Command Sgt. Maj. Bobby G. Lane is one of America’s most distinguished serving small-unit warrior leaders, the kind of guy I’d want training and leading my own sons into the bloody trenches.
At the age of 8, Lane told his mom, “I’m going to join the Army when I grow up.”
True to his word, he enlisted after finishing high school. And since then, he’s always led from the front, always stood tall, and even though he would make George Patton look like Mr. Rogers when it comes to tough, demanding standards, his men uniformly love him. Lane, who gives new meaning to the term “living legend,” commands more respect within the U.S. Army than any soldier I know.
His 25-year career has been spent almost exclusively down in the mud with elite Ranger and Airborne units, both known for their exceptional standards. Year after grueling year, he’s done it all: Ranger rifleman, machine-gunner, team and squad leader, platoon and first sergeant, and battalion and brigade command sergeant major.
He kicked Cuban butt in Grenada, fought in Panama and stood tall in Somalia with his beloved Rangers, and the word is, he’s been to other bad places he’s not allowed to talk about.
Unlike members of the bloated Army officer corps – who float between troop-leading assignments, schools, staff and comfortable career-enhancing, ticket-punching jobs – sergeants like Lane are with the troops on a hard daily grind from reveille until taps. Sergeants spend decades leading America’s warriors: mentoring, training, fixing, caring for and disciplining their soldiers with tough love, getting them ready to play in the ultimate gladiator’s ring. A grueling life that requires a double-basic load of dedication and fire in the belly, and one that disproves the old axiom that sergeants are the backbone of any army. The truth is, they are the Army.
Bobby Lane’s Ranger and Special Forces peers more than proved in spades in Somalia and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq that they’re a group of rare men who should be treasured and treated with respect.
But that wasn’t the case with how Lane’s boss, Paul Eaton, the ultimate modern major general in our new corporate Army, cavalierly replaced him last spring. Neither Eaton nor his brigade commanding officer had the guts to deliver the word to his face; instead, Lane was informed by the post command sergeant major that Eaton wanted him gone per the brigade CO’s politically correct decision to replace him.
His crime: standing up to Eaton for his troops. A few bad-apple Rangers had abused Ranger trainees – one being Eaton’s second-lieutenant son – triggering Eaton to go off on a witch hunt.
Rather than allowing the Ranger chain of command to clean up its own mess, Eaton started what’s standard drill for high brass in today’s Army: micromanaging the problem from the top. He went on what many have described as a “rampage,” including investigations, verbally bombarding the very-squared-away Rangers in mass formations, and general harassment, such as insulting and petty PT and weight tests.
Instead of going to the general and saying: “Back off, it’s my command. I’ll take care of these few wild cards,” Ranger Brigade Commander Col. William Kidd folded. Only Lane stood tall, assumed responsibility and took the fall to get the heat off the rest of his fine Ranger troopers.
At least his sacrifice worked. Shortly after Lane packed his rucksack and left, Eaton turned off his campaign of terror.
George Patton said that an officer’s not worth a bucket of spit unless he’s led troops for at least 10 years. Pity Perfumed Prince Eaton, he knows not better. While he does have a master’s degree in French – not that it’s going to help him seize a hill some day or learn a lick about leading troops – the general has spent only seven and a half years commanding line soldiers in more than 31 years of service.
Command Sgt. Maj. Bobby Lane is now being shuttled off to a new mechanized unit at Fort Lewis, Wash. – which is as great for that unit as it’s unfortunate for the Rangers and the health and prestige of the U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer Corps.
Any day, anywhere, anytime, I’d take one Bobby Lane over a thousand Eatons.