How Sergeant Audie Leon Murphy Influenced the Roles and Responsibilities of the Contemporary Noncommissioned Officer
Sergeant Audie Leon Murphy’s exceptional leadership style, unprecedented military bearing, and intestinal fortitude positively influenced the roles and responsibilities of the contemporary noncommissioned officer. Over the course of what many would consider an extraordinary life, Staff Sergeant Audie Murphy came from humble beginnings as a sharecropper’s son and rose to become America’s most decorated World War II veteran. He also parlayed this status into becoming an accomplished movie star, songwriter, and poet. Despite his death in 1971, Staff Sergeant Murphy has continued to influence those who have come since, and his accomplishments are still celebrated today.
From his hometown’s annual Audie Murphy Day, to his induction in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Staff Sergeant Audie Murphy’s life is still celebrated in a variety of ways. Staff Sergeant Murphy’s name also appears in memoriam on a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Texas as well as numerous roads and highways throughout the state. Staff Sergeant Audie Murphy overcame many obstacles that prevented him from joining the military service. After joining the United States Army in June 1942, he distinguished himself meticulously, above his peers, by receiving every award the United States gives for valor. After his death in May 1971, his legacy of training, leading, and mentoring soldiers was adopted as the training doctrine instilled into every soldier that earns the rank of sergeant today.
Several styles to effective leadership exist; however, three styles in particular are commonplace in today’s military. The Laissez Faire style, from the French “hands off,” minimizes the amount of direction and face-time required to train and lead soldiers effectively. Therefore, this leadership style is mostly effective while working with highly trained and motivated subordinates such as the Special Forces. A downfall to this style of leadership is that one can appear distant or uninterested in the roles and responsibilities of a noncommissioned officer. Also subordinates tend to lack discipline and a general sense of accountability. The Autocratic leadership style fundamentally relies on an authority figure, in this case, the noncommissioned officer. This style is mostly effective when used during real-world war missions or in crisis situations. Most noncommissioned officers chose this leadership style; however, it has many flaws. An autocratic noncommissioned officer runs the risk of losing the respect and confidence of his or her soldiers because unit morale decreases as a result of the noncommissioned officer’s authoritarian nature. Additionally, the unit may develop passive-aggressive subordinates that contribute little or nothing to the unit or military service.
The Participative leadership style incorporates aspects of both Laissez Faire and Autocratic styles. Participative leaders instill purpose, motivation, and direction into every soldier. This removes the “distant” aspect of a noncommissioned officer that uses the Laissez Faire leadership style because the noncommissioned officer is actively participating in training and leading soldiers. The Participative style also eliminates the all-or-nothing authoritative style of the Autocratic leadership style by encouraging input and feedback from every member of the team. Staff Sergeant Murphy’s leadership style was an effective blend of participative and autocratic. This unique blend of leadership style is taught to every noncommissioned officer that attends a professional career development class such as the Warrior Leaders Course. By providing purpose, motivation and direction, all the while maintaining a professional relationship with soldiers, Staff Sergeant Murphy was both an effective leader and mentor.
Staff Sergeant Murphy’s integrity and commitment to mentoring junior soldiers led to the establishment of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club at Fort Hood, Texas in 1986. “By 1994, this club had spread Army-wide to all commands with installations retaining the selection process for their own Noncommissioned Officers” (Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, 2009). Admittance into the distinguished Sergeant Audie Murphy Club is highly competitive as its members make up less than one percent of contemporary noncommissioned officers. Since 1986, the club has produced several distinguished noncommissioned officers that have gone on to become influential members in both their community as well as the United States Army.
Military bearing is a concept instilled in every service member upon his or her entry into the armed forces. The ability to behave with decorum, discipline, and adhere to the utmost levels of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage in everything one does is critical of all men and women of the armed forces. Military bearing is not only taught to all service members from day one, it is reinforced throughout one’s duration in the military. Staff Sergeant Murphy’s military bearing, his ability to conduct himself with professionalism and honor in all that he did, directly influenced his pursuit of combat duty in the face of several hurdles. Despite being turned down by the Marines, paratroopers and Navy for service because of his small build and young age, Staff Sergeant Murphy persisted in his goal of joining the United States Military. “After being accepted by the United States Army in 1942, Staff Sergeant Murphy quickly rose to the enlisted rank of Staff Sergeant, was given a ‘battle field’ commission as 2nd Lieutenant, was wounded three times, fought in 9 major campaigns across the European Theater, and survived the war” (Audie Murphy Research Foundation, 2006).
