Major Larry Bauguess and the Officer as a Leader

I wanted to write about the Officer as a leader. I used Larry Bauguess as the subject of this piece because 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 perhaps 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 and other times the example was making sure that the lower enlisted Soldiers ate first.

Larry Bauguess
Larry Bauguess

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, 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 and one company was much like the other on paper.

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

He preached that each unit from the 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.  His example of this was little group of paratroopers who had been dropped all over the countryside during the invasion of Normandy as seen in the series and book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose.

There are many examples throughout this thread on great military leadership but I think the emphasis 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. 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 15 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 as 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.

These blog posts is my attempt to do what Larry always talked about in, “Being in the service means being in the service of others.”

Larry Bauguess
Larry in uniform.

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)