These essays are an excuse to practice my writing and to share some lessons with folks in the military. I am working on improving both grammar and writing prose. I hope you guys like these. It has been a pleasure to write them.
The Leadership Lessons of Hal Moore
A military unit tends to have a character of its own; an identity comprised of its history and traditions but also the personality of its commander. At the battalion level (600 men) the collective personality of the unit takes on the traits of the person who leads it, this was definitely the case of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment.
Moore grew into his command in a climate that encouraged initiative and innovation, under the tutelage of two mentors, General Kinnard, the 1st Cavalry Division Commander and Colonel Brown, his Brigade Commander. This would play a big part in the confidence his command had in the decisions he made on the ground at LZ X-Ray (Moore and Galloway 1993).
LTC Moore infused the unit with a particular spirit of independence. Later, many of the officers and sergeants that worked for him said he was always looking for initiative and would thrust them into positions of constant responsibility and decision-making. This realistic training would later payoff.
On the first day of the Ia Drang fight, one of Bravo Company’s platoons lost every officer and noncommissioned officer save one.
Faced with overwhelming pressure from the North Vietnamese Army, Sergeant Ernie Savage, the fourth man to inherit Lieutenant Henry Herrick’s Lost Platoon, called indirect fire upon his own position. His actions saved the rest of the platoon, which had suffered nine dead and 13 wounded in the first 90 minutes of combat (Galloway and Moore 2009). Later in an interview Captain Tony Nadel, the Commander of A Company, 1/7 Cavalry would recall, “I made more than my share of mistakes, but under LTC Moore’s patient mentorship, but those mistakes become lessons in how to lead Soldiers,” (Moore and Galloway 1993).
Moore believed that battalions won or lost battles at the platoon level. He knew if his battalion was thrust into combat, he would fight his battalion two levels down. He preached that each unit from platoon down (30 men) to the fire team (4 men) was independent and responsible for himself or itself, first then responsible up the chain of command, link by link.
The difference between an under-trained unit that survives a fierce battle and one that becomes legendary in defeat is leadership. He told his men:
– “Only first-place trophies will be displayed, accepted or presented in this battalion. Second place in our line of work is the defeat of the unit on the battlefield, and death of the individual in combat.”
– “Decision-making will be decentralized: Push the power down. It pays off in wartime.”
– “Loyalty flows down as well.”
– “I check up on everything. I am available day or night to talk to any officer of this battalion.” (Moore and Galloway 1993)
Moore knew that exemplary leaders should always enable and empower their subordinates. By enabling his subordinates it allowed them to take the initiative in times of uncertainty, but it also fostered collaboration within an organization.
This is a key element to successful leadership, regardless of the endeavor. Collaboration builds confidence and establishes trust.
Moore’s relationship with his Command Sergeant Major, CSM Plumley, illustrates a democratic style, since he treated his sergeant major as his partner in command and sought his advice on all decisions in the battalion. This would be put to the test in the crucible of combat.
In June of 1965 Moore began training his battalion for combat in Vietnam, he faced some real challenges. In August, the Army pulled all six of his newly acquired second lieutenants out. In August, any soldiers who had 60 days or less to serve didn’t to deploy. So when Moore and his unit sailed to Vietnam, they had already lost 100 of their most experienced men.
The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley
On November 14, 1965, the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry did not have any solid intelligence about the enemy. The operation that would later result in the two-day battle was planned as a reconnaissance in-force. Using 16 Huey Helicopters Moore and his men set down at Landing Zone X-Ray. Moore had no idea, but his battalion had just dropped right in on top of two full regiments of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN).
The PAVN commander was General Chu Huy Man, a veteran of two wars against the Japanese in the 1940’s and the French in the 1950’s was anxious to engage the Americans and see if they could be defeated. His unit had 2,000 men strong were dug- in on their home turf.
Moore applied his command philosophy conscientiously throughout the mission. He flew into Ia Drang on the first helicopter. After an hour and with only a company on the ground, the 7th Calvary began to take fire from the enemy.
