I’m a little older now, but at age 21, I served in Vietnam as a staff sergeant in the Air Force. With about 150 other replacements, I arrived in-country on the night of the Tet Offensive in January 1968. I spent that first night lying on the ground, unarmed, in the rain, hoping and praying that the non-stop barrage of enemy mortars, rockets and bullets wouldn’t find my little spot in the mud.
Great leaders step up under that kind of pressure. God rest his soul, Technical Sgt. William “Mack” McKissick was one of them. While I spent much of that year in fear of dying, Mack never seemed to be afraid, and he always knew what to do. When things got bad, really bad, some men ran, others froze–Mack got calm. First, he would ask, “Is everyone OK?” Then, he would continually ask for information until he understood the situation. Only then would he issue a plan of action with clear, specific orders.
When faced with multiple incoming mortars and rockets, human instinct – fear – tells you to run. The only time I saw Mack criticize any of his folks was if they reacted too quickly, because you could react too quickly and get yourself killed running into an incoming mortar.
In the midst of chaos, danger and uncertainty, Mack was an island of calm, confident authority. He never preached or taught, but I learned a great deal from him.
I've come a long way since my days as a staff sergeant and was fortunate enough to serve as deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2000-2007. Throughout my career, whenever I’ve encountered a tough situation that required leadership, I’ve applied what I call "the McKissick Test." It’s simple. I just ask myself, “What would Mack do?”
It's a question I asked myself on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The White House Command Center called to ask how many beds the VA could provide in lower Manhattan by 3 p.m. The phones were down. The buildings were on fire. Instead of overreacting, I applied the McKissick Test. I went to my staff and found the information I needed. I learned that we could supply 300 beds and get doctors and medical personnel to service them. Then I let the White House know, but only after I was sure we could fulfill that commitment.
The McKissick Test has taught me to appreciate leaders who are steady, confident, and well-informed.
Hillary Clinton is that kind of leader. She doesn't overreact to every provocation. Instead, she makes sure she has all the information available, then she calmly takes action. She proved this again and again during her time as secretary of state. And now, in the heat of a presidential campaign, she continues to act as a calm, well-informed leader. Even when constantly challenged with the hard questions and difficult issues that a president must handle, Secretary Clinton answers in a thoughtful, informed way that reflects the values and priorities of all Americans.
Donald Trump fails my McKissick Test. He shoots from the hip. He’s always worked up, agitated, and angry. If he’s elected President, he’s more likely to react to incoming fire by running the wrong way and catching a round in the face. Only we know it won’t be his face; it will be the faces of young Americans sent into harm’s way.
We live in a world of constant, evolving danger. The role of the president and commander in chief is to look out for all Americans, to make decisions that protect us all. When I cast my vote on Tuesday, November 8, I’ll use the McKissick Test. I’ll ask myself, “Which candidate will answer the next crisis calmly; who will be most informed; who will project confidence; who will demonstrate patience, grace and dignity?”
To me, the choice is clear. I will vote for Hillary Clinton.
Edward Meagher is a Vietnam combat veteran. He subsequently served in various positions in the Department of Veterans Affairs, including as Deputy Assistant Secretary during President George W. Bush’s administration.
Feature Image: AP photo
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