“The commander on the battlefield must continually anticipate what the future may bring or could bring and take steps to influence the future before it comes about.”
-Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore.[i]
In the last lesson we talked about making a decision and the power that comes from truly making a decision. Once the decision is made, you must continually ask yourself if you are still on track and what you can do to influence the action.
The 2002 movie, We Were Soldiers, was based on real events—the first major engagement with the North Vietnamese Army in Vietnam. Mel Gibson played Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore. According to Moore, the movie was “very accurate,” and “it captured the fact that Soldiers in battle fight, kill and die for one another.”[ii] The movie was based on the book, We Were Soldiers Once…and Young by Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway.
One of the more moving scenes in the movie depicts LTC Moore speaking to his troops at Fort Benning before they went into battle. He told his men:
When we go into battle, I will be the first one to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will come home together. So help me God.[i]
True to his word, he was on the lead helicopter into the battle and he did not leave until all of his men left the battlefield.[ii]
Moore understood leadership. As the battalion commander, he had his own command helicopter, but he chose to command from the ground. In the book, he explained:
You had to get on the ground with your troops to see and hear what was happening. You have to soak up firsthand information for your instincts to operate accurately. Besides, it’s too easy to be crisp, cool, and attached at 1500 feet; two easy to demand the impossible of your troops; too easy to make mistakes that are fatal only to those souls far below in the mud, the blood, and the confusion.[iii]
On November 14, 1965, the first elements of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry landed in a clearing in the Ia Drang River Valley known on the map as X-Ray. When they landed, they did not know it would be the beginning of a three-day-long battle.[iv]
The first soldiers inserted had to hold the clearing if they were to be reinforced by the rest of the battalion.[v] They soon made contact with the enemy. Moore had roughly 450 men and he soon found out he was woefully outnumbered. He later recorded, “Two regiments of regulars of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN)—more than two thousand men—were resting and regrouping in their sanctuary near here and preparing to resume combat operations, when we dropped in on them.”[vi]
Moore found the Regular North Vietnamese Army to be a formidable force. In his After Action Report, he made the following comments about the PAVN Enemy:
- “He appeared to be well-trained. He was aggressive”
- “He was an expert at camouflage and used every bit of cover and concealment to perfection.”
- “He was a deadly shot. In caring for my men who had been killed and wounded, I was struck by the great number who had been shot in the head and upper part of the body — particularly in the head. He definitely aimed for the leaders — the men who were shouting, pointing, talking on radios… He also appeared to concentrate on men who were wearing insignia of rank.”
- When attacking, the PAVN units confronting us used mass assault tactics proceeded in some cases by light motor and anti-tank rocket fire.”
- “He fought to the death. When wounded, continued fighting with his small arms and grenades.”[vii]
At one point on the first day of battle, a platoon of 29 men was cut-off and surrounded by 200 PAVN. Outnumbered seven to one, they held their ground. By the end of the first day of battle, the battalion was cut down to 340 men.[viii]
Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta companies quickly formed a perimeter, but one platoon of bravo company was isolated and in danger. Before sunlight, LTC Moore gathered his officers to plan a rescue for the surrounded men, but before the meeting the PAVN attacked and nearly overran their position. According to one account:
C Company of the Cavalry Battalion bears the brunt of the assault and is soon involved in hand to hand combat. The right portion of D/1/7 is also struck. The code word “Broken Arrow” is sent out over the radio by the Battalion Forward Air Controller. Within minutes, all available fighter bombers in South Vietnam are headed for X-Ray to render close air support to “an American unit in grave danger of being overrun”. A 3 hour battle that features non-stop 105mm artillery (8″ artillery also participated), aerial rockets, and determined American Infantrymen, results in Charlie Company holding it’s ground in a stunning display of personal courage and unit discipline. But it pays a terrible price – no officers left and only 49 men unhurt. 42 officers and men killed; 20 wounded. Scores of slain North Vietnamese and their weapons litter the bloody battleground.[ix]
By noon, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Calvary rescued the battered, isolated platoon. Of the 29 members of the original force, 9 were dead and 14 were wounded. As night fell, Moore prepared for the next wave of attacks.[x]
The PAVN assaulted the 7th Cavalry four times between 4 AM and 6:30 AM, but they were prepared for the fight. Moore had anticipated the enemy’s movements and reconfigured his troops accordingly. The PAVN knew that the American’s weak point was the southern perimeter, so Moore moved quickly replaced the beleaguered Charlie company with Bravo company, “unmolested the previous afternoon, had cut fields of fire, dug new foxholes, fired in artillery concentrations, carefully emplaced it’s machine guns and piled up ammunition.” After the battle, Bravo company counted 6 men wounded, but they had killed roughly 200 enemy soldiers.[xi]
According to the After Action Report, the 7th Cavalry lost a total of 200 men. 79 were killed. 121 were wounded. This is incredible because Moore’s battalion, being so outnumbered should have been wiped out. A force of 430 men should not have withstood an assault by thousands. What was more incredible was the toll Moore’s small battalion took on the enemy. According to the after action report, the PAVN suffered 634 killed and an estimated 1215 wounded. This was a ratio of nine to one.
