While the soldiers were aware of the general nature of the American involvement in Vietnam and understood that they needed to avoid unnecessary violence, if only to avoid making enemies with the local population, their motivations were often driven by instinct, common sense, and camaraderie rather than manuals dictating standard operating procedures. Despite the training they received before arriving in country, the soldiers often found themselves among their peers once they were readying to go to battle, and a kind experiential group ethic took the place of top-down orders. In the heat of battle they largely did what they had to in order to survive, often living out their own emotional worries and fears.
For the battalion commanders, there was a combination of personal involvement with the soldiers and a higher-level responsibility to the command structure to achieve the ROE. They realized that there were realities that played out in the individual soldiers’ lives that impacted upon their ability to remember and follow orders, and therefore they often attempted to lead by example and crack the whip when necessary. They were responsible to know the ROE and implement, even as they changed continually. They walked a fine line between associating with their men (thereby living in the moment with them) and reporting to those higher up the command structure in achieving the ROE at the ground level.