Clayton Hendon, son of Griffin and Missie Hendon, grew up in nearby Dallas, graduated from Lake Highlands High School, went to the US Military Academy at West Point graduating there in 2007 as a classmate of local warrior Mario Barrett, son of Keith and Joanne Barrett of Rockwall, and ended up in Iraq as a Tank Platoon Leader exactly one year after finishing his formal education.
As he said, “I was an individual replacement and had never met my platoon until Iraq. When I arrived in-country the Battalion Commander said, ‘Do you want a job or not?’ Well there was only one answer to that question and even though I am an Infantry officer, I answered, ‘YES’ and quickly became an Armor officer.. I was assigned 15 Armor Soldiers and 5 Infantrymen, along with 4 Main Battle Tanks.”
And then the age-old instruction method of training a new Lieutenant for command started. You have probably heard that old expression, “the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) is the backbone of the Army.” It’s true and every new officer will tell you that is where they really learned about the Army, how to deal with Soldiers, and how to survive on the battlefield. It’s not always an easy process, believe me, as there are very few new officers who are not cocky, eager to be a George Patton on the battlefield, and are not always ready to listen to the wise counsel of the experienced NCO.
As Lt. Hendon said, “My platoon sergeant has more than a decade of experience but it took me a few months and a few disagreements before I finally appreciated the value he provided. He was detail oriented and knew how to manage Soldiers and I learned a lot about being a leader from him. I also had three staff sergeants in my platoon that made everything happen. They were talented warriors and leaders and I would go anywhere with any of them.”
Since one of the missions of Lt. Hendon’s platoon was the training of Iraqi security forces, I asked him the differences in their Army and ours. What he said did not surprise me. “The difference in the US military and the Iraqi military is institutional knowledge. In our military, we have non-commissioned officers who have been doing the same job, at different levels of responsibility, anywhere from 5-20 years. The NCOs who trained them had a similar level of experience. In the Iraqi military, most of their experienced NCOs were killed in the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War, or the opening phases of Operation Iraqi freedom. Bottom line, they just do not have the experience base to pass along the knowledge learned.”
Ask your friends about their experiences in the US military and specifically where they learned how to be a Soldier. I bet they will tell you the same thing Lt. Hendon and I learned over a quarter of a Century apart in our careers. It came from what an NCO taught them!
Jerry Hogan is a retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel who volunteers to write this mn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-394-4033.