The Bayonet

Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014

Iraq War veteran: Trust is key for leaders

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Retired Lt. Col. Rock Marcone visited Fort Benning Jan. 9 to speak to a group of Maneuver Captains Career Course students as part of the Combat Leader Speaker Program.

Marcone commanded 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the opening days of the conflict, the regiment served as the “point of the spear” for the 3rd Infantry Division and was a participant in several key battles, including the seizure of Baghdad International Airport.

Marcone said it was those experiences in Iraq that formed him as a leader, and he spoke to the MCCC students in an effort to impart some of his lessons learned.

One such lesson, he said, was the importance of developing trust within an organization. “The key is really developing a level of trust in the leaders in your organization and the Soldiers in your organization,” he said. “You have to have a certain level of confidence and professionalism, but true trust comes from a conversation and a dialogue that happens every day in all types of situations, good and bad.”

Marcone said one way to develop trust is to remain consistent in dealing with subordinates.

“You can’t be on either end of the spectrum, whether it’s highly excitable or completely introverted,” he said. “You have to have a consistent way of dealing with both the good things that happen in your organization and the bad things that happen. “

Once that trust has been developed, Marcone said simply being present as a leader can provide a boost to morale during tough times.

“The one characteristic that I really want Soldiers to understand is that leaders have to be visible,” he said. “Leaders have to be at the toughest spot at the toughest times. That personal touch or presence that you can show can be critical when things are at their toughest.”

Marcone also said that Army leaders must remain humble, no matter the level of their leadership.

“Leaders exist, in the Army’s case, because they have Soldiers,” he said. “It’s not the other way around. You have a job as a leader because you have Soldiers who you are responsible for, so as a servant leader, you should serve those Soldiers and treat them like you would like to be treated.”

In terms of preparing leaders to serve during combat, Marcone said his best advice was for young captains to study history.

“Every conflict is going to have its own set of parameters, characteristics, idiosyncrasies, challenges, but to me, there’s no better teacher than to go back and study history,” he said. “Study history from every perspective possible, and look at all the different situations in combat. There may be a conflict that will arise that you can’t take a historical vignette from, but I haven’t seen one yet. Look at how the leaders in those leaders in those situations functioned, reacted and prepared.”

When studying history, Marcone said he placed a special emphasis on how past leaders prepared for conflict and tried to emulate successful preparation techniques.

“Once you are there and are executing your mission, it kind of is what it is,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t really control that, but what you can control is how you prepare and train and the environment and culture you create within your organization. That’s what will sustain you, especially in the most difficult situations.”

However, he also said that there are certain aspects of combat that are impossible to prepare for.

“You can try to prepare yourself for it, but how you deal with casualties and losses and how you’re able to absorb that is tough,” Marcone said. “That is something that is really hard to teach. You can talk about it, but until you experience it, it’s just very difficult to understand.”

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