Through the Glass: A Senior Enlisted Perspective

Featured Leader:

CSM Lloyd E. Purswell (RET)

1.      What book(s) are you currently reading?

Currently, at home, I am re-reading The Red Fighter Pilot by Manfred von Richthofen (an autobiography). At work, I have been reading, Secret Lives of the US Presidents by Cormac O’brien.

2.      Why did you choose to read this book?

Manfred von Richthofen overcame a lot of adversity during World War I. If you study his drive, determination, and humility, you can learn from it. He started out as a Cavalry Officer, saw an opportunity in the new airplanes, and worked his way up to be a pilot. He was wounded several times yet continued to fly in combat despite his superior’s wishes. Manfred von Richthofen was humble and kind, often (when possible) he would land to check on the enemy pilots that he had shot down. Although he was on the opposite side of the war from the US, the example he set is worth studying and following. Never give up.

Presidents, like Generals, are just people like us but with huge responsibilities. The book discusses little-known facts about the successes and failures of each of the Presidents. It makes the reader realize that despite the image that the public sees and the media presents, the President is still a human and has personal failures and quirks.

3.      What are your favorite all-time military or leadership-related books? What makes them your favorites?

Nailing it down to just a few favorites is really hard… If I had to choose, I would go with The Mission, the Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander by Pete Blaber. In this book, the author explains the importance of taking care of the mission, the soldiers, and yourself in an easy-to-understand way, which is a very important skill for both military and civilian leaders. The author also explores why it is important to think outside of the box and gives real-life examples and how they worked out.

Another would be a classic from the ’80s-’90s 82nd Airborne reading list, Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. Not only is this book a great science fiction read, it also imparts a sense of importance to citizenship and pride in country, unit, and self. There are many lessons that can be learned when a population must pull together and everyone has a part.

Overall, the best leadership book is Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. I believe this is a must-read for not only military leaders but for everyone. Lewis and Clark, along with their company of explorers, in my opinion, had to be the bravest people to ever live. President Thomas Jefferson sent them into an unknown land on a mission that would last for years. The difficulties and leadership challenges they faced are beyond anything we could experience today and they prevailed.

4.      Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?

Robert A. Heinlein and Stephen Ambrose. Both authors imbue a sense of honor and its importance, and also the importance of history.

5.      How do you feel reading has helped your military leadership capabilities?

Through my extensive reading, I have discovered that as leaders, we would be hard-pressed to find a situation that some leader throughout time hasn’t faced before and overcame. Sometimes we just need to be flexible/rigid, compassionate/stern, proactive/reactive, etc.…. but most of all we need to put thought into actions in search of second and third-order effects (when possible).

6.      What books do you recommend which influenced your thinking on leadership?             

The Mission, the Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander by Pete Blaber.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

7.      What books had the most impact on you and your development?

Same ones listed for question 6.

8.      How do you decide which book to read next? Do you look to military reading lists? Mentor or supervisor recommendations? Personal recommendations?

In the past, I have made sure to check out the titles on the Commander’s reading list, when available. I find that personal recommendations are the best because if you know the person that is recommending, you have a feel if they like the same material as you do. Sometimes I will pick up a book just based on the author and subject.

9.      What skills have you developed through reading military and leadership books?

Through reading, I believe I have developed my decision-making process and a more positive attitude toward leadership challenges. I have come to understand “that’s how we have always done it” doesn’t make it the best way, but it doesn’t make it the worst way to accomplish a task. Environments, technology, personnel, etc., change and leaders must remain flexible and fluid and not set on one course of action. I would like to add a personal opinion also: reading enhances a person’s comprehension skills. During a break in service, I was a civilian contractor recruiting for the Army. I learned quickly that if a young person came into the recruiting office I needed to ask, “Do you like to read?”. If they said no, I knew the ASVAB scores would be hit or miss. If they said yes, I knew they would score great on the ASVAB. I believe it is a fact. The ASVAB test questions can be reasoned out (a lot of the time) by good comprehension of what is being asked and what the answer choices are. Good reading comprehension comes in handy while trying to decipher OPORDs.

