Learning to “Embrace the Suck”

Lessons I learned From My Executive Officer (XO).  Deploying about five hours from Bad Kreuznach Germany to the Grafenwoehr training area Germany, February 1995. We arrived at the training area back entrance perimeter road just as night was falling and found the route unimproved and loaded with snow and ice.

Our convoy consisted of HMMWV vehicles, 2 1/2 (deuce and a half) trucks and 5 ton wreckers.  All had to stop and chain up and the deuce and a half’s just would not cooperate.  Because it was getting late and the assembly area was not identified nor were there heated billets open and ready; as the battalion logistics office I was responsible so moved ahead with a small team to begin the coordination. We needed to have the footprint ready for the headquarters company and three signal companies headed in an hour plus behind us.

There were no company areas established, no tents, cots, warm food or latrines ready when we were finally guided to our battalion position. Most of our headquarters company column was still out on the road chaining truck tire chainup in the deep snow in the darkness and now I learned that the deuce and a half blew a tire in the process.  Three signal companies were converging from different routes on our location and we were not ready to receive them. Everyone including company commanders were complaining it was cold, their assigned terrain was crappy, there were no portable latrines, no miramite cans of hot food.

We all wanted to give up and just do nothing, catch some sleep sitting in our vehicles until the next day and the hell with the guys out there trying to replace those tire and get chained up.  That’s not the way operations works and one of the greatest lessons I learned from my XO was when things are at their worst you have to “put on your rucksack,” embrace the suck and keep going. I remember distinctly him saying “what do you want to do, just go lay down in the snow and die?” because there was no one else who is going to solve our problems.mermite cans

So little by little we made a list of all the things that need to get done that evening to get the battalion back on its feet, get all the soldiers and vehicles accounted for, coordinate for some sort of food, get the vehicles in place and refueled, set up perimeter security and find a warm barracks that we could use for the night and rotate soldiers for a sleep plan.  We sent out a reconnaissance to go find the remainder of the column on the backside of the training area and guide them into our assembly area. We sent out another reconnaissance to go meet with the training point of contact and find warm billeting for that evening. We distributed MREs for the meal that night and contacted the logistics support unit to bring in mobile latrines so soldiers could take care of themselves. tent in snow

I think that’s the thing about leadership – the leader has to be relentless in enforcing the standards for the organization; be willing to stand up and provide the direction to everyone else even when they don’t to do anything at all.  The leader has to have the confidence to stand up and say  “let’s get going, let’s get this done, and let’s move out.” Sometimes we all don’t want to keep on going and it would be much nicer to just stop, sit down and take a rest in place and try again tomorrow. That decision might be a killer one and the right thing to do is to get up and keep going, embrace the suck and always keep moving forward.

 During his Army career, the author served in a broad diversity of acquisition, command and staff positions and has combat experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan first deploying to Southwest Asia in 2004/05 then re-deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2006 and again to Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2008-2009. His last deployment was to Afghanistan summer of 2009 supporting the Combined Security Transition Command- Bosina 1995Afghanistan. His prior assignments include Executive Officer, Army Acquisition Support Center, Fort Belvoir, VA. Commander, Defense Contract Management Agency, Northrop Grumman, Azusa, CA, and Chief of Mission Support (Contingency Contracting) United States Army, South, Fort Clayton, Panama from where he traveled to and supported operations from Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. From 1988 to 1997, he served in a extensive range of operational command, leadership, and staff assignments in the 1st Cavalry Division, the 2nd Infantry Division (Korea), the 7th Infantry Division, and the 1st Armored Division (Germany and Bosnia).

 

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