Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The DePuy files (I): ‘There is nothing complicated about combat leadership’

So said Army Gen. William DePuy, whom I find endlessly interesting. He was a junior officer in a division that was chewed up badly in Normandy in the summer of ’44, rose to become a 25-year-old battalion commander, was perhaps the chief theorist of how we fought the first half of the Vietnam War, first ...

history.navy.mil
history.navy.mil
history.navy.mil

So said Army Gen. William DePuy, whom I find endlessly interesting. He was a junior officer in a division that was chewed up badly in Normandy in the summer of '44, rose to become a 25-year-old battalion commander, was perhaps the chief theorist of how we fought the first half of the Vietnam War, first as Westmoreland's operations chief and then in1966-67 as commander of the 1st Infantry Division, and finally played a central role in rebuilding the Army after that war. The Army we saw in Kuwait in 1991 was in many ways the one he and his posse put together.

Here is his comment on leading soldiers in combat, a subject he knew a few things about:

There is nothing complicated about the command of men in combat and, no matter how sophisticated leadership courses may become, there are only three steps to perform, easy to state and not difficult to accomplish.

So said Army Gen. William DePuy, whom I find endlessly interesting. He was a junior officer in a division that was chewed up badly in Normandy in the summer of ’44, rose to become a 25-year-old battalion commander, was perhaps the chief theorist of how we fought the first half of the Vietnam War, first as Westmoreland’s operations chief and then in1966-67 as commander of the 1st Infantry Division, and finally played a central role in rebuilding the Army after that war. The Army we saw in Kuwait in 1991 was in many ways the one he and his posse put together.

Here is his comment on leading soldiers in combat, a subject he knew a few things about:

There is nothing complicated about the command of men in combat and, no matter how sophisticated leadership courses may become, there are only three steps to perform, easy to state and not difficult to accomplish.

First, a leader of troops in war must decide in each tactical situation, or, for that matter, each administrative situation, exactly what he wants to do with his unit…

Second, he must tell his men precisely what it is he wants them to doand in most cases it is best to tell them in the language of the street, not the language of the field manual. If the officer knows with certainty and confidence what he wants to do, he will have no trouble telling his soldiers what he has in mind.

And then, lastly, he must insist that they do exactly what he told them to do."

(From The Army Reserve Magazine, January 1969, reprinted p. 57, Selected Papers of General William E. DePuy)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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