Sunday, August 28, 2005

A Leadership Example

A bit more than a decade ago, I had the distinct pleasure of serving with a Marine Corps officer who stood head and shoulders above his peers. This man was the single best officer I have ever known- bar none.

Although I have not seen him for a very long time, I made a commitment to honor him and tell people about him whenever I got the chance. So... here's an essay, inspired by him, that I wrote some time ago.


By kmg

"Come on, you S.O.B.'s! Do you want to live forever?" These celebrated words are credited to Dan Daly at Belleau Wood and are an illustration of leadership- the art of influencing people. The direction that the Marine Corps takes always has depended on its leadership. Nothing- not beans, bullets, or band-aids- can have a more profound effect on the functioning of our Corps than does leadership. Leadership is not some esoteric concept for us to philosophize about; it is a very real, almost tangible characteristic that we like to think is inherent in every Marine Corps NCO, staff NCO, and officer. Before seriously discussing new directions and new frontiers for the Corps, it is essential to know that our foundation is still solid. Leadership is our foundation.

In these days of Total Quality Leadership, focus on leadership is as tight as it has ever been; but are today's leaders still able to influence their Marines? Most of us would like to think that our leadership methods could compare favorably with those typified in our colorful history. Generally speaking, it is sometimes hard to tell who is leading and who is managing (a good leader should do a lot of the former and a bit of the latter). Certain leaders, though, leave no doubts about what they are doing. They carry themselves with an almost visible sense of purpose. Their Marines follow them because they want to. A sincerely and perpetually energetic, purposeful leader will positively influence the thoughts, motivations, and actions of his juniors. All the more so when he consistently shows very real concern for the welfare of his Marines and the welfare of people in general.

Who among us can be accurately described as this type of leader? How many of us have encountered a leader like this? We Marines fortunate enough to have served with Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murdock can say, with complete honesty, that we have met such a leader. It is against examples like his that we all should measure ourselves.

My personal experience with LtCol Murdock extends only to his last tour of duty: Commanding Officer of Marine Combat Training (MCT) Battalion, School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton. During this period, I was assigned as the Chief Instructor for Tactics at MCT Bn. As such, I had daily contact with LtCol Murdock, both in the field and in the rear. Over the course of the year and a half that I served under LtCol Murdock, I became aware that I was learning from him. Not through classroom lecture, but through his example... I was being influenced.

For the record, the related experiences of others who knew the Colonel before MCT all tell of the same kind of Marine: a true leader. To quantify his methods (and our own), let us look to the fourteen venerable Leadership Traits as a barometer.

Knowledge: First and foremost, LtCol Murdock was a grunt. His knowledge of his craft was tremendous- from the job skills of a fireteam leader to battalion and regimental level operations. Many a Staff NCO was surprised (and more than a little impressed) by the Colonel's ability to relate to, and converse about, the intricacies of the 0300's job. He knew what he knew not because he had done it all, but because he took the time to learn all he could about his job and the jobs of his Marines.

Enthusiasm: This is a vitally important area where many leaders fail. It is difficult for most human beings to be always "up"- to have always real energy for their work. LtCol Murdock displayed prodigious, consistent, and sincere enthusiasm... ALWAYS. Whether conducting a staff meeting, speaking at a graduation, or relating one-on-one with a Marine, LtCol Murdock exuded a contagious energy that infected all in attendance. Nothing about his life was boring to the Colonel and it showed.

Initiative: LtCol Murdock quite simply did what had to be done when it had to be done. A good example of his initiative is the Close Combat Instructor (CCI) course. MCT Bn received one quota for the first ever Close Combat Instructor Trainer (CCIT) course at MCCDC Quantico. Where other commanders felt that it was an unnecessary expenditure of funds and time, LtCol Murdock sent one of our tactics instructors to the CCIT course. When that Marine returned from Quantico with tales of possible new policies regarding Close Combat training, LtCol Murdock explored the issue at length. The Marine showed the Colonel what he had learned at Quantico and explained how he could set up a five day course right there at MCT to train all the Troop Leaders and Instructors in proper Close Combat techniques. The Colonel decided that it was outstanding training, whether compulsory or not, and directed the Marine to proceed. Word of the course soon got out to the Fleet Marine Force, and units from SRIG to Combat Engineers to 1st Marines began calling us and requesting quotas for the CCI course. After several months and over one hundred certified Close Combat Instructors (one of which was LtCol Murdock himself!), it was decided that the course would move up to Advanced Infantry Training Company and be made an official part of the School of Infantry's curriculum. It is in this very course that all Infantry Squad Leader and Platoon Sergeant Course students were soon trained at Camp Pendleton. Remember that LtCol Murdock operated this course at his Battalion for over six months without external support of any kind. That is initiative at the Battalion level.

