I wanted to write about one of the most extraordinary leaders I have ever read about. If you have seen the movie, “We Were Soldiers” with Mel Gibson playing Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Hal Moore you have an idea of why he was such a dynamic personality. I hope you like it.
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).
On Nov. 14, 1965, the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, commanded by LTC Hal Moore, helicoptered into Vietnam’s remote Ia Drang Valley and found itself surrounded by a larger force of North Vietnamese regulars.
In this case it was Moore’s battalion against a seasoned and disciplined regiment of North Vietnamese Regulars. Through the use of sound leadership, indirect fire and helicopter gunships he would lead his men out of that hell.
How he trained his men, prepared them for combat and came up with a leadership training model from the “bottom up” was the key to his success. This was important when he first hit Landing Zone (LZ) X-Ray and began to take casualties.
In the book “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young: Ia Drang – The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam” by Hal Moore and Joe Galloway shows how Moore got his battalion ready for war and how his personal leadership style shaped his battalion. Most fields of human endeavor never approach anything near the life and death circumstances of a combat infantryman.
In Moore’s preparation of his battalion are useful tools that can be used for shaping what he called “junior moral leaders.” This allowed his battalion to fight and win against an enemy who outnumbered his force by almost five times.
LTC Moore’s was born in 1922 and raised in the backwoods of Bardstown, Kentucky. He graduated from West Point in 1945 right as World War II was ending.
Moore selected Infantry as his branch and joined the 187th Airborne Regiment in Sendai, Japan. The summer of 1948 found 1st Lieutenant Moore at Fort Bragg, NC, where he jump-tested experimental parachutes. It would be this experience testing parachutes that he would later accredit his ability to think clearly under duress.
In June 1952, Captain Moore deployed to Korea. Over the course of the next 14 months, he would command a rifle company and heavy mortar company in the 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, and seeing action in some of Korea’s fiercest battles of attrition on Pork Chop Hill, T-Bone, Alligator Jaws and Charlie Outpost. When Korea ended in July 1953, he taught infantry tactics to aspiring officers.
After two years at West Point, he attended the Naval Postgraduate School and later worked in the Pentagon in the Air Mobility Division, part of the Chief of Research and Development, in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans. It would be here that LTC Moore would meet his future boss for the first time, Colonel Harry W. O. Kinnard.
Kinnard would be LTC Moore’s Division Commander in Vietnam five years later and would shape Moore’s command style. In June 1964, LTC Moore received a by-name request from the newly promoted Brigadier General Harry W. O. Kinnard, commanding general, 11th Air Assault Division (Test), to serve as a battalion commander.
Taking Command of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry
“I will do my best. I expect the same from each of you.” With these simple words, LTC Hal Moore assumed command of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment one of the battalions of the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning on 29 June 1965 (Moore and Galloway, 1993).
Moore was a part of the airmobile concept from its start, having served with the old 11th Air Assault when it tested and developed the concept and its doctrine at Fort Benning, GA. Vietnam would become the proving ground for the concept of using helicopters to ferry men and equipment on and off the battlefield, the Battle of the Ia Drang was its first real test.
Moore knew the best way to improve Soldiers’ intuition was by strengthening their experience base and the best way to do this was by self-development. The premise of his training plan was providing his subordinate leaders that knowledge through tough and realistic training.
Providing feedback on their performance, the practice of soldiering fundamentals like shooting and communicating, and review of their last objectives after a mission: this was the cornerstones of the experiential training at Fort Benning.
The impetus of his leadership style and demand for hard training sprang from his experiences in Korea, where he had seen troops suffer as commanders learned the hard way.
Moore achieved this by spending most of the 14 months before his battalion sailed to Vietnam in the field training. Moore insisted that decentralization and junior leader empowerment be introduced “at every level in this training” (Moore and Galloway 1993).
Moore employed this concept by declaring a platoon leader dead and having his sergeant take over the platoon. Moore continued down the chain of command by having PFC’s take over command of the squad. Key to leadership development was having his battalion prepare for the removal of key leaders being evacuated and the lowest ranking man taking charge of the element. He said, “A Squad Leader must be ready to command a platoon or the company.” (Galloway and Moore, 2009).
He defined the most important leadership quality of all is stated over and over again in the military: setting the example. Sometimes the example was physical like being the first in on a unit run and other times the example was making sure that the lower enlisted Soldiers at first.
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.