Company Change of Command Outgoing Commander Remarks

LTC Camarano, thank you for your remarks, and COL Van Zandt, thank you for your presence at this event.  I’m really grateful that both of you chose to oversee this company change of command instead of taking the opportunity to celebrate Christmas on an island in the Bahamas.  To the Soldiers of Dark Horse Company, you are standing tall and looking good.  1SG Mendoza, you done ‘em proud.  For twenty-two months you all have stood behind me, and I am proud to see you standing in front of me one last time.

Twenty-two months is a long time to command a logistics company.  When I took on this position, I thought I knew some things about the Army. I knew some things about leadership and productivity and group dynamics.  But in twenty-two months, I have seen some things…!  I have learned a lot, and I have grown a lot, but the thing I want to impress on you in the few minutes that I have is what a privilege it is to stand in front of a guidon blazoned black and white.

I’ve talked about this before, but “Dark Horse” is probably the best possible name for an Army Logistics Company.  A dark horse is the horse in the race that nobody even expects to show.  He holds off in the back; and then suddenly he surprises everyone by breaking out and taking the lead. Logistics is a draft horse, made for heavy lifting, not for speed.  We conduct operations in a tactical environment, constantly divided between two different levels of planning.

So for twenty-two months, I have watched this company.  We start out behind – in everything – trying to do a hundred things at once, and we build capacity.  Get that dark horse running; he doesn’t know to stop. A million gallons of fuel; 700,000 rounds of ammunition, 10,000 rockets… what’s a few hundred annual services ahead of schedule?  Need us to cook a meal that can stop a general in the middle of an inspection? How many vehicles can one wrecker recover?

Now, you can’t do everything, and it’s unfortunate that even the best forward support company in the world can’t execute every mission perfectly.  We may not have been a first time go at every training event.  And more importantly, yesterday’s accomplishments do not make tomorrow’s results.  You write down your achievements, and they all go away.

That’s pretty disappointing to me, because I like to build things and make them better than they were. And when you get a new mission that looks an awful lot like the old mission, there’s only one thing that can be developed and remain, and that’s people.  So when you’re stuck with a situation where you think you can’t do everything, and you have to decide where to invest your time, invest in people.

I’m looking at this formation, and I see a lot of sergeants who used to be specialists, and at least one sergeant that I distinctly remember as a PFC.  I see a lot of specialists that are just about ready to get that promotable P.  You’ve seen us do it right, and remembered to do it right the next time.  And you’ve seen us do it wrong, and remembered to never do it that way again.

It’s been a great privilege working with you all, working to develop you and watching you grow.  It would be a mistake to try to start dropping names of all the people who have come to the unit, achieved great things, and then moved on to achieve great things in some other unit. I’ve seen eight platoon leaders, seven platoon sergeants, and four first sergeants, and each one has taught me something about the Army and about leadership.  Sometimes, it was things I didn’t want to learn.

But there are four people I need to mention by name, because they taught me some very specific things:

• COL Baker, who taught me that you can accomplish more than you ever thought you would, if you just look your unit in the eye and demand impossible things.  You might not achieve everything, but you will achieve so much more than if you accept that it can’t be done.

• LTC Cook, who taught me that, if you look far enough ahead, you can achieve incredible things, and also manage to dot every “i” and cross every. single. “t.”

• First Sergeant Lopez, who taught me that you can do nothing in the Army, without the support of a solid, capable, and trusted NCO Corps to manage every step of the process. Top, I saw you bring together people who might not have wanted to be brought together, hand them a problem, and walk them through to a method for success.  You showed me how good the NCO Corps can be.  Thank you.

• And finally, LT Taylor who had the… privilege… of showing me what it looks like when you get handed every job to do yourself.

Dark Horse Company, it has been a privilege to know each one of you; it has been a privilege to suffer with you; and it has been a privilege to stand in front of you and receive the praise that you have earned. I am proud of your achievements, and I am proud of your endurance and drive.  You’ve worked hard, and you came out ahead. CPT Fraser, you’ll be leading the best.