Endurance: A Marine over forty years of age with an average PFT score above 290. A Battalion Commander who spent as much time in the field with his Marines as did most Staff NCO's, while managing the administrative load of almost two hundred permanent personnel and as many as two thousand students per week. The Colonel never appeared to his Marines frazzled or under pressure.

Judgment: When do you change a policy or modify some aspect of a course of instruction? Which Company Commander has the best idea for a standardized Battalion Field Exercise? How best to train thousands of entry level Marines with an ever dwindling T/O and T/E? The Colonel always had to choose the answer that best fit his Battalion, and in my opinion he usually chose the correct way. Even when I or other Marines disagreed with one of his decisions, we could see his reasoning. He never made arbitrary decisions and he always sought out the advice of the Marines who would be effected by his decision. LtCol Murdock possessed a level of personal and professional judgment that most Marines, myself included, can only dream of.

Justice: Everyone in MCT Battalion got what they deserved. Whether it was Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) or a Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal- if the Marine deserved it, he got it. Before LtCol Murdock's arrival at MCT, it was a common policy that a Marine would get an award only at the end of his tour. Upon learning of this policy, LtCol Murdock proceeded to change it. He believed that a Marine should be rewarded soon after the commendable action, not two or three years later. Before long, Marines at MCT were being recognized for outstanding achievement on a fairly routine basis- and that greatly increased morale and, subsequently, performance. Sometimes it's nice to be noticed. On the other side of justice: when punishment had to be administered, LtCol Murdock never shied away. He did, though, take it very personally. On one occasion, a newly promoted sergeant who worked for me was brought up for NJP for a petty crime. This NCO was married with two very young children. He admitted to the offense and the Colonel punished him. As he was asking me for my input on the punishment (yes, he did), the Colonel made it clear that it hurt him very much to have to do this to an otherwise excellent Marine. But he did it... the Marine was reduced in grade and received a hefty fine (most of which was suspended).

Decisiveness: See "judgment" above, and add to it that LtCol Murdock's decisions were always made on time (i.e., before deadlines, etc.). There was no moss growing on the Colonel.

Integrity: An honest approach to life and visible sincerity... you always knew where you stood with LtCol Murdock- and where he stood with you. An officer with an outgoing, friendly personality who genuinely liked people and disliked conflict; the Colonel would, nonetheless, tell you when you screwed up (or when he did).

Bearing: LtCol Murdock set the example with his superb personal appearance and military bearing. A focused Marine who always behaved proportionally to his station.

Tact: See "Integrity" above. LtCol Murdock knew that integrity was paramount to tact. Sincerity mixed with straightforwardness... he communicated well.

Although I could list numerous cases where the final four Leadership Traits- Courage, Dependability, Loyalty, and Unselfishness- apply, they are best illustrated in one inclusive (and ultimate) example.

In January of 1995, Camp Pendleton was experiencing the same horrendous flooding that was ravaging most of the state of California. At the School of Infantry, entry level Marines learning the ways of the Grunt continued to train, albeit at a somewhat degraded level of effectiveness.

One platoon of young Marines became stranded on the wrong side of a flooding stream and could not get back to the Battalion area. The Colonel went out with the Sergeant Major to reassure the young Marines from across the raging current. While assessing the situation and trying to find a spot for the platoon to cross, LtCol Murdock was swept away by the swollen creek. The Colonel was found dead several hours later.

This was not the first time the Colonel was out checking on the welfare of his Marines. Not by a long shot... Semper Fidelis was more than just a saying to him. I honestly believe that he cared for and worried about his Marines almost as much as he did for the two young sons he left behind.