Staff Sergeant Murphy’s military bearing was evident in his ability to overcome earlier setbacks that prevented his pursuit of combat duty. By continuing to conduct himself in a professional manner, and adhering to the values of duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage, Staff Sergeant Murphy achieved his goal and was eventually sent to Maryland for advanced infantry training. After this training, Staff Sergeant Murphy continued to persevere and exemplify the Army Core Values. After an assignment to North Africa, he would continue to participate in campaigns in Sicily, Italy, and France. Staff Sergeant Murphy’s drive, Army core values, and discipline were evident in the honors and accolades he received. Military bearing is an important aspect of the roles and responsibilities of the contemporary noncommissioned officer, which are to never be forgotten.
The Congressional Medal of Honor is the United States’ highest military award for Valor. “The Medal of Honor is awarded to those who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States” (United States, 2006). On January 26, 1945, Staff Sergeant Murphy, while deployed in France during World War II, achieved this high honor. “In the award’s 138 year history, there are only 3,448 recipients to date” (Congressional Medal of Honor Society, 2010). While his unit was at an ineffective strength of 19 out of 128 soldiers, he directed his troops to the rear while he remained in position, at his own peril, to engage the Germans. Upon exhausting all available rifle ammunition, he continued his attack by commandeering an abandoned.50 caliber machine gun. After being wounded in the leg during this exchange, he single handily continued combat operations for another hour. Upon the arrival of reinforcements, Staff Sergeant Murphy organized a precise and effective counter-attack. This counter-attack ultimately turned the tide of the battle in the favor of the allied forces. These heroic actions forced the enemy into retreat, driving the Germans away from Holtzwihr, and securing the position. By remaining steadfast at his position, continuing to fight at all costs after being wounded, and then turning from a defensive posture to mount a counter-attack, he distinguished himself conspicuously. These undeniable examples of Staff Sergeant Murphy’s intestinal fortitude directly resulted in him being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. By the end of World War II, Staff Sergeant Murphy had received 33 medals from the United States, along with five medals from France and Belgium, at the time making him the most decorated United States Soldier in history. It is also by these actions of grit and determination that he positively influenced the roles and responsibilities of the contemporary noncommissioned officer.
In conclusion, Staff Sergeant Audie Leon Murphy’s unique blend of leadership style, unprecedented military bearing, and intestinal fortitude positively influenced the roles and responsibilities of the contemporary noncommissioned officer. Both as a soldier, and a role-model, Staff Sergeant Murphy was a tremendous influence not only while serving in the United States Army, he positively reflected the Army Core Values as a civilian. This is evidenced by his successful movie and music career as well as the annual celebrations that commemorate his numerous achievements in life. His legacy contributed to a new training doctrine for sergeants instilled into every soldier upon attaining the rank of sergeant. Noncommissioned officers are responsible for not only providing purpose and motivation, but direction to junior soldiers to train and lead them effectively. The role of the noncommissioned officer is to direct soldiers, take actions toward accomplishing the mission, and to promote good order and discipline. Staff Sergeant Audie Murphy developed himself into the epitome of what it takes to become a noncommissioned officer, and his legacy positively influenced all those that have come after him.
Audie Murphy Research Foundation. (2006). Biographical Sketch. Retrieved from audiemurphy.com/biography.htm
Congressional Medal of Honor Society. (2010). Archive Statistics. Retrieved from cmohs.org/medal-statistics.php
Sergeant Audie Murphy Club. (2009). US Army – Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, Fort Knox Chapter, Fort Knox Kentucky. Retrieved from knox.army.mil/samc/history.asp
United States (2006).Military awards, Army regulation 600-8-22, Washington, DC: Headquarters, Dept. of the Army.