Morals Passed On
- a Story on Leadership -

A recently-promoted Staff Sergeant sat in a deserted aircraft hanger. "How can they still be putting me on these posts?" he asked himself as he stared at a lone airplane he was supposed to be guarding. "This is a job for an airman!" he said quietly to himself as he noticed some movement out of the corner of his eye. Sergeant John Goss rose to his feet, immediately thinking that his mind was once again playing tricks on him. Taking a slow walk around the hanger, being as quiet and tactical as possible, he looked for any sign of an intruder to his domain. Dismissing the situation as paranoia, Sergeant Goss made a quick pass around the aircraft and strode back to his single folding chair. Rounding the last wing of the plane, he had his chair in sight; something was wrong. There was someone sitting in his chair. Sergeant Goss approached the invidual with his weapon at port-arms just as he'd been taught. Before he could give the command to halt, the individual spoke. "What's happenin' Sarge?" the young man spoke. It was notable that the man was military by his khaki dress uniform and old-style "bus driver" hat. Was this man with the Navy or Coast Guard?

Sergeant Goss moved close enough to examine the individual when he noticed his rank insignia. This man was a Captain, or possibly what the Navy or Coast Guard would call a Lieutenant as he remembered. "I'm sorry Sir, you can't be here! Can I possibly help you with something or direct you to somone?" the young Staff commented. With a smirk, the O-3 replied: "I've found who I'm looking for, kid." Goss looked at the man, and noticed flight wings above his pocket. It was possible that this man was the pilot of the aircraft under guard, which possibly made him authorized to be here. "Is this your bird Sir?" Goss inquired. With a slight chuckle, the man replied: "Too many buttons and levers in that thing, I say! I wouldn't even know where to start in that thing." Sergeant Goss was about to speak when the officer interrupted his thoughts. "I'm here to see you, Sarge." Sergeant John Goss was confused, but he slowly slung his weapon and stood at a loose parade rest. "Yes Sir" Goss said quietly. "What can I do for you?" The man rose and pointed over to the small metal chair. "Have a seat, Mister NCO" the officer stated with a tone of sarcasm. Sergeant Goss had a bad feeling about this so he tried to quickly get a look at this O-3's name tag, but it was a bit worn; in this light it was too difficult to see.

"So you think you're a leader now, eh Goss?" the officer asked. "Yes Sir, I am. My schooling told me so!" The officer rolled his eyes slightly and assumed his own version of parade rest, facing the young NCO. "Is that why you think you're a leader kid?" the officer asked. Sergeant Goss sat quietly thinking about the heavy question asked of him. He felt as if the man was looking right through him, so he declined to answer in due time. "Do you know what a leader is, kid?", the man asked, this time demanding an answer by his pure tone and volume. Goss sat up straight and responded with pride: "I'm a Staff Sergeant now. I have the rank and the responsibility for my troops. I have to make sure they do what they are told and reprimand them when necessary! I've worked hard to get here and now they have to respect me. So yes, I am a leader, Sir." The officer walked behind the chair and placed his hands on Sergeant Goss' shoulders. "Let me tell you a story." The man rounded again to the front of the chair in full view of the new NCO and began.

"In Vietnam, we both know a lot of people died - some quickly without knowing, and some in P.O.W camps and whatnot. All of those people followed someone into that battle. Do you think they had to stroll in there? Hell no! They followed their leaders because they wanted to; because they trusted them. Those leaders earned the respect of all their troops by their own professionalism and their own actions." The officer continued. "There was once a flight of fighter pilots. They were good - very good. Some would say they were the best at what they did. Others called them 'cowboys'. Nevertheless, they got the job done. One morning, those pilots were on a routine bombing mission not unlike the dozens of previous ones they'd taken on. They were all following their leader on the run; the leader they loved like a brother! Do you know what happened that day there, Sarge?" Sergeant Goss sat nearly trembling and could not reply. The officer spoke in an even louder tone: "They were shot down that day, kid. And they all died in that hell-hole of a country! Some died on impact, others in camps and the like. They all died, never questioning the orders given to them. And I'm here to tell ya, it wasn't because they had to respect somebody's rank! It was because they had been won over by that leader - that man. A man is not suddenly a leader one day because of rank or assignment. A leader is molded over much time and thought process. Just remember, a leader doesn't always make the right decisions or say the right things, but a leader always leads by example. By that, you will have the respect of those under you. And also by that, you can teach without teaching; you can counsel without counseling. You will have some that like you, and some that hate you. But in the end, you will be respected for your integrity and way of thinking. And, when it hits the fan", the man paused, "and I hope for you it never does, you will have your troops at your side watching out for you like you did for them!"

The man wiped a tear from his eye and relaxed his posture a bit. "That is all, Sarge. Take that for what you will." The officer straightened his hat and tie and began to step off. The young NCO shouted: "Sir!" Sergeant Goss waited a long few seconds as the man turned around and replied "Yeah, kid?" and raised an eyebrow. "Might I ask you one question please?" The officer turned fully around and faced the young NCO and replied "Shoot." Goss straightened up properly and muttered: "What is your name and branch of service?" The officer came to attention and saluted "Captain Lance Sijan, United States Air Force". Dropping his salute, the officer perfomed a tight "about face" and stepped away, rounding the corner toward an exit. "What? Wait!" Sergeant Goss shouted as he persued the Captain. He never heard a door open or close, but when he rounded the corner himself, the Captain was gone. He simply vanished.

Ryan W. Foster
Sergeant, United States Air Force
Copyright 2003

With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Channing Prothro, former CAP Marine