Many years ago I was sitting in a hangar on a summer afternoon at Fort Benning. I was a 19-year-old soldier going through the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) to hopefully become a member of the Ranger Regiment. An older gentlemen came and sat down next to me. We were all wearing our T-10 Charlie static line parachutes, waiting to board a C-130 for our training jump. One of my RIP instructors knelt down next to the older man and informed him that we might come out over the trees, which is intentional because of the direction the wind is blowing, we will end up right in the middle of the drop zone.
With my instructor walking away, the older man then turned to me and struck up a conversation. I quickly realized that I was talking to the Regimental Commander, Colonel Votel. He was the most senior guy in the Regiment and I wasn’t even a member yet! That said, we had a brief conversation about RIP and he asked me what I thought about the course. He seemed like a good dude and I was later told that Colonel Votel is a very smart individual.
We went our separate ways, and years later I snickered a bit when General Votel was becoming CENTCOM commander. The press described Votel as a shadowy “Special Ops” general, the way they do every other high-ranking officer who comes out of JSOC or SOCOM. Votel was hardly shadowy, I recall seeing him on Facebook wearing a Christmas sweater with his wife. Continuing in his capacity as CENTCOM commander, General Votel came into the spotlight yesterday when called to the carpet by lawmakers to discuss the recent raid in Yemen.
General Votel said, “First and foremost I am responsible for this mission. I am the CENTCOM commander and I am responsible for what’s done in my region and what’s not done in my region. So I accept the responsibility for this. We lost a lot on this operation.”
The frankness of General Votel’s words is refreshing. When we select leaders, we expect them to lead. When they are in charge, we expect them to take charge. After Benghazi, everyone seemed to want to point fingers and deflect responsibility. Votel took full responsibility, no doubt understanding that the patrol leader is responsible for everything the patrol does and fails to do. This is what Americans really want to see. People understand that mistakes happen, but they don’t want to see their country’s leadership pass the buck.
One is reminded how after the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy honorably fell on the sword and accepted his responsibility. While that incident cannot be compared to the Yemen operation, General Votel showed similar strong leadership yesterday. Let’s hope that his example sets a standard of behavior within the rest of CENTCOM.
Our duly elected bureaucrats would also be well served by following in Votel’s foot steps.
(lead image curtsey of the Washington Times)