The Sobel Dilemma

Updated: February 12, 2015


By SGT Awesome

In the Rhino Den writer’s room the other day a few of us were having a discussion about whether BDU or Multi-cam brought out the color of Kelly Crigger’s eyes best (answer: BDUs) when it eventually delved into a lengthy debate on one Captain Herbert Sobel of Easy Company fame.

How we got there is unimportant but I believe what we discussed is. Many of us were unaware of much of Captain Sobel’s life other than what we learned from the Band of Brothers book and HBO miniseries.

sobel2While Band of Brothers is (rightfully) considered to be incredibly accurate for a non-documentary it isn’t of course 100% accurate. It also does not encompass the post-war lives of all those depicted such as Sobel.

It was brought up that while he was notoriously hard on his Soldiers and unquestionably a terrible field commander (as depicted on the show), he was also given credit and praise by many in Easy Company for hardening them into steely-faced warriors allowing them to survive the horrors of war.

He also attempted suicide.

The debate then took a turn to if it was morally right for us veterans to poke fun of or disparage in any way (no matter how light hearted) a fellow veteran if they had taken their own life (or attempted it).

It is not that as though we pull punches on veterans simply because they served. Simply Google “1SG ARCOM” and see that veterans almost overwhelmingly prefer freedom of expression to censorship and political correctness. But when death is involved we tend to tread very carefully and even shout down anything that might seem disrespectful to the memory of those passed.

This parallels our current media conversation of the far right glorifying one Chris Kyle as deserving of the Medal of Honor, the far left depicting him as racist murderer, and the middle ground filled with political landmines preventing any sane person from even wanting to step into it at all.

Death is an emotionally taxing event that seems to directly impact our ability to see reality. We cannot seem to view these men (or those like them) through any lens other than one of extremes.

I dislike this greatly for one simple reason: No one is one dimensional. Be they a hero or a villain, only the most poorly written work fails to encompass a wide swath of emotional depth.

Herbert Sobel is an excellent example. A man responsible for saving many lives, who served his country honorably, that had personality that rubbed people the wrong way, and died tragically.

The story telling of Band of Brothers only allowed certain aspects of Sobel to be put on public display. Few know that he attended a military academy for high school or that a punishment for his three sons if they misbehaved would be to not allow them to exercise with their father at the end of the day.

It would likely come as a surprise to many that he met his wife in a hospital where he was visiting a wounded Soldier.

At the time of his suicide attempt in 1970 his middle son reported that it took 3 days to find out as he had been estranged from his father for several years. The next 17 years he spent in a VA assisted living facility where family visits went from infrequent to nonexistent.

He dedicated his life to leading men into the hell of war and it put an insurmountable barrier around him that his Soldiers, his peers, and even his family couldn’t overcome.

Herbert Sobel was a brutal taskmaster who was reviled by those under him and whose own family was not even at his death bed… but without whom many of his Soldiers would never have made it home to sobeltheir own families. His flaws and his success are intertwined forever and we should never ignore that. To ignore them is to forget who he was.

He was imperfect.

He was hated.

He was a hero because of it.

Herbert Sobel wasn’t the Captain that Easy Company wanted… he was the Captain that Easy Company needed, and he will not be forgotten.




  1. Joe

    February 12, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    We can not, as leaders and trainers, expect to gain notoriety by claiming that our subordinates accomplished something because of us, when in fact they did so in spite of us. The same could be said of abusive parents who’s child wins a noble peace prize; it was not the abuse that drove the child to achieve rather the child did achieved in spite of the abuse. To claim the former would be to advocate abusive leadership. Soldiers do not need to be abused to become hard, they do not need to be run down or belittled to become cohesive, these are the actions of a weak minded and self centered leader.

  2. Griff

    February 13, 2015 at 9:03 am

    Awesome writeup. I agree with Joe as well. We’ve all experienced leaders that forced teamwork and cohesiveness through suffering. It is A method, but not the only one.

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