By Sgt. Tony Hawkins, USASOC PAOOctober 27, 2009
THROUGHOUT history, NCOs have provided critical leadership under the most austere conditions. It is a lead-by-example attitude which has been the foundation of the Army's NCO Corps since its beginning.
"My leadership style really comes from previous NCOs," said Sgt. 1st Class Luis Morales, a Special Forces intelligence sergeant from Operational Detachment-Alpha 3336, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group. "When I was growing up as a private, I looked up to my squad leader and emulated him as almost a fatherly figure, someone who's going to take care of you."
It was that quality of leadership which surfaced for Morales and his teammates, including Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Plants, a Special Forces engineer sergeant, on April 6, 2008. During a bold raid on enemy forces in the Shok Valley of Afghanistan, ODA 3336 and their Afghan commando counterparts faced hundreds in a six-and-a-half hour firefight. The operation was known as Commando Wrath, and the team members were awarded 10 Silver Stars for their actions that day.
"Some people are naturally born with outstanding leadership," Plants said. "Some people are just born leaders, and other people have to grow into it. But I think everybody can be a leader."
Plants said his motivation during his "baptism by fire" were the men to his left and right.
"I'll do whatever needs to be done to make sure I don't let my teammates down," he said. "I was new to the team, so I was drawing on that mentality. With the excellent amount of training I received, everything just kicked into gear."
The firefight was Plants' first since joining Special Forces, after serving more than nine years as a mechanic. He credits his leaders throughout his decade in the Army for preparing him for the moment.
"Everything I learned, I learned from my (earlier) mentors," he said. "I think anybody could do what we did, with training."
Morales agreed that, with the proper training, any NCO could do the same.
"Other NCOs are more than capable of doing what we did," Morales said. "A lot of it is just going back (to the basics), like combat lifesaver and first aid training. A lot of it is reaction. We've done it so many times in training."
It is up to the NCOs to provide that training to those they lead, Plants said.
"NCOs today, more than ever, need to take more initiative in training their Soldiers," he said. "A problem today is many NCOs are kind of waiting for someone to tell them what to do. I've learned over the years that no one is going to tell you to do everything. You have to take that initiative to train your Soldiers up, because no one is going to do it for you."
In addition to initiative, NCOs are also responsible for creating the proper setting for Soldiers to excel, said Staff Sgt. Raymond Ysasaga, a Special Forces communication sergeant for ODA 3336. Ysasaga joined the team after their battle in April 2008.
"It just depends on your environment," Ysasaga said. "Good leaders are going to breed good Soldiers. I like to think I looked at all the good qualities from the leaders around me, and try to base my style on that."
Ysasaga, who is new to Special Forces, said being in the community is quite different from his time in the conventional Army, though the values remain the same.
"Integrity is the baseline for great leadership," he said. "Soldiers are always watching you. You always have a reputation, whether you know it or not. When it comes down to it, your integrity is all you have. Do the right thing, even when no one is looking."