How it this happen? The men of the 7th Cavalry were well trained, but they were not super-human. They had additional air and artillery support, but those factors only reinforced the true lever of Moore’s success.
Years ago I read Hope is Not a Method, by General Gordon Sullivan, the former Army Chief of Staff. About the battle, he wrote:
During the fight, Moore established his command post in the center of the primary landing zone, partially protected by a large termite hill. With his radio operators, forward observers, and others he worked the artillery, air support, and resupply while he led the battalion in the fight. From time to time he was observed to withdraw, appearing to those around him to be shutting down and blocking them out for brief periods of time. When the battle was over, mourn his men were debriefed extensively to learn as much as possible about the North Vietnamese regular forces and how they fought. When asked about his periods of seeming withdrawal, Moore said that he had been reflecting, asking himself three questions: “What is happening? What is not happening? How can I influence the action?”[xii]
In fact, Moore credited his success to this type of thinking. Moore’s final comment his after action review—the last thing that he wrote before he signed his name—said:
The commander on the battlefield must continually anticipate what the future may bring or could bring and take steps to influence the future before it comes about. This applies to the enemy; to fire support; supply of ammo, water, and medical supplies before the requirement arises; too friendly reaction to possible enemy action; and to all other matters having a bearing on a particular situation. Also, periodically throughout a battle, the commander must mentally detach himself from the action and objectively think — what is not being done which should be done to influence the situation, and what is being done which should not be going on.
HAROLD G. MOORE
Continuing to Influence Action
The Story does not end there. Rick Rescorla was the soldier featured on the cover of the book, We Were Soldiers. He earned the Silver Star and Bronze star in Vietnam. LTC Moore called him “the best platoon leader I ever saw.”[xiv]
He left active service after his tour of duty, and went on to earn a masters degree in English and a law degree. He taught criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, and he even wrote his own textbook. In 1985, Rescorla became the director of security for Dean Witter[xv] In 1990, he retired from the Army Reserve as a Colonel.[xvi] Dean Witter later merged with Morgan Stanley, where he served as vice president of security. After the 1993 World Trade Center attack, he felt that the World Trade Center would be hit again. He obsessed about it. He wrote reports arguing that the company should leave the complex, but it was in vain as Morgan Stanley’s lease ran through 2006.[xvii] He could not get the company to move, but he, “developed an emergency evacuation plan which he required the Morgan Stanley employees to practice over and over.”[xviii]
As you know, Rescorla’s prediction came true on September 11, 2001. The first plane hit the North Tower at 8:48 AM. Rescorla immediately began evacuating Morgan Stanley employees who spanned the 44th to 74th floors of the south tower.[xix] In The Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes, Amanda Ripley recorded, “A port authority official came over the public address system and urged everyone to remain at their desks. But Rescorla grabbed his bullhorn, his walkie-talkie, and his cell phone and began systematically ordering Morgan Stanley employees to get out.”[xx]
According to the Washington Post:
By the time the second hijacked jet rammed into the south tower at 9:07 a.m., many Morgan Stanley employees were already out of the building, and just about all of them were on their way out…..
At one point, he was so exhausted he had to sit for a few minutes, although he continued barking orders through his bullhorn. Morgan Stanley officials said he called headquarters shortly before the tower collapsed to say he was going back up to search for stragglers.
John Olson, a Morgan Stanley regional director, saw Rescorla reassuring colleagues in the 10th-floor stairwell. ‘Rick, you’ve got to get out, too,’ Olson told him.
‘As soon as I make sure everyone else is out,’ Rescorla replied.[xxi]
Rescorla was last seen can on the tenth floor, climbing up into the tower to rescue more people. He is credited with saving 2,687 Morgan Stanley employees.[xxii] Only six Morgan Stanley employees lost their lives on 9/11—including Rick.[xxiii] By anticipating the future, he was positioned to influence the outcome.
Rescorla was featured in the film, The Man who Predicted 9/11, and he was honored posthumously by the department of Homeland Security who created the Rick Rescorla National Award for Resilience for “for superior leadership and innovation by a non-governmental individual or organization who exemplifies the qualities and achievements of Rick Rescorla, emphasizing leadership in effective preparation, response, and recovery in the face of disasters.”[xxiv]
Your situation may not be one of life and death, but you can use this same strategy to deal with whatever may come. Once you have committed to a decision, you must continuously recalibrate and determine how you can influence action.
