A Good Piece of Advice!

The aircraft was being fuelled, and the final checks and adjustments had been made. But was everything really ready for take-off?

“First Lieutenant Louis Laforge, your obedience, competence and good performance in training and combat has earned you a promotion. It is my honour to nominate you Captain Louis Laforge of the French Air Force!”

It is 1944, at the height of World War II. The news of such a promotion was a great honour in the thick of the battle. Since joining the army, Louis wanted nothing other than to give his best in the service of his homeland, cradle of heroic kings and examples of faith, such as St. Louis IX, and of valiant peasants who, with their eyes set on the triumph of the Catholic Faith, had willingly shed their blood in the Wars of the Vendée.

Captain Laforge had plenty of experience, having served in the Air Force for two decades. By now, starting the engine, adjusting the gun sights, checking the altitude and fuel reserve for the trip, and inspecting the operation of the aircraft were routine tasks that he performed with his eyes closed.

On April 30, the new captain was summoned to the major’s office. As he went, his mind was filled with thoughts such as: “What campaign will he send me on? Being a shrewd military man, he must have chosen me for an airstrike on the enemy headquarters, or else a secret base, or even…” At each step a different possibility occurred to him.

He entered the room, saluted and remained at attention until the superior officer bid him be at ease.

“Out of consideration for your noble services to our division, I am going to grant you a privilege. Tomorrow a second lieutenant will arrive; his name is Bernard-Jean, and he has been assigned as your assistant. While he is under you orders, you must gradually instruct him in the art of war, so that he will become a good aviator, for he will be part of our team.”

“But, Major, I have served in the Air Force for two decades and have never needed an assistant. I really don’t feel that I need one now…”

“Captain Laforge, as we rise through the senior officer ranks, all of us, regardless of our years of service and our level of competence, need an assistant to take over some of our routine tasks so that we can devote ourselves to more important and specialized responsibilities. Everyone benefits from this. As much as your assistant may yet lack experience, I am sure that you, as well, will gain from his collaboration and learn valuable principles in command.”

Not daring to raise any further objections, Louis saluted and responded to the instruction given:

“Yes sir!”

“You may withdraw.”

The next morning, the new captain walked down to the front gate of the air base to meet his assistant. The young lieutenant was already waiting, his eyes scanning his surroundings, trying to spot his immediate superior. Louis approached and said:

“Are you Second Lieutenant Bernard-Jean?”

“Yes sir! At your orders! I am here for whatever may need to be done.”

“Very good. We shall start in an hour.”

The young man left, quickly got ready, and returned eagerly for duty. With each passing day, he learned everything that was passed on to him, and did his utmost to be an excellent assistant.

Three weeks later, the major gathered the officers and announced the upcoming engagement:

“Yesterday we received orders to attack an important enemy target. Thirty fighter planes will be deployed, and another transport plane will be used to take ammunition, supplies and equipment to the air base that will serve as our attack platform. And now for the assignment of commanders: Colonel Romuald will control one unit, First Lieutenant Laurent will coordinate…”

And the whole list was read. Lastly, the major designated:

“Captain Louis Laforge will be in charge of ammunition and supplies; Second Lieutenant Bernard-Jean will be at Laforge’s service in whatever he needs. All those selected for commander roles should now meet with me separately for a detailed explanation of the plan.

“Well, look at that!” thought the captain to himself, “This ignorant underling is interfering with my opportunities. Just because I have to constantly supervise him, I end up being chosen for a second-rate mission! I could have been at the spearhead of the campaign, but instead I am slated as quartermaster… That is not what I was trained for!” Such were the bitter complaints that filled the captain’s mind, but he maintained the outward demeanour of a perfect officer.

The next day, at dawn, everyone got into their respective aircraft. As Laforge’s plane was being fuelled, he was in the cockpit, adjusting his seat and checking the gauges on the instrument panel.

“Did you ask the mechanics to do a vital systems inspection?” asked his assistant.

“There is no need. I looked over everything myself before boarding, and made a few adjustments. From my years of experience, I can guarantee that we are ready to fly safely.”

“Captain, you taught me that before any aeronautical operation, a technician should inspect the aircraft to ensure that everything is in shape for the mission. If there is a problem, it won’t just affect us, but the whole campaign, which depends on the material we are carrying.”

Louis answered the suggestion of his young assistant impatiently, annoyed at being questioned

Louis, unwilling to admit that he had failed to observe proper procedure, replied impatiently:

“Lieutenant, if the mechanic’s inspection would make you feel better, then call him! But be quick about it, because it is time for take-off.”

Bernard set off at a run to fetch the specialist, and within five minutes they were both checking every part of the plane. In the meantime, Laforge muttered to himself: “Hmm… And what if they really do find a problem? What a terrible disgrace that would be!” But his self-love soon came to his defence: “No! I have enough experience to know that everything is fine! This boy is not going to prove me wrong. He is the one learning from me, not I from him!”

“Captain, sir!” shouted the mechanic.

“What is it?”

“You will need to delay your departure. I found a propeller with a defective fitting. Now that is dangerous! It could come loose mid-flight and that would have very serious consequences…”

Trying to regain his wounded dignity, Laforge agreed.

With the repair completed, Louis and Bernard-Jean climbed into the into the cockpit to get ready for departure. This was the moment that called for a supreme act of courage from the captain – not to take flight and go into combat, but to overcome his own arrogance and practice an act of humility:

“Lieutenant Bernad-Jean,” he whispered.

“At your orders, sir!”

“I need to thank you for your help. Today I learned a lesson that had escaped me in these two decades of service: we should never try to take everything on our own shoulders, passing over the help of those under our command. Juniors are also capable of teaching veterans, as long as they act out of loyal dedication to their ideal. Congratulations for the way you did your duty in a difficult situation, my friend! I appreciate the good advice!”



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