OKLAHOMA CITY — Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee, a Medal of Honor recipient, returned to his home state to share his story with fellow Oklahomans.
“Oklahoma is where I’m from; it’s where I grew up,” Plumlee said. “It’s always going to be special because it’s a part of my childhood and becoming a young man.”
Born in Clinton and raised on his family’s cattle ranch in Western Oklahoma, Plumlee enlisted in the Oklahoma Army National Guard at 17 years old as a rocket artilleryman with the 45th Field Artillery Brigade.
After graduating high school, he enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps and served eight years in Special Operation roles. In 2009, Plumlee joined the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
Plumlee was presented with the Medal of Honor on Dec. 16 for his actions while responding to an attack by insurgents on Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2013.
“I always tell people we don’t have a unit; we have a Special Forces Group family,” Plumlee said. “There’s not one person that’s carrying that unit. Everybody is doing their part in making it perfect. And it’s always kind of awkward for me to be kind of singled out as this success when I know that everybody in my unit was just as good as I was.”
Having served 24 years in the U.S. military, Plumlee says it is this camaraderie that allows him to be able to accomplish his job and succeed.
“The Army is a special community,” Plumlee said. “You have a full spectrum of personalities and backgrounds and styles of thinking, and I think that is the difference between success and failure. I’ve seen it many times, you have a unique problem and you have some farm kids like, ‘This is not a problem. I know exactly how to fix this.’ I’ve seen that almost continuously throughout my career. I know that the diversity of backgrounds, population of Soldiers is more often than not the key to why the Army would be successful.”
As a part of his Medal of Honor tour, Plumlee engaged with fellow military members, media and everyday Oklahomans. He attended meetings and lunches with government officials and civic leaders, spoke to Soldiers in various stages of training at Fort Sill and to Junior Reserve Officer Training and other students from across the state.
Plumlee, a former student-athlete, attended football games at his alma mater Merritt Public High School and Oklahoma State University.
Plumlee told the young people he spoke with that it is extremely important to be a positive mentor and said he has developed his own leadership style more from bad leadership than good leadership.
“I have had some very influential, positive leaders that I try to emulate. But the bad leadership that I’ve received, that stuff sticks in my mind,” Plumlee said, adding that he uses the bad examples as reminders to never treat those under him poorly.
According to Plumlee, constantly learning and adapting is one of the most important skills within the military.
“If you come in with a fixed style of thinking and a method of engagement, that’s not how the world works,” Plumlee said. “Being adaptable and able to take the cues the real world is giving you and adjusting your plans to those cues are super important life skills. Because reality doesn’t care that you had this great plan this morning.”
Plumlee said one of the most important roles the National Guard plays is bridging the gap between the military and civilian worlds.
“The National Guard is a good face of what the U.S. military is in the community,” Plumlee said.
Having accomplished the unimaginable throughout his military career, Plumlee urges younger Soldiers to embrace the changes they will face throughout their careers.
“Don’t be afraid to come out and chase down something spectacular and go after it,” Plumlee said. “The military literally is just nothing but evolving opportunities, and if you don’t take them, that’s your loss.”