For more on LTC Moore, watch We Were Soldiers. You will see the sequence of events unfold accurately. For more on Rick Rescorla, watch The Man Who Predicted 911.
As you think about your situation, ask yourself the flowing questions:
What is happening?_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What is not happening?____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
How can I influence the action?_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
[i] Moore, H. (2011, May 24). Vietnam war hero offers leadership lessons. American Profile. Retrieved from http://americanprofile.com/articles/leadership-lessons-list-from-vietnam-veteran/
[ii] Moore, H. (1965). After Action Report, Ia DRANG Valley Operation 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry 14 – 16 November, 1965. lzxray.com. Retrieved from http://www.lzxray.com/sites/default/files/AfterActionReport.pdf
[iii] Moore, H. G., & Galloway, J. L. (1992). We were soldiers once -and young: Ia Drang, the battle that changed the war in Vietnam. New York: Random House.
[iv] Burbeck, J. (2015). Ia Drang 1965 and the defense of Landing Zone X-Ray. The War Times Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wtj.com/articles/xray/
[v] Burbeck, J. (2015). Ia Drang 1965 and the defense of Landing Zone X-Ray. The War Times Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wtj.com/articles/xray/
[vi] Moore, H. G., & Galloway, J. L. (1992). We were soldiers once -and young: Ia Drang, the battle that changed the war in Vietnam. New York: Random House. (pp. 4-5).
[vii] Moore, H. (1965). After Action Report, Ia DRANG Valley Operation 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry 14 – 16 November, 1965. lzxray.com. Retrieved from http://www.lzxray.com/sites/default/files/AfterActionReport.pdf (pp. 17-18).
[viii] Lz-XRay Day 1. (2015). lzxray.com Retrieved from http://www.lzxray.com/articles/lz-xray-day-1
[ix] Lz-XRay Day 2. (2015). lzxray.com Retrieved from http://www.lzxray.com/articles/lz-xray-day-2
[x] Lz-XRay Day 2. (2015). lzxray.com Retrieved from http://www.lzxray.com/articles/lz-xray-day-2
[xi] Lz-XRay Day 3. (2015). lzxray.com Retrieved from http://www.lzxray.com/articles/lz-xray-day-3
[xii] Sullivan, G. R., & Harper, M. V. (1996). Hope is not a method: What business leaders can learn from America’s army. New York: Times Business. (pp. 46-47).
[xiii] Moore, H. (1965). After Action Report, Ia DRANG Valley Operation 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry 14 – 16 November, 1965. lzxray.com. Retrieved from http://www.lzxray.com/sites/default/files/AfterActionReport.pdf (pp. 18-19).
[xiv] Grunwald, M. (2001, October 28). A tower of courage. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/2001/10/28/a-tower-of-courage/c53e8244-3754-440f-84f8-51f841aff6c8/
[xv] Stewart, J. B. (2002, Feb 11). The real heroes are dead. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/02/11/the-real-heroes-are-dead
[xvi] Moore, H. G., & Galloway, J. L. (1992). We were soldiers once -and young: Ia Drang, the battle that changed the war in Vietnam. New York: Random House. (p. 425).
[xvii] Stewart, J. B. (2002, Feb 11). The real heroes are dead. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/02/11/the-real-heroes-are-dead
[xviii] Rick Rescorla – Saved 2,687 lives on September 11. (2013). Awesome stories. Retrieved from https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Rick-Rescorla-Saved-2-687-Lives-on-September-11
[xix] Grunwald, M. (2001, October 28). A tower of courage. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/2001/10/28/a-tower-of-courage/c53e8244-3754-440f-84f8-51f841aff6c8/
[xx] Ripley, A. (2008). The unthinkable: Who survives when disaster strikes and why. New York: Crown Publishers. (p. 208).
[xxi] Grunwald, M. (2001, October 28). A tower of courage. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/2001/10/28/a-tower-of-courage/c53e8244-3754-440f-84f8-51f841aff6c8/
[xxii] Ripley, A. (2008). The unthinkable: Who survives when disaster strikes and why. New York: Crown Publishers. (p. 210).
[xxiii] The Rick Rescorla National Award for Resiliance. (n.d.). Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved from https://www.dhs.gov/rick-rescorla-national-award-resilience
[xxiv] The Rick Rescorla National Award for Resiliance. (n.d.). Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved from https://www.dhs.gov/rick-rescorla-national-award-resilience
[i] Moore, H. (1965). After Action Report, Ia DRANG Valley Operation 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry 14 – 16 November, 1965. lzxray.com. Retrieved from http://www.lzxray.com/sites/default/files/AfterActionReport.pdf (pp. 18-19).
[ii] Sobel, B. (2007, Sept 21). 10 questions for General Hal Moore. Armchair General. Retrieved from http://www.armchairgeneral.com/10-questions-for-general-hal-moore.htm