THE JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP APPLICATIONS
Vol. 4, No. 5
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102
Create the Best through Training
“Extraordinary achievements demand extraordinary leaders.“
© 2006 William A. Cohen, PhD
In 2005, Hollywood released an extraordinary war movie which had its basis in fact. The movie was called The Great Raid. In late 1941 at the beginning of World War II, American and Filipino soldiers fought a desperate battle against overwhelming odds to defend the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines from the Japanese. Finally forced to surrender, they were marched to prison camps in sweltering heat through a mosquito-infested jungle with little or no food or water. Many thousands died or were killed along the way.
One of the prisons to which they were taken was Cabanatuan. It was not a rest camp. Treatment there was brutal. By 1944 only about 500 men had survived the brutality of their captors and the epidemics of tropical diseases and starvation at Cabanatuan. General Walter Krueger, commanding U.S. forces in the area, feared that the Japanese would murder their captives before the U.S. Army could liberate the camp. Given only 48 hours warning, Krueger sent the 6th Ranger battalion reinforced by Filipino guerillas and, another smaller commando unit, the Alamo Scouts, to rescue the prisoners. The allies had to cross 30 miles of jungle behind enemy lines to launch their rescue.
On arrival, the 121 Rangers found that rather than just a few dozen guards that had been expected; they faced 8000 battle-hardened Japanese soldiers. However, as planned, Filipino guerrillas acted as a blocking forced and kept them from attacking the commandos during the rescue. Also as planned, an U.S. Air Force P-61 flew over the field and distracted the guards just as the Rangers launched their attack across a flat field which made them easily visible. As a result of the surprise and the airplane distraction, only two Rangers were killed and all surviving American prisoners were freed from the camp despite the disparity of forces.
Now the problem was how to get their weak, disease-ridden and starving charges, average weight 90 pounds, thirty miles through the enemy-held jungles to American lines. There was no way that they would be able to walk the distance. Fortunately, the Rangers had planned for this, too. Again, the Filipinos saved the day, this time with water buffalo carts, which were driven by local villagers. They were waiting at the Pampanga River, only one mile from the camp. All 511 surviving Americans made it back, in one of the greatest rescues of the Second World War. 1
The 6th Battalion Didn’t Just Happen – It Was Created
The 6th Battalion was officially activated on September 26, 1944 after Ranger training in New Guinea. Previously, it had been a field artillery battalion, using pack mules as transportation. Lieutenant General Walter Krueger had become commander of the 6th Army. He didn’t need a field artillery unit and mules, so he shipped the mules out.
However, General Krueger did need a large Ranger unit trained in stealth and lightning assault. He wanted them for reconnaissance and raider work behind the lines. First he found his commando leader. He was Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci, a West Pointer class of 1936 who had volunteered to develop and lead a battalion of Rangers and had trained Rangers in Hawaii.
The problem was, the battalion didn’t exist. What did exist were these “mule skinners.” About all you can say for them in the beginning was that they were all volunteers — as mule skinners. They had been especially recruited mostly from American farms for the unusual and sometimes hazardous job of convincing mules to carry heavy artillery on their backs in the mountains of New Guinea. Now they were available. It was Mucci job to turn these unlikely candidates into Rangers.
Mucci personally built and trained the 6th Ranger Battalion in the mountains of New Guinea. Reports from “graduates” were that Mucci’s Ranger training bordered on the inhuman. Mucci started with challenging, but easier tasks. But he eventually worked his men in training to the absolute limits of their physical capacities. He led them on hellish marches through tropical New Guinea jungles, across treacherous rivers, and up mountainsides in the sticky and miserable tropical jungle heat. Mucci taught them jungle combat, night combat, and amphibious combat. Mucci took a full year, but at the end of this year, Mucci had the team he needed.
Recalled one of Mucci’s commandos: “I thought he was going to kill us. “I wondered why he was putting us through so much, but before it was over, there was no question about it, I knew why. And once he got us trained and picked out, he loved us to death. And there wasn’t anything too good for us…. He knew what he was doing when he was training us.”2
I’d like you to think about this for a minute. Here was a group of commandos that started out as volunteers to take care of mules that were hauling artillery. Yet, one year later and against all odds, these ex-mule skinners had pulled off one of the greatest commando raids in history . They had become super-commandos
Commandos and Commando Leaders Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Recently I heard motivational speaker Tony Robbins tell this story about his friend, Ken Blanchard. Ken Blanchard, you may recall, is co-author of the famous “one minute manager” series of best-selling books. For reason unknown, Ken Blanchard, who knows little about the game, became a soccer coach for a team in one of those boy’s leagues. He probably undertook this only because an acquaintance from South America, an expert on the soccer field agreed to work with him.
Blanchard feels strongly that these boys leagues, regardless of the sport, are focused too much on winning and not enough on having fun and good sportsmanship. So the first thing he did was to refuse to attend “the draft.” The draft is where all the prospective players get together, and the coaches rotate choices in selecting players for their teams. Blanchard refused to attend, telling the other coaches just to give him the players that the other coaches didn’t want.
The other coaches tried to dissuade Blanchard from this action, but were unsuccessful. So they took him at his word and assigned his team those players that no other coach wanted. Most were poor players, with two exceptions. The two exceptions, were talented in the game of soccer, but troublemakers. They had a history of refusing to follow instructions, back talk, and generally setting a bad example for the other players. These poor players and misfits were Blanchard’s commandos. Like Henry Mucci’s mule skinners, about all you can say for them were that they were volunteers.