10.   How can others benefit by reading about these military and leadership experiences?

By developing a positive mental attitude in adverse conditions and learning to think inside and outside the box, naturally without remaining too rigid in thinking.

11.   What advice would you give new enlisted leaders? New officers?

Well, I have a lot of advice but most of it is not about reading…lol. As far as reading, I would encourage everyone to read history books to see what others have accomplished. Learn what others learned from good and bad experiences, as well as how to make a learning/training experience from every challenge or mundane task.

12.   How do you feel enlisted leaders contribute to the overall unit mission?

Enlisted leaders from Squad Leader to Command Sergeant Major are part of a dynamic leadership team, SQD LDR/PSG, 1SG/CPT, CSM/BC etc… Officers are not always right and neither are Enlisted, they must feed off each other and balance the team out to make the proper decisions to advance the organization.

13.   Why is reading important for our military and/or the nation?

Besides gaining knowledge from learning about other’s experiences, we must learn/teach the history of the military in order to pass that pride and sense of accomplishment to future generations. We cannot let names like Bunker Hill, Hamburger Hill, Iwo Jima, etc pass into obscurity.  

14.   General Mattis talks a lot about using reading as a tool to learn from other people’s experiences. Can you provide a specific example or story where reading has helped you learn from others’ experience?

I cannot remember the name of the book or article or who even wrote it but before I attended the Ranger Course, I was nervous of failure, to say the least. I read something by a soldier that attended the school and that soldier said that they took the attitude of, “hundreds of soldiers attend the course every year, even though many do not graduate. But those that do, well there is not one of them that is any better or tries harder than me, whether I make it or not, I will do my best.” I used that and passed it on to my soldiers before they attended. A positive mental attitude changes a lot of things for the better, even in a strenuous situation.

15.   What is your leadership and ethical philosophy? How did your leadership and ethical philosophy develop?

I believe early on in my career an NCO told me to always give 100% in everything I did. I ran with that. If you are going to be at PT the whole time, you might as well not waste the time half-stepping. I gave my soldiers 100% and tried to instill that in them also. Give your mission and soldiers 100% when you are at work and give your family 100% when you are at home.

16.   What is one of the best investments you’ve ever made in your military career?

By far the best investment I ever made in the military was in my physical fitness. I believe that when you start the day out with a strenuous workout, especially if it is with your unit (Team Building), you feel great the rest of the day. You already feel like you have accomplished a good thing right off the bat. The Army expects you to keep fit. Your subordinates, leaders, and battle buddies rely on your fitness, and the American people rely on your fitness. I would also encourage anyone to search YouTube for ADM McRaven’s Make Your Bed speech. It is very inspiring along the same lines.


About CSM Purswell:

CSM Lloyd E. Purswell (RET) served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1984-1988, then joined the U.S. Army in 1990. He retired in April 2020 as the Human Resources Command Military Intelligence Enlisted Branch Sergeant Major. During his career, CSM Purswell filled a range of roles within the infantry and human intelligence fields. He deployed in support of Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY in 1990, IRAQI FREEDOM in 2005, and ENDURING FREEDOM in 2008, 2009, and 2010. CSM Purswell has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Liberty University in Biblical and Theological Studies. His military awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal (1 Oak Leaf Cluster), and Meritorious Service Medal (1 Oak Leaf Cluster). CSM Purswell is married to his wife Meagan and has four sons: Joseph, Colby, Colt, and Cody.

For additional information on CSM Purswell, you contact him at via email at [email protected] or via his LinkedIn profile at linkedin.com/in/lloyd-purswell.

  • BONUS QUESTIONS:
    • If you had a book club, what would it be reading — and why?
      • Military history and military oriented science fiction. History or lessons learned and knowledge of our past. Fiction for the pure enjoyment of it.
    • What are your favorite books to give — and get — as gifts?
      • I have given out many copies of The Mission, the Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander by Pete Blaber. I have found that Soldiers that are not necessarily readers will still peruse it because it is authored by a Delta Commander.
    • Give us three “Good to Know” facts about you.
      • My first job was as an Artillery Scout Observer in the United States Marine Corps…. Yes, I was a Marine for four years before joining the Army. I love to hunt and fish and work on my property and house.

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