Major Paul as a Leader


I wrote descriptions for all the members of the team but the one I just finished was about my buddy Paul. He is a brave and noble man that I proud to call my friend.

The Role of an Officer

The best description of combat leadership I’ve read comes not from a military manual or a history book, but from my favorite novel about the ancient Spartans. “In Gates of Fire,” the author, Steven Pressfield, describes a Spartan Officer in battle,

“I watched Dienekes, re-forming the ranks of his platoon, listing their losses and summoning aid for the wounded. …The Spartans have a term for that state of mind which at all costs be shunned in battle. They call it “katalepsis,” possession, meaning that derangement of the senses that comes when terror or anger usurps dominion of the mind.

This I realized now watching Dienekes rally and tend to his men, was the role of the officer: to prevent those under his command, at all stages of battle- before, during, and after- from becoming “possessed.” To fire their valor when it flagged and rein their fury when it threatened to take them out of hand.  That was Dienekes’ job. That was why he wore the traverse-crested helmet of an officer,” (Pressfield 1998).

This is how I saw Captain, now Major, Paul in the summer of 2008 in Afghanistan. Paul is a modern day Dienekes bringing organization to chaos and calm to calamity.

Paul Sandstorm


Paul is almost unassuming in appearance. With his corn yellow hair and blue eyes that sparkle when he laughs, he radiates a powerful and contagious inner calm. I always thought he should have been a Viking: Paul would have fit right in with a pointed helmet with horns on his head, furs hanging off his shoulders, and one of those big double-edged swords in his hands, but he would need a Hunter S. Thompson book in his pocket to finish the picture.

He stands comfortably over 6 feet tall and with a laidback surfer attitude that belays his fighting spirit. He always reminded me of a cross between Marshall from “How I Met Your Mother” and the Civil War General Joshua Chamberlain.

His compassion for other people and the nobility in which he carries himself are hallmarks of his leadership style. He truly is a warrior of the heart and his inherent kindness makes him one of the most compassionate Officers I have served with.

When I first met him in January of 2008 he was holding a well-thumbed copy of Jack Kerouac’s  “On the Road.” It is a largely autobiographical work that was based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. It is often considered a defining work of the postwar Beat Generation that was inspired by jazz, poetry, and drug experiences (Kerouac 2007).

Strange reading for a young Infantry Captain, but as I came to know and later love Paul this showed the duality of his nature. He always seemed to be two people in the same body.

He was a warrior who hated violence, a thinker who was immensely physical, and a quiet and considerate soul who could describe how he felt in few words that were powerful. Paul always demonstrated the knightly traits of honor, courtesy and benevolence even to his enemies.

He displayed an abiding faith in those he met and in some long talks he shared insights to the men he led. In time, he would also become the finest combat commander I would serve with.  Another description of Chamberlain suited Paul like no other, “He had the soul of a lion but the heart of a woman.”


1-186 Infantry, Oregon Army National Guard

Paul first joined the Army in 1996 and joined the 3rd Infantry Division as a Forward Observer. He took part in the December 1998 bombing of Iraq (code-named Operation Desert Fox). A major four-day bombing campaign on Iraqi targets from December 16, 1998, to December 19, 1998, by the United States and Britain. The skills learned there would save his life in Afghanistan.

But it was in the Oregon Army National Guard, and the 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry Regiment where he learned how to lead men in battle.

The motto of the battalion is “Guardians of the Western Gate” because they stand ready to strike at an enemy who stands ready to enter through the West. This goes back to the unit’s history as being made up of men from all over Oregon.

The 186th, as part of the 41st Infantry Division, was one of the first American combat units to be sent overseas after Pearl Harbor (McCartney 2010). Heading into fierce combat the 186th Regimental Combat Team fought across New Guinea and the Philippines as part of the remorseless Allied advance across the Southwest Pacific that forced the Japanese to divert precious material like planes and ships and men who might otherwise have reinforced their crumbling Central Pacific front.

Headquartered in Southern Oregon Paul would serve in the unit as it again was called to serve in the Global War on Terrorism.

Paul and Bruno

Sinai Mission, 2002

Paul served as Platoon Leader for Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Regiment. He deployed to the Sinai region of Egypt in July 2002, as part of the U.S. portion of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission. This marked only the second time a reserve-component unit has been called upon to perform the Sinai mission.

Paul led the way in the Sinai Mission being one of only five Soldiers to earn the coveted Expert Infantryman Badge. Two others were Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni and Command Sergeant Major Mike Campbell. Both of these men would join him when he deployed to Afghanistan. One would be badly wounded and the other would die.

Afghanistan, 2008

In 2008, Paul, then a Captain, deployed as a combat advisor to Afghanistan, mentoring a 700 man Afghan National Army counter-drug battalion. He lived with his Afghan counterparts in austere conditions, on a remote firebase, faraway from any U.S. or coalition support.

