GPSolo Magazine - January February 2005

The Chair’s Corner
Lessons of the Military

Have you been to a bookstore lately? I usually end up in the business section, checking out the latest in marketing and management. More and more books are appearing about military styles of management— The Marine Corps Way: Using Maneuver Warfare to Lead a Winning Organization; The Leadership Lessons of the U.S. Navy SEALS: Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results; No Excuse Leadership: Lessons from the U.S. Army’s Elite Rangers; and Be Know Do, Adapted from the Official Army Leadership Manual, to name just a few. And what library would be complete without Becoming a Leader the Annapolis Way?

With a healthy respect for the armed forces, we look to military folks for lessons in leadership. From George Washington to Dwight Eisenhower and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, from Ulysses S. Grant to Robert E. Lee, we have looked to these military giants for lessons. But what about those whose names aren’t household words? What can we learn from those names that don’t roll off our tongues quite so easily, such as Army Corporal Alvin York, or Dick O’Kane, Captain of the USS Tang, or Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the first black general in the Air Force?

Corporal York was born in Tennessee and left school after the third grade. He helped win a critical World War I battle in France, putting 35 machine guns out of action, killing 25 German soldiers, and taking 132 prisoners. York was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. After his military career was over, he devoted much of his time to helping poor residents of the Appalachian Mountains and later helped established a school in Fentress County, later known as the York Agricultural Institute.

Captain O’Kane was born in New Hampshire and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. While serving as commander of the USS Tang in 1943 and 1944, he sunk a record 27 enemy ships. Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, three Navy Crosses, Legion of Merit with Combat V, three Silver Stars, a Commendation Ribbon, three Presidential Unit Citations, battle stars for 11 war patrols, a Purple Heart, and a Prisoner of War Medal, he retired in 1957 as a rear admiral.

General Davis was born in Washington, D.C., and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy. One of the original Tuskegee Airmen, he became the first black airman to earn his wings in 1942, after President Roosevelt ordered the War Department in 1940 to create a black flying unit. He was named squadron commander of the 99th Pursuit Squadron and later became commander of the 332d Fighter Squadron. General Davis was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for leadership and bravery, the Silver Star for gallantry in action, the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, and his fourth star in 1998.

So what do these individuals have in common? What common thread connects all of them together? You’re right: trained and educated in the military, they were taught to be honest and dependable, schooled to take responsibility and never to stop learning. They exemplify what today’s military personnel are being trained to do in the armed forces. Yes, they make us proud. But their examples also teach us many of life’s most valuable lessons. Whether we learn determination from Corporal York, or calmness, terseness, and deadly cool from Captain O’Kane, or honesty, discipline, and attention to detail from General Davis, if we follow their lead, we can be successful in our lives and in our law practices. We can help our families, our communities, and our country. Whether we have direct contact with members of the military, whether we are ourselves deployed or have family members deployed or have clients who are affected by a deployment, we must all band together to help each other while learning from those who have gone before us and take the time to teach those who will follow us.

Yes, the military can teach even lawyers a lesson or two!



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