My Three Rules by John L.  Neel

During my Army years, I adopted three fundamental rules which guided my life.  I have adopted these rules from other people and have taught them throughout my career.  It is amazing to me how many people of my people have adopted them from me.

Rule Number One: Be at the Right Place, at the Right Time, in the Right Uniform, Doing the Right Things.

This is the Drill Sergeant Nickerson Rule.  Everyone remembers their First Sergeant, Right? Mine was my first great Army mentor.  He gave me this.

Following this rule is easy for a Private.  Privates are told where to be, what time to be there, what to wear, and what to do.  All they have to do is follow Orders.

The more you promote, the harder Rule Number One becomes.  Now you have to make decisions.  Rule Number One success depends on Mission Assessment, Problem Solving, Risk Management, Backwards Planning, Mission Prep, Technical and Tactical Expertise, Leadership, and Experience.

Failure of any of the tenents of this rule can make for a bad day.  My best example is a trip the Scouts took to Canada in January of 1982, We exited the aircraft, on time, right on target, using all our paratrooper skills, but were ill-dressed for the occasion.  It was 40-degrees below zero that day, and we jumped into 3-feet of snow, wearing black boots, field jackets, and army black gloves.  We had no snowshoes, so it took us two hours to get off of the drop zone.  All of us had first and second-degree frostbite and two of our guys almost lost fingers and toes.

Rule Number Two: You Can't Do It All, but You Can Do What You Can Do.

This is the Big Chill Rule.  Yes, the movie.

All Systems are flawed and destined to fail.  All we can do is prop them up for as long as possible, tweak them to make them better, and innovate within the system.

You can, however, do everything in your power to make the things for which you are responsible, your Sphere of Influence, the best they can be.  As a private, you are responsible for your rifle, your protective mask, your gear, and maybe the operator's maintenance of one vehicle, radio, and/or some other item.

Every time you promote, your sphere gets larger.  Now you are responsible for, more and more people, millions of dollars in equipment, and the mission of your unit.

You can do everything in your power to make all of everything perfect, but you will fail.  You will have to learn to delegate authority, trust your subordinates, train them to do their jobs, teach them to operate as a team, and inspire them to make their spheres as good as they can make them.

Imagine the Unit, organization, or business where everyone follows Rule Number Two.

We all know what happens when someone doesn't follow this rule.

Rule Number Three: You are Messed*-Up if You are Not Having Fun

This is the Mike Rule.

Fun is infectious.  So are stress, anger, fear, irritability, and gloominess.  Loving what you do, giving it purpose and importance, and keeping a good sense of humor, no matter the circumstances make the job go easier for everyone.

In 1994, I left my dream job of being a First Sergeant of a company of 110 young Parachute Infantrymen.  I was asked to take the First Sergeant job in the Head Quarters Company with 220 Medics, Clerks, Scouts, Cooks, Mortars, Communicators, Drivers, Mechanics, and Staff.  It was more than I could handle at first.  It was like being force-fed with a fire hose.  I was miserable.

In late March of 1994, while landing at Pope Air Force Bast, an F-16 collided with a C-130.  The C-13 was able to land, but the F-16 crashed and the ensuing fireball engulfed a large group of Paratroopers on Green Ramp, getting ready for a jump.

We lost Twenty-four that day, including four troopers from my battalion.  One was a Medic in my company, father of four, with one on the way.

Those that lived were burned, some horribly, including the little brother of one of my best buddies, Mike.  He and others were taken by MEDEVAC to the Texas Burn Center.

Fast forward a few months.  I was having a pretty bad day.  I don't remember why, but I remember standing at my window, looking our toward Lindsey Field, feeling sorry for myself.  Then, around the corner of my barracks, walking down the sidewalk came Mike and his pretty little wife.  Mike was on crutches, he was missing an ear, his face showing the damage, and wearing special coverings on a lot of his body, and he and his wife were Laughing.

It was time for me to do a little inner assessment.  If Mike and his bride could find fun during all their trials, why couldn't I do that in my life, my situation? It was a turning point in that job and my life.

Fun is a mental attitude of strength.  If you can find fun in the worst of circumstances, you, your mission, and your people will better for it.

*This was a lot more colorful back in the Army, using a particular colloquialism that I thought inappropriate in this piece.

Intellectual Property Statement: Most everything on this site is mine.  When I use someone else's stuff, I always try to give them credit.  If you decide to use anything on this website, please do the same.  Don't be an asshole.
Home About Journal Stories Photos Family People Contact