Leadership Case Study – Korea

Hal Moore on Leadership

In early 2021 in Hal Moore’s files, I found a detailed initial outline of what would later grow into the “Hal Moore on Leadership” book. This series of posts pulls from that outline – mostly short paragraphs or bullets.

For more detail, check out the book (click on the image to go to Amazon). The focus of Moore’s life after retirement from the military was on helping and mentoring others along the path to becoming great leaders. 

In my job in Korea, I routinely visited with military units on the front line of the Demilitarized Zone. I would check on defense plans, get to know the terrain, roads, and principal commanders, and check that General Michaelis’ (my commanding General) orders were being carried out on the ground. I was in my office by 5:45 a.m. six days a week – on Sunday mornings also until time to take my family to church. All the Military Police and Operations logs were on my desk for the previous night.

Korea in 1969, 1970,1971 (when I was there) was a hotbed of racial tensions and heavy drug usage in American units – composed chiefly of draftees. Altercations between Black and White soldiers were not uncommon. Marijuana grew in the ditches, and pills of every color and type were available and cheap. The houses of prostitution and bars outside the gates of all military bases did a booming business.

It was just after 8:00 a.m. on a beautiful spring morning in early May 1970 when it happened. Earlier that morning, my duty Officer woke me to report Black soldiers were rioting in the two main camps of the 7th Infantry Division. Several buildings were burning, including the library. Barracks trashed. Fighting between soldiers.

Over my intercom “Squawk Box” came the order: “The CG (General Michaelis) wants to see you immediately.” I ran up the stairs and reported to him.

General M: “Moore, you know what’s happened in the 7th Division. It’s in a hell of a shape. I’ve relieved the Division Commander. I’m going to frock you with your second star and give you command. Get up there and straighten out that screwed-up outfit!”

My reply: “Yes, Sir!”

“Frocking,” means the Pentagon had OK’d General M. to pin on my second star before my number came up. (Note: I’d been on the promotion list for Major General for nine months. Frocking awards the rank, but the pay for that rank doesn’t start until the number comes up.)

I left immediately.

The 7th Division consisted of 16,000 officers and men. No families. No women or children. A Brigade of three battalions was on the defensive line on the DMZ. The Division was scattered across South Korea in 23 Camps. Its headquarters was at Camp Casey 26 miles north of Seoul, just outside the notorious large village of Tongduchon with its whorehouses, bars, and drug dealers.

Given the choice of taking command of a red-hot, top-drawer, really good outfit OR an outfit in bad shape, I’ll take the no-good one every time. Why? Because there’s no way it can go except UP with strong leadership – and it’s very challenging and satisfying to shape it up.

In a big outfit, a large organization, some sub-units will be in excellent shape, some less so. Some will have good leaders, some less so. Some will have persons in the ranks who are troublemakers or inefficient or negatively influence the workplace environment. Some will have people who should be rewarded with recognition, promotion, more authority, and responsibility but have not been because of poor leadership.

And so it was in the 7th Infantry Division. However, it was a time of crisis since word of the rioting and vandalism had spread throughout the 16,000-man organization. The Officers, Non-Coms, and the troops in the ranks were rightfully curious about their new commander and how he would tackle the situation.

When an organization is beset with problems in certain areas of activity, and a new boss is brought in to shape it up, the new boss should not assume the entire organization has problems. He should, however, take quick action to stop problems from spreading. In the doing of it, he must be careful not to cause the good, well-performing, efficient sub-units to get the erroneous impression that the boss is “down” on THEM. He should quickly determine accurately which sub-units are in trouble and which are not and take appropriate action. This also requires a hard look at the leadership in those units.

In any case, the new TOP BRASS should not just drift in, take over a desk, and start reading paperwork. The first thing a new boss has to do is stand up in front of everyone in his outfit, let people see him, and hear his main policies, standards, and goals. He should visit each sub-unit personally and strongly impress his personality, his spirit, on his subordinate leaders, and the people in the ranks.

He should never tell an outfit that it’s “screwed up’; if he does that, it’ll BE screwed up. WHY? Because the boss says so. If a unit is below standards, they know they are – in which case, after doing his homework, the boss should simply tell the unit it’s good in certain areas, but others need improvement, WHICH WILL HAPPEN. At the same time, he should be learning his responsibilities, the mission/purpose of the subordinate units, and get a status report on each and their leaders.

Since the biggest problem facing me, and the reason I was sent to the 7th Division was the highly explosive race relations situation, my top priority was to get that cooled down and under control. Over ten days, I went to each camp and talked for 15 minutes or so to every unit in the Division. My main message was that I would see to it that every man would be treated fair and square, and it was up to every man to rise as far as his abilities would take him.

To deal with the race relations problem, I first had to get the facts – the details and scope of the problem. This I did on the highest priority. Right off, I learned if there were perceived problems of unfair discrimination, those PERCEPTIONS had to be dealt with just as carefully as REAL problems and with just as high priority. I quickly located the units and/or the camps with problems and promptly took corrective action with commanders and/or troublemakers, white, black, or brown.

Early on, it was clear many of the problems and perceptions of discrimination or actual cases occur at the small unit level. As I was checking into that, I discovered other small unit leadership deficiencies. So, after locating some officers and senior NCOs who’d been “around the track” a few times, I created an Officer’s Leadership School for Lieutenants and Captains and an NCO school for non-coms up through Squad Leaders – each a week-long; Sunday – Saturday. We carefully chose well-qualified instructors from across the Division. I taught a couple of classes. These schools went a long way towards reducing racial and drug abuse problems.

Acting on experience and from my past study of successful commanders, I instituted tough day and night training, introduced numerous off-duty high school/college courses, including skills classes, and set up many athletic team competitions. We organized bus trips to historic Korean War Battlefields. We established and enforced very high standards of individual and unit discipline.

I had two principal advisers who played vital roles in helping me. Colonel Jack Bishop was a 3-war Infantry veteran who began his military service in the California National Guard as a Private, age 16. He’d risen through the ranks, knew all the moves, had heard all the stories, experienced most of the problems. He was my Chief of Staff. Dead loyal, dead honest, very candid.

The other was the senior non-commissioned officer in the Division – Command Sergeant Major Don Peroddy, a tough big fire-plug of a man who wore a handful of Purple Hearts and Silver Stars from Vietnam. He worked only for me, took orders only from me, and had unlimited access to me day or night. He ran the NCOs of the Division, set the standards, checked upon them, and was fearless. My first order to him: “Sgt. Major, I don’t want any more problems in the villages around our camps. No more fights. No more problems with the Koreans.” He straightened things out fast and kept them straight with NCOs in the bars, working with the MPs on the streets.

Finally a little humor… this “picture” was in the scrapbook given to Moore when he turned over command. Moore never forgot the troops and would routinely share their hardships. According to COL Tony Nadal (USA-Ret) who served in Vietnam with Moore, Moore refused to move out of his tent into permanent barracks until every troop in his unit was housed. Read the caption on the “picture”… the black one.

Reading List (links to Amazon)

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