The Enthusiastic Officer

October 2010


General Patton, the Army’s Halsey, was one of the most energetic and colorful officers in WWII. From rescuing the 101st Airborne Division at the Battle of the Bulge to turning around the U.S. campaign in North Africa, Patton succeeded as a combat leader. Patton’s success as a military officer and leader laid in his enthusiasm. Patton wanted to lead men into combat and devoted every ounce of energy to better his ability to do so.

Where does one get enthusiasm? Patton certainly developed his at an early age. As a boy, Patton learned cavalry tactics from none other than Colonel John Mosby, CSA. Col. Mosby, a Confederate cavalry officer, established his own unit, “Mosby’s Rangers,” and waged guerrilla warfare against Federal troops in western Virginia. Mosby re-enacted his battles on horseback with the young Patton, teaching Patton the value of a quick, aggressive attack against your enemy. This interaction inspired Patton to eventually lead his own cavalry units in combat. And Patton would, just with mechanized cavalry. In North Africa, Patton adapted Mosby’s tactics to tank warfare against the infamous “Desert Fox.”

Of course, we don’t all have the opportunity to learn from famous Civil War officers. Most enthusiasm stems from wanting to do a job well, not necessarily from job satisfaction (though that helps). You may hate your actual job, but you can still stay enthusiastic if you want to do that miserable job well. Patton believed his destiny was to lead men into battle, but during the inter-war years, he didn’t get that opportunity. Even so, his enthusiasm for the military caused him to stay enthusiastic during this “off” period and prepare himself for possible future battles. He published innovative ways to employ the Army’s new armored units, studied heroism citations to figure out how to instill heroism, and lobbied Congress for more funding for armored units. Again, this research was not Patton’s real passion; he wanted to employ his tank tactics, write heroism citations for his own men, and maneuver his army in the tanks Congress appropriated. But the knowledge Patton acquired during this time certainly paid great dividends during the WWII.

Posted by jjames in Army, History

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  • RADM (Ret) Ben Wachendorf

    I agree with all you say. Interesting to consider that a senior U.S. officer like Patton in today’s military would likely never survive slapping a soldier in a hospital with battle fatigue and other politically incorrect public actions and statements by GEN Patton. That said, I was pleased to see SecDef recently stand up for Gen Mattis who was criticized for making a public statement about killing bad guys. Gen Mattis is a warrior of the Patton mold, but also a scholar of military history. He is a great choice for a very tough job as Commander of USCENTCOM.

  • Paul

    One of the reasons why Patton was such a success was that he was in Marshall’s famous book that identified officers that Marshall saw as having potential that others didn’t. He’s a great testament to a leaders intuition about what the army needed despite the views of others. Patton was also unafraid to court the press to his advantage and more importantly, to the advantage of “his” army, be it the 7th, or the 3rd. Would the press today go for something like that? I think not.

    You’re absolutely right, Admiral. Someone like Patton would not survive in today’s political climate. Besides, would he even make it to general rank is another question. He was not known for his paper-shuffling skills (being dyslexic) but certainly led by example and a profound belief that his army, his men and his abilities were the best around. He epitomized the old core tenet of leadership “mission, men, me” to a T.

    I remember the first book I read about him in middle school. His letter to his father in law defending his desire to be a soldier read in part: “It is as natural for me to be a soldier as it is for me to breathe…” Such a statement today would be seen as hyperbole, but to him, it’s the truth. He was the ultimate warrior-leader of his generation.

    ‘Course he understood the value of a distinctive uniform that paid homage to the army he loved. Don’t think he’d be too thrilled with today’s dress uniforms.

  • Matt Yankee

    I totally agree with the last comment about uniform…just seems too loose…kind of like our culture. Hell a lot of the trash don’t want to even wear their pants all the way on.

    Gen Patton’s Warrior Spirit lives on…he even believed in reincarnation. Not saying he wasn’t a Christian though…maybe a reincarnated Guardian Angel well versed on man’s ultimate sport.

    I know we have leaders like him out there…you Warriors never surrender to these light-weights amongst us…they are temporary but Warriors live forever…just like he proved just a few decades ago.

  • BJ Armstrong


    Nice post. The only thing I would point out it that we do all have the opportunity to learn from famous civil war officers! Read their biographies, read books on their campaigns, read the few memoirs that are out there. Read about Jones, Perry, Dewey, Halsey, anyone that draws your interest. As AT Mahan wrote “The study of history lies at the foundation of all sound military conclusions and practice.”

    Your exactly right though, part of Patton’s genius was that he read, studied, and wrote about his profession. You hit on a thought that I have had at times. I’ve said it many times to people I’ve worked with at my previous commands, there are times that I don’t really like my job but I love my profession.

    It was great meeting you the other night. Hope you enjoyed the dinner as much as I did!

  • Jack

    LCDR Armstrong,

    Thanks for the comment. I should have specified it as learning firsthand.

    I enjoyed meeting you last Wednesday, too. And yes, the meal was alot better than what we mids normally eat.

    With regard to Patton not making it in today’s armed forces, ADM Stavridis wrote in his book ‘Destroyer Captain,’ “If I completely reversed my priorities- and focused exclusively on shiphandling and warfighting, I would be in some danger of being relieved for cause within ninety days.” From what I’ve read on Patton, he would focus on shiphandling (or in his case tank manuevering) and warfighting, not the administrative work.