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Public Affairs : Comm's Book Club

Cadets discuss "Outlaw Platoon" with author 

Story and photo by 1st Lt. Brandon Long
Contributing Writer
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Dec. 18, 2013) — Commandant of the Corps of Cadets Brig. Gen. Richard Clarke hosted his first “Commandant’s Book Club” gathering Dec. 10 with author Sean Parnell as the guest speaker, to talk about his book “Outlaw Platoon.”

Parnell was the platoon leader of Outlaw Platoon, part of the 2-87, 10th Mountain Division, deploy in Afghanistan for 16 months. They were known and feared by the enemy due to their skills as a cohesive unit and being one of the best platoons in the battalion.

“Being the best is a double edge sword,” Parnell said. “You are given tougher missions and more of them because your leaders know you can get them done, but this means a greater chance of casualties.”

When they left Afghanistan, the platoon received 32 Purple Hearts.

Cows and firsties sat in small groups mentored by company tactical officers as they focused on the possible situations that cadets might face as future platoon leaders. They talked about initial impressions, leadership, trust, making the hard decisions, combat and how to handle a platoon through it all.

“This book is amazing in so many ways,” Class of 2014 Cadet Nicole Miller said. “I think this book should be a part of the curriculum, as should leadership books like it. I will definitely be using this for my platoon next semester.”

The participants were enthusiastic to discuss the topics and listen to Parnell’s stories.
“At the end of the day, I didn’t come here to learn physics or calculus, I came here to become a leader, and events like this help us achieve that mission,” said Class of 2014 Cadet Andrew Trahan said.

This was Parnell’s first speaking engagement with the military since the release of his book, so he was not use to addressing questions geared toward future officers. One of the questions asked by a cadet was, “Sir, you mentioned that you were considered the best platoon and that the enemy feared you, how do you ensure that does not get misinterpreted by your men to do something immoral.”

He proceeded to explain how the platoon leader must always be the moral compass for the platoon, and used examples from his experience in combat where he had to be that compass and do what was right, despite the feelings his Soldiers had and that he had as well.
Author Sean Parnell spoke with cadets about his book “Outlaw Platoon” Dec. 10 during the Commandant’s Book Club gathering at Eisenhower Hall.
“I was amazed at the questions the cadets were asking; they were hard,” Parnell said.

The commandant asked Parnell about the importance of unit discipline, especially in garrison, and asked for some examples. Parnell explained how his battalion commander set high standards across the board, whether it was physical training or field training.

However, no training prepares you for combat because each scenario is different, but it gives you the foundation and the basic skills to succeed.

Parnell said it is important to train not only in tactics, but in creating a cohesive unit.

“Love for each other was the greatest weapon we had, don’t get me wrong M19 and .50 cals were nice to have though,” he said.

Parnell said a leader must be there for the Soldiers and always do right by them.

“You aren’t trying to be their friends,” he said. “Good leaders inspire Soldiers, but great Soldiers inspire their leaders.”

While the event was only for the cows and firsties, it shows how much of an impact the book had on the cadets if they want to use it as a tool to teach the younger cadets.

“Even if I touched one cadet and help him or her grow, this trip will be a success,” Parnell said.