The Iron Duke’s tips for Iron Majors
The Iron Duke’s tips for Iron Majors
By Major Crispin Burke, U.S. Army Best Defense guest columnist
Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, cut his teeth during campaigns in India and Iberia. But he’s most famous as the man who, along with the timely intervention of a Prussian Army, defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo two hundred years ago today.
Wellington ranks high among generals of the era — his army of Britons, Spaniards, and Portuguese was one of the first to deal a decisive blow to the vaunted French Army at the Battle of Salamanca. Among British commanders, he’s right up there with the Marlborough and Slim.
But while most focus on Wellington’s advice for commanders, few think about the Iron Duke’s advice for staff officers — the Iron Majors, if you will. Here are five tips from the Iron Duke to Iron Majors.
1.) The most boring parts of the plan are usually the most important. Wellington was a meticulous planner, particularly in the realm of logistics. While on campaign in India, the Duke took stringent precautions to ensure his army didn’t starve in the field (as many did in those days). The sheer act of feeding and sustaining an army got him halfway to victory, as it allowed him to put more men into the fight than his enemies could. Modern armies don’t run on tanks and trucks so much as they run on food, funding, and fuel. Forget to set up a FARP or ensure your troops have MREs and watch how quickly your organization grinds to a halt. Neglect these parts of the plan at your peril.
I know I've mentioned this before, but a war story of my basic course. An old calvary captain told us something I've always remembered, "Amateurs study tactics, professional study logistics." I didn't appreciate it at the time, but I've gotten to know wisdom of that since.
2.) Here’s to your health. Though military medical care may be lacking at times, it’s far better than it was two hundred years ago. In Wellington’s day, sickness took a greater toll on armies than cannons and musket balls. At times, nearly a third of the British Army in the Iberian Peninsula was rendered incapacitated with disease. Let that be a lesson for you — make sure your Soldiers get immunized! (That includes MMR)
In the flu pandemic of 1918-1919, over 20 million (low estimate) people lost their lives. That's more than twice the number of battle deaths suffered on both sides, 8.5 million.
3.) Leaders are Readers. The US military can deploy anywhere in the world within a few hours. But in Wellington’s day, a passage to India could take a few months. That left the Iron Duke with plenty of time to read — everything from John Locke to Adam Swift. It served him well in India, where he spent much of his time tending to civil administration — not unlike military leaders today.
Something to be said about being well rounded.
4.) Don’t put anything in an email you wouldn’t want to see in the New York Times. Wellington learned this one the hard way, when passages from his confidential dispatches back to London made their way into nightly newspapers. It’s a lesson occasionally lost on officers two centuries later, too.
And use your government email, not a private server.
5.) One of these days, you’ll get a lousy assignment. Keep doing your best, though. Wellington is supposed to have written: “I have eaten the King’s salt, and, therefore, I conceive it to be my duty to serve with unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the King or his government may think proper to employ me.”
Or, as General George S. Patton said more succinctly: “I’m a soldier. I go where I’m told, and I win where I fight.”
And sometimes it will lead to greatness. Then Major Dwight Eisenhower spent seven years as a curator of the Gettysburg Battlefield, a position he hated. However he learned the grounds better than anyone could have and after that the was sent to the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth (My God that's in Kansas!). The final paper was on the Battle of Gettysburg and Ike's paper put him at the top of the class. His paper impressed the them commandant, Major General George Marshall who decided to put this major under his wings. And the rest is history.