Winning in Sports. Winning on the Battlefield.

Competing at the highest level is not about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding and nurturing your people and heart. Winning is the result.
Joe Torre

Organizations need both leadership and teamwork.
Organizations need both leadership and teamwork. Without effective leadership, inspiring leadership, committed leadership, teams lack focus, direction, and confidence. They are not effective. And when teams are not effective, the entire organization suffers. Leaders and their teams are inextricably linked – forged together for strength. Here are three stories of leadership and team building that had impressive outcomes.

#1 The Story of the Sports Award

Sports are a powerful team-building tool
Sports are a powerful team-building tool and if used correctly can not only achieve team-specific goals, but go far beyond to build confidence, inspiration, and achievement. That’s what happened to my battalion.

Our battalion was training in the field for their upcoming rotation at the National Training Center.  The National Training Center where some of the Army’s most important and intense training takes place. It was tough and troops trained just get ready for their turn at the National Training Center. In the middle of all this preparation, Command Sergeant Major Rivera approached me and told me that the post wrestling championships was the next day. I had to make a quick decision. Should I leave the troops in the field training for their upcoming all-important National Training Center rotation or should I pull our best wrestlers out, send them into the wrestling competition and then bring them back. Decision made. I told CSM Rivera to send best wrestlers to the wrestling championships and then bring them back to the field exercise.

Sports is the glue that often binds a team together
Why did I interrupt their training? Because sports is the glue that often binds a team together. Sharing failure in sports. Sharing victory in sports. Both make a team strong. And that strength translates to their performance on the field of battle.

The wrestling championship was only one example where training in the field was interrupted for training in the athletic arena. And it paid off. Through the many sacrifices and the creativity of finding ways to allow our soldiers to compete while we were in the field, our battalion finished first in cross country, and ultimately won the 1st Infantry Division awards the Commander’s Cup Trophy for achievements in sports!

The power of sports

“An athlete gains so much knowledge by just participating in a sport.
Focus, discipline, hard work, goal setting and, of course, the thrill of finally achieving your goals. These are all lessons in life”
American Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi

#2 The Story of Artillery Fire That Didn’t Happen…And Then It Did

Winning in sports gave many of our soldiers the qualities that would allow them to win on the battlefield.  They developed persistence, endurance, creativity, and above all the passion to win.

Sports make for better teams
It wasn’t long before we had a chance to test our theory – that sports make for better teams. It was during our next rotation at the National Training Center, that our team, the 1st Engineer Battalion demonstrated it knew how to win. 

But it didn’t begin very well. In fact, it was pretty much a disaster at first.

At the National Training Center, visiting units train by fighting against the Opposing Force (OPFOR.) Now it is important to understand that the Opposing Force generally defeated every brigade that arrived at the National Training Center. Why? Simple. First, the OPFOR knew the terrain better than the visiting units. Second, they fought every visiting brigade every month.  The visiting units came to the National Training Center maybe once a year so the OPFOR got much more practice – 12 times as much practice as any visiting team. The bottom line is that very few units ever defeat the OPFOR.

A winning combination – leadership and teamwork
At first, it seemed like we would also join the ranks of defeated units. But through a combination of leadership and teamwork, the 1st Engineer Battalion in support of the 1st Brigade found a strategic way to win again and again.

When lack of specific training is the problem
Initially, it didn’t look good for our unit. Clearly our biggest challenge appeared to be lack of training in the National Training Center environment – especially in battle specific skills like calling for fire – artillery support. For example, one of the brigade’s battalion commander’s units was being attacked.  The battalion commander requested artillery support several times. But his unit was not the priority and no artillery support was forthcoming. Finally, the priority shifted to this commander. Now he was first in line and directed to call for artillery fire he needed.  But the situation quickly went from bad to worse. As we all listened in on the brigade command radio frequency, we realized that the battalion commander failed to give a direction – a crucial component – for the artillery fire.  At that moment, I realized that we had a big gap in our training. We didn’t know how to call for fire, for artillery support. And while that was a serious problem during a training exercise, in an actual battle it could be fatal.

When we returned to Fort Riley, Kansas, I was determined that every officer in the battalion would become certified to call for fire.  We would never be exposed and vulnerable again.

Setting up win-focused training
We went to work. We set up a simulation center that replicated the National Training Center.  This would eliminate any excuse because we weren’t familiar with the environment, terrain, or any other factor. The decision was made to first train our lieutenants who would be forward in the field and in the best position to call for fire.  Our trainer called out, “three enemy tanks in the open…call for fire…Lieutenant Bostick.” That was me. Although I was a Lieutenant Colonel, the trainer called me “Lieutenant” so I could set an example for other Lieutenants. I did it. I successfully called for artillery fire. And then, we trained every officer to do the same.

It wasn’t long before we had a chance to show our newly acquired skills with a surprising and very satisfying result.

Bold is often best
It was at our next National Training Center rotation. Our Brigade Commander made a bold move. He moved the 1st Engineer Battalion north of a mountain range called the Granite Mountain range. That’s where we would conduct an operation that we had never conducted before in training.  We would defend the Alpha and Bravo pass.  The operation involved two armored and one infantry task forces of the brigade simultaneously conducting a movement to contact south of the Granite Mountain range in the Central Corridor.  The brigade was obviously taking a huge risk in the north.

