Ask any Army or Marine General officer what was the best period in their career, and all will answer the same – when they were Captains and leading a company. Undoubtedly, some day, Frank Hooker, commanding officer, Apache troop, 6/4 Cav, will say the same thing.
In the course of our year journey through the small combat outposts of Iraq and Afghanistan, we have worked with a lot of captains and their companies. At a level of the military – the pointy end – where things need to work and good leadership is required, good leadership is consistently delivered at the rank of Captain. Frank Hooker delivered at COP Lowell.
Ironically, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, the captain’s rank was hemorrhaging good men. At a stage in their lives when they needed to make important career decisions – stay in the service and face multiple deployments, or leave while they were young enough, and enter the private sector – many chose the latter.
The Army was forced to dip into the talent pool of their enlisted ranks to ease the captain shortage. That turned out to be a very good thing. Men and women whose military experience started from the very bottom – private – brought that experience to the officer corps. They knew what motivated them as “Joes” and, as captains, pushed those same buttons to get the most out of their troops. These “mustangs” and their techniques were observed by young lieutenants fresh out of ROTC. As Captains, many of them have emulated the mustangs.
Hooker, a graduate of Florida A&M, is one of those who “gets it”. He doesn’t need to shout to get his point across. He’s hard when he needs to be and cuts slack when the time is right – traits, I believe, you can’t learn at Officer Candidate School or West Point.
When he came to Afghanistan, he didn’t know he would be put in charge of the most dangerous outpost in theater. He is now leaving Combat Outpost Lowell with all of his men alive. How that happened, he says, is something that will be impossible to explain.