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Avoiding the Hard Way

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --

(Editor’s note: This commentary is not an Air Force endorsement of any commercial product. Quotes in this article were selected from “This Kind of War,” by T.R. Fehrenbach. The book appeared on the U.S. Army Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List in 2011 and chronicled challenges of the Korean War. The U.S. Army Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading list is published annually to provide members of any rank or position an opportunity to sharpen their strategic thinking through in-depth analysis on regional studies, history, leadership and works of fiction. The appearance of a title on the reading list does not imply that the Chief of Staff endorses the author’s views or interpretations.)

Col. E. John Teichert Official Photo
11th Wing and Joint Base Andrews commander
Col. E. John Teichert Official Photo
Col. E. John Teichert Official Photo
11th Wing and Joint Base Andrews commander

On June 25th, 1950, the North Korean Army crossed the 38th Parallel headed south. In less than a week they had conquered Seoul, and a few days later they faced a contingent of American military forces assembled in an organization known as Task Force Smith. These proud American military members thought that their mere presence would intimidate the North Koreans.  In “This Kind of War” T.R. Fehrenbach said, “It was generally agreed upon that the North Koreans, when they found out who they were fighting, would turn around and go back.” The Americans were wrong! 

In fact, the American presence hardly slowed the North Korean forces in their drive south.  Fehrenbach said of the American military of that time, “Their appearance made the generals smile…,” but, “… what they lacked couldn’t be seen, not until the guns sounded.”

Indeed, when the guns did sound, the Americans lacked the practice, the passion, and the professionalism to hold off a determined adversary.

By the end of the first six weeks of the conflict, the American forces had rapidly retreated and formed a perimeter on the far southeast side of the peninsula. Holding the Punsan Perimeter was the American’s last stand and their only chance of survival. It was almost too late in the conflict, but they had learned what to do the hard way according to Fehrenbach and survived.   

We must do everything we can today to avoid learning what to do the hard way. We must train now so that we are ready the moment our nation needs our practice, our passion, and our professionalism.

We cannot wait for the next battle to prepare us, but we must be prepared before it comes our way. If we wait, we will fail to deter combat operations and may not have the talent or the time to recover. If we learn the hard way, we will have failed our nation while squandering precious lives. Let us prepare now, and avoid learning these costly lessons the hard way!