“Trust your NCOs” is common advice given to every new lieutenant. This adage, the overwhelming majority of the time, is valid. But when it’s not, it’s not. When Chris Liggett was a new infantry platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division, he had heard that advice as a cadet at West Point and in subsequent training. When he inherited his platoon, however, he found something different. His platoon sergeant was burned out and had previously asked to be transferred. By contrast, his hard-charging weapons squad leader seemed perfect: fit, aggressive, competent, and confident.

As Liggett describes, though, he had always been taught to build a team. He spent time getting to know his platoon sergeant, developing a relationship that would enable them to work well together and lead their platoon. That effort paid off, and soon Liggett and his restored and renewed platoon sergeant deployed to Afghanistan. After months on the road pulling convoy security and advising Afghan forces, Liggett’s platoon rotated to entry control point (ECP) duty at Forward Operating Base Fenty. Fenty, at the time, was a bustling base with thousands of locals transiting the control points daily, in addition to local civilian trucks. While decidedly unglamorous, ECP work was vital. Liggett placed his weapons squad leader in charge of the night shift based on the trust he had earned previously. It was a mistake, Liggett later learned, with serious consequences.

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Image credit: 1st. Lt. Jason M. Struck, US Army