And that is a first shock to our preconceptions: the American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat team are the focus of all his attention. And they are impressive warriors! We have not come across bad ones, as strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark â€“ only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered â€“ everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.
This is the main area where Iâ€™d like to comment. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Kipling knows the lines from Chant Pagan: â€˜If your officerâ€™s dead and the sergeants look white/remember itâ€™s ruin to run from a fight./So take open order, lie down, sit tight/And wait for supports like a soldier./ This, in fact, is the basic philosophy of both British and Continental soldiers. â€˜In the absence of orders, take a defensive position.â€™ Indeed, virtually every army in the world.
The American soldier and Marine, however, are imbued from early in their training with the ethos: In the Absence of Orders: Attack! Where other forces, for good or ill, will wait for precise orders and plans to respond to an attack or any other â€˜incidentâ€™, the American force will simply go, counting on firepower and SOP to carry the day. This is one of the great strengths of the American force in combat and it is something that even our closest allies, such as the Brits and Aussies (that latter being closer by the way) find repeatedly surprising. No wonder it surprises the hell out of our enemies.