This is Dark Horse 6, signing off the net. Do all of the things.  Dark Horse.  Attack!

At Liberty

Tomorrow I will graduate from the Army Logistics Captain’s Career Course.  It’s been kind of a rough six months for me.  The course was more challenging than I expected.  Nevertheless, as I walk across the stage, no matter what the good general says, this is what I will hear:

You may go, for you’re at liberty,
our pirate rules protect you,
An honorary member of our band
we do elect you!


Wellington at Waterloo

On the night of 17 June, 1815, Henry Padget, the Earl of Uxbridge, Wellington’s second in command, came to him with a question: he wanted to know what Wellington’s plan was for the battle the next morning.

Wellington replied, “Who will attack the first tomorrow, I or Bonaparte?” “Bonaparte,” said Uxbridge. “Well,” continued the duke, “Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects: and as my plans will depend on his, how can you expect me to tell you what mine are?” Then, giving Uxbridge a friendly pat on the shoulder, he said that one thing was certain: “Whatever happens, you and I will do our duty.”1

Duke of Wellington
Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, won the greatest battle of his era against the greatest military commander in a generation, apparently by his uncanny ability to personally appear at the moment of crisis, imparting fresh orders and fresh morale. That impression isn’t entirely true: There were 67,000 soldiers under his command, arranged in some 16 divisions across a four-mile field of battle.2 Wellington couldn’t have been present at the decisive moment for every unit, even if he had wanted to, and attempting to do so would have been a failing game. He wasn’t devoid of plans either. Instead, Wellington made good use of the principles of mission command, even though he had to adjust for the unpreparedness of his army. Due to the hasty assembly of his army, and the urgency of his mission, Wellington was unable to form a fully competent staff. He compensated by reducing his dependence on shared understanding in the staff and emphasizing cohesive teams and clear orders. Continue reading “Wellington at Waterloo”

Sample Army Company Command Philosophy

SUBJECT: Command Philosophy

1. The purpose of this command philosophy is to identify the attitudes and ideals that I want to establish in this company, as well as the practices I intend to use to promote those ideals. A company can achieve the mission, follow all regulations, and still be a rotten unit. We want a great unit, and to achieve that, I think we should pursue three things:

2. Happy Soldiers. We need people who work hard because they like what they do. To achieve this, we must work to eliminate unnecessary frustrations from the environment. Interruptions and delays come from the enemy, not from leadership. Unscheduled late hours will be considered a leadership failure. Additionally, we should work to recognize extraordinary efforts by our Soldiers in ways that are public and personally meaningful to them.

3. Ethical Soldiers. We need people who do what is right because they believe it is right. To achieve this, we must encourage conversations about ethical reasoning and right and wrong. Formal training events, such as SHARP and suicide prevention training are urgent, but they are not sufficient. Moral values are formed in a network of daily decisions, and I am convinced that keeping an eye out for little things mitigates against bigger ethical failures. Additionally, we need to lead by example. We guide and correct our subordinates across a spectrum of ethical decisions, but in doing so, we must be ready to accept respectful criticism from them as well.

4. Professional Soldiers. We need people who are committed to the long-term improvement of the unit and the Army as a whole. To achieve this, we must train Soldiers to think beyond their current scope of work. Thinkers find ways to improve everything. As the mission permits, we will actively promote professional development opportunities that increase the scope of Soldiers’ understanding, and we will make room for individual specialized training. Additionally, we will encourage and actively consider Soldiers’ recommendations for improving our methods within the unit.

5. A command philosophy is only as good as the team that builds on it. I expect each of you to take ownership of this unit, find what’s broken, and take the initiative fix it. Communicate with each other, communicate with me, and let’s all be humble enough to accept criticism and move forward. It’s an honor to serve with each of you.

Kyle B. French

You see, of course, my dilemma.