The legacy and lesson the Colonel leaves are those every professional Marine should take to heart and live by:

"Take care of your Marines and the mission will be accomplished."

Another lesson the Colonel seems to be teaching me even now is that our foundation of leadership is, indeed, still solid... where he existed, there can exist others. Leaders are raised, not born; and with the right examples, many can step forward to lead the Corps to new heights.

Make no mistake about it, though, Marines the caliber of my former Battalion Commander are truly rare; and if this seems as much a tribute to the Colonel as a discussion of leadership, then I have accomplished my task. It would be good for me to think that I could give something back to him.

Speaking for myself, and for many other Marines as well, I can say that I have never met, served with, or even heard of another senior officer who so brilliantly displayed all that is right with leadership as did LtCol HARRY M. MURDOCK, USMC.

Semper Fi, Sir... your Corps is still in good hands!

11 April 95



Anonymous Anonymous said...

OoRah Marine! Outstanding!

28/8/05 11:07  
Anonymous Mike said...

Well done kmg! I was riveted!

28/8/05 12:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great essay. I wish I could have met this man.

28/8/05 15:19  
Blogger husker_met said...

You know...

You kinda go down the checklist there, but I've always been of the mind that that stuff isn't trained into a person. I doubt seriously whether LtC Murdock had a shelf full of "leadership" books or attended "leadership" seminars.

That's not to say you can't improve skills in anyone of the areas mentioned, but some people have it, some don't. Even those who have it, have it to varying degrees.

LtC Murdock obviously was one of the lucky ones who had it in abundance.

Leadership is sort of like a sense of humor. Very few people who have it even recognize it in themselves, and even less have to really work at it. It just is.

Good tribute. Thanks.

28/8/05 15:42  
Blogger kmg said...

Not "trained into" them, Husker... I would use the words "encouraged, nurtured, cultivated, and refined."

28/8/05 16:03  
Anonymous Friendly_Freddy said...

You do have to learn how to take care of people. There is definitely a natural part to it but it needs to be taught and fostered.

28/8/05 18:16  
Blogger husker_met said...

Alright kmg I'll buy that.

But I still maintain that no matter how much outside help, encouragement, nurturing, etc. leadership skill is still largely internal.

I've seen too many corporate hacks in my life that thought leadership (real leadership, not lip service) could be found in books to believe otherwise.

28/8/05 18:30  
Blogger kmg said...

No argument there, Husker... I've seen people who thought they were leaders... who could not have been farther from it.

It is a talent... or else we'd be able to mass-produce great leaders.

We can- and the USMC does- mass-produce a whole lot of people who are very good leaders... and that is a product of inborn talent and a conducive environment to cultivate it.

28/8/05 20:02  
Blogger husker_met said...

I've always thought that military service produces a particular kind of leadership, uh...proclivity.

I think it must have something to do with the "team" mentality, not to mention the self-reliance factor and the sort of shared group experience.

Jeez, I dunno. Lotta deeper thinkers than myself have tried and failed to grasp the intangible on this. If I could figure it out, I'd bottle it and retire early.

I do know that you know it when you see it, that real leadership inspires everyone who comes in contact to be better, and that it also tends to bring out leadership qualities in others.

28/8/05 20:44  
Blogger husker_met said...

Oh and as far a mass producing it in the USMC...

This could be a chicken and egg type of thing.

Perhaps leaders gravitate to environments wherein leadership is cultivated and valued.

Not saying that's right, just thinking out loud.

28/8/05 20:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that sounds right. A certain type of person goes in the USMC and they probably have a natural proclivity for leadership.

Still it takes the right environment to make it come out and flourish.

28/8/05 21:28  
Blogger kmg said...

You're right... it does take the right environment. Any organization that takes leadership as seriously as does the USMC is bound to see many fruits.

29/8/05 06:16  
Blogger Cadet Retherford said...

Colonel Murdock was a WONDERFUL man. I miss him dearly.

I had just turned 9 not 2 months prior to his death and still remember coming home from school to hear from my grandmother, the bad news. It was devastating, but we all knew that was the life of a Marine. We knew what the possibilities were, and we accepted them. The whole family supported Mike with every strength of energy we had. No matter what the situation. He is the greatest Marine I will ever know. He will always be remembered, as you've shown. Thank you for that.

