Point Man: The Importance of Leading Your Family

Vietnam-war-soldier2I’d like to take a minute to share the following scenario which comes from Steve Farrar’s book, Point Man. (1990, Portland: Multnomah; p. 14-17). I read the book years ago and the mental picture stayed with me. I wanted to share it here. The story speaks for itself. I do not need to add anything to the end. Full credit goes to Steve Farrar. Thanks Steve!


It’s 1966. You are only eighteen. You are in the absolute prime of youth. You’ve got a driver’s license, a girlfriend, and plenty of dreams. Your entire life is ahead of you. But through a strange series of circumstances you don’t fully understand, suddenly your driver’s license is useless, your girlfriend’s picture is in your wallet, your dreams are on hold, and you are in a country thousands of miles away from home.

Welcome to Vietnam.

On this particular day, you would give anything not to be here. For you are going out on patrol. You’ve been on patrol before, but today is different, and that’s why there’s a knot in your gut and an icy fear in your heart.

Today is different because the patrol leader has appointed you to be “point man.” In essence, you’re the leader. Everyone else will fall in behind you. And as you move out to encounter the enemy, you realize that the survival of those seven men stepping cautiously behind you will depend upon just one thing; your ability to lead. Your judgment may determine whether they live or die. The responsibility hangs over your head like the suffocating humidity that hangs heavy in the air.

Your senses have never been so alive, your adrenalin so surging. You can almost hear it rushing through your veins. You know the enemy is near, maybe just hundreds of yards away. Intelligence reported heavy enemy activity in this area late last night. Your job is to confirm or deny that activity. For all you know, they’re watching you right now. Perhaps they can see you, but you don’t have a clue where they are.

As you gingerly make your way through the rain forest, you’ve got one eye out for concealed wires in your path and another scanning the trees for snipers. Entire patrols have been lost because the point man failed to anticipate an ambush. Men have been killed or horribly maimed, all because a point lacked skill and wisdom.

You never saw it coming. The violent shock and utter surprise of gunfire momentarily paralyzes you, despite your “instant reaction” training. Before you can respond, a bullet tears through your flesh and explodes the bone in your leg. A thousand thoughts instantly flood your mind: Am I going to die? Where are those shots coming from? Is there more than one? Will I lose my leg? Where’s the patrol leader?

One glance to your left tells you that the family of the patrol leader is now fatherless. In the chaos of attack, and in spite of your wounds, the radio man makes his way to you. He knows and you know that you are the most experienced man. In panic situations like this, the book goes out the window. Like it or not, you are the leader.

As a medic evaluates your wound, you’re trying to determine what to do next. Just what is the situation? What are we up against? Where are they? Some good news in the midst of confusion brings a ray of hope—the bullet went through cleanly and the bleeding has stopped. You’re luckier than most guys on point. Usually, they’re dead before they hit the ground. You’re still alive and in control of your thinking.

Two other men beside the patrol leader were hit. One is dead, the other bleeding profusely. You get on the radio and report your situation and position. You request a chopper for the hemorrhaging private. But before you can finish your request, the hidden enemy unleashes all of his firepower on your position. You’re surrounded.

In your gut, you know the odds are against are you. You’re outnumbered, outgunned, and not in the greatest position to wage a counterattack. You’ve got two men dead, one dying, and four wondering if they’ll make it to lunch. The worst case scenario has happened … and it’s worse than you ever imagined.

Now is the time your leadership will make the difference. What you say and do will determine whether your men live or die. As automatic weapons blaze around you, you must accurately assess the situation, determine the critical next steps, and formulate a flawless plan. It’s leadership, pure and simple. If your plan works, you may get out alive with half your men. If it doesn’t, they’ll be lucky to find your dogtags.

Some of you reading this didn’t have to use your Imaginations. You were actually there. You know what it is to see your buddy disappear forever into the zippered confines of a body bag. You know first-hand the white-hot heat of phosphorous grenades and the adrenalin rush of a firefight. You know what it’s like to be disoriented by the concussion of artillery shells crashing in around you. You don’t have to imagine patrolling in Vietnam . . . it’s all you can do to get a night’s sleep without reliving it again and again.

Let’s make a critical change in the scenario. You’re still in Vietnam, on patrol in the same steamy rain forest. But something about this patrol is different. You’re still the point man, but this time you’re not leading a group of men.

You‘re leading your family.

You look over your shoulder to see your wife and your children following behind. Your little girl is trying to choke back the tears, and your little boy is trying to act brave. Your wife is holding the baby and trying to keep him quiet. On this patrol, you don’t want to engage the enemy, you want to avoid him.

What would you be feeling under such conditions? The survival of each member of your family—and its survival as a whole—would completely depend upon your ability to lead through the maze of possible ambushes, unseen booby traps, invisible snipers, and all the extraordinary hazards of combat.

Would you be motivated? Would your senses and adrenalin be working overtime? Of course they would! You would know in your gut that the survival of your family is up to you. It’s all on your shoulders . . . because you are the leader.

Gentlemen, this is no imaginary situation. It is reality. If you are a husband/father, then you are in a war. War has been declared upon the family, on your family and mine. Leading a family through the chaos of American culture is like leading a small patrol through enemy-occupied territory. And the casualties in this war are as real as the names etched on the Vietnam Memorial.