Except for appointing the two trouble makers as assistant coaches, and thus turning his misfit soccer aces into assets, I don’t know exactly what Blanchard did. He may have put these poor kids through a physical and mental challenge that rivaled Mucci’s approach in creating the 6th Ranger Battalion. Maybe not. Whatever regimen Blanchard came up with, it worked. Blanchard’s team made up of those spurned by the coaches didn’t lose a single match all season and won the championship! Clearly, it’s not always the raw material you start with that’s important. You can still create the best.
Training: Start Small; Grow Big
You don’t start training commandos by “killing them” and making almost impossible demands the first day unless they have already had prior training or you are using your first day as a screening device. There are many examples of how to do this the right way. According to Greek mythology, Milo of Croton was the first person to use what we now call progressive weight training. This was way back in 550 BC. As a young man Milo set his personal goal as becoming the strongest man in the world. He hit on the idea of lifting a calf off the ground every morning. As the calf grew and became heavier, Milo became stronger and stronger. By the time the calf had developed into a full-grown bull, Milo was able to lift it off the ground. No one else in the world could do this and he had reached his goal.
A Modern Milo of Croton
Yesterday I spoke with an amazing man who I had last spoken with several years ago. I consider him a modern Milo. His name is Bill Bartmann. He had grown up in poverty, and dropped out of high school. He became a gang member and was homeless. He alternated between earning minimum wage and drawing unemployment. He was paralyzed from the waist down from falling down a flight of stairs when coming home drunk one night. He was told he would never walk again.
I interviewed Bartmann for a book on leadership because by 1997 he was a college graduate, had a law degree, had practiced law for five years and was walking again. In fact, he was a black belt in karate. More than that he had started a company on his kitchen table which revolutionized an industry. By now he had 3900 employees, and Inc magazine ranked his company one of the 500 fastest growing companies in America for four years in a row. His management techniques were studied at the Harvard Business School. I sought him out for his amazing ability to meet life’s challenges both in his personal life and his businesses and not only to come back from supreme setbacks again and again, but to come back better every time. Each time, he would start like Milo with the calf and then eventually be lifting a bull. The year I interviewed him, Fortune Magazine ranked him the 25th wealthiest man in America, right ahead of Ross Perot.
I hit Bill Bartmann’s web site http://www.billbartmann.com/book.htm recently and by accident. The site promotes his new book, Billionaire Secrets to Success. I ordered his book and wrote a note recalling our earlier interview. This led eventually to renewing our acquaintance. Well, let me tell you that all has not been a bed of roses for Bill Bartmann since I last spoke with him. A former business partner had been stealing from his company, and at a critical point, everything came crashing down almost overnight. Many lost their investments, and of course Bartmann lost his company. The Government went after him, and others not knowing where to turn, sued him as well. After years of litigation he is now clear of all charges and legal problems, but the former billionaire is now almost broke.
However, if you think Bartmann is done, you are dead wrong. He is already on the rebound, starting new companies and with many new ideas. He offered to help me with my current project of developing an Internet university . . . in every way but with money. I told him that I appreciated it, but that I didn’t need his money. However, I joked that when he again acquires his billions, to please give me a call and I’d be happy to modify my business plan.
Meanwhile, I started reading his book, and that’s what I wanted to tell you about, because in it he reinforces an important principle, one that every leader needs to know about in creating the best, whether it is an organization or in yourself. As a black belt in karate, he talks about how a karate student goes about learning to break bricks with his fist. Bartmann says anyone can do this, but don’t try it without the training first, as you are missing an important ingredient. Needless to say, there is a lot of good stuff in his book, and I highly recommend it.
Somehow, the mind doesn’t accept that you can do this. As a result, if one didn’t go through the training regime, which may take six months or so, you could seriously damage your hand and you won’t break the brick. The training is progressive and consists of breaking increasingly tougher objects, starting with a light board through a heavier board, and lighter bricks through heavier ones, etc. Finally, like Milo of Croton, the karate expert confidently leans over and with only a single sharp blow with his fist, breaks a heavy brick with no injury to him (or her!) self.
This is a metaphor for training any commando organization. That’s what Bartmann did in the past with his companies, and that’s what he is doing now. That’s what Henry Mucci did with the 6th Ranger Battalion, and I suspect that’s what the “One-Minute Manager” did as well.
I couldn’t help contrasting these successes with a group of highly trained engineers that I met more than thirty years ago. They had worked together at a large aerospace company here in California. They saw the contracts this company had been getting for their services. A lot of money was coming in. They quit as a group to start their own engineering consulting firm and make these great profits for themselves.
The problem was, they were good engineers, but had no experience as entrepreneurs or businessmen. They tried to start at the top, with large offices in the most expensive part of town. Their wall-to-wall carpeting was so thick you practically needed a guide to get through it. Their furniture and decoration could have won awards. You can imagine the overhead they were stuck with. Meanwhile, although they knew engineering, they did not know selling or marketing engineering consulting. Consequently they ran out of money and were bankrupt before they could train themselves to sell and get engineering consulting contracts. Instead of lifting a calf every day as it grew, they tried to lift the whole bull on day one.
Business commandos aren’t born. They must be created. This is done through training, whether formal or informal. As a commando leader, this is part of your job. But you can do it, whether your goal is to have your organization “lift a bull” or to revolutionize an industry. The key is training and working up to your goal. In this way, you CAN create the best!
– – – Adapted from Secrets of Special Ops Leadership: Dare the Impossible; Achieve the Extraordinary (See below)
1 No author listed. PBS Home: Bataan Rescue, Accessed October 28, 2004 at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bataan/peopleevents/e_raid.html
2 John Richardson, quoted in PBS Home: Bataan Rescue, Accesed October 28, 2004 at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bataan/peopleevents/p_mucci.html
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THIS MONTH’S THOUGHT FOR LEADERS
A pint of sweat in training is worth a bucket of blood in combat.
– General George S. Patton
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