The High Ground: Leading in Peace and War

  • Published

The High Ground: Leading in Peace and War by R. D. Hooker Jr. Casemate Publishers, 2023, 192 pp.

The High Ground: Leading in Peace and War offers a detailed view of the lives of American soldiers operating in peacetime and conflict zones. The author, retired Colonel Richard D. Hooker Jr., disengaged from active duty after 32 years of experience that “spanned five wars across five continents,” including tours in Grenada, Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan (xi). The author of several books, former university professor, and research fellow, Hooker currently serves as a nonresident senior fellow with the Transatlantic Security Initiative for the Atlantic Council. Hooker’s zeal to write was born from his desire to share his thoughts on leadership and have his experiences documented. The book is a collection of essays previously published in Army magazines and supported by the author’s field experiences.

The book’s central theme is to explore leadership roles and responsibilities at various levels and dimensions of the Army command structure. The book is logically arranged into four chapters, each dealing with multiple compartmentalized bits of military outlooks, unit structure, functions, and obligations of soldiers and officers. The author first highlights the foundations of leadership and discusses leadership skills in action. Thereafter, he delves into the profiles of specific leaders. Finally, he writes in memory of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Each chapter of the book is structured into main chapters and subchapters. The subchapter deals with a particular perspective of the main chapter, cutting across administration, military morale, and tasks and obligations of an active soldier. This technique of subchapter organization helps readers focus on subject expectations.

In chapter 1, “Leadership Fundamentals,” the author describes an emotional story of a conversation between himself, his wife, and his son to catch the attention of his audience before delving into the interactions between him and his son, detailed through letters and other correspondence that emphasize the expectations of an infantry soldier. The author further gives insight into the opportunities of the various levels of command appointments. Hooker highlights the critical leadership responsibilities the command sergeant major, company, and battalion commanders play in fostering discipline in the Army and the mentorship of newly enlisted and commissioned officers. He also illustrates with examples some of the inspirational roles these senior soldiers played while discharging their duties.

Chapter 2 of the book, “Leadership in Action,” focuses on leadership on active duty in combat zones. Hooker impressively describes how an officer could inspire his subordinates in combat to achieve unit mission objectives by ensuring that troops are rewarded accordingly to sustain their morale and keep their fighting spirit high. Chapter 3, “Profiles in Leadership, attempts to discuss the personality of leaders as much as possible, focusing on retired enlisted personnel and officers who had excelled while on active duty. For instance, he describes Lieutenant General Ricky Waddell as a straightforward officer who upheld patriotism as the bedrock of military leadership. Hooker also cites a few other soldiers who had excelled in their service, with particular attention to their heroism and leadership character. Finally, Chapter 4, “In Memoriam,” recognizes a few specific soldiers who lost their lives in combat. To this end, Hooker emphasizes their character as worthy of emulation.

By the author’s own admission, The High Ground “does not attempt to explore the subject of leadership from an academic, psychological, or intellectual perspective” (xi). Readers looking for a clear argument or thesis within the collection may be disappointed. The book provides little by way of working definitions or conceptual clarifications. Consequently, it is challenging to determine exactly which aspects of leadership remain Hooker’s primary emphasis. Using a story as a hook is generally accepted as a good writing technique, yet the interpretation of that story may be affected by the reader’s own perception and background. Thus, the author might have considered his targeted audience to communicate his point about leadership more clearly.

Furthermore, Hooker elaborates on the opportunities the US military gives to individuals of color who exhibit inherent courage and competence. To this end, the book briefly highlights some renowned retired ethnic minority military leaders, such as General Roscoe Robinson Jr., the first African American four-star in US Army history, and the late General Colin L. Powell, former secretary of state. Yet the book suggests that their successes were attributed mainly to the benefits of the military as a level-playing institution. This claim may only be partly accurate; the book does not consider that the inherent leadership qualities exhibited by the identified individuals must have played a significant role in their leadership achievements. The text would have benefitted from a case study of the leadership qualities displayed by at least one of these leaders. But it may have been challenging to establish this context because the book does not focus on a particular leadership style shown by the identified leaders.

Although the author acknowledges that The High Ground is not scholarly, his research efforts and the points presented would have been bolstered by more citations, a list of references, or a bibliography. Rather than employ a specific method of research or evaluation, Hooker uses extracts from different Army leadership journals and articles from US Army magazines as sources of facts. The choice to rely heavily on published Army journals made the book fixated on already-known points about leadership in the US Army. A primer expected to educate its readers and serve as mentorship material should be well-researched with good analyses from various leadership case studies to inspire military leaders.

In terms of format and style, a few areas could be improved. For example, most abbreviations used in the book are peculiar to the Army, thus making smooth reading difficult for readers who do not have a military or Army background. A list of abbreviations would have been helpful. Some of the epigraphs at the beginning of the chapters do not seem to tie in thematically to the chapter content, confusing the reader and their expectations. For instance, it was tough to sync the context in which the extract from “Godfrey of Ibelin, Kingdom of Heaven” was used as a hook in chapter 3 because there is no clear connection between the quote, the chapter, or the content of the subchapters (129). The book is also imbalanced in terms of allocated pages per chapter. For instance, chapter 1 is 90 pages long, while chapters 2, 3, and 4 each have less than 40 pages. Hence, dedicating almost fifty percent of a four-chapter book to one chapter is not ideal in terms of structure.

Overall, it is tricky to pin the contribution of The High Ground to a particular leadership study or enrichment. It is also difficult to tell if the book was meant for tactical, senior, or strategic-level leadership, or all categories of soldiers. This is because the book is a compilation and mixture of already published articles and the author’s staff and combat experience. Thus, The High Ground serves as exactly that: a compendium of published Army leadership essays, and not a leadership resource.

Group Captain Abdulafeez Opaleye, Nigerian Air Force

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."