By Fred Benson
The year was 1959. The instructor standing on the platform was right out of central casting. Extremely fit, square-jawed and in complete command of his environment, this decorated Korean War vet cast his steely-eyed gaze over an assemblage of 121 newly minted Army second lieutenants there to begin officer basic infantry training. His visage suggested that he wasn’t terribly impressed by those sitting before him. His exact words have been lost to time, but it went something very close to this:
“Over the next few weeks, you will receive field training designed to fine-tune your ability to lead a platoon of infantry soldiers in combat. You are just a few weeks out of college, and what you must now understand is that, as combat leaders, you are from this day forward responsible for the welfare and, quite possibly, the lives of American soldiers. It is time to get serious about your new responsibilities.
“For the next 45 minutes we will be reviewing the time-honored and battle-tested principles of leadership. To introduce the subject, I would like to present to you what I call ‘Braxton’s rules.’ It is my personal carefully honed template for successful military leadership. It consists of just six words. Take out a piece of paper, fold it to a size that will fit in your wallet, and be prepared to write these six words down when I tell you to.
“The first word is, ‘trust.’ Write it down. The Army runs on trust. Your unit cannot function without a strong bond of trust between you and those to whom you report, those who are your contemporaries and, most importantly, those for whom you are directly responsible. The Army does not issue trust. You have to earn it. How do you earn it?
“Write down the word ‘integrity.’ You must revere the truth. Never shade it, embellish it or diminish it. Your word is your bond. No prevarication, obfuscation or bluster. Be a straight-up leader.
Write down the word ‘responsibility.’ You are responsible for everything that happens in your unit. Period. You may delegate authority, but never responsibility. Play no blame games. When mistakes are made, whether yours or one of your soldiers, you are responsible for taking corrective action.
“Write down the word ‘performance.’ Seek continuous personal improvement. It is your duty to learn your job in exquisite detail and to continue studying the art and science of war in a rapidly changing world. Keep your eyes on a place called Vietnam. Two U.S. soldiers were killed there just three months ago. We might all be fighting there sometime soon. Get ready for it.
“Write down the word ‘example.’ Your soldiers will do whatever they see you doing. Whatever a commander expects from his troops must be set by his example. Failure to practice this role modeling consistently will destroy unit cohesiveness and undermine confidence in your leadership.
“Now write down the last word, ‘character.’ Defined as moral constitution, this word captures the essence of the five key words preceding it. It is a summation of what we are as individuals – our values, our sensitivities and our behaviors. Given the heavy responsibilities you carry as an Army officer, you will be expected to meet the highest possible standards of character.
“OK, now put the paper in your wallet and remember the six words. Try to live by them for the rest of your time in the Army. Trust me, practicing them, you will succeed; ignoring them, you will not.”
Fast-forwarding to the present, I am not suggesting that those in uniform have achieved perfection in practicing these tenets. Consider former four-star General David Petraeus’s ethical meltdown. But I have come to believe strongly that the six-word guideline does serve as a good template, not just for the Army, but for all leadership positions, including the presidency of the United States.
And that brings me to the primary subject of this writing – Donald J. Trump. It is incredibly difficult to imagine that Americans could possibly elect as their president and commander-in-chief a man who falls far short of meeting the professional and ethical standards demanded of those men and women he will commission as officers in our military services. Trump has provided ample repeated evidence that he is in fact a dishonest, bigoted, unsavory, self-adoring blowhard who has incited hatred and violence heretofore unseen in American politics. He is unworthy to serve as commander-in-chief of our armed forces. Our military personnel deserve a leader who will command respect both at home and abroad. Trump is not that person and should not be elected to an office for which he is totally unfit.
Fred Benson is a resident of Mount Desert and publishes Capitol Commentary, an independent political newsletter.