The Battlefield as a Test of Character

By Published on December 30, 2015

After winning the battle of Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776, George Washington ordered his troops to treat captured soldiers “with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.”

It wasn’t uncommon for British and Hessian soldiers to torture or execute wounded American revolutionaries on the battlefield. Still, Gen. Washington refused to betray his sense of decency and humanity.

Character is often measured in how we react when our values are most tested. In a bleak winter 239 years ago, after crossing the Delaware on Christmas, Washington’s order for humanity taught our nation something about character.

Six years ago on a helicopter mission in Afghanistan, a soldier taught me something about character that I’ll never forget. It was August 2009, and our company of Blackhawk pilots and crew chiefs was in the midst of a deadly month for coalition forces. As the pace of medevac missions increased and the casualties mounted, our frustrations toward Afghanistan — the land, the war, our enemy — mounted.

One hot August afternoon, we were called on a mission to evacuate wounded Afghan soldiers and civilians. This daytime mission took us into the Kherwar Bowl — a Taliban haven with high altitudes and dust that made any mission dangerous. I was a pilot in our Blackhawk, and a soldier who I knew was having a particularly tough time with his deployment was manning one of our machine guns. We raced to the site with medical staff onboard to assist the wounded.


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