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  • Jeff Davidson

Achieves – Leadership in Practice

Competent leaders get results. They accomplish the mission or achieve the goal(s) without lowering the standards, all the while improving the organization. During a 3E battlefield leadership experience we focus on the results that were achieved on the battlefield, it is the nature of the business. But the reality is that achieving results on any battlefield must start way before the first shot is fired.

“Victorious warriors win first then go to war,

While defeated warriors go to war first then seek to win.”

-Sun Tzu

Take the example of 1LT Alonzo Cushing the Commander of Battery A, 4th United States Artillery. LT Cushing was born in Delafield, Wisconsin, later moving to Fredonia, New York before graduating from West Point in 1861 at the outset of the Civil War. On July 3rd1863, fate would place Lieutenant Cushing and his battery at the most pivotal battle of the Civil War Gettysburg, during the critical moment Pickett’s Charge at the focal point of the enemy’s attack, “The Angle.”

During previous battles in which Battery A participated, Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, LT Cushing earned the respect and admiration of his fellow artillerymen. But more importantly, his courage and conduct under fire (character), technical and tactical knowledge (competence) and commitment not only to the mission but also the men of Battery A had earned him the trust of his fellow Redlegs.

That trust, developed through shared challenges and hardship as well as diligent training and crew drills, would make the difference in the determined stand of Battery A on 3 July 1863. As Confederate artillery directed their deadly fire at Cemetery Ridge in preparation for the impending assault, other batteries displaced to safer locations but not the men of Battery A. During the chaos and carnage, with the resolute Lieutenant serving as their example, Battery A would fire round after round of canister into the advancing Confederate Soldiers. Twice wounded during the melee and with only two guns remaining in action, Cushing refused to seek medical assistance and continued to direct his Soldier’s lethal artillery fire. The third wound would be mortal for the Battery Commander but the Union line would hold that day and Battery A, 4th United States Artillery was instrumental in achieving the victory. CPT John Hazard would write “especially distinguished himself for his extreme gallantry and bravery, his courage and ability, and his love for his profession.”

At that time medals for bravery were not awarded posthumously and it would take over 150 years for Alonzo Cushing to be recognized for his personal courage and perseverance at Gettysburg. Had it not been for the hard work and persistence of Ms. Margaret Zerwekh, LT Cushing’s personal courage and selfless service may never have been appropriately recognized. Individual achievement may also take a significant amount of hard work, persistence and determination over time as evidenced in the story of Ms. Zerwekh. Margaret’s family moved to a farm that occupied part of LT Cushing’s birthplace. She took an interest in the local history and soon discovered the valorous exploits of LT Alonzo Cushing of Battery A, 4thUS Artillery. After learning that Cushing had not been awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism, Ms. Zerwekh started a one woman campaign to correct the record. She appealed to congressman, senators and even to presidents. She would receive numerous form letters from the various offices but Margaret never wavered from her goal of achieving appropriate recognition for her Soldier. She was told that due to the fact that more than five years had passed since the event had occurred, approving the Medal of Honor would take an act of Congress. She persisted, and after more than two decades of lobbying on behalf of LT Cushing, Margaret Zerwekh achieved her goal and was present when on September 15th2014, President Barak Obama presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to the relatives of LT Alonzo Cushing.

Margaret Zerwekh epitomizes leadership that achieves. She stayed focused on the task at a hand, overcame minor and major obstacles/setbacks and extended her influence outside established circles recruiting the necessary influence to reach her ultimate goal. When asked why she was so determined in her quest Margaret stated, “It is never too late to do the right thing.” Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of the 35th President of the United States once said, “One man can make a difference and every man should try.” Achieves - embracing all actions to accomplish the task - well done Margaret!

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