Front-line Leadership, Part I

How do the exploits of a small group of soldiers scratching their way from the beaches of France to the German Alps relate to what we do every day? It’s in the attitudes and sense of duty where we can relate.


After wiping out the four heavy guns that had been hindering the Allied advancement from Utah Beach, Winters and company came under heavy machine gun fire from Brécourt Manor and, having succeeded in their objective, withdrew back to their own lines.  But they returned with a bonus prize!  In one of the gun positions a German map of all the artillery and machine gun locations on the Cotentin Peninsula was found.  He presented the map to Intelligence Officer (and Winters’ closest friend) 1st Lieutenant Lewis Nixon, who recognized its value and personally delivered it to the command staff on Utah Beach.  This would prove an invaluable source of information to the Allies and hasten their success on D-Day.

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We often look to the actions and decisions of Lt (later Major) Dick Winters as prime examples of what we consider front-line leadership when we use them as examples in our classes and writing, both at Brécourt Manor and beyond.  The exploits of Easy Company in World War II are legendary, from D-Day to Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge, through the capture of Berchtesgaden, and a study of their history becomes a study of the front-line leadership of Richard Winters… and the front-line leadership he inspired in those under his command.

Dick Winters was a soldier.  College educated and a businessman at heart, he was certainly not a career Army man by any stretch.  In fact, he was offered a regular commission after the war but declined it to take a job with Lewis Nixon’s family business.  Nonetheless, he was a soldier.  More importantly, he was a leader.   He inspired others to move forward into danger and uncertainty by being willing to move first.  He truly led from the front, seeing himself not as a commissioned officer to hang back while sending others into harm’s way but as one responsible to step first into harm’s way.  He recognized what was his duty – the need of the moment and his obligation to the meet it – and stepped up to meet it.  He didn’t hesitate to send others into difficult assignments, or to delegate tough responsibilities, nor was he afraid to lead by example by confronting personal danger and difficult responsibility head-on himself.  Some of his men even expressed wonder, decades after the war’s end, that he even survived because of his willingness to lead from the front where the bullets flew. 

By the end of the war, a number of Easy Company had suffered wounds in battle.  Many could have chosen lighter duty for the duration of the war because of them – or even been discharged to legitimate “Hometown Hero” status to ride out the rest of the war – but chose to return to the brotherhood of heroes in Easy Company though it meant driving deeper into Germany and facing danger once again.  Leaders were developed from the example of Easy Company’s command.

So how does this translate to law enforcement?  How do the exploits of a small group of soldiers scratching their way from the beaches of France to the German Alps relate to what we do every day?  The day-to-day experiences, unless you are in one of the toughest and most dangerous beats in America, may not remotely match at first glance.  But the leadership attitudes behind those exploits – the attitudes and sense of duty behind those exploits - certainly can.  Next month we will look at some ways those very attitudes and sense of duty directly relate to our experience as law enforcement officers.

For more information on Major Dick Winters and Easy Company be sure to check out these resources:

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest by Stephen Ambrose

Band of BrothersStarring Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Donnie Wahlberg, et al. (Nov 5, 2002) DVD

 

Web Links:


About The Authors:

Althea Olson, LCSW and Mike Wasilewski, MSW have been married since 1994. Mike works full-time as a police officer for a large suburban Chicago agency while Althea is a social worker in private practice in Joliet & Naperville, IL. They have been popular contributors of Officer.com since 2007 writing on a wide range of topics to include officer wellness, relationships, mental health, morale, and ethics. Their writing led to them developing More Than A Cop, and traveling the country as trainers teaching “survival skills off the street.” They can be contacted at MoreThanACop@gmail.com and can be followed on Facebook or Twitter at More Than A Cop, or check out their website www.MoreThanACop.com.

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