By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneAugust 18, 2014
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- For 33 years, Vinny Boles lived the Army's seven leadership values while wearing the uniform of an officer.
As an ordnance logistician, he followed those guiding values while working in supply chain management to provide U.S. troops with what they needed anywhere in the world. During nine years as a general officer, he leaned on those values as he oversaw logistical support and services in support of the invasion of Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan, and then as he assumed the responsibilities for the doctrine, training and professional excellence of 120,000 Soldiers while serving as the Army's 33rd chief of ordnance.
In fact, this Ordnance Hall of Fame inductee can't remember a time when the Army values weren't central to his life. So, it's not surprising that he has found a way to share his insight into those values through a book titled "4-3-2-1 Leadership: What America's Sons and Daughters Taught Me on the Road from Second Lieutenant to Two-Star General."
"This book is based on the experiences I had as a leader in the Army, and especially during five years of command as a general officer," Boles said.
Now nearing its second printing, Boles' book is in high demand through his speaking engagements and public appearances. He is a featured author at the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library's "Meet the Author" series.
His book, published in 2013, is a compilation of the leadership lessons he learned while leading Soldiers and his answers to the many questions he has received on leadership during five years of corporate speaking engagements as a member of the Washington Speakers Bureau. Still a public speaker, Boles is also an instructor at the Defense Acquisition University, where he trains more than 200 Department of Defense logisticians each year and has been selected to become a certified executive coach; an instructor of a leadership course at the University of Alabama in Huntsville; an instructor of the pre-command course at the General Staff and Command College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and a keynote speaker with Leadership Huntsville. He is also broadcast live every other Thursday during a 7:10 a.m. program on Star 99.1 radio.
Much of his teachings on leadership are based on his book and the way it has worked in the lives of aspiring leaders.
"The feedback that I have received on the book is that 'This is news I can use. This isn't the theoretical tone of leadership. It's a move out and go ahead book.' And that's good because I don't want this to be a book that sits on a shelf. I want it to be something readers really want to read and to refer to when they have questions about leadership," Boles said.
The numbers "4-3-2-1" in the book's title are much like a countdown to Army leadership. Each helps to frame sections in the book. The number 4 refers to four expectations that teams have of leaders; three refers to the three main questions for leaders to ask and answer; two refers to the two causes of stress and the solution for stress; and one refers to one non-negotiable in being an effective leader -- establishing trust among those who are led. Each chapter ends with 10 takeaways on leadership.
Boles first joined the Army to get away from the family business, not realizing he was running to an organization that would school him on leadership, responsibility and teamwork.
"I joined the Army because of something I didn't want to do," he said. "I was the oldest of four boys in an Irish Catholic home, and my dad ran a bar and restaurant business.
"When I was 16 years old, I was mopping floors for the 300th time when my dad said to me, 'Someday this will all be yours.' I got out of there through ROTC at Niagara University (Niagara Falls, New York) and the Army. But it took my parents about 10 years to realize that I enjoyed being in the Army and that I was getting pretty good at it."
Boles graduated from college in 1976 and commissioned into the Army at a time when it was downsizing from the Vietnam War, reducing its forces from 1.5 million to 780,000 active duty Soldiers. Of the 14 ROTC cadets who graduated with him, Boles was one of four that received an active duty commission.
"The class of '51 had the Korean War, the class of '61 had the Vietnam War and my class of '76 had downsizing and Cold War. On top of that, we were transitioning from an Army of draftees to an all volunteer Army. From a leadership perspective, that was a real challenge," he recalled.
It was a time when the Army was formally instilling its seven leadership values, when it learned to communicate its high standards and expectations, and when it established an education system that incorporated training and discipline to develop a capable Army.
"The Army was a microcosm of the nation. There were drug problems, race relation problems and gender equity problems. The Army faced the challenge by becoming back in touch with its values, and becoming a values oriented organizations," Boles said.
Boles' first assignment took him to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he was the commander of the 530th and 514th Maintenance Companies, 544th Maintenance Battalion, 194th Armored Brigade. He then climbed in command rank with assignments as the commander of the 701st Main Support Battalion, Division Support Command, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), Fort Riley, Kansas; and commander of the Division Support Command, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), Fort Hood, Texas.
