5, 2014 I visited Fort Bliss’ Highlander Field in El Paso, Texas to watch as the
4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, of the 4 Brigade Combat Team, of the
First Armored Division (Old Ironsides) said farewell to its commander Lt.
Colonel Ronny Johnson and welcomed its new commander, my friend of over two
decades, Lt. Colonel William Adler.
battalion is known as “The Regulars” because in the battle of Chippewa in the War of 1812, while wearing
the uniforms of American militia, they surprised the British by pressing their
attack rather than collapsing. The British general supposedly yelled, “Those
are Regulars, by God!”
story may be a myth. The only witness was the 4th battalion’s
commander, future President Zachary Taylor. But myths exist to show us deeper
truths. Regular is synonymous with ordinary, even dull. But in this context it
is high praise. It means that they were professional soldiers.
battalion consists of 300-1000 soldiers. Coordinating several hundred people to
perform complex and timely operations is no small feat. Achieving this feat
under the harrowing conditions of combat is a challenge of the highest order. There
must be no illusions. This is what the military does. Both the brigade
commander and outgoing battalion commander stated, “The battalion’s
mission is to be prepared to deploy globally to kill the enemies of the United
missions successfully, to be professional soldiers, to merit being “Regulars”
is a mark of excellence.
peacetime, soldiers prepare for war, practicing their craft. Hopefully, their
skill will deter enemies, but history suggests otherwise.
and training guide the hand and sharpen the mind. Great business leaders cite
the importance of mission in motivating people to achieve. How much more true
must this be, when the business is one of dealing and suffering death?
change of command ceremony, albeit brief, reaches deep into time to nurture this
sense of mission. It is a living reminder to the unit’s soldiers of the unit’s
traditions, past and honor – the sense that they are marching in a long line of
incoming and outgoing commanders reviewed the troops they were following a tradition
established by Alexander the Great. At the end of the ceremony the soldiers
paraded off the field, this reflected a newer innovation, from the Middle Ages.
heart of the change of command ceremony is the “passing of the guidon,” the
unit’s colors. For Roman legions, medieval knights, and musketeers a unit’s
standards showed the commander’s location so soldiers could rally to their leader.
Now the standards serve a less practical, but still essential purpose of
symbolizing the unit’s honor. The announcer explained, “The commander may
die, but the colors continue.”
personnel move to new units at regular intervals. In a few years no one
currently associated with the Regulars will still be a Regular. Yet the unit
will continue. If the battalion commander is the head and the command sergeant
major is the heart – the colors are the unit’s soul, the ineffably quality that
makes something unique and allows excellence.