By Andrew Books
Five years ago, my wife and kids gave me a pretty cool birthday gift. It was a DVD copy of the HBO series “Band Of Brothers” in a hardbound leather case, complete with maps and diagrams of some of the most important campaigns involving the 101st Airborne during WWII.
If you’re not familiar, the 101st “Screaming Eagles” played a prominent part during Operation Overlord as well as several other significant battles in the European Theater during the war. Although not a documentary in the purest sense, it’s a chronicle from start to finish of the men and their experiences of fighting the Nazi army across occupied Europe.
I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to WWII history, largely because of my wife’s ancestry that stems back to Europe. My mother-in-law, Annie, is French. A young girl during the German occupation, she has vivid memories of her times encountering Nazi soldiers and witnessing the damage they inflicted in her hometown of Toul in northeast France.
Her father was also a member of the French underground, and her mother was at risk of exposure since he was participating in activities that were meant to undermine and destroy Nazi efforts. You and I can’t imagine some of the memories she retains, nor would we want to. On occasion, she’ll indulge me with stories, but not often. Frankly, they aren’t all that pleasant to discuss.
Our French relatives all still live in that little town about 3 hours to the east of Paris. I’ve only visited the area twice, but each time I go back, I learn more about the role the region played in the war. My children share an equal interest, which thrills me as it’s important for them to have a grasp of how it impacted their direct family lineage. “This is part of our history,” I tell them. “It’s who we are.”
It’s also one of the reasons I enjoy Band Of Brothers so much. It’s loaded with incredible stories and lessons that resonate with even the most historically ignorant. You don’t have to know the multitudes of strategic implementations it took to win the war on so many fronts. All you have to do is watch, appreciate and learn. Although it is, at heart, a story about the horrors of war, you can discover much more if you look beyond the obvious.
You have to give to get. Yes – this is a war film. The obvious point is sacrifices are made in the name of freedom. Unfortunately, good men and women die during wartime, both military and civilian.
Surely, this piece would be incomplete without a direct appreciation and acknowledgment of those who have fallen just to preserve the many privileges we take for granted. None of us can say thank you enough times to match the level of sacrifice they have attained.
That being said, it seems silly to compare my petty considerations against those documented in the series. Albeit on another level completely, it’s still an example of what to be in life – selfless, giving and considerate of the needs of others. That’s where some of the greatest reward emanates from.
I give enormous credit to those who give of themselves and their time when they surely have their own pressing needs – family, personal, professional and financial. That takes a certain amount of dedication and commitment that not many have the time nor the inclination to take on, but they do it to serve a higher calling – the reward of doing right by their neighbors and community.
I’d like to think I have that capacity, but I admit to shortcomings where others have excelled. It’s a good thing I have other role models to follow, both family and friends.
If you want to see where you’re going, take a hard look at where you’ve been. I’ve always been a firm believer that one of the best tools to self-improvement is reflection. I don’t mean dwelling on how much money you’ve made or the positions you’ve held in the last ten years, although, if that’s what makes your socks roll up and down, so be it.
There was a time in my life where I felt professionally rudderless. Those were moments where I questioned the paths I followed and the decisions I made. I refer to it as “being a little too much in my head.” It may come as no surprise to some that I’ve occasionally white-boarded this stuff out. Granted, it’s not exactly “A Beautiful Mind” kind of material that involves all sorts of mind-bending mathematical equations, but you work with what you’ve got.
What I’ve learned is that I am who I am because of the choices I’ve made, for better or for worse. It doesn’t pay to look back in anguish over bad calls or missteps I’ve taken. I can’t change the past, nor would I want to as it would only take away from some of the hard lessons I’ve had to endure and learn from. With a lot of knowledge and a little bit of luck, it makes me a better father, husband, son, brother and leader.
Much like I tell my co-workers, it’s okay to make a mistake, because that’s just human nature. The key is to figure out what you did, and not repeat it.
It takes more than a title to earn true respect. This was the biggest takeaway for me from the entire series.
The first episode of the series is largely about the training and preparations the 101st Airborne had to endure in order to enter combat successfully. It also sets the tone of the dynamic between the two ranking commanders of the division, Capt. Herbert Sobel and Lt. Dick Winters.
Sobel (played brilliantly by David Schwimmer) and Winters have two distinctly different styles of leadership. Both are committed to making EZ Company the best within the Airborne division, but Sobel’s methodology is realized through drilling, strategy, planning and being nothing short of a merciless ass on his company. He’s a hated man among the troops, but his tactics successfully harden his men to the degree they needed to survive on the field of war.
In stark contrast to Sobel’s abrasive style is Winters’ firm, supportive and less abusive approach. Throughout the series, Winters continues to lead EZ Company and gets them to perform at the highest level possible (while getting promoted above Sobel), but without becoming the unforgiving tyrant that is a staple of Sobel’s regime.
Both of these approaches garner the needed results, but ultimately, Sobel loses EZ due to the lost faith of his squad and his overall inability to lead, leaving the path open for Winters to take over (clip 2).
Sobel was both a hated and an admired man, and it’s possible he never received the credit he deserved in preparing EZ for combat. By today’s standards, he would be considered ineffective and a relic of military days gone by.
Still, you could consider his leadership both a failure and a success, depending on who you talk to. One thing is clear, though. EZ never had true faith in Sobel’s abilities.
Surely, I’m not the only one who can glean lessons from this series, whether it be on leadership or otherwise. Can you? Care to share, discuss and debate? Lots of space below to give me your thoughts.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn
Photo credit: IMDb