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Lead From The Front - Band of Brothers Recap Episode 5 - Crossroads

Episode 5 is perfectly titled because this is a Crossroads in more ways than one. For CPT Winters as he hands over Easy Company. For Easy Company as they transition into Bastogne for a long winter campaign. Literally the major battle of the episode being fought at a crossroads that was a vital stronghold and then into another vital crossroads that they will need to defend. 

Ok, let's get into the episode

Leadership

We open with the interviews specifically talking about CPT Winters and how he was as a leader. There is no greater respect in this world than to have the men under your command look up to you and those men conveyed that about CPT Winters. To be known as a "real Soldier" is a compliment in the highest degree. Often times in the military, officers are seen as figureheads who don't want to get their hands dirty. They make the decisions, they take the credit, they take the blame. CPT Winters displayed that throughout the series but especially in this episode during the assault on the German position. He was running across that field first not knowing if he was going to run into 20 Germans or 200 SS (turned out to be the latter) but he led from the front anyway. Before he leaves the ditch he tells the men, "follow me." 

When you go go Infantry Officer Basic Course their motto is "Follow Me" because that is so vital when leading men on the ground. You often hear good leaders say, you can't ask your men to do something you're not willing to do yourself and Winters embodied that. Both of my company commanders in Iraq, I'm sorry to say, were not very strong leaders. One of the biggest reasons? I never saw them out front. You may not realize it, but Soldiers notice that and they notice that quickly. Winters put it best in his interview when he said, "If you're a leader you lead the way not just on the easy ones but on the tough ones too." He truly believed that and showed it with his actions because as we know, actions speak louder than words and I will say this, no one notices more than Soldiers under your command. 

Piss

Winters waking up Nix with his own piss is something many GWOT Veterans can relate to and not because we woke each other up by dumping urine on each other. When you're on a remote outpost, rather than putting on all of your protective gear to walk to the porta potty in the middle of the night, you just pee in empty water bottles. Many of us didn't have indoor plumbing. Crazy to think about as Americans because we take it for granted but I didn't have running water for 8 of my 12 months I was in Iraq. 

Anyway, I've told this story on ZBT but I had an encounter with my own piss. You see, like most I had routines during deployment. One of those was eating breakfast in my little nook that I called home seen here:

(Don't you say a GD thing about it being messy). I would eat instant oatmeal every day at 6am. What you'll notice is there are no windows so the only natural light at 6am came from a vent not pictured. The lights didn't come on until 7am because it was a shared living space. Long story short, one morning I am eating my oatmeal and as I'm on my 4th or 5th bite I noticed the bottle of water I used to make the oatmeal was a touch cloudy. I picked it up and you guessed it, I made my breakfast with own piss. The crazy part? It didn't taste any different and we don't exactly have super markets in the desert of Iraq so we can't afford to waste food and I just finished the whole thing. 

Colonel Sink

There were two instances of Colonel Sink that stuck out to me this episode. First, when he tells CPT Winters, "Light a fire under it Dick," and then when he promotes him right there on the battlefield to Executive Officer of the whole Battalion. It was abundantly clear that Sink thought highly of Winters and Winters would do anything he could to not let COL Sink down. We all have those leaders that we admire along the way that feel like parents in the sense that you never want to embarrass the good family name. COL Sink felt like that to CPT Winters I think. 

Writing Reports

Underlying the entire episode as CPT Winters thinks back on the mission, is the report he is writing about the citations for the battle. One of the most annoying things we have to do as leaders is write up After Action Reports - they are just what they sound; a detailed account of what happened on your mission. You have to do it (at least I had to) after every mission regardless of what happened because we use it to learn from mistakes, gather intel, try to decipher patterns of the enemy, and overall keep track of whats going on in our AO (area of operations). CPT Winters strong suit is not brevity and if you're gotten this far, you know it is not one of mine either. Writing reports are the only way your Soliders will get the awards they deserve. Awards in the Army are almost exclusively based on the recommendation of the leader up to a certain point. It is one way to show you appreciate their hard work and in many cases, their bravery. 

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Pets

Not sure where Easy got that beautiful dog but sometimes having a pet is a way to boost morale. It's almost never allowed but sometimes folks turn a blind eye. This was Frag - we didn't keep him inside the outpost, but we fed him and generally played with him when we could.

Artillery nerd

For those who don't know, I was an artillery officer. For lack of a better explanation, artillery is basically firing cannons from far away. Two instances of artillery in this episode, both small and large. 

First you hear the line, "2 rounds, HE quick!" relayed back to the mortar team. This means they want two rounds (duh) HE (type of projectile/shell - High Explosive which produces a lot of fragmentation/shrapnel) quick (type of fuse - quick which bursts upon impact). 

