09 July 2012

Leadership Fortitude

On Killing by LtCol Dave Grossman, 2009, Excerpts

The impact of true physical exhaustion is impossible to communicate to those who have not experienced it. We were beginning week eight of the eight-week U.S. Army Ranger School, and my peers and I had endured physical deprivation for seven weeks. I had not eaten or slept for five days. We were handpicked officers and sergeants in the finest possible condition upon the beginning of the course, by this time most of us had lost well over twenty pounds of body tissue. Sunken cheeked and hollow eyed, we were in a state of total starvation-enhanced exhaustion that caused many of us to have repeated hallucinations, incredibly vivid dreams that we would experience while wide-awake, usually about food. The mind teetered on the brink of madness.

The point of such remarkable exercises in self-flagellations is to introduce the combat leader to an intense degree of stress and thereby inoculate him against psychological trauma. While soldiers may become exhausted and enter into a dazed condition in which all sharpness is lost, they can still function like cells in a military organism, doing what is expected of them because it has become automatic.

Exhaustion, memory defects, apathy, hopelessness, and all the rest of these are precise descriptions of clinical depression. “Fortitude” rather than “courage” is the proper word to describe what is occurring. The opposite of courage is cowardice, but the opposite of fortitude is exhaustion. When the soldier’s well is dry, his very soul is dry. Depletion of fortitude can be seen in entire units as well as individuals. The fortitude of a unit is no more than the aggregate of the fortitude of its members. And when the individuals are drained to a husk, the whole is nothing more than an aggregate of exhausted men. A great military leader has an ability to draw from the tremendous depths of fortitude within his own well, and in doing so he is fortifying his own men by permitting them to draw from his well.

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