So I’m listening to the Writing Excuses Season Capstone, and I’m starting to realize why I’ve never become a professional writer: I have too many hobbies. I have a lot of things I’m interested in and I do well enough at them naturally that I could have chosen any one of them to pursue professionally, but only at the expense of dropping all the others. I sing and dance; I play guitar; I write fiction and non-; I study theology and economics… but none of those turn into money, except at a very high level of development.

Developing one means dropping all the others and taking a gamble, and it’s a gamble I’ve never been willing to take. Which is odd, because I’m not particularly risk adverse. But I am proud. Too proud, for instance, to stay in my parents house for a decade, pursuing a career that might not work out. To proud to risk being accused of failure to launch.

So what have I done instead? I picked the one interest that had low barriers to entry, and easy to monetize early: sitting at a desk, organizing stuff. Small fame there, but a decent paycheck. And that’s how I became the Army Sustainment Officer I am today. It turns out my most lucrative calling is to be a bureaucrat.

That doesn’t erase the itch to accomplish something more… refined? with my life. It just steals a certain chunk of my time. So I am even now looking into refining the roughage out of the remaining hours that I have, so I can set aside time to do pursue one of my old affections. I’m going to have to shove aside one or two of my big three weekend and evening pursuits: church involvement, Facebook, and being a dad.


Or, the half-Nazarite.

So. my seminary application process has hit a snag.

I left Gordon Conwell some six years ago, half-way through my seminary degree, due to finances, and a lack of focus.  The finance issue you can figure out.  The focus was more subtle.  Gordon Conwell didn’t have the best advising program in the world, so there was a partial issue of me taking classes that didn’t actually apply all that well toward degree completion.  But there was also the issue that, when you get out, you have to get a job somewhere, and churches tend to come in flavors.  Where does a Charismatic-Calvinist-Congregationalist go to become a pastor?  Answer me that, and I know what tradition to study, and maybe I’ve got some guide rails to a shorter answer to those big open-ended questions.

So then I joined the Army, which has helped tremendously with the finance issue, and I really dug in to parsing out different theological traditions in modern Evangelicalism.  Best I can figure, I’m a sorry excuse for a Baptist.  I’m not much of a modern Baptist, but go back 200-300 years and I think I can make a decent defense for myself.

I decided to apply to Southern Baptist Seminary.  It has the reputation for academic intensity that I’m looking for, and they certainly can’t get any more Southern Baptist.  The firm denominational footing will be useful to me in thinking through how well I really fit into that tradition, and the name on the degree should be helpful in calming people’s fears when I confess to unusual doctrines, such as my belief in the third person of the Trinity.

But I’ve hit a snag. I really should have seen it coming.  SBTS requires its students to sign an oath not to touch a drop of alcohol.

Now I’m not a heavy drinker.  In fact, I’m hardly a drinker at all.  I had to force myself some years ago to stop being teetotal, because my study of scripture led me to the conclusion that Jesus drank.  The servant is not greater than his master, so if I don’t drink it had better be for some reason other than an ethical one.  Otherwise I’m saying Jesus was a sinner, which rather defeats the whole purpose of being a Christian.  I have never even come remotely close to being drunk.  If I buy a six-pack of beer, it will take me the better part of six months to drink it.  But if a guest to my house offers me a bottle of wine (as happened just last night), I will accept it with a thankful heart.

I won’t give a grand theology of alcohol right here.  It’s not the sort of thing you can persuade somebody to in the space of five minutes.  But it is my conviction.  Jesus and his disciples drank alcohol for the same reason they didn’t fast.  The bridegroom was with his friends, and it wasn’t time for mourning.  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they called him a glutton and a drunk.  He wasn’t either, but he laid himself open to the accusation by not being an ascetic like his cousin John.

