Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Military Discipline as Leadership Training

BOND: Now, before you get into OCS, many people think that almost all military training is, in fact, leadership training. Do you get the feeling that in these pre-officer training school that you're learning how to be a leader? You said last night that when you were watching these airmen fly on the field in Robbins, that you knew then you could be a successful leader.


BOND: How did you know it then, and then what did the military do for you to reinforce this feeling?

THEUS: Well, the feeling came as I was watching these pilots flying these aircraft and, of course, they -- some of them flew in formation. They did have leaders, not designated necessarily, but they did have someone who was directing them in their actions. And I said to myself that "I can certainly do that well. If I learned to fly, that I can be a leader of one of these groups and better still, I can be a leader of a group such as imagined by G-8 and his Flying Aces. I can be in charge of the group, I can lead them in vanquishing the bad guys." And so there was no question in my mind that I wasn't going to just be one of them, I was going to be a leader of a group of them. So I had that feeling.

And then as I moved into the old Army Air Corps -- first off, we were shipped initially to Fort Custer, Michigan. Then we received our assignments to Keesler Field. And I don't know why -- maybe because I looked it or acted it -- but I was told that I was going to be in charge of the detachment going to Keesler, and that I was responsible then for seeing to it that -- first of all, that they had all of their equipment with them, that they were lined up and ready to go at a given point, and so forth, and responsible to see that they got there. Well, of course, that was very easy because we all loaded onto a train. I counted to make sure they were there, looked at the orders and made sure that they were there, and we got them to Keesler. Then after I arrived at Keesler, I was in basic training. That was rather uneventful. But then for some reason or other, my commander selected me to supervise a couple of work details.

BOND: Why do you think he selected you?

THEUS: I don't know. I think that maybe it was because -- maybe I looked eager. Or maybe I was emitting some signals of which I wasn't aware at the time. But I was selected for that, and the next thing that I recall is that he came out and he said, "Would you like to go to clerical school?" And I said, "Of course, sir." So I found myself then going over to Atlanta University for a short course then in military clerical business. And perhaps again because I tried to do the best with my job, I soon found myself as chief clerk in the office, seeing to it that all of the other clerical duties were performed well, that the people were doing them. And then shortly thereafter I was asked if I would prefer to really be a first sergeant. And so I was then appointed to that position, to acting-first sergeant because I was still a staff sergeant, but I was given that position. And then I gradually -- not gradually -- I started to enjoy being in charge, making sure that things happened. Making sure that they happened without -- with minimum disruption, with minimum of turbulence and so forth. So, yes, I think that there was definitely a build-up of this leadership quality and desire to lead, long before I got to Officer Candidate School.

BOND: And the very nature of the military is this hierarchical system where this person's in charge of these people, this person in charge of that person and them, and so on and so on -- a stairstep, and you're moving up this stairstep and feeling, "I can do this."

THEUS: Yes, exactly.

BOND: And proving "I can do this" and then comes officer training school and that's a big step.

THEUS: That is true. You put it very well, because as I started to move up, many times just on the basis of performance of the duties that I had, then I got another chevron, when I had moved up another notch. Then you had to quickly grow into the position. In other words, you had to now -- you're a sergeant, you have act like a sergeant, you see. How does a sergeant act? Well, a sergeant has to be a leader. And so now you move to the next level. You have others under your, not necessarily control, but your supervision, and so you have to now exercise your leadership ability with that group. And so it was a combination of doing the work well, wanting to move ahead, and then once moving to the next level, then growing into the position. And demonstrating that you could successfully manage the next level of people.