In Afghanistan, Embedded Training Teams (ETTs), are tasked with the mission of advising the Afghan National Army (ANA). The ETTs advise the ANA on leadership, staff work, and help them in execute operations.  In addition, to training and advising the ANA the ETTs offer the ANA access to American combat assistance such as medical evacuation, close air support, indirect fires, and a quick reaction force of American Soldiers, if needed (McAllister 2008).

The team had been assigned to the volatile Helmand Province with their ANA battalion. Helmand produces two-thirds of the country’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.

Bruno, Paul, Dom

The Royal Irish Regiment

The team was assigned to work with the British Army’s famed Royal Irish Regiment.  The Royal Irish Regiment is the last remaining Irish infantry regiment of the line in the British Army (Newark 2010). The Royal Irish are listed as 1 IRISH.

The Royal Irish deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, as part of 16th Air Assault Brigade. The British had been in Helmand since 2006 but 2008 was their most their most active year yet (Beattie 2010). They provided Operational mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) to assist in training the ANA and Afghan National Police (ANP).

The OMLT was augmented by Soldiers from the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS) and the Highlanders, 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS). 4 SCOTS were an Armored Infantry Battalion based in Fallingbostel, Germany and are part of 7th Armored Brigade, famously known as the Desert Rats.  For the OMLT mission they operated as Light Infantry.

In 2008 Paul’s team were the only Americans operating in Helmand besides a battalion of Marines providing security for Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bastion. The team, partnered with elements of the Royal Irish, had fully manned four Combat Outposts in the Green Zone of the Upper Gereshk Valley in Helmand.

Paul as a Commander

The Royal Irish had a huge impact on the team. Almost immediately Paul and the rest of the team started going British. He was learning from the experts, men who managed to stay alive not only in Afghanistan for one or two tours but several tours in Iraq and Northern Ireland.

Paul and Mark

He dressed liked them, talked like them, thought like them and acted like them. He started to refer to the Brits at FOB Attal by their first names. They informally called him, “boss” indifference to his rank as an American Captain.

Where Paul really shined was with the Afghans. Paul had sort of adopted the 1st Company of the Afghan National Army Counter Narcotics Kandak (CNIK) and vice versa. Paul was technically assigned to the Company as a “Combat Advisor” but he spent his days and nights with the men of 1st Company providing whatever creature comforts he could for “his” Afghan Soldiers.

With Paul’s open-minded attitude the distinctions between Americans and Afghans he was advising seem to disappear. He never treated the Afghans like second-class citizens the way some of the advisors did.

The Afghans are a tough race and the Afghans followed advisors who lived as they did, sharing both the hardship and danger of combat. Paul did that and more. Paul was one of the only Officers on his Embedded Training Team who matter-of-factly issued orders directly to Afghan Soldiers, and more importantly, his orders were obeyed.

If Afghan troops didn’t like their American Advisor, they weren’t insubordinate; they just were simply and suddenly unable to comprehend what the American wanted them to do, unless it was translated for them by their own Officers.

Yet, the Afghans of 1st Company never seemed to have any trouble understanding Paul in his really awful, hundred-word Dari vocabulary. This loyalty was soon put to the test within weeks of arriving at Patrol Base Attal.

Paul as a Leader

Paul as a Combat Advisor in performed in an exceptional manner. He possessed a breadth and depth of doctrinal knowledge that he was constantly sought out by more senior Officers, both Afghan and American, for advice throughout his tour.

His real gift was his natural ability to express complicated and technical information clearly while showing his Soldiers how to do it by leading by example. His patience, compassion and courage served him well as a leader.

On conclusion of his tour in Afghanistan he was awarded a Bronze Star for Service, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and an Army Commendation for Valor for braving enemy fire to save the life of a wounded Afghan Soldier under withering fire from an anti-aircraft machine gun.

Paul is an outstanding combat commander. He just returned from his second tour in Afghanistan this summer. This time as the Executive Officer of the 1-186 IN.

Bruno, Mark, Paul


Beattie, Doug. Task Force Helmand: A Soldier’s Story of Life, Death

and Combat on the Afghan Front Line. London : Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Englishman, The. “Culture Shocks in killing firls as Scots train an

army of Allah.” Scotsman on Sunday, May 29 , 2008.

Kerouac, Jack. On The Road. New York : Viking Press, 2007.

McCartney, William F. The Jungleers: A History of the 41st Infantry

Division. Kessinger Publishing : Infantry Journel Press, 2010.

Pressfield, Steven. Gates of Fire. New York : Bantam Dell Publishing, 1998.

Westerfield, Hargis and Russo, Nick. 41st Infantry Division, Fighting

Jungleers II. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2010.