On the battlefields of Normandy, a group of ROTC cadets from North Texas learned the 10 leadership principles of Easy Company’s Maj. Richard “Dick” Winters, how a Supreme Allied Commander who had little command experience led a group of generals who did, and how Lt. Col. Robert G. Cole and his paratroopers escaped Dead Man’s Corner with a heroic bayonet charge. They saw firsthand where the largest U.S.-led invasion took place 71 years ago.The six cadets, undergraduate students from Texas Christian University, Baylor University, University of Texas at Arlington and University of North Texas, were participating in a battlefield leadership experience sponsored by the AUSA Audie Murphy Chapter, formerly known as the AUSA North Texas Chapter. A battlefield leadership experience is similar to a staff ride—a way of gaining tactical knowledge and building leadership potential through activities that often involve visiting historical battlefields. All ROTC cadets must participate in a staff ride in order to fulfill a requirement for completing the ROTC program and entering the military, and this trip did just that.“I think it’s a great trip. It certainly opens your eyes to a lot of things. It’s one thing to go listen to a lot of the websites and watch YouTube videos,” cadet Justin Agnew said. “When you get it put into context, it opens your mind up to something a little bit more. Anybody can read a textbook, but until that professor truly understands the subject, brings it down to the level that you needed it and brings it back up to where it should be, that information is just words on the page.”No Limits to Leadership LessonsThere is a lot to learn about leadership on the World War II battlefields, where hundreds of thousands of American troops fell. Many junior enlisted, NCOs, junior commissioned officers and senior-level officers fell victim to German bullets, bombs and grenades. That didn’t stop the fight. These unfortunate events actually caused many men to rise in rank, position and responsibility: When one man fell, another was expected to step up.This is how then-1st Lt. Dick Winters’ story started during the Brécourt Manor Assault. He was the executive officer of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, which jumped into Normandy on June 6, 1944, behind enemy lines. When his commander was killed in action, Winters assumed command. In the absence of orders, he led a small team of soldiers to defeat a larger German force. In the process, he secured extremely important intelligence. Knowledge of the Germans’ positions helped to achieve success at Brécourt Manor.Winters’ list of 10 leadership principles begins with “Strive to be a leader of character, competence and courage.” The list touches on other concepts such as leading from the front, maintaining physical shape and stamina, developing your team, and remaining humble. Each cadet is predicted to return home a changed leader because of learning these principles. This battlefield leadership experience is designed like a mobile workshop that keeps the cadets breathing leadership, speaking leadership and dreaming leadership.Retired Army Col. John F. Antal, one of the men leading the battlefield visit, said the point of the trip is to focus on leadership and decisionmaking. “We know these cadets have not yet commanded platoons. They are not yet tactical experts. Their experience level in the Army is minimal. However, their experience exposure to leadership needs to be enhanced.”The battlefield training is a “very immersive and interactive experience where we use the background of Normandy as anchoring points, and then we put them through a series of thinking exercises while they’re at those anchoring points,” Antal said.The cadets experience combat decision games while visiting places like Pointe du Hoc, La Fière and Dead Man’s Corner. Real scenarios are used to familiarize them with historical facts and have them face decisions about engaging the enemy just as they would have done in the real-world situation during that time. Trainers like Antal refer to the end result as the point of decision.Don’t Underestimate Importance of PlanningGen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, was at the point of decision with a planned invasion and a shaky weather prediction. Millions of lives hung in the balance. Sometimes all has to be risked for the greater good, and only one person can make that choice. Various exercises help the students practice swift, effective uses of point of decision.Seventy-one years ago, soldiers and commanders lacked much of the technology that is now considered essential for decisionmaking. