I believe you assigned this book for us to read because it is a clear representation of what it means and takes to be a great officer in the United States Army. It has taught me a lot of positive and negative attributes of leadership. Sam Damon represents everything that an officer should be, and Courtney Massengale represents everything that you hope your superiors are not. After reading this book I can ask myself, when encountered with a difficult problem, “What would Sam Damon do?” This book has taught me several very important lessons about leadership.
First, I must choose the harder right. I strongly believe that a good officer is one that is not afraid to go that extra mile to ensure the safety and welfare of the soldiers under his command, this is very rarely easier than just doing the minimum. Secondly, a leader must remain calm in all situations. The soldiers under the command of a nervous and indecisive leader will tend to act in the same way, they actually “inherit” some of the traits that their commanding officer portrays, both on the battlefield and in garrison.
If a leader even seems indecisive and unsure of him/her self then the soldiers he/she commands will be hesitant about following the orders they are issued, and hesitation on the battlefield does nothing more than cost lives. Next, I’d like to touch on the fact that in the army talent must be promoted. One should not be afraid to promote officers that have greater aptitude than that they possess. If talent had not been promoted, then Sam Damon would not have been able to create such a positive impact on the Army, and a few more soldiers could have lost their lives in combat.
One negative aspect of Sam Damon that I personally had a problem with was that he was willingly and able to sacrifice everything for the Army, and he did so. What I mean by this is he put the Army above his own family. I know that families must make sacrifices in times of conflict, but Damon always seemed to care more about the Army than he did his family. I believe that Damon realized this very late in life, and stated it just before he died, “Joey, if it comes to being a good soldier and a good human being – try being a good human being . . .” Of course he was also talking about the fact that war should be avoided at all costs, it is a horrifically, futile act that should only be committed when all aspects of diplomacy have failed. War, however; is often an inevitable approach to achieving peace.
Sam Damon wants to do something important with is life. He is tired of being a night clerk in the small town of Walt Whitman, Nebraska. He dreams of going to West Point Military Academy, so that he can be a great leader of men. After his acceptance is delayed, he enlists in the military. As a private he fights in the Mexican War against Pancho Villa, and later he fights in World War I. It is here that I learned Damon’s true motivating factor. It is not that he wants to travel the world, or even be someone great; he feels that he owes it to his men, to stay in the Army.
It’s the soldiers that look up to him, those who look to him for answers, those fighting by his side, he doesn’t want to disappoint his soldiers, he doesn’t want them to die because of his lack of mental and emotional courage. This is clearly noted in his “prayer for strength in leadership”, “. . . let me not fail them. . . ” Clearly he is worried that his actions in combat could negatively affect the soldiers under his command.
Courtney Massengale, on the other hand, was a selfish man, wanting only the power and influence that comes along with command. He was a “well-groomed” soldier, and a graduate of the West Point Military Academy whose only goal in life appeared to be, getting his name in the history books as being a great general, but he was not willingy to put forth the effort that this requires. Instead he tried to be in all the right places at all the right times. He tried to “pucker-up” to everyone that was above him, for the sole purpose of promotion. His motivation was promotion, and he didn’t care how many men had to die on his way up the ladder.
The two men do have two similarities that I can see. They are both very intellectual and both keenly ambitious. Damon enjoys reading military history, and tries to learn from the mistakes of previous leaders from the past. Massengale attended West Point. Just these two points alone show they are both smart men. The problem is where Damon uses his intellect to learn and better himself, for the purposes of being a better leader for his soldiers, Massengale only uses his to increase in rank, in order to gain power and seek conquest.
Damon tries to advance with hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Massengale employs easier channels to promotion. Such as swapping favors for his superiors, and and unending array of political maneuvering. Damon also has good officer-enlisted relations. The soldiers want to follow him, they want to make him proud of them, they do not want to let him down. This is one reason why he wins battle after battle throughout the wars which occur during his career. Massengale on the other hand sees the enlisted man as being just a bit above an indentured servant. They are there only to do what he orders them to do. They should not think, they should be “yes-men” and act like puppets, while he is out of harm’s way portraying the puppetmaster role.
I believe they are excellent role models for junior officers. Every officer should strive for excellence found in Sam Damon, and try their best to stray away from officers like Courtney Massengale. I want to be that type of officer that enlisted men don’t talk bad about. That officer that constantly reminds them when they do outstanding work. That officer that takes no credit for himself, only bestows it on the men under his command, and takes all the credit when something goes wrong. That officer that is promoted and moved onto to larger commands based on his character and aptitude, not based on “brown-nosing” and pitching favors.
That is where I would feel like I have accomplished something. It’s like that feeling you get when you study for a really hard test and make a “B”, but that “B” means so much more to you than that “A” did in the easier course you took. Sam Damon demonstrated all these qualities throughout his career and though Massengale received higher rank, Damon was more powerful and influential in his soldier’s eyes than Massengale could have ever been to his soldiers.
If I had the choice of serving under one of the two officers, which I wouldn’t, I would most definitely choose Sam Damon as my leader. Reason being, I would know I would be taken care of, and he wouldn’t try to screw me over just so he could get another promotion. His soldiers respected him very much, and would walk around the world, if he so ordered it. Why? Because they knew he was only doing what was in a “combined best interest” for them and for the Army’s mission. If he wanted them to walk around the world, it had to serve some purpose and by God they were going to do it. I also believe that Sam Damon’s respect and “non-micro-management” trait he gave his non-commissioned officers led not to foul-ups and lost battles, but to ingenuity and victory. Damon chooses the harder right. He remains calm in all situations. He knows the importance of promoting those men who are talented, because he is a product of that notion.
I believe the title of the book comes from the quote at the beginning of the book. It was written by Aeschylus, the ancient Greek playwright.
“So in the Libyan fable it is told
That once an eagle, stricken with a dart,
Said, when he saw the fashion of the shaft,
‘With our own feathers, not by others’ hands,
Are we now smitten'”
In my opinion this “eagle” is actually Sam Damon. An eagle has become the mascot for the United States, an all-powerful, ever-graceful animal. This reflects how Sam Damon’s troops feel about him. He is the ultimate officer, the one everyone wants to be like, the one everyone wants to be commanded by, the one every soldier wants to see still living today, living in the hearts and minds of today’s military leaders, be it a four-star general or an E-5 buck sergeant, all officers, both commissioned and non-commissioned have the resposibilty, no, the duty to be as much like Sam Damon, “the eagle”, as possible.
Damon believes that it’s not how good the enemey’s troops are trained, not how superior there weapons are, but the caliber of the men and/or women who lead them. The eagle believed, in a sense, it had killed itself. Much like an Army will do, as history has proved, take for example Napolean, had he not demanded on marching into Russia, knowing full well winter was coming, perhaps he could have preserved his Army, but his own exceedingly high self-confidence led him to believe he could do it. Perhaps Damon believed that Vietnam would be the end of the U.S. Army if they did not pull out, I guess we will never know.