In claiming that Carson acted “on his own initiative,” this citation strikes a key note, elsewhere expressed by phrases like “without orders” and “voluntarily,” signaling that these meritorious acts of valor originated with the individual soldier or sailor as opposed to being simply a byproduct of another’s command.
One of the most recent citations, that of Marine Sgt. Dakota L. Meyer, who earned a Medal of Honor for his actions during a 2009 engagement in Afghanistan’s Ganjigal Valley, sounds the note once again, describing Meyer as having “seized the initiative” when he and another Marine, leaving the rally point where they had been posted, drove their vehicle through an exposed wash five times under heavy fire to retrieve wounded Afghan soldiers and to search for an ambushed team of U.S. advisers. The battle, which resulted when a “key leader engagement” went terribly wrong, forms the centerpiece of Meyer’s account of the incident, “Into the Fire,” co-authored with the military affairs commentator Bing West.
“How long do you do nothing while your friends are fighting for their lives?” That’s the question framing Meyer’s decision to head up the trail toward the team — his team, on which another Marine had unexpectedly replaced him before the mission. This act wasn’t simply a matter of seizing the initiative; Meyer clearly understood it as “disobeying a direct order.” And while he worried that he would “be sent back to the States in disgrace,” he also seems proud of his penchant for insubordination.
From the outset, Meyer enjoys the role of cheeky maverick: “Hard-headed,” impatient with what he deems slackness or foolish orders, he is never shy about expressing discontent. He is also a trained sniper, a weapons expert “looking for a fight” in which to exercise his skills. That combination — West calls it “nature” and “nurture” in his epilogue — ostensibly prompts Meyer to a disobedience that saves the lives of numerous Afghans yet comes too late to rescue his team, all of whom are killed.
“Into the Fire” anatomizes a poorly planned, inadequately resourced mission that was subsequently the subject of military investigations. Meyer faults a scheme of command and control that gave too much responsibility to an untrained Afghan commander, rules of engagement that made it exceedingly difficult to call in fire support, and woeful communication between operators on the ground and the tactical operations center miles away. In the ensuing chaos — in the apparent absence of authority — he attempted to exert some control over events.