected General Ray Royalty to be a foreboding figure who could probably crush me with a look or a handshake. I was pleasantly surprised. Brigadier US Army General Ray Royalty, his 80 year old father, and his daughter parked their car almost the same time we did. A gregarious man appeared and came over to give each of us a hug. General Royalty is one of the nicest people I have ever met.
That evening prior to the ceremony, we attended a private reception. I was in for a treat. Unlike the ceremony the next day, tonight all the high officers were in civilian clothes. I would learn so much about leadership that evening.
What is it like to lead 3,000 soldiers I wondered? When people’s lives are on the line, what would I glean about their leadership culture? Would it be different? Would it be a culture about shouting and giving didactic orders?
Military Leadership at its Finest
The evening started with a prayer by the division chaplain. After dinner, an officer emceed the evening with a light spirit. The program mostly focused on honoring and giving appreciation to General Royalty as the departing commander. Each brigade commander representing different parts of the division had a gift for the General. Some were emblematic of the pride of their division. Some were funny. Some were poignant. However, what struck me most was how each gift and the accompanying sentiment from each brigade commander clearly captured their love for their general.
There is no hiding it when people love their leader.
And it showed here clearly. Admittedly, I had some preconceived notions about staunch military leadership. But this was not a relationship of a drill sergeant barking orders at his team. Their words spoke of appreciation of his mentorship, their admiration for his service and sacrifice for all. It was obvious that even though they understood the gravity of their work and the harshness of their mission, at the end of the day, they were all people and they valued respect, care, and great vision. They valued servant leadership.
A Stunning Display of Honor
At last, General Royalty took the podium. I got my phone out and hit the record button. And I am glad I did. I know I will listen to his remarks often in the coming years when I need to be reminded of great leadership.
Brigadier Army General Royalty started by honoring his father in the audience–a retired airborne trooper. Then, he thanked his great-uncle Jack (my step-dad) for his service in the Korean war, and he had all the officers stand and applaud the two men. As he spoke about them, he was holding back tears. He loved them. They were his mentors, his role models.
Then he spoke to his troops. That 30-minute speech renewed my faith in county, army, and honestly–humanity. I had expected the speech to be a boisterous oratory of guts and glory. After all, at the presence of this man, 3,000 others stood at stiff attention. And after all, he is the Commander The 95th Army division—the victory division—whose motto is “Men of the Iron Metz” (commemorating a World War II battle where the 95th Division valiantly fought German forces near the French town of Metz). Instead, what he offered was moving.
Choked up during most of his speech, he recalled stories of sacrifice. He talked about why he risked his life in the service of his country. He reminded us why we should risk ours. He told stories of men who were willing and sometimes gave their lives for others—at which point he said, “I aim to be like them.” He looked at his officers and told them to continue to serve their units and their country. I was intrigued by how many times the word “serve” was said that evening by him and others.
I could see why these soldiers would fight for him—would die for him. Even though I only met him once, under different circumstances I would gladly follow his lead and risk my life taking any hill he asked me to climb.
It reminded me that great leadership is great leadership. Whether it is a father at home, a pastor at church, a boss at work, a mayor in a city, or a general on the battlefield—in its essence leadership differs very little. Great leadership is about depth of character. Wisdom of approach. It is about vision. Guts. Service. Sacrifice.
Great leadership is simply about heart.
PS: I thank General Ray Royalty for the kind invitation to this Change of Command. And I also thank him and his soldiers for their sacrifice to defend our freedom!
For Further Reading:
Lead Like a General (The US Army’s Nine Principles of War)