Later on you hear CPT Winters calling for fire. Often infantry units will be supported by artillery units. There are pre-determined coordinates/grids that serve as targets that are known by both the infantry and artillery units. They will typically have shorthand names that the infantry unit calls back to the guns. This is called a fire mission. However, those predetermined targets aren't always where the enemy is because they move. So you hear Winters saying "drop 200" or "left 100" on the radio. This tells the guns how to adjust fire - I won't get into artillery math and what 200 or 100 mean because that's a whole day's lesson. Then he goes on to say "Krauts in the open" to let the guns know what sort of target they are firing at in case they need to adjust the type of projectile they are using. Finally he says "fire for effect" which is music to an redleg's (nickname for artillery men) ears because it means you don't have to make any more adjustments, just keep sending rounds down range until you're out or I tell you to stop. In this case, Winters wanted to destroy the German unit they came upon. 

Yes, firing artillery is fun as hell. 

Tracers

When the men are firing their rifles, you will notice flashes that essentially look like they are shooting lasers. These are tracer rounds. Every 5th (? I think it's 5th) round in a magazine is a tracer round. The purpose of this is to see where you're firing, especially at night, and also for other people to see where you're firing. Sometimes you'll hear someone say, "I'll walk you into the target." This just means they are going to fire at something and you need to follow the tracers to see where you're supposed to shoot.

Nix and his booze

Nix having a pretty consistent drinking habit during the war was something of a time gone by because we definitely don't offer booze while deployed. Now, do guys find inventive ways to have it shipped to them? Yes. Do guys get their hands on booze when serving with other countries' militaries who do allow booze in combat? Yes. Overall though, most guys aren't drinking. It's not worth it in my opinion. During my deployment, we were authorized to have 2 actual beers (the DFAC - dining facilities - sometimes offered non alcoholic beer) that the Army shipped to everyone for the Super Bowl. I honestly had no desire to have two beers so I gave mine away. Turns out, the NCO I gave mine to had asked a few folks and he ended up with 20 beers to himself. Now, if I could've had 12-20 beers during the Super Bowl, I might've signed up for that. 

Looking Out For Leaders

You notice after the battle that Doc offers Winters a cup of coffee even though Winters didn't ask for one. This is another sign of a good leader - when your men want to look out for you and make sure you're taken care of in many different ways. Could be as simple as offering you a cup of coffee because they know you've been up all night like we saw here. Wanting to ensure your leader is taken care of is a direct reflection of how that leader treats his men. The men clearly would've followed Winters into the fires of Hell, and in many ways they did. 

Being the "adult" in the room

When Moose gets shot and the two officers, Winters and Harry, administer morphine to him but don't remember how much they gave him it was very dangerous. Doc threw rank out the window and chewed them out, rightfully so. When you're an officer, there is a higher standard in every aspect of combat. I think we forget at times because the actors portraying them are older, but these guys were young men at the time. Sure, they probably have better decision making ability, but it doesn't excuse them from mistakes. I was 23 years old as a combat leader responsible for 33 men. As Doc said, I had to just always "know better" whether that's a fair burden or not. 

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Football game

Guarnere talks about a football game against another unit when he returns from the hospital. During combat, you're desperate for anything that resembles life at home and this includes football games against other units. Yes, for those asking, I was the MVP of the Turkey Bowl when I threw 5TDs and ran for 1

R&R

Although it was forced, Winters had some nice R&R in Paris. R&R is so necessary during a deployment and even more so for these men because they had no idea when they would be going home. For us, deployments were a set amount of time so we knew where the light at the end of the tunnel was but for these guys they were fighting indefinitely. That can wreak havoc on your mental state. Forcing Winters to go to Paris was as much for the unit as it was for him. He needed to recharge. 

John Wayne

I have no idea what movie it was they were watching but I do know that John Wayne was often criticized for playing military characters but not actually ever serving in the military. 

Two Tons

The big trucks you see the men riding around in often throughout the series are called Two Tons for no other reason than that's what they weigh. We still use them to this day to transport Soldiers during training. However, we don't use them in combat any more because they do not have armor and we wouldn't ride around in vehicles without armor. One time, my dismount unit took a ride from a farmer in the back of a pickup truck at night. I thought it was okay because who was going to see us? I was wrong. While doing that, we got shot at. That was one of the dumber things I ever had my guys do - see, just because you're in charge doesn't make you immune from mistakes.

Bastogne

Going into the unknown in the winter without proper clothes, food, or supplies was certainly a move. I cannot imagine doing that because for all of our faults, we try to prepare accordingly in the military now. That doesn't always go to plan. I was out in the field for a training exercise when we unexpectedly got hit with a snow storm (in Texas) and no one had their cold weather gear. We couldn't end the exercise so we just had to suck it up and boy did it suck. Being cold is brutal. I cannot imagine doing that in combat. These men were built differently. Oh, not to mention they were going into Bastogne knowing they'd be surrounded but it gave us the great line from Winters, "We're paratroopers, we're supposed to be surrounded."

Sorry for the lengthy recap on this one but there was a lot to unpack.

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Episode 1 recap

Episode 2 recap

Episode 3 recap

Episode 4 recap