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)