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean with hundreds of thousands of troops and billions of dollars of equipment would be challenging even today. Back then, it still had to be accomplished with minimal loss and damages.Weather is crucial when crossing an ocean. An unpredicted storm has the capability to wipe out an entire fleet and blow every plane out of the sky. The results of something like that could have been catastrophic not only to our success in World War II but also to the safety of the U.S. homeland. When Eisenhower had the situation in front of him, he had to make a decision and stick with it knowing the possibility of its consequences.Antal teaches that Eisenhower’s position was a tough one. He was one of the few general officers commanding in this invasion who didn’t have combat command experience. Antal hinted that being named Supreme Allied Commander without that experience seems like it could be very difficult: Your subordinates might look at you and wonder if their lives are at stake.The March staff ride included four straight days of simulations in which cadets faced combat and tactical decisions. Each historical site is filled with miles of open land, especially Omaha Beach, Utah Beach and Pointe du Hoc. A great deal of walking and reflection takes place to consider what World War II leaders faced.Indispensable Experience for Tomorrow’s LeadershipThe next generation of Army leadership needs to know its history, and AUSA’s Audie Murphy Chapter is making sure future officers start early. The chapter has created a program called Passing the Torch, which aims to expose ROTC cadets to lessons of the past and strengthen AUSA’s educational arm.The program includes a battlefield leadership experience—think of it as a staff ride on steroids—in Normandy, France, for six cadets. Its intent is to influence the next generation of U.S. military leaders at an early stage by teaching them about higher levels of leadership.Creating a battlefield leadership experience is similar to creating a staff ride. One must identify the intent of the trip, secure funds to support it, select a group of people to partake in it and create an itinerary before putting it in motion. It is no small task: Things like airline tickets, food, ground transportation and lodging are huge factors in a trip like this. They can add up to more than $20,000. The chapter creates programs to raise the necessary funds. A large golf tournament is one of their main fundraisers. In recent years, the tournament has helped raise more than $250,000.After devising a purpose for the trip and coming up with the money to fund it, the planners create a tightly packed itinerary to increase the cadets’ exposure to lessons of leadership. The cadre brainstorms combat decision games and a tactical decision game at the anchor points of Normandy’s Western Front invasion. The games help the cadets retain the leadership information they are learning.Most staff rides are more like tours, but battlefield leadership experiences are staff rides with a twist. This expanded form of experience-based learning has a greater impact on a cadet—or anyone along for the ride. The Audie Murphy Chapter works hard to make sure these cadets come as close as possible to the leaders who were on the ground at that specific point in time.Leading Requires One to Adapt“This is pretty intense,” Antal said. “Cadets are tired and they’ve been working hard. We only have them for a short time, so we would like to use every minute we can to give them as many experiences as possible. To conduct one of these battlefield leadership experiences, it is really important to put the cadets into this immersive and interactive thinking process while you’re at the anchoring point. … They’re going to possibly be platoon leaders in the next couple months. We have to prepare them. This is a very high level; we call it a Ph.D. level of leadership experience.”Cole’s point of decision provides a lesson in adjustment leadership. He led by example—literally. No right or wrong was in the choices to stay at Dead Man’s Corner or advance down the Causeway, just the amount of lives hanging in the balance. He knew the best option to accomplish the mission and keep the largest number of his troops alive was to run down that Causeway in attack mode.Passing the TorchMaj. Richard ‘Dick’ Winters’ 10 Rules of Leadership
- Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.
- Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.
- Stay in top physical shape—physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.
- Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.
- Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their jobs. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination or your creativity.
- Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.
- Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.
- Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.
- True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. The key to a successful leader is to earn respect—not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.
- Hang tough!—Never, ever give up.
—Courtesy of the Audie Murphy AUSA Leadership ProgramThe training taught that Cole led by example and exercised adaptive leadership, in which a leader has to adapt to a situation and act possibly in contradiction of official orders. Antal teaches the cadets that if Cole would have stayed or fled, the Germans would have annihilated them.All of these lessons come together to help the cadets form a clearer picture of what leadership really is and how complex it can be. “I think the most important thing in all of leadership is being able to articulate and communicate. That’s really what we’re learning here. We’re learning how to think through these processes of leadership and also identify strengths and weaknesses of ourselves to improve on,” Agnew said.