Col. Mike Murdock's niece,
Cadet Jessica Retherford
Semper Fi

2/7/06 16:58  
Blogger hypnosis said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3/7/06 05:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved the site. Very interesting reading :-) I like this site self-hypnosis

5/8/06 15:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never really got to meet mike but i knew that he was a good man.He would have made a great uncle to me but i already know he is.

Daniel Retherford,Mike's nephew

long live USMC

23/8/06 15:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did my MCT under Lt. Col. Murdock in 1994. In my brief encounter with the Marine, I found him to be a hands-on officer of the highest order. Before my training cycle began, I worked in the office in a working party for 2 weeks. While our company Lt. didn't seem to come out from behind his desk very often, Lt.Col. Murdock seemed to be there every time I turned around in the training field. I remember hearing of his death about 11 years ago, although I thought is was more of a rumor. I now see, unfortunately, it was so. Semper Fi.

3/1/07 10:04  
Blogger royandsue3 said...

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28/3/08 11:54  
Blogger royandsue3 said...

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28/3/08 11:54  
Blogger royandsue3 said...

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28/3/08 11:59  
Blogger royandsue3 said...

I Knew Lt. Col Murdock in 1988 when he was my Commanding Officer, Then Maj. Murdock at US Marine Barracks St. Mawgan, England. He helped me get married when the company gunny tried to deny my request. Maj Murdock is in my wedding pictures and yes we are still married almost 22 yrs in June. His death was a great loss to all of us. He is and always will be a part of my life.


84 to 95

28/3/08 14:20  
Blogger jesse said...

I had the honor and privelage of serving under Lt. Col. Murdock while stationed at MCT. I found that he was a humble leader, I recall my promotion, my NJP, my last conversation before my departure from the Marine Corps. I worked with Col Murdock on a daily basis, his words of encorgement, advice and orders that any Marine wanted to carry out.

Although I left his command in 1994 I still today remember the last offical contact I had with Lt. Col. Murdock we had PT'd that November morning together 0800 reported to the flagpole for the honor of raising the nations colors and then our brief conversation with him and probably the toughest Sgt. Major I ever had.

I know that lt. col murdock is still to this day doing his daily patrolling his training grounds.

1/1/10 09:12  
Blogger biofool said...

I was there at MCT in 'hell hotel' company. my buddy Pvt Scott Nelson (rip) was one of the Marines trapped on the other side of the flooded out Basilone Road. We called them the 'river rats' for the rest of the time we were there. Lt.Col. Murdock was a hard charging bad ass mother fucking Marine! We trained no matter how hard the rain fell and no matter how many times our humvee got stuck in a sink hole (we dug out two of them four times each one day). We were standing by to go over to combat town when the bank collapsed and took the LtCol. and two staff seargents. I think one of them was helped out of the water. that was a dark day I will never forget. Semper Fi

26/8/10 20:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Murdock and I grew up together in Daytona Beach Florida and were best friends through high school and college roommates at Central Florida in Orlando. He was also my best friend and best man in my wedding and I in his when he married Judy Kay. He was without a doubt the most honorable, intelligent, and well liked indivdual I have met in my life time. His death was devastating to many including me but he absolutely lived his life the way it should be lived.
I have considered the possibility of one day writing a book about Mike and I would obviously be most familiar with his life leading up to his military service. If there are those who knew Mike and could email me at it would be most appreciated. I would particularly need information on his military service.
I just saw this site now almost 16 years after his death. His impact on those he knew was amazing.

