I rarely watch the evening news on TV, but I was lucky enough to catch the story of Medal of Honor winner Army Captain Will Swenson last night. Capt. Swenson will be awarded the Medal of Honor next month for his actions in battle in Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.
In this rare and raw video footage above, you get a glimpse of Capt. Swenson on the day of the battle, and a searing image of why his behavior as a leader that day was incredibly intimate in addition to being heroic and honorable. Swenson is the one without a helmet that we first see 22 seconds into the video wearing a bright orange marker that made him an easy target for both the helicopter pilot and the enemy in the hills.
Capt. Swenson’s actions on that day saved many lives. But the video documents a very special interaction between Capt. Swenson and one of his soldiers, Sgt. First Class Kenneth Westbrook, who was severely wounded in the battle. After placing Sgt. Westbrook on the medevac helicopter, Capt. Swenson exchanges brief words with him, and then before leaving kisses him on the forehead and taps him on the side of his head. You can see it in the screen shot image inserted here which was taken around 4:10 into the video.
Army Sgt. First Class Kenneth Westbrook ultimately died of the wounds he suffered that day.
Capt. Will Swenson exemplifies an intimate leadership posture that was above and beyond his assigned responsibilities. As I’ve written here before:
Intimacy is always discretionary. It will always be a choice that too few make because the road to intimacy travels through the land of excellence. As Robert Quinn says so beautifully, “The land of excellence is safely guarded from unworthy intruders. At the gates stand two fearsome sentries – risk and learning. The keys to entry are faith and courage.”
Let’s not assume that we understand why Capt. Swenson behaved the way he did when he was tested on that day in September 2009. Better that we become comfortable pursuing the question than pretending we have it all figured out. The question is relevant to everyone seeking the land of excellence. The land of excellence will always elude those that think they have all the answers to the most important questions.
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