A captured North Vietnamese soldier then delivered the chilling news: “There are three battalions [of Vietcong] on the mountain who very much want to kill Americans, but have not been able to find any.” (Moore and Galloway 1993). A few minutes later, those North Vietnamese made contact with the 7th Cavalry – and began the first battle of the Vietnam War to pit Americans directly against the North Vietnamese Soldiers.
In the first few minutes of the battle things started to go wrong. The hills surrounding the landing zone were a concert of screams and explosions. Hiding behind a termite hill, Moore thought of another man who had led the 7th Cavalry, less than eighty before: George Armstrong Custer.
He promised himself that he wouldn’t let this battle repeat the sorry history of Little Bighorn. The motivation and lethality of the North Vietnamese surprised Moore. He made adjustments once he gained that realization. Moore possessed an innate ability at the outset to see the larger picture.
He later accredited this trait to the mentorship he had received from both his brigade and division commander while training at Fort Benning, GA (Moore and Galloway 1993).
He adapted to the situation and visualized a way ahead and later was able to communicate his intent to his company commanders so they too would understand the larger picture.
Moore continued to use air support and artillery while the enemy kept trying to overpower him with sheer numbers. Yet, Moore knew his lifeline was the Huey’s that were able to bring fresh men and supplies in while taking the wounded back to base.
He kept the lines open and his men were successful in the end from fending off the North Vietnamese Army using both indirect and direct fire, just as they had rehearsed it back at Fort Benning less than a year earlier. Moore’s battalion inflicted over 600 dead on the enemy at a cost of 79 Americans killed and 121 wounded. True to his word, he brought out every one of his troopers out of that valley (Kingseed 2002).
Analysis of the battle
Hal Moore has since talked about why he was successful. He says, “There are many examples of great military leadership, but the emphasis that is most important is that leading is a privilege, especially in leading the very best and brightest of a generation that serves our nation.
Real definitive direction is given by leaders who are willing to sacrifice in the service of those they lead.” In times running up to the battle, Moore claims “through greater detailed preparations the 7th Calvary, rose above others, they understood the people, the tactics, and history of the area of Vietnam” (J. L. Galloway 1990).
Moore also understood the enemy, he was fighting. He had read the history of the French who had fought in Vietnam in the 1950’s. He trusted his instincts, was always alert for what needed to be done. He commented later, “… that a leader must be visible on the battlefield, to let his men know he is there with them.” (Stewart 2002).
Although 1/7 Cav was a well-led and well-prepared battalion that acquitted itself very well in the fight at LZ X-Ray Moore always has an expression of regret and guilt over his battalion’s losses, in an action where his leadership and battle command were universally acclaimed. He took the loss of all his men personally and deeply.
The success of Moore’s battalion in repelling the attack of a well-disciplined enemy force five times their own size was the result of Moore’s battlefield leadership and the indomitable spirit of his men. He inspired his men to continue to fight hard against overwhelming odds.
Harold Moore and the 7th Calvary won the battle of Ia Drang Valley because of sound leadership enforced through hard and realistic training.
Cash, John. Lessons from Vietnam – Ia Drang and Other Battles: Warfare in the 20th Century. London, England: Parchment Publishing, 2012.
Galloway, Joe, and Hal G Moore. We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam. New York: Harper-Collins, 2009.
Galloway, Joseph L. “The word was the Ia Drang would be a walk. The word was wrong.” U.S. News and World Report, October 29, 1990: 64-69.
Kingseed, Cole C. Beyond the Ia Drang Valley. Professional Military Reading ,West Point, New York: Combat Leadership, November 2002. McCoy, Bryan. The Passion of Command: The Moral Imperative of Leadership. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Press, 2007.
Moore, Hal G, and Joe Galloway. We Were Soldiers Once…and Young: Ia Drang – The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. New York: Harper-Collins, 1993.
Smith, Jack P. “Death in the Ia Drang Valley, November 13-18, 1965 .” The Saturday Evening Post, January 28, 1967: 12-19.
Stewart, James B. The Heart of a Soldier. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.