Our Kind of Soldier

United States Marines from the 31st Marine Exp...

Image via Wikipedia

Twenty-three year old Dakota Meyer is unusual in that he was awarded the Medal of Honor despite having disobeyed orders. Meyer, as most people know by now, is the first living MOH winner since the Vietnam war.

The disobedience came when his team was pinned down in an Afghan valley by a larger enemy force. Having been ordered to remain behind with a Humvee and one other man, he repeatedly requested permission by radio to go to his teammates assistance and was repeatedly told not to, but he did anyway. With requests for fire-support refused, he and Staff Sgt. Rodriguez-Chavez made the decision to take charge of the situation themselves and made repeated trips into the valley under heavy fire from RPG’s and machine guns to rescue the team. There were four dead, but they rescued the others and killed many of the enemy.

Obeying orders is basic in the armed forces, needless to say, and nowhere is this more firmly established, in my experience (even though my service was in the Navy), than in the United States Marine Corps. To fight effectively, any military unit must have full confidence that orders will be obeyed – when shells are exploding, there isn’t time for each to rethink the plan. This tradition is of course firmly embedded in law. Enlisted personnel like Sgt. Meyer take an oath that says (emphasis added),

“I, XXXXXXXXXX, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Interestingly, the oath for officers (excluding the National Guard) does not contain reference to obedience to orders from superiors, but only to the support and defense of the Constitution.

So, what shall we make of this disobedience issue? First, please consider this excerpt from a handbook (called “Reef Points”) at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1955:

“Orders and commands are not the same. An order may either be a long-standing instruction, rule, or regulation, or a specific one for a certain purpose. But always, in an order, a certain amount of leeway is left to the individual or group charged with executing it. This is not the case with a command. Commands are specific as to time, place, and manner of accomplishment. Examples:
Order: Return to base.
Command: Right 10 degrees rudder.”

What Sgt. Meyer disobeyed was an order, and he took his leeway. That was a risk on his part and he knew it. He could legally have been court-martialed under the U.C.M.J. for his disobedience. Events proved him right and two officers who withheld fire support were disciplined.

Navy/Marine Medal of Honor

Image via Wikipedia

Back in the Cold War, of which I was a part, it was well known in the officer corps of the United States that soldiers in the Soviet Union were held to an iron standard of discipline that brooked no question of orders from superiors, and because of this, NCO’s were not expected to show initiative. This stood in stark contrast to United States’ training which emphasizes just the opposite, that members of our armed forces were expected to think on their feet and act accordingly. Sgt. Meyer’s actions upheld this tradition in the finest fashion, in my opinion. From all accounts I read, he is our kind of soldier, and he fully deserves the Medal of Honor. I wish we could clone him.

(Author’s note:  this article was submitted for publication on 9/16/2011 to the Joplin Globe.)

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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5 Responses to Our Kind of Soldier

  1. ansonburlingame says:


    Obviously you and I have written on the same subject and are close to agreement. However I would not try to clone him to be politically correct. I would just VOTE for him for high political responsibilities. My kinda “guy” for sure and would follow him into hell if he went there again.



  2. John Erickson says:

    Following orders gets you a Holocaust and death camps. “A certain amount of leeway” gets you a Marine who gets his buddies out of the line of fire. I’ve studied both schools of command thought.
    I’ll take leeway, thank you very much.
    And I hope Sgt. Meyer’s campaign to get his CO an award for the same action goes through, as well. Not to diminish the sergeant’s work, but his the story of his captain’s actions sounds like he deserves SOME kind of award, if not the MOH itself.


  3. ansonburlingame says:

    OK guys,

    Here is another, non-medal of honor but real event in Afghanistan.

    I forget the name of the book but it was written (with help) of the lone survivor of a four man SEAL team sent into the mountains to collect intelligence but not attack anyone unless attacked themselves. Sort of a “routine” SEAL mission, initially.

    They successfully “inserted” themselves and were carefully hidden doing their assigned mission to observe a village. A goat herd tended by two “boys” came along and one “boy” literally stepped on a hidden SEAL. The quickly captured both “boys”.

    Now what. No ROE for such a situation. They were out there on their own. Kill the boys, tie them up until the mission was completed then let them go, or just let them go.

    They let them go and 3 SEALS died as a result. The lone survivor literally went through hell to survive. Put that saga on the front page of any newspaper and listen to the reaction from the public in “real time”.

    No wonder we don’t win wars today. Moral to the story if we continue down that path of course is NEVER go the war. See how long that works in today’s world. But of course that discussion will ignite a “war of words” all over America. United we stand, divided we fall.



  4. sandiemorgan says:

    Jim: I’m not sure but I think that Sgt. Meyer is not the first MOH recipient, but the third. I think Meyers is the first living Marine to receive the award since Vietnam. Yes, Marines are taught obedience, but they are constantly urged to ” improvise, adapt, adjust,” which most Marines I knew interpreted to mean use your best judgment. Semper fi. Henry Morgan


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