But here’s the thing:  drink or don’t drink to the glory of the God.  There’s a dozen reasons why a fellow might abstain in good conscience, but a blanket “it’s wrong to drink” isn’t one of them.  That’s a dietary law, and it isn’t even found in the Old Testament.  When the council at Jerusalem met, the only restriction they thought fit to put on people was to avoid meat that had been strangled.  For 1900 years that’s the way it was.

Tee-total is not a Biblical standard.  In modern western culture, it goes all the way back to the late 19th and early 20th century, when there was a great social push to eliminate drinking.  You may recall prohibition and the 18th amendment. That was the last joint effort between the conservative and liberal church traditions in America.  The liberal churches pushed for it by working for a law to be passed.  The conservatives did it by adding temperance to the moral code, right next to chastity.

In fact, I’d say that abstaining from alcohol isn’t really a Christian standard at all.  It’s closer to Mormonism or Islam than anything else. And yet, here’s this oath in the middle of my seminary application.  What do I do with it?

There’s a line of reasoning I got from DA Carson (though for the life of me I can’t find a reference in print) where he says that if somebody asks him to abstain from drink because they have an alcoholic background, of course he won’t drink.  Or if someone asks him not to drink because it’s an unacceptable practice in the local culture, and it will confuse the non-believers, of course he won’t drink.  But if someone tells him not to drink because it’s a sin, he’ll say, “pass the port!”  I’m wondering if this should be that sort of thing for me.

There is, of course, another way to look at it.  There was one condition in the Old Testament that allowed for abstaining from alcohol:  the nazarite vow.  For a set period of time (or occasionally a person’s whole life), a man would dedicate himself to the Lord, and the sign for this would be that he would abstain from alcohol, all the fruit of the vine, and from getting his hair cut.  Samson is the famous example, but there’s reason to believe that John the Baptist was also a Nazarite.  Paul apparently took a Nazarite vow on his final return to Jerusalem.

So, it’s possible to consider a requirement by a seminary not to drink alcohol as a kind of Nazarite vow.  Seminary makes sense as a kind of temporary period of religious fervor.  And they make you sign an oath, that is to say, a vow.  Of course, as a Soldier, I couldn’t make it a fully Nazarite vow – failing to get a haircut is grounds for disciplinary action in the Army.  But could I consider this oath as a kind of half-nazarite vow.

Of course it’s a rather transparent mendacity to commit to something “for purpose of evasion,”  that is, affirming something with a certain meaning, knowing that it is taken by the other party as having a completely different meaning.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter what sort of mental gymnastics I put myself through in order to sign an oath.  What really matters is what it means to the person requiring the oath.  Does Southern Seminary, and whatever board they fall under, think of their temperance oath as sort of temporary vow that you can reaffirm or rescind later, or do they think of it as a commitment to adhere to an already established moral standard?

Because if it’s the one, sure I could do it.  But if it’s the other, how can I submit to a moral standard that violates my conviction?  What sort of convictions are those?  I may have to take my studies elsewhere.

Or Else, Not so Stable

I feel the pull of this article on Staying Put.  Stability is something I’ve actually worked pretty hard for.  But I think his parameters may be off.

Fr. Stephen talks about a time in the 1950s, when

the most common pattern in our country was for a local boy to meet and marry a local girl and to settle down and raise their children in the community in which they themselves were born, with relatives and friends forming a network of relationships that surrounded and nurtured (or harrassed) them.

I can’t speak to what most people did in the 50s, but my family at least a hundred years back, has been pretty thoroughly rootless.  My grandfather’s little family autobiography starts with the moves he made to Kansas, Nebraska, and finally Kansas again.  The story goes that, Nebraska was so bad, and great-grandma was so tired of moving, that she refused to leave Kansas ever again – right through the dust bowl.  My grandparents on both sides moved all over before settling down, and my mom’s dad didn’t stop until I was in grade school.  My parents moved an average of once every 2 years, I think, until I left for college.  And me.  I warned Valerie before we married what was going to happen.  So far: Massachusetts, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia.

I determined that all this vagrancy was no good.  So I joined the Army.