Best Defense

The Iron Duke’s tips for Iron Majors

Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, cut his teeth during campaigns in India and Iberia. But he’s most famous as the man who, along with the timely intervention of a Prussian Army, defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo two hundred years ago today.

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By Major Crispin Burke, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist

Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, cut his teeth during campaigns in India and Iberia. But he’s most famous as the man who, along with the timely intervention of a Prussian Army, defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo two hundred years ago today.

Wellington ranks high among generals of the era — his army of Britons, Spaniards, and Portuguese was one of the first to deal a decisive blow to the vaunted French Army at the Battle of Salamanca. Among British commanders, he’s right up there with the Marlborough and Slim.

But while most focus on Wellington’s advice for commanders, few think about the Iron Duke’s advice for staff officers — the Iron Majors, if you will. Here are five tips from the Iron Duke to Iron Majors.

1.) The most boring parts of the plan are usually the most important. Wellington was a meticulous planner, particularly in the realm of logistics. While on campaign in India, the Duke took stringent precautions to ensure his army didn’t starve in the field (as many did in those days). The sheer act of feeding and sustaining an army got him halfway to victory, as it allowed him to put more men into the fight than his enemies could. Modern armies don’t run on tanks and trucks so much as they run on food, funding, and fuel. Forget to set up a FARP or ensure your troops have MREs and watch how quickly your organization grinds to a halt. Neglect these parts of the plan at your peril.

2.) Here’s to your health. Though military medical care may be lacking at times, it’s far better than it was two hundred years ago. In Wellington’s day, sickness took a greater toll on armies than cannons and musket balls. At times, nearly a third of the British Army in the Iberian Peninsula was rendered incapacitated with disease. Let that be a lesson for you — make sure your Soldiers get immunized! (That includes MMR)

3.) Leaders are Readers. The US military can deploy anywhere in the world within a few hours. But in Wellington’s day, a passage to India could take a few months. That left the Iron Duke with plenty of time to read — everything from John Locke to Adam Swift. It served him well in India, where he spent much of his time tending to civil administration — not unlike military leaders today.

4.) Don’t put anything in an email you wouldn’t want to see in the New York Times. Wellington learned this one the hard way, when passages from his confidential dispatches back to London made their way into nightly newspapers. It’s a lesson occasionally lost on officers two centuries later, too.

5.) One of these days, you’ll get a lousy assignment. Keep doing your best, though. Wellington is supposed to have written: “I have eaten the King’s salt, and, therefore, I conceive it to be my duty to serve with unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the King or his government may think proper to employ me.”

Or, as General George S. Patton said more succinctly: “I’m a soldier. I go where I’m told, and I win where I fight.”

Major Crispin Burke is a US Army Aviator at Fort Bragg. He’d appreciate it if you sent all hate mail to his Twitter account, @CrispinBurke, instead of calling him at work. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the DoD.

Francisco Goya/Wikimedia Commons

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. @tomricks1
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