Toward Controlling Fear
Maj. Michael R. Fenzel '89 still remembers what it felt like to be fresh out of Hopkins, a 22-year-old platoon leader with muddy boots in charge of the lives of 35 people. On February 24, 1990, he led his soldiers across the Kuwait border into a huge sandstorm and heavy fighting. "I was shocked," he says. "I learned two things. One, that fighting is remarkably similar to training. Two, that fear can be controlled." In the middle of swirling sand and whizzing bullets, he realized he could either act rationally or he could panic. "Both seemed like pretty valid options," he says, laughing ruefully. Fenzel chose the former, and four days later he was able to bring all 35 men back safely from the operation.
A former Hopkins ROTC cadet, Fenzel was assigned to infantry after he graduated in May 1989. After serving in the Persian Gulf War, he was assigned to the first unit to go into Bosnia. In 1996, he commanded a company of 170 soldiers that defended the United States embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, during that nation's civil war.
Fenzel took time out in 1998 to attend Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and received a White House fellowship. He was placed with the National Security Council, where he helped coordinate counterterrorism policies. He was supposed to have started at the Naval War College in September, but agreed to extend his fellowship one more month. Then came September 11. "It was the most emotional and eye-opening experience of my life," he says.
After working on the counterterrorism unit, Fenzel believes that the future of combat is small scale: More rests in the hands of individual leaders in charge of small units. "Young captains fighting terrorists, drug lords, and insurgents will have to, now more than ever, develop remarkable leadership abilities," he urges. "The best advice I can give to those leading soldiers through the hell that is combat is to rely on the fundamentals. Train hard. Take care of your soldiers. When the fighting comes, you'll wish you were never there."
The Johns Hopkins Magazine | The Johns Hopkins University |
3003 North Charles Street |
Suite 100 | Baltimore, Maryland 21218 | Phone 410.516.7645 | Fax 410.516.5251