MG Matthew Ridgway As the 82d Airborne Division Commander: A Case Study on the Impact of Vision and Character in Leadership
Vision and character are the two most important attributes military leaders can possess; the effectiveness of their units hinges on these characteristics more than on any others. A visionary leader has a unique ability to determine the specific steps necessary to implement successful strategies, to accomplish particular missions and to solve or prevent problems. Character—the moral courage to do what is right—marks great men and involves integrity, competence and dependability. Without vision, a leader will not discern and communicate the actions essential for his unit to be successful. Without character, a unit will not trust the leader’s direction and commands. Major General Matthew B. Ridgway demonstrated both vision and character as one of the 82d Airborne Division’s first commanders. Ridgway’s consistent application of these traits as he led the division from 1942 to 1944 contributed to the unit’s preparation for and success during the Normandy Invasion, as well as to the start of the division’s proud legacy as America’s enduring parachute unit.
The 82d’s place as America’s lasting airborne division was not always secure. During the early days of parachute units, senior military leaders still considered airborne warfare an experiment. Because of their concerns regarding the wisdom of the airborne concept and the success the units would experience in combat, the permanence of airborne warfare remained in jeopardy. Thus, to ensure the future significance of airborne troops, the Army needed visionary leaders—men who could anticipate critical events, establish effective training techniques and solve problems—to head airborne units.
After serving as General Omar Bradley’s assistant division commander for the recently reactivated 82d Infantry Division, Ridgway became the division commander in June 1942 when Bradley advanced to accept higher responsibilities. Although he had served successfully as a company and field grade officer, Ridgway hit his stride as a general officer. Furthermore, the timing of World War II, the development of airborne units and the corresponding need for commanders with vision and character coincided with Ridgway’s personality and ascent to division command.4 Ridgway’s combat leadership and successful transition of the 82d from regular infantry to America’s first airborne division5 solidified his place among the foremost pioneers of airborne operations. A case study of Ridgway as the 82d commander reveals the significant role vision and character play in being a successful leader.