Jon: The Roman
The smartest man I know is my buddy Captain Jon. One of the great mysterious of studying history is how military leaders motivate people while in combat. His take on this subject is fascinating. He knows how to build and lead effective teams.
Jon stands six foot four in his socks, a mountain of a man built like a thick, knobby tread tire that can physically chew his way through the toughest jobs. His size belays his incredible intelligence.
Jon is the finest historian I know. His brain is like a computer that sifts through facts and figures in record time. He comes to a conclusion in lighting speed.
Talking to Jon is like getting a class from an astronaut. He can explain gravity, physics and the time-space continuum in one breathe and then transition to organizational management and how it relates to an important, historic battle.
To say he is brilliant is an understatement.
Jon is one of the most controversial and puzzling personalities I have ever met. He is a strong believer in the need for things to be efficient and direct. Jon takes on projects like like his life was preparation for Olympic trial.
Jon’s main problem is what people see as a lack of consideration or tact. In reality, it is a gift to tell the absolute truth despite the cost.
People are offended by Jon’s abruptness. Especially among his military peers or superiors who cannot match his quick and analytical brain.
He was the most intellectually satisfied and happy while in graduate school. He is a standout an unusual circle of friends. But he is one of the greatest friends I have ever had.
Jon is the embodiment of the traditional National Guardsman- a solid, middle-class guy who is the best of what the National Guard is all about. He was born and raised in Oregon.
He is the ordinary man that comes forward to lead armies of citizens against the enemies of America in a time of war.
Jon constantly talked to me about ideas of modern war. Not just tactics but organization of an army and the method of thinking of how to win a war in a counterinsurgency environment.
The Profession of Arms
Jon was a zealot convert to the profession of warfighting. He looked at war as a school that would teach him honor. He thought of it as a religious order. His only concern was leading his men well. He knew they were an irreplaceable treasure.
Jon learned his profession from an inspired mentor.
Major Doug Sloan
Major Doug Sloan was a rising star in the army. Sloan was the Commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, NY. Jon met him in Afghanistan in 2006.
It was in the Waygal district in Afghanistan’s far eastern province of Nuristan, where Jon learned about war. It was a region that had common roadside bombings, attacks and ambushes from seasoned, well-coordinated insurgent fighters.
The enemy was disciplined and attacked the remote American outposts almost daily.
Small contingents of Americans were advising Afghan Soldiers, acting as advisors to a battalion in the Afghan National Army.
The small, combat outposts were miles from the large, coalition military base at Camp Blessing. Almost daily the American and Afghan soldiers came under indirect fire that from a traveling mortar tube that was fired from the bed of a Toyota Hilux pick-up truck.
The combat outposts were the size of small parking lots. The goal was to connect and provide security to the local populace while disrupting Taliban activity from the nearby Pakistan border.
The combat outposts had a handful of M114 armored Humvees. The Humvees had mounted heavy weapons- .50 caliber machine guns and MK-19 40mm automatic grenade launchers.
With their radios the Americans could call for many combat-multipliers- aircraft, artillery fires and plenty of reinforcements.
In military history, you find that the winner of battles is not the side that had the most tanks or fighting on the ground. In many cases, it was the commander who was better able to utilize the other “toys” he had to play this (Baillergeon & Sutherland, 2006).
In the end, it was these other toys that shifted the balance between losing and winning.
Lots of firepower in the outposts, but Jon learned that the most important weapon was visionary leadership.
Lessons from a Visionary Leader
Human capital is the productive potential of the individual’s knowledge and actions. It comes from selection of the right people. The second is to take an interest in the development of leaders.
Social capital comes from resulting from strong relationships, goodwill, trust and cooperative effort. Both of these are connected through organizational learning. In the army it is learning about how to lead men in tough places and bringing them home safely.
Sloane taught Jon that people, both individually and collectively, are the key to any organization’s success. Great units are great because the culture of the unit have resolve and humility. The key to great organizations is sustaining this culture.
He saw this potential in Jon. Spending time with him was an upfront investment in time and effort. Sloane knew it was a valuable expenditure of time. It was important because leadership is what makes the difference.
Characteristics of a Successful Leader
Sloane was a dynamic leader. He was mischievous and charming in equal measure. He was a charismatic jokester who loved sophomoric humor.
The other side was a calm, cool decisive leader who set the standard for the men in his command. This included a lone 2nd Lieutenant from the Oregon Army National Guard on his first combat tour.
Sloane spent hours teaching Jon the “big picture” of the strategy of Afghanistan. How it related to this small, forgotten outpost surrounded by mountains where they got shot at every day.
Major Sloane was killed by an IED while showing his replacement around the battle space. The fierce care he had for his soldiers was recognized and felt by all those that served him. Men like him are the kind that America’s sends to war. They are the best our nation as to offer.
Jon never forgot him what the easy-going Major taught him. He spoke of those lessons often.
- Professional Reading
Jon taught me that as a leader you can never spend too much time thinking about your profession as a leader of soldiers. What General Shinseki said was, “There is no better way to develop the knowledge and confidence required of that vocation than a disciplined, focused commitment to a personal course of reading and study.”
- Study the Past
He taught me to examine the past to consider the future. Professional readings deepen our understanding of the timeless constants of the Army’s values and traditions.
The human face of battle is an enduring dynamic of your our future. The knowledge gained through reading history gives you the potential to apply those lessons the profession of arms and in your daily life.
Jon told me about one book that changed my view of leadership. Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t’ is illuminating. Jon once told me, “Compassion is a mental awareness of a concern for the suffering of others. What a leader should aspire to do is to see that suffering is relieved.”
Jon’s greatest and most noble trait is his loyalty. Loyalty has many synonyms- trust and commitment. All of these are the glue that holds relationships together. All teams as well as organizations hang together or fall apart because loyalty.
March 2010 to April 2012
I spent two years in Afghanistan. Jon sent me a package once a month. Once a week he sent a letter and constant Facebook updates. I never felt forgotten. It showed the best side of Jon.
I am proud to call such a great man my friend.