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I grew up convinced Star Trek was the best science fiction drama of all time. I didn’t’ know it then but CPT James T. Kirk was teaching me leadership lessons, I guess through osmosis. If you were watching and paying attention, you were learning them too. Thing is, it took a real man, not a fictional character, to bring those lessons to light.
William “Bill” Aldridge was born in 1947. He was a baby boomer; the son of a US Air Force pilot with time in fighters, bombers, and cargo planes. His formative teenage years were spent in a secluded hamlet of a community called Williamsburg, WV; a place so small and far away from anything, few have ever heard of it. Bill enlisted in the regular Army in 1966, volunteering for duty in the Republic of South Vietnam.
In 1967 he graduated from the Infantry Officer Candidate School as a 2nd Lieutenant. In short order he was with the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam serving as an executive officer. After returning home Bill began his law enforcement career and worked as a patrol officer with the Bluefield, WV Police Department from 1971 until 1977. He would go on to serve as President of the Bluefield Police Civil Service Commission and become an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Administration at Bluefield State College, where he still instructs on topics like Police Operations and Terrorism.
But his military career continued. In 1971 COL Aldridge joined the West Virginia Army National Guard (WVARNG) where he served with the 2/19 Special Forces Group (Airborne) as the commanding officer. From 1975 to 1985 he served with the Army Reserve. And, in 1985 COL Aldridge returned to the WVARNG where he held numerous assignments with the 1/150 Armored Cavalry Squadron. That’s where I met Bill Aldridge and began to realize and appreciate the lessons CPT Kirk taught me as a child.
In an article entitled Facts & Fictions, David Weedmark lists seven leadership lessons from Captain Kirk. It’s a good read and I’ll try to summarize it here, based on what I learned serving under Captain – now Colonel – William E. Aldridge.
When CPT Aldridge took command of my unit, Troop C 1/150th AC, it was in shambles. The previous leadership had let moral plummet and discipline disappear. Aldridge told us we were going to achieve great things and he made us believe it. He said we were going to win and we did. The awards and accolades begin to roll in and in a short time we were the most envied troop in the Squadron.
Aldridge taught us to face every challenge, not with fear, but with dogged determination and expectation. To look at our assignments as opportunities instead of problems. He had a way of inspiring his subordinate leaders to motivate the troops. We all wanted to see what could be thrown at us next.
Play fair and within the spirit of the game, but play by your own rules. The Army is nothing but a collection of regulations. Sometimes creating such a conundrum the answer is not only grey, its nonexistent. When once tasked with running a tank qualification range my OIC had failed to requisition fuel for the generators to heat the thermal targets. I grabbed a trustworthy NCO and we scoured the post the night before we went live and stole (relocated) every Jerry can we came across. There is no such thing as a no win situation and sometimes, you have to be an outlaw.
Unlike our current leadership in Washington who tends to do nothing but preach and pontificate when faced with a problem, Aldridge took action. And, he expected the same from his subordinate officers, NCOs and soldiers. If you were standing around you were wrong.
One of the most brilliant facets of Aldridge’s leadership was that he surrounded himself with folks who had special talents. Kirk had Scotty and Spock and Aldridge had his specialists. He was always open to their input but in the end, he took that input, mixed it with is own experiences and steered the ship to the right star.
Once during a training exercise I was working in the command center (TOC). It was my job to relay communications, evaluate situations, and disseminate critical information. I made a bad call, failed to act and it cost us dearly. At the after action review Aldridge asked who made the mistake. I manned up and stepped forward. Aldridge asked/proclaimed, “That won’t happen again will it?” It didn’t. Most importantly, his understanding as opposed to public humiliation in front of my peers taught me something. Something my kids now benefit from.
Lead by example, put your boots in the mud, and be the first one on the bus and ready to ride. And like Kirk, lead the landing party. Aldridge showed up each morning with shined boots but by O-dark-thrity they were as dirty as everyone else’s. He would get in the tanks, the Bradley’s and he’d sit in the mud and eat his MRE just like a private.
When I finished my enlistment I stepped away from the military with no intent on returning. I had a career in law enforcement and was done playing the solider. In the meantime, Aldridge moved up to Squadron Commander. In early 1999 he called and asked a favor. He said he was tired of the Air Guard winning the West Virginia National Guard Pistol Match every year and taking the Patton Trophy. Being as the 150th was now an armored unit, it only seemed fitting that the Patton Trophy should live there. He asked if I would come back in for a year and help make that happen.
What could I say? To boldly go…
CPT Kirk had called and the Kobayashi Maru was before us.
With the help of another NCO I assembled good soldiers, embraced the challenge, and with an outlaw like approach we took action and got a little dirty. We won every facet of the competition that year. I can revel in the accomplishment and take some of the credit, but in truth all I did was apply the lessons Kirk taught me as a child and Aldridge demonstrated to me as an adult.
COL Bill Aldridge is a leader; the only real leader I served under during my military career. When the zombies come or ISIS is at the door, I know whom I’ll be standing behind.
Bill is also a shooter and a hunter, and I’ve been fortunate to share a campfire or two with him. There have not been enough of those campfires, hopefully we’ll do it again soon. After all, you just can’t get too much Star Trek.
Captain’s Log, Star Date: 20150416
COL William E. Aldridge (ARNGUS) retired in 2007 as the Chief of Staff, Headquarters, West Virginia-Joint Force Headquarters, Charleston, West Virginia, with more than 30 years of commissioned service. He has attended numerous military schools from Jump Master to the Air War College where he obtained an MS in Strategic Studies.
Awards and Decorations include:
Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal (with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Commendation Medal (with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal (with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters), National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal (with 4 Bronze Service Stars), Humanitarian Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Badge (with Palm), Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation, Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Special Forces Tab, Parachutist Badge
The signature Guns & Ammo Nighthawk 1911 http://t.co/fEBJtPvavu
Wicked slow motion bullet upset photography: youtube.com/watch?v=_m3Ow5…