KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - After savage fighting -- much of it hand-to-hand -- a brutal Taliban attack on Combat Outpost Hellfire was stopped recently by the heroic actions of the infantry commander on the ground. While many in the Army are hailing Captain James Wild as a hero of the battle, his West Point professor maintains that the incident is just another in what he calls "a series of extensive leadership failures."
"I just knew something like this would happen if he was in a leadership position. He didn't have any discipline at all. He was without a doubt one of the worst students I've ever had," said Major Martin Sutherland, when asked about the incident.
Now serving as a professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, Sutherland speaks from his experiences as an Air Defense officer from 1984 to 1995. His belief is that discipline and standards are of the highest importance to a good Army officer.
"Wild had the worst looking boots in the company. When other cadets were spending their Friday nights shining shoes, and getting their rooms ready for the Saturday morning inspections that I insisted on, Wild would just go out and party. Can you believe that? A 19 year-old kid in college trying to become an officer, and he couldn't even find the time to starch his BDU blouse!"
The distraught man rubs a gnarled hand through his thinning comb-over and shakes his head sadly.
"I feel partially responsible for the whole thing. One day, right before graduation I was conducting one of my standard 5am snap inspections. When Cadet Wild showed up to formation I saw that his BDU belt wasn't regulation issue. Then, when I had the cadets pull up their pant legs I saw that he was wearing white socks. WHITE SOCKS!"
The Major is clearly still troubled by the event, years later.
"I pulled Cadet Wild to the side and explained to him why wearing white socks could get his men killed."
The man sighs, and opens a folder he has sitting on his desk.
"Look at all these infractions. Failure to wear his TA-50 according to the SOP, missing drill and ceremony training for tutoring sessions with his military tactics instructor, failure to display proper military insignia in a PowerPoint brief!"
The Major was also asked about Wild's physical and leadership abilities.
"Oh he was always working out. He was on the triathlon and boxing teams. Maybe if he had spent less time training and focused on the important things, like military protocol, marching, or uniform standards then maybe he would have become the officer I'd hoped for. Instead you get something like this," Sutherland says, as he gestures with disgust at the printed out summary of the battle.
When his isolated outpost was attacked in the pre-dawn hours, then-Lieutenant Wild and his platoon repelled the first wave, killing over 30 enemy fighters in the first few minutes of battle. Unfortunately, dust in the atmosphere, the position of the moon, and civilians within a 4,000 meter radius of the base prevented Close Air Support from being used to support the troops. Artillery was also denied for the same reasons. The next wave was able to overrun the outer perimeter, forcing Wild and the remnants of his shattered unit to engage the enemy in savage hand-to-hand combat. Reports from the ground confirm that he personally dispatched three enemy soldiers with his entrenching tool, before pushing his men to retake the breached walls of the compound.
During the fighting Lieutenant Wild desperately pleaded for an exception to be granted to the fires restrictions, but the President was out golfing that morning and the required signature of a four-star general officer was unable to be obtained until after the fight had ceased.
When the battle was over, the enemy had been beaten back, but many in Lieutenant Wild's platoon had been mauled.
This week, now-Captain James Wild and four of his soldiers received the Silver Star for their actions during the fight. Pictures taken after the battle and at the awards ceremony showed Wild wearing white socks.
Major Sutherland did not offer any further comment on his most recent infraction.