5/1/11 08:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in the Navy prior to becoming a Navy Diver I served as an OIC of a Beach Master detachment. I knew him as Major Murdock (East Coast). His Marines would sometimes come over for some good Navy food. Major Murdock didn't want us to feed his Marines afraid we would soften up his Marines!
I doubt that was possible. Major Murdock was great officer and leader . Occasionally I would offer him a coffee and he would accept. I lost touch with him after the deployment in the Med.
Years later and 3000 miles away from the east coast I remember the shock as I was in when I saw the news story the night it happen. I just heard the name on radio and didn't put 2 and 2 together, but I remember thinking that is a leader he put himself in harms way trying to help his men. Don't ask anyone to do anything you are afraid to do, to me that is leading not... bull-shitting. When I saw his picture on the news I thought oh my god that is "Major Murdock!" . I thought we lost a great man, a great leader and in the end it figured he was just that type of man. I was never a Marine but the fact that Mike Murdock was "that Lt Col" really wasn't surprising. So it is one day after Veteran's Day Nov 11th 2012 some 20 + years after serving with him I think of is his story,his bravery and his service.
As a veteran's I think we are reminded more of the people we served with and Lt Col Murdock's story is worth remembering.

Hooyah(Diver term) Lt Col Murdock!
From Lt Martin (Navy Diver)

12/11/12 10:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for your article. Lt Col Murdock has always remained in my thoughts since his passing. I was a young corpsman at the time and was stranded on the wrong side of the river that night. Two other Staff Sargents and I were on the bank of the river when Lt Col Murdock tried to cross. He had gotten about half way when he was swept under. At the time we didn't know who risking so much trying to cross but once we learned, no one was surprised. Everyone knew what kind of leader he was. I wish I had know him better.

7/7/15 06:24  
Anonymous William Toy said...

From '83-'84, I was stationed at U.S. Marine Barracks, RAF St. Mawgan, England. He was the second CO I had at this Barracks. When he arrived at the Barracks. I had already had a reputation for trouble. I could honestly say, 'I was a victim of circumstance'. The first incident was to locate the off duty Officer of the day and retrieve "THE KEYS". I found the officer and the keys in a location where most Marines go to relax and to lift their 'spirits'. In a rush to get "THE KEYS" back into the hands of the on coming OD. I had a little accident while I was driving the brand new Navy van. I slid off the rode and crashed threw a farmers fence. The next day when the RAF MP's found me to let me know that the local police had to shut down that road to heard the poor farmers cows back threw the fence. I thought it was funny. This incident meant NJP for me and I was suspended two weeks pay for two months by my first CO. During my NJP hearing, I kept my mouth shut about the true mission "THE KEYS". This sat well with all the Officers and SNCO's because I didn't throw anyone under the bus. After change of command, Maj. Murdock had me to report to his office. He told me that his wife and baby were stranded on the side of the road and he was not sure exactly where they were but knew where they were going. I found his family and drove them back to their quarters. He later thanked me by shaking my hand and giving me a one arm hug. He was very worried and I could see his eyes had watered up. Months later, I was involved in what the two local papers titled "U.S. Marine in near riot" and "Marines rally to Comrade". Needless to say that myself and two other Marines were arrested and spent the night in the local jail. A few weeks later, Maj. Murdock stood next to me in court and instructed me to plead guilty to using profane language in public and disorderly conduct. I payed the 1,000 pound fine and waited for my next NJP. This time I stood before 'The Man'. He asked me how do I plea and I said not guilty. His eyes shot right through my head. I then explained that I have a witness that was standing next to me at the time of the incident. The witness was the new, hard charging, highly respected "Recon Lt." The CO excused me from the hearing while the "Recon Lt." testified on my behalf and made him aware that "I was a victim of curcumstance". I was called back in to the hearing and the then Major Murdock found me not guilty, but to please the British Nationals it was reported that I was restricted to the base. I stayed in the Marines for 10 years, made it to Sgt. Honorably discharged, but medically with now my second back operation and PTSD which I'm still "a victim of circumstance". Please note today is the Marine Corps Birthday and if I was there that day that you tried to save those Marines and I saw you being swept away. I would have saved you so you could have lived to watched your family grow. I say this with tears in my eyes because I've been with dying Marines, women and children. It hurts that bad every day and unfortunately the intrusive thoughts repeat over and over again. The thought of now having a beautiful wife and three children makes me fell so guilty knowing your not with yours. It just tears at my soul. Happy Birthday Commanding Officer Murdock!!

If you are a family member and want to know more about your husband, dad, uncle or grand father. If I can hold it together; l'll tell you how I made him laugh and smile. This may help you find some peace so you can live again.

I'm Sgt. William Toy
My phone number is 850-766-3369

10/11/15 22:32  

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