During the preparation for the upcoming battle, our Division Commander, Major General Randy House spoke on the Brigade Command radio frequency asking for Dagger 6, my brigade commander, and Diehard 6, me, to meet him at the “Iron Triangle” a well-known meeting point in the Central Corridor of the National Training Center. 

Major General House asked Dagger 6 to describe his plan.  After listening to the plan, Major General House said, “It sounds like you’re sending Bostick up to Alpha-Bravo pass with a shotgun and no ammo.”  MG House went on to say, that if he were the Opposing Force, he would send the entire regiment north and overwhelm the engineers in Alpha-Bravo pass. 

Strategic planning before execution                                                               
My Brigade Commander reassigned some of our resources and created a task force in the north. Task Force Bostick consisted of me, our engineers, an entire tank company, and a Bradley platoon of infantry. Not only that but the task force had priority on artillery and air support. We worked all evening planning for battle.  Typically, engineer units use inert mines to block Alpha-Bravo pass. Our battalion changed up the typical strategy and elected to use dozers to cut an actual ditch that would be impenetrable without a bridge crossing vehicle.

The next part of the plan was mine. I instructed one of the fastest runners in our company, Lieutenant Schleicher, to get out in front of Alpha-Bravo pass and get to the point where the OPFOR had to make a decision to go north or south of the Granite Mountains.  That critical decision point was 10 kilometers in front of our position. Lieutenant Schleicher or “Roadrunner” as we called him, moved quickly on his own as a forward scout.  We then positioned another scout, Lieutenant Mihara, forward and at a high point.  We let him know that should he identify the OPFOR Combined Arms Reserve, the element that would close with and destroy the enemy, he should immediately call for artillery fire on the brigade command frequency.

The battle began. It wasn’t long before Roadrunner called saying that he saw the largest cloud of dust heading for the Granite pass, moving north.  We immediately asked if it was the entire Regiment. He said it was.  Lieutenant Mihara spotted the CAR, quickly entered the brigade command radio frequency, and successfully called for fire. His fast action would later earn him an impact Army Commendation Medal. 

In the meantime, the entire OPFOR regiment moved north of the Granite Mountains heading directly for Alpha-Bravo pass.  Unfortunately for them, they did not lead with their assault bridges and as a result were forced to stop completely in the Alpha-Bravo pass.

We put out a call for artillery as well as air support into the Alpha-Bravo pass and decimated those vehicles in the pass. 

Success and disappointment
“The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire;
the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way”
Robert Kiyosaki

Unsuccessful in penetrating Alpha-Bravo pass, the remaining OPFOR vehicles moved one-by-one over the Granite Mountains along a small winding road that exited into the Central Corridor. And that’s exactly where the three 1st Brigade Task Forces were in position waiting. 

In that battle, the 1st Brigade and Task Force Bostick had accomplished something that had not been accomplished before.  Every OPFOR vehicle was killed, something very rare for the OPFOR. We had created an engineer task force that successfully executed a mission for which it had never trained, and ultimately the brigade destroyed the entire OPFOR regiment with support from every part of the brigade including highly trained and confident lieutenants.

That was a win we could all be proud of leaders and team members alike. It was a win that involved lots of hard training, imagination, and tight teamwork. And it worked!

#3 The Story of the Minefields

Who would have ever thought that a battle that took place in the middle of the twentieth century would serve as inspiration for the team in the 21st century? But that’s exactly what happened.

Letting history inform your leadership and your team
From December 16 to January 25 the Battle of the Bulge, later called the “greatest American battle of the war” by Winston Churchill raged in Europe. And the 1st Engineer Battalion played an important role in that historic battle by opening “Echo Lane” on Normandy Beach which then allowed for the initial assault.  During the battle, the 1st Engineer Battalion placed over 30,000 mines in the snow, in just ten days.  That was 3000 mines placed a day.  

History – a great teacher
That feat inspired the 1st Engineer Battalion in another battle they fought during their National Training Center Rotation during which the brigade had to take up a defensive position.  One of the key tasks during defensive operations was to lay minefields.  Some of these minefields were inert and some were live.  Typically, engineer units would place several hundred mines.  Other, better-trained units might be able to lay over a thousand mines.  Before deploying to the NTC, the 1st Engineer Battalion reviewed its history during WWII.  They revisited the 3000 mine feat of their historical brothers. Our unit became determined to honor the World War II heroes by placing the same number – 3000 mines –  during the battle at the NTC. This was the total amount of mines at the NTC.  That number 3000 represented the total number of mines at NTC.

As the preparation for the defense continued, I visited the live minefield where Sergeant Tewks was rallying the troops.  Each time I stopped by the minefield site, a young highly motivated Non-Commissioned Officer asked me, “Sir, how close are we to 3000 mines?”  And then, hard hours later, we reached our goal. The battalion placed all the mines available at the NTC -over 3000 – and the 1st Brigade once again killed every OPFOR vehicle in the regiment in this battle. 

History proved to be a powerful motivator.