Don’t be “that guy,” our instructors told every cadet and newly minted lieutenant. “That guy” was a fresh second lieutenant, usually from West Point, but not always. “That guy” would attempt to establish authority in small and petty ways—by having subordinates stand at attention in all interactions, or by flipping out if a salute wasn’t rendered correctly, or at all.
No lieutenant, especially the handful of females in my basic officer class, wanted to be seen as a ball-swinging, chest-puffing, insecure new officer. But it still happened. We knew no soldier would listen or respect our authority if we acted like that—hypervigilant and overcompensating. But we struggled to learn where the fine line between confident leader and quiet pushover lay.
One day, shortly after joining my first unit after officer course, I headed to a meeting with a couple lieutenants and a senior NCO. As we made our way down the sidewalk, a group of soldiers walked by without saluting.
“Hey! Did you miss the four officers?” barked the NCO. He jerked his head, indicating our group. I hadn’t even noticed. The soldiers looked sheepish and quickly lifted their arms to salute us. I was farthest from the group of passing soldiers, and I was relieved it hadn’t been on me to spot them and point out their mistake.
“You can’t let them get away with that,” the NCO said. “They know they’re supposed to salute. It’s a lack of respect when they ignore you.”
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