Even though his assignments carried a lot of responsibility, there was one thing he did not do as a Soldier in those early years.
"It was 14 years before I went to combat. I was pretty apprehensive initially. I didn't know if I would be good at it. That was a lot different experience than today when we have a battle-hardened Army made up of Soldiers who have known nothing but multiple deployments," he said.
But war did come and, during five consecutive years after the attacks of 9-11, Boles commanded Soldiers, civilians and contractors on five continents.
Boles' first command as a general officer was at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, where he led the Army Field Support Command. He then deployed to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait for the invasion of Iraq, with 142 personnel that, in 90 days, grew to a force of more than 8,000 Soldiers, civilians and contractors. Boles commanded the Coalition Forces Land Component Command and assumed control of all War Reserve stocks and equipment, oversight of 52 technical assistance offices and the Army's Logistics Civilian Augmentation Contracting Program. From 2001 through 2002, Boles supported Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan with forward deployed forces and equipment packages, and began the flow of War Reserve equipment from around the world to prepare for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He then deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the summer of 2003 as the commander of the 3rd Corps Support Command, Army Europe and Seventh Army.
"That was the largest group of Soldiers that I led. In Balad, Iraq, 16,000 Soldiers were responsible for providing logistical support and services to 150,000 Soldiers. I had a lot of great colonels and lieutenant colonels and sergeants who pulled that operation together," Boles said. "I learned that the biggest job of a leader is to decide what an organization is going to be and what it's going to do, and then take the excuses away so everyone can be successful."
In 2004, he became the 33rd chief of ordnance, headquartered at the Ordnance Center and School at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, with a focus on taking the "lessons learned" in the Global War on Terror operations and embedding them in doctrine and training programs for 120,000 Soldiers in the Ordnance Corps. Of his Soldier units, the 59th Ordnance Brigade then stationed at Redstone Arsenal was under his command.
"I came to Redstone Arsenal for a few days every month during that assignment, and every time I would run into someone I knew," he said.
Boles received both the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star among many other awards for his service. His last assignment before retirement was to serve as the assistant deputy chief of staff, G-4 in the Pentagon, where he was responsible for the oversight of Army Logistics Operations and Readiness, Force Deployment and Distribution and Logistics Strategy and Integration for a force of 1.1 million Soldiers.
But with retirement looming, Boles and his wife, who is originally from Buffalo, New York, wanted to move somewhere "that had only a passing familiarity with snow shovels. We had friends here and we really liked it. So, we retired to Huntsville," he said.
Besides his trips to Redstone Arsenal as the 33rd ordnance chief, Boles also had a connection to what is now the Arsenal's four-star command. During his service, Boles' staff assignments included serving as the executive officer to the commanding general at the Army Materiel Command; and deputy chief of staff for ammunition for AMC.
Since his retirement, Boles has been inducted in both the Army Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame at Fort Lee, Virginia, and in the ROTC Hall of Fame at Niagara University, both of which occurred in 2011. Among the leaders he hopes to emulate is Gen. George Marshall, who was going to be forced out of the Army in 1935 but then went on to serve as the Army's chief of staff from 1939 to 1945.
"He is a good example of not being a careerist, but just doing the best you can and being ready when things break upon you," Boles said.
Another leader he looks up to is Maj. Gen. John Mitchell, who Boles got to know when he served as his aide while in Berlin, Germany, in 1984-86. That assignment convinced Boles that the Army would be his lifework.
Boles' expanding leadership resume is testament to the principles he tries to convey both through speaking engagements and as an author.
"I hope people understand from what I tell them that leadership is a tool and a craft. It can be developed and can get better as you build on experiences that change and develop you," he said.
"Leadership requires you to engage, but there is no one leadership style. What you have to be able to do is connect with the people you are leading. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and give people the opportunity to say, 'Yes.'"
Editor's note: For more information on Boles, his book and speaking availability, visit his website at www.vinnyboles.com.