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Ronin: The Reader, Writer, Thinker ... Fighter - The Lesson of Aguda
by Bill Westfall

Ask any young police officer what their primary role is and so many will reply, "I'm a crime fighter, I'm here to put the bad guy in jail." Many of us probably said the same thing when we were at that stage of our law enforcement careers. But in time, most of us realized that the "fighter" part of the job is only a small part of the police officer's role and, in time, wisdom teaches us that we prefer that confrontation be minimized, when possible.

European police administrators, when asked about the primary role of police officers in their society normally respond, "It is to educate the public about the law and one of the tools we have is arrest." In their systems and their training, they reinforce this concept, role and definition. It is proactive in its mind set. American society and American policing does differ from our European counterparts. We are a more violent society. And yes, officers everywhere will always have to be fighters. And they should be highly skilled and properly prepared in those areas so that violent incidents can be minimized and handled as safely as possible for all those concerned. But maybe the time has come for this generation of law enforcement leadership to offer an improved definition other that of “fighter”.


The way of the Ronin (Pronounced ROW-NIN) is derived from a unique kind of warrior who emerged in Japan following the feudal period. They were Samurai separated from their feudal lords by choice or as a result of getting caught in a power struggle or cross fire. They emerged as independents becoming their own masters that could not be leveraged by either the war or feudal lords. Ronin means literally "the wave people" who ride, anticipate and even make waves of change on their own.

The Ronin's activities are steered by professional growth and fueled by their own passion for their profession. Ronins are not hired guns or rogues. Ronins are fueled by their commitment to some calling, vocation or mission and are loyal to their cause and their organization, truly serving its mission. They realize that their true "legacy" is the result of organizational, individual and personal growth. They are also loyal to their fellow Ronins involved in that cause. Because they are committed to a mission with meaning and they have passion for that mission, they are feared by those who are simply hired guns following a money trail. Such Samurai know the Ronin cannot be leveraged, compromised or tempted by offerings of power, influence, position or promises of riches. As a result, they will sometimes be feared, sometimes isolated and, unless Ronins develop extraordinary diplomatic and statesman like skills, in time an attempt will be made to ease or force them out.

To do Ronin one must have a depth in basic skills. Just as the Ronin of old had to be a skilled warrior in the basics so must the Ronin of today. The Ronin of today must be more than fighter, they must be "Reader, Writer, Thinker, Fighter. Ronins today must have extraordinary basic skills honed and steeled to an exceptional level. They must be disciplined self-managers, have the ability to "quick study," have exceptional speaking and writing skills and must know how to nurture team building and team playing. This foundation of basic skills will then support a career path fueled by the passion of their mission that will develop into unique expertise. The basic philosophy of the Ronin is a commitment to a life-long quest of helping people to achieve their full potential through nurtured learning and peak performance.


David Hackworth was the most decorated living American warrior of our lifetime until his untimely death in 2005. He holds two distinguished service crosses (the only higher award is a Medal of Honor) ten silver stars, eight bronze stars and eight purple hearts. Many of you saw him on television talk shows. Silver gray hair, black turtlenecks, he was usually invited to such programs by the conservatives, but he owed his soul to no one. He was always forthright, spoke his mind and with the “bark on.” He spoke on behalf of the individual fighting soldier. He called them Willy Lump Lump.

In the prime of his career as a full colonel who was destined for at least two and maybe three stars, he resigned his commission in protest not of the Vietnam War itself, but the manner in which the war was being fought. He did soon national TV stating:” I can no longer ask young men to die for a cause that he realized the military leadership was not committed to winning." And could not win given their delusionary strategy and tactics.

There are many lessons in the life and odyssey of this American Warrior. A fifteen-year-old semi-orphaned school dropout who hedged about his age to enlist in the U.S. Army, Hackworth found himself in Europe in 1945 shortly before the end of the Second World War. Finding a home for the first time in his life, this impressionable fifteen-year-old was "written on” by the finest army this country had fielded with the possible exception of the 1991 and current mid-east wars. For those who trained and mentored him, had survived years and months of war and were masters of their trade.

At the age of eighteen he found himself in Korea, and promptly went AWOL from his infantry company because they were not committed to fighting. Promoted to sergeant and later field commissioned to lieutenant, Hackworth left Korea a 21-year-old captain. He had led a ranger company that spent most of its time behind the lines of the enemy. Sitting in a San Francisco bar as a young captain and recipient of a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts, he was arrested by the MPs for impersonating an officer.

It was about this time that Hackworth realized that his army career would be stifled unless he overcame his inability to write. Although an accomplished warrior he realized that the army was changing and that he was a one dimensional warrior.

Hackworth went on to finish high school and complete both undergraduate and graduate degrees and authored a Vietnam primer that was issued to infantrymen when they arrived in Vietnam. This orphaned high school drop out later co-authored and authored numerous professional articles and a number of books. He became the Reader, Writer, Thinker… fighter and learned the Way of Ronin.

This did not come easy for him. But his realization of a changing army coupled with an experience he had as a young sergeant in Korea convinced him of the need to become the Reader, Writer, Thinker… fighter.

Hackworth's company had been given a mission of relieving a beleaguered infantry company on a hill called Logan. The company had been overrun the night before. They had taken heavy casualties and were expecting an early morning counteroffensive by Chinese regulars in the early morning hours.

As Hackworth's company moved on line they began to take small arms fire. The hill was, like so many in Korea, poor footing, steep slopes full of pits and rough terrain. In such a situation it is imperative that small arms and especially automatic weapons get on-line, so that a base of fire can be laid down to dissuade concentration of small arms fire on any one portion of the line.

There was a huge Hawaiian in Hackworth's company in a neighboring platoon by the name of Aguda. Aguda's weapon was a BAR or automatic rifle; one of those weapons so crucial to the success of the morning defense. Hackworth loved and respected Aguda for his emotional battle personality. He was a warrior's warrior. As Aguda settled into position he had to often rise up from his position of cover and expose himself and his position in order to lay down, the all-important base of fire. As he would do so, he would, of course, draw fire. Each time he did so it allowed a few more men to get on line from both his platoon as well as Hackworth's group. Each time he would expose himself in order to fire they would yell at him to, "Get down! Get down! They were fearful he would be hit. Each time he would raise up the small arms fire would get closer and more concentrated. Finally, everyone within sight saw that Aguda had been hit. Rather than just lie there and call out for aid, he repositioned himself and began once again returning fire. First a superficial wound and then they saw his body rack from more severe wounds and finally in both resignation and disregard for his own welfare he simply stood up concentrating his fire on the approaching enemy. Of course when he did so the opposing line erupted and in time Aguda, fell to his knees still firing and then slumped over, no longer moving. Aguda had sacrificed himself at a crucial time in the defense of that hill. Many that were struggling to get into position were able to do so when the enemy concentrated their firepower on silencing Aguda's relentless defense.

Hackworth, saddened by the death of this behemoth of a warrior was resigned that Aguda's death should not go unrecognized. When his platoon returned to reserve status, it was the time given to replenishing their supplies and to reflect on those who made a difference in the recent battle. It was here that the deeds of those who had made a difference would be recognized by nominations for awards. It was unusual that nominations came from other than from those within the same platoon. But Hackworth, determined that Aguda's sacrifice would not go unheralded, lead the initiative to recognize his friend.

Now listen to his commentary for it is here that the analogy to our own profession is so clear. He said, "We were a bunch of ignorant kids from the wrong side of the tracks. Most of us had grown up in poor homes." They were a microcosm of America; there were African-Americans, Anglos, Chicanos, Latinos. "Dispensable rainbows," he called them. "Some of us could barely read and write. We didn't have time for that sissy stuff. We were fighters not writers." So those ignorant, dispensable rainbows tore the top off an old C-ration box and as best they could begin to write their nomination:

"Aguda was a good man.
Aguda killed a lot of the enemy.
Aguda saved our ass up on Logan.
He deserves the Big One,
the Blue Max,
the Medal of Honor."

So in four simple and somewhat vague sentences these ignorant, unsophisticated, naive, “dispensable rainbows” made a recommendation for a Medal of Honor. It is elegant in its own way, albeit, crude, and simplistic. If you were there, it somehow works. But what if you weren't there? Little vague, wouldn't you say? It didn't talk about how critical Aguda was to the defense of Logan. It didn't describe how he was wounded, not once, but three times and yet he kept returning fire. Of course the recommendation went to the rear to an educated, sophisticated captain in a nice warm tent who reviewed the nomination. In reflection, Hackworth realized this educated captain, in the nice warm tent probably said to himself, "Well we're all good men or we wouldn't be here. We all kill a lot of the enemy and save lives by doing so, ummm… Silver Star." While eloquent to those young warriors present during Aguda's heroism, the nomination fell short once presented to an audience who was out of touch with their battlefield. It was just too vague. Although disappointed, Hackworth didn't get angry at the captain. He realized he owned a part of this failure. Simply because Hackworth and his well-intended group didn't know how to spell it, didn't know how to say it, a very brave, a very deserving warrior had gone unrecognized. He began to understand how important it was for a leader to be able to write and articulate an argument. He made himself a promise that, he would get an education and never again would one of his deserving warriors go unrecognized because he simply did not know how to say it. It was then that Hackworth vowed that he would learn how to spell, how to write and how to say it. You see, he recognized that no one can tell the story; no one can explain the need like the warrior himself, who is immersed first hand in the battle.

Hackworth's first book, About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior was nearly 900 pages in length. He has written at least two more that I know of. He co-authored a “how to” manual to fight the war in Vietnam. Sadly, the powers to be didn't read it.

I wrote him twice. I wrote to thank him for his first book. It helped me to understand our strategic, tactical and political failures in Vietnam. In both instances he wrote back. Given how busy he was; I was as always amazed he responded. Let's see if he learned to write.

Dear Bill:

Your beautiful letter, alone, made the now seven-year journey of writing and touring on behalf of About Face, worth the entire effort. The writing of About Face chased a lot of devils from my head. Suggest you write a piece for Vietnam magazine there in Leesburg. They need articles from warriors rather than the “white wash clerks” that write for them now.

Semper Fi,

Notice the first paragraph. He thanks me? He makes me feel better about who I am as a person; something all great leaders do. The second paragraph he shares something personal. Another reason I liked his book, as a Vietnam Veteran, the book chased a lot of devils from my head as well. The third paragraph infers, “Now, don't you just sit there; do something to make a difference as well.” Leaders always encourage others to make a difference. And then he signs the letter, “Semper Fi , Hack”. A career Army officer acknowledges the former Marine.

We're fighters not writers. Does this sound familiar? Don't we see ourselves as more fighters than writers?  As I move around the country and interact with law enforcement administrators, from time to time we will be asked to write policy and procedure. We rarely do. There is a specific reason. No one can tell your story; no one quite knows your jurisdiction, your jurisdiction's culture like those who work there, day to day. Oh, we can help with resources, make recommendations based on generic principles, but the gut-wrenching writing that will provide meaningful procedure to that first-line officer are those who know and understand their jurisdiction and only them.

Until we learn how to write, how to say it how to diplomatically state it with statesman like clarity, not the public, not the courts, not the prosecutor not even our administration will understand it. How many officers have been failed by vague, poorly written policy and procedure? How many deserving criminals have gone unpunished simply because an officer didn't understand the need or have the skills to properly execute their roles not as fighter, but as Reader, Writer, Thinker… Fighter. How many more generations of police will continue to fail due to an ill defined role as only fighter? We keep waiting for the media, television, movies to tell our story. They won't because they can't. One of the great unknowns in this country is the quality of our people; people who are willing to risk and even give their life for people they don't even know. The public doesn't realize that because the only stories they will hear from the media are the ones that generally embarrass or humiliate the profession. Only we can tell our story.

One of my first supervisors, a corporal by the name of Don Lawrence used to return my reports with so much red ink on them they looked like somebody had hemorrhaged on them. I would turn in two and get back FOUR. The first year, I grew to dislike him and his damnable red pen. But in time I learned to respect him and even later to admire and care for him. You see he was concerned enough about my individual growth that he could subjugate his own ego need for acceptance in order for me to eventually grow. In time I learned to write a report that was concise, clearly written, that contained all elements of the crime and could be used by a prosecutor. He did me a great favor. His efforts contributed to a legacy that sustained itself long after he left the police service.

Someone once said that leaders who nurture and mentor their charges and develop them to their full potential are “creating living messages for a time they will not see”. All of us are doing that now. What is the message, the legacy this generation of police leadership will leave? That of fighter, or that of Ronin; The Reader, Writer, Thinker… fighter?

I loved David Hackworth for the way he cared for, respected, protected and spoke on behalf of “Willy Lump, Lump.” He was the essence of Ronin. David Hackworth died in May of 2005 of cancer, believed to be related to Agent Orange. I was taken back by his unexpected, untimely, and premature death. He was bigger than life to me, a true American Hero, and his was a voice that will not only be missed, but in my estimation, never be replaced. I knew he couldn't, but somehow, I thought he would live forever. He will in my heart and mind and in the hearts and minds of all the “Willy Lump Lumps.”

Semper Fi… Hack! He was the essence of Reader, Writer, Thinker… fighter.