"Using leadership skills of US Army Rangers to help key people succeed in tough times"
Increase Productivity and Profits with Leadership Tune Ups
Successful Leader, Author & Professional Speaker
Wounded Soldiers shows the tenacity and motivation of America’s
young soldiers as they recovered from combat and resumed their
lives in civilized society.
The story holds the key to all of the other chapters. If you are not
motivated to excel, you won't. It's that simple.
While outside factors have some influence, experience
demonstrates that highly successful people are truly motivated
Some people are motivated regardless of the circumstances.
For this group of high achievers, obstacles actually enhance
their self-motivation. On the other hand, no matter how good
the circumstances, some people just cannot be motivated to
perform at their best or even to achieve in their own
Rather than motivating people through external strategies, the
best leaders find ways to develop that inner desire to succeed.
When people understand what it is they want and what it will
take to get there, they can’t be stopped.
- Wounded Soldiers -
The major was almost horizontal in his office chair. He had
both feet propped on his desk, and rings of smoke drifted
upward from his cigar. As I approached on crutches, his lack of
recognition, lazy posture, and half-closed eyes made me
wonder whether I had any chance for success.
I’d seen many like him during my months of recovery from
combat wounds, but he was the most detached. While my visit
was kind of a celebration for me, the encounter seemed to be an
ordeal for this commander of troops at Fitzsimmons Army
Hospital near Denver, Colorado.
His eyes darted toward my nametag, but his feet remained on
the desk. Without introducing myself further, I asked, “What
are the chances of getting a real job around here, Major?”
His chair dropped to the floor and smoke trailed behind the
stogie he pulled from his mouth. “What d’you mean? Ain’t no
jobs for patients. The sick and the lame won’t work, and the
staff don’t want y’all gettin’ in the way!”
“But, Major,” I countered, “if I find a job, wouldn’t it be
better than playing cards and telling war stories all day?”
“It don’t matter to me if you play cards all day. Nobody wants
you on the job,” he snarled. “Go check it out.”
The rest of that day, I hobbled from office to office where
it became obvious that troop shipments to Vietnam had created
shortages in every department. Every manager revealed that
patients were undesirable for office work, but it seemed no
one had raised the level of expectation among the wounded.
The young soldiers had not been given tasks worthy of their
skills and experience.
The administrative jobs didn’t appeal to me, either. I was a
US Army Ranger, an infantry company commander just back from
the war, and I was accustomed to action - a lot of action. While
there was disappointment in being an amputee, I was more
disappointed to find that the best job offered was that of
being a runner for a ward nurse. It seemed like the ultimate
bureaucratic paradox - a one-legged guy on crutches assigned
to be a runner!
- Retrain the troops-
Returning to the company commander, I explained, “You’re right.
There are a lot of jobs open, but staff managers have had bad
experiences with patient volunteers.”
“Told you so,” replied the major.
“In spite of their poor reputation and the staff’s attitude, I
believe I can get some of the patients to work, Major. Most of
the wounded are infantry troops. Somebody has to train them to
work in the offices, just like they were trained for combat.”
To keep the major from denying my request, I hastily added,
“I’d like to have the job of matching patients with work. As
a matter of fact, I’d like to make this program sound
official by calling it work therapy. Would you go for that?”
The company commander poked his cigar at me, saying, “Maybe
you got hit a little bit in the head over there in Nam.
You’re crazy if you think these guys will make the staff happy.
“It’s OK if you want to try this,” he said, “but don’t come
running to me for help when the staff chews you out for
The major’s lack of sensitivity for the patients spurred me
on, and his foolishness in telling me not to come running to
him made me want to prove him wrong as soon as possible.
Within a week, several patients were filling their days with
typing, filing, answering telephones, assisting nurses,
performing lab work, and even repairing vehicles in the motor
pool. Some patients were even capable of helping the grounds
crew with landscaping.
One soldier who was recovering from stomach wounds decided to
use his welding skills in the automotive repair shop. A GI in
a wheelchair discovered an interest in medical research.
Another took an interest in building prosthetic legs for other
amputees. Many skills were represented among the wounded, and
almost everyone was anxious to get back to doing something
Even the critically incapacitated patients could be involved
in limited ways. Many were bedridden, but they were anxious
to do something constructive.
- He was the only survivor! -
One of the most dramatic recoveries was that of a navy
riverboat crewman who had been wounded by a Viet Cong .50
caliber machine gun when their boat rounded the bend in a
river. He was the only survivor, and he was completely
paralyzed from the neck down.
Everyone marveled at this sailor’s enthusiasm and his desire
for recovery. In spite of the doctor’s opinion that he would
be forever paralyzed, his wife decided he could use this
downtime to teach others his lifelong hobby of tying knots.
Most of us lacked her optimism about the project, but I was
willing to give it a try when we found another sailor who
truly wanted to learn the lore of knot tying.
These two navy combat veterans spent hours telling war stories
and massaging ropes into various knots. Every time the younger
sailor accomplished a particularly hard task, the paralyzed
sailor celebrated with a big, seafaring yell.
But the student gave the loudest of all yells one afternoon
when his mentor actually moved one finger in an effort to show
the young man how to twist the rope into an artful knot.
Days later, another finger was used. Before long, he could
move his hands, and his wife visited daily to encourage her
sailor boys. As the months wore on, the young seaman became a
knot expert, and the paralyzed sailor amazed all of us by
standing with the aid of crutches.
However, not every patient readily embraced the idea of
working. There was a newly arrived lieutenant who refused all
work. At our first bedside interview, he announced, “I’m not
working for anybody. I’m a patient. I’ve been shot in the
face, and as soon as I get a glass eye, I’m checking out of
“You’re right, Lieutenant. Your glass eye and your discharge
will probably come together, gift-wrapped. But, I’ll be back
at eight in the morning to explain your new job. You’ll like
With my arrival the next morning, the hospital ward came to a
standstill. Conversations stopped. Nurses almost froze in
their tracks. The silence was broken only by the sound of my
crutch tips squeaking on the tile floor as I moved toward the
Everyone waited to see how I would respond to the lieutenant’s
loud declarations that he “absolutely will not work, and
there’s nothing that one-legged captain can do about it.”
The lieutenant remained perfectly still under his blanket as I
tapped the bed railing with my metal crutch.
“Let’s go, Lieutenant!”
- He ain’t going-
There was no response from the lieutenant, but from the bunk
next to his came a whisper, “He said he ain’t going,
"Is that right, Lieutenant? Is that what you said?”
Still, there was no movement, so I jerked the blanket away
That got a reaction. The lieutenant jumped up and scrambled
around the bed to threaten me with a punch on the nose.
I held my ground - as well as a one-legged guy can - and the
ward came to life with cheers and yells when I said,
“Lieutenant, does the word court martial mean anything to
His frustration grew and his face reddened even more when I
said, “They won’t give you a glass eye in jail!”
The lieutenant paused. He stood just inches from me, curling
his fists and glaring. But he didn’t have much practice
glaring at anybody with one eye and a black patch, so the
moment had its humor.
The other patients wanted serious trouble for this slacker,
so they laughed and chanted, “Hit ’im, hit ’em, hit 'em!” It
was hard to tell whether they wanted the lieutenant to hit me
or vice versa.
Knowing that the lieutenant needed a way to save his self-respect,
I said, “Let’s finish this conversation in the break room in five
minutes.” I turned on my one heel and crutched from the room as
the GIs shouted encouragement to me and to the one-eyed lieutenant.
The lieutenant held to his no-work position, so I left him
with encouraging remarks and an explanation that I would
return with his work assignment the next morning.
- Peg leg-
The work therapy program was a huge success at the army
hospital. More than two hundred fifty patients were employed
daily; the workload shifted; recovering soldiers felt productive;
and many seriously wounded young men regained their
self-respect and courage to face the future.
After a peg leg increased my mobility a few weeks later, I
stumped into that same ward and met a perfectly uniformed
officer who stood tall and explained, “This is my last day
here, captain. I want to thank you for all you’ve done for
“Even for the way I treated you when you first arrived?” I
The lieutenant adjusted his eye patch and laughed, “That’s
right. I was awake most of that night deciding what to say
when you came back, and I was hopping mad. Oh, excuse me,
Sir. It’s just a figure of speech.
“But, if you hadn’t done something like that, I would have
laid right there in bed waiting for a glass eye. Then I would
have left here feeling pitiful.
“The job was good for me,” he said. “I found out that I can
still do everything. I found out that people aren’t going to
make fun of me. I’m going to be all right.”
“Well, Lieutenant, you take credit for your recovery. All I
did was help you see your own potential.”
The lieutenant removed his eye patch to show me a very
realistic looking glass eye. I could have sworn that the
artificial eye caught his smile along with his other eye.
There were handshakes and slaps on the shoulders, and he was
The lieutenant helped us both recover. The two of us learned
to overcome obstacles and confront change. He applied his
skills on the job, and I applied mine - encouraging him to
I continued on active duty as an amputee infantry officer,
something almost unheard of at the time. Gaining a waiver to
remain on active duty required the same persistence,
perseverance, and self-motivation that were demonstrated by
hundreds of GIs at the army hospital.
Our independence was fierce, but none of us could recover from
combat wounds without the care of physicians, nurses, staff,
therapists, and family members. All of these people played a
role in our recovery. But no one could make the recovery for
us; we had to complete the treatments, grind through the
therapy, and confront the emotional upheaval that lay ahead.
We were fragile. Many of those with mountaintop
self-motivation soon wound up at the bottom of the hill as
they read Dear John letters or found themselves rejected by
families who couldn’t handle the broken bodies coming back from
On the contrary, many of the impossible cases were motivated to
surpass those with minor wounds. The medical staff and other
patients provided constant encouragement, but the results
depended on our personal courage and vision about what could
The one-eyed lieutenant was not motivated by my threatening
remarks. I simply helped him understand the choices he had,
and we embraced the same vision. Likewise, my own motivation
came not from filling staff positions but from helping others
succeed, helping them find their own vision for success.
Some of the soldiers were encouraged by recognition. Others,
like the lieutenant, were encouraged by authority. People
like the knot-tying sailor were encouraged when they met
seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The motivation came from