Just promoted to major and assigned to 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, I met with the commander, LTC Mike McDermott. Mike was one of the most decorated warriors of the Viet Nam war with two Distinguished Service Cross awards and one Silver Star. The following week, I would become his S3, the operations and training officer.
I entered his office, saluted, and requested his guidance for my duties. Expecting his thoughts on the unit training plan or the upcoming REFORGER exercise in Germany, McDermott shocked me with his response: “Sit down, Major Tom. A battalion is like a big old ham. Every ham is pretty much like all other hams. The difference between hams is found in the cloves that give each their distinctive flavor. Likewise, every infantry battalion is similar to all others with the same number of people, weapons, and kinetic combat power. In this battalion we have four leaders positioned to make a real difference: me, the XO, you as the S3, and the command sergeant major. Tom, be a clove. See you next week.”
Be a clove? Is that all he has to give? After murmuring about the lack of guidance, I reflected further. Jesus gave similar guidance to His disciples: “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13). Perhaps McDermott was onto something.
Yes, the unit training plan and the next major exercise or deployment are all important. They are mission critical and they should be done excellently. Also essential for Christian leaders are the daily development of subordinates; team building for unit cohesion and performance; setting of standards of respect and performance; and seasoning the unit culture with the aroma of Christ. Each deserves our best. Each done by the power of the Spirit flowing through a faith-filled and willing disciple.
Leader, be a clove!