Major Larry Bauguess: The Officer as a Leader

Ten years ago today- My friend and mentor Major Larry Bauguess was killed in Afghanistan.

I wanted to write about the Officer as a leader. I used Larry Bauguess as the subject of this piece. I could not think of a better example of outstanding leadership as an Officer.

Here is why:

When I was a cadet at Kemper Military Junior College in the mid-1990’s I was given a copy of the 1950 edition of the Armed Forces Officer. In its first paragraph, leadership through character is placed at the heart of the officer’s duty:

“Having been specifically chosen by the United States to sustain the dignity and integrity of its sovereign power, an officer is expected to maintain himself, and so to exert his influence for so long as he may live, that he may live, that he will be recognized as a worthy symbol of all that is best in the national character.”

I have served with many great military leaders, but the best was my Company Commander and friend Major Larry Bauguess. He defined the most important leadership quality of all that is stated over and over again in the military: setting the example. Sometimes the example he set was physical like being the first in on a unit run. Other times the example was making sure that the lower enlisted Soldiers ate first.

A military unit tends to have a character of its own; an identity composed of its history and traditions, but most importantly the personality of its commander.  The unit becomes an extension of the likes and dislikes of the commander.  At the company level (300 men) the collective personality of the unit takes on the traits of the person who leads it.

The personality of Delta Troop, 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment was hard-ass Spartan. Delta Troop was perhaps the most Spartan of all the companies in the battalion because it was unique in its mission of reconnaissance and armored capability.  The rest of the companies were infantry. One company was much like the other on paper. Delta Troop drove tanks.

Larry’s ethos was purposefully directed and developed from the esprit de corps, he had learned in the 101st Airborne Division. David Petraeus was his battalion commander.  Larry was huge on the tradition, heritage of the rugged and the tough reputation of the United States Paratroopers.  He would constantly tell tales of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, where the warrior philosophy and a hardcore attitude of airborne soldiers had saved the day.

The stronger a commander the more he affects the men he commands.

Larry ran the Troop with stern exacting leadership.  Larry allowed himself no luxuries while in the field and he allowed his troops almost none. It seemed that in early 2001 that someone forgot to tell Larry that the United States was not yet at war, he strived each day to train like we were getting ready for combat.

Larry infused the unit with a particular spirit of independence.  At the time I worked for him, he always allowed for independent decisions and he would thrust subordinates into positions of constant responsibility and decision making. I made more than my share of mistakes, but under Larry’s patient mentorship those mistakes become lessons in how to lead Soldiers.

This was a part of Larry’s plan in developing his platoon leaders.

Larry preached that each unit from the platoon down (30 men) to the fire team (4 men) was independent and responsible for himself or itself. Responsibility first at that level than up the chain of command, link by link.

Larry’s example of this was little groups of paratroopers who had been dropped all over the countryside during the invasion of Normandy. You can see this in the TV series and book “Band of Brothers” by Stephen Ambrose.

Larry emphasized that most important aspect was that leading is a privilege, especially in leading the very best and brightest of a generation that serves our nation. Larry said that real definitive direction is given by leaders who are willing to sacrifice in the service of those they lead.

Larry Bauguess’ best quote, given in his deep Appalachian accent from his native North Carolina, “Be the leader you would want to be led by.”  He was more than a legendary Soldier who led by physical and personal example in everything he did, he was a friend and mentor who always there for someone else.

In 2005, in Iraq it was at Larry’s urging that I took command of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 42nd Infantry Division after the Commander, my buddy Captain Phil Esposito was murdered by his Supply Sergeant.  Larry’s simple advice was, “You know he would do it for you if the situation was reversed.  We do these things for each other.”

On May 14, 2007, Larry Bauguess was killed by enemy small-arms fire in Pakistan.  Larry was on duty in Afghanistan, but was killed less than two miles inside Pakistan. He left a meeting meant to ease tensions after border clashes between Afghans and Pakistanis. He was 36.

He left behind a wife and two young daughters as well as his parents and a host of people who loved and admired him. He died as he had lived- leading by personal example, trying to save a downed comrade. I was proud to call him my friend.

Officers are commissioned by the Executive Branch of the United States Government.  They are commissioned to act as envoys of the President of the United States and representatives of the Executive Branch.  It is in this role that that Officers as leaders are held to a higher standard. Larry exemplified that standard.

These e-mails are my attempt to do what Larry always talked about in, “Being in the service means being in the service of others.”

Larry, you are missed, my old friend. I have done my best to live up to the example you set for me as my Company Commander and friend.

Bibliography:

  1. Department of Defense, 1950, The Armed Forces Officer.
  2. Ambrose, Stephen. 1992. Band of Brothers, E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne: From Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, Simon & Shuster, New York.
  3. Bartone, Paul T., et al. 2009. “To Build Resilience: Leader Influence on Mental Hardiness.” Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University.
  4. – 2010. New Wine in Old Bottles: Leadership and Personality in the Military Organization. The 71F Advantage: Applying Army Research Psychology for Health and Performance Gains (Chapter 6)
  5. FM 22-6: Army Leadership: Competent, Confident, and Agile (Part 1)

Book Review: Goodbye to All That By Robert Graves

“This is a story of what I was, not what I am.”

– Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That

One Sentence Hook: English author Robert Graves says goodbye to England, family, friends, and a way of life after serving as a soldier in World War I.

I’ve read a few books trying to understand World War I. One of my favorites is “Goodbye to All That” by Robert Graves.

The Author

Robert von Ranke Graves was one of the most prolific poets of the twentieth century. Graves’ career spanned six decades. He was born in London, England, on July 24, 1895.  He his mother’s family was German and his father’s family was Irish. His mother’s family, the von Rankes, was dominated by clergymen, while his father’s side were intellectuals. Graves’ father was an amateur poet and an inspector of schools.

Graves was raised in an atmosphere of thoughtfulness and civility. He attended private preparatory schools until he went to Oxford. His education was interrupted when he enlisted to fight in World War I soon after it began in 1914. The horror of trench warfare was a crucial experience in his life: he was severely wounded in 1916 and remained deeply troubled by his war experiences.

Graves’s mental conflicts during the 1920s were made worse by an unhappy marriage that ended in divorce. A new acceptance of his own nature, in which sexual love and dread seemed to exist in close proximity, appeared in his verse. In 1929, he moved to the island of Majorca, Spain. He died in 1985.

Graves produced more than 140 works during his lifetime and has never been out of print. His best known works are The White Goddess, Claudius the God and Count Belisarius. Graves’s sad love poems are regarded as the finest produced in the English language during the 20th century, along with those of W.B. Yeats.

Summary

“Goodbye to All That” begins with Graves telling of his earliest memories, followed by a brief summary of what he looked like at the time of the writing of the book. Graves talks about the background of his family on both his mother’s and father’s sides. He is from a privileged background of “lower upper-class” Britons.

Graves tells about his education at the Charterhouse prep school. The majority of his memoir is his service in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, one of the most respected regiments in the British army during World War I. Graves thrusts the reader directly into the brutal experiences of trench warfare on the Western Front. Graves writes a stirring account of boredom for long stretches interrupted by horrifying, and heroic moments. The battlefield of World War I was not a place for storybook heroism. The Western Front was a morass of death and mud where huge armies grappled seeming without purpose or hope of victory.

As a young lieutenant in battle, Graves’ life expectancy on the front lines was three months, he survives for two years. In 1916, he was severely wounded and reported as dead. For more than a week, his friends and family back in England believed that Graves died. His unexpected recovery, the delayed notification to his family and “resurrection” is one of the central passages of the book. The experience had a deep and lasting influence on Graves, both as a man and as a poet.

Analysis

I’ve read a few powerful memoirs about the First World War, but Robert Graves’ “Goodbye to All That” is the most honest and insightful. The descriptions of battle are horrifying. Graves describes military bungling that is both darkly amusing and disturbing. Graves’ factual tone makes the remarkable seem like you are hearing a buddy in a bar tell you his story.

The book was published in 1929, more than ten years after the war’s end. That same year a number of powerful books came out from other writers, like Graves, who had survived the war. The most famous is “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I.

Graves was still suffering from the trauma of fighting. His book tells us about his anger over the war. Graves uses disjointed methods he by combining excerpts from letters, poems by himself and others, army commands and ramblings to create a sense of the disorder he had felt in battle.

As Graves recalls, he grew up in a household that stressed the time-honored virtues of Christianity, patriotism, and progress. Along with millions of other young Englishmen, he found these virtues severely shaken, if not totally destroyed, by World War I. Graves was a brilliant writer, and his classic autobiography is an account of both his own personal experiences and the end